Every Monday I have had the joy of teaching movement to people with Parkinson’s and every Wednesday to young researchers working with science, movement, robotics, philosophy and more. Aside from these classes I have also worked in the studio doing my own movement research. Both situations have been focused around the theme of Intention for this first month – intention of action, initiation of movement, movement disorder, disconnect from intention, naming intention…
Twice over the course of this month I have had the opportunity to meet in a small group of movers and thinkers (dancers, scientists, philosophers) and experience the world of intention viewed through the philosophical lens. Thanks to Dr. Oliver Müller, a philosopher at the University of Freiburg and participant in the cluster of excellence BrainLinks-BrainTools, we were treated to two presentations by Boris Essmann about action theory.
In action theory, intention is involved in the formation of a desire to move, the process of identifying what movement is to be executed and the processes necessary to perform this movement/action, then the execution of the movement. One major question that arose for me is, at the moment a movement is initiated, how many possible ways can it be informed and engaged.
For example when changing position in a room, one can imagine they are #1 going TO another position; #2 LEAVING the location they currently occupy; #3 changing location but leaving their FOCUS/intention on the position they just left. In this case, the moment of initiation is informed by a different intention, even if it is the same movement. Can perhaps changing the intention of initiation of movement aid a Parkinson’s patient in resolving a block/freeze moment?
As dancers we spend years re-training our habitual movements to become efficient, virtuosic or even beautiful. It requires hours of training per day to achieve such a connection to and knowledge of one’s body. Therefore, I find one class per week is rather insufficient to be able to truly benefit from the dance classes offered (although one is better than none!). It makes me wonder, could someone with Parkinson’s lessen the severity of the symptoms of the disease by committing to a rigorous (dance) training cycle? What movement forms could be included in such a cycle?
I believe more traditional dance forms could be mixed with practices such as Authentic Movement, Ideokinesis, Gyrotonic, Qi Gong, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, Body Mind Centering and improvisational tasks to better inform a body that is more conscious of it’s connection to space and more capable of softening certain symptoms of Parkinson’s Disease (or any disease/disorder). By giving someone simple tools to work with in everyday life (how to properly stand, sit, rest, breathe, walk), one is able to change not only their body, but also their feelings connected to body image, expectations and function.
By giving someone with Parkinson’s the tools to change their self-image (by understanding their bodies in a different way), can they better self-correct their symptoms? In the PD classes we have worked with the idea of moving objects through space, either with the simple action of moving it or with the specific intention of moving your own center and the object moves with you. In this way, they not only move an object, but themselves in the process, giving a different relation to the action that is performed. Their “homework” afterward consisted of taking this task into their everyday lives. Other tasks were standing with even weight on both legs or how to begin walking via sideways weight shifts.
In the classes with the scientists, we focused on origin of movement and movement awareness. We had a series of tasks based on improvisational tools where one moves by connecting their movements with the architectural elements of any given space (body parts tracing lines in space for example). As an added layer, one must speak the body part being used; another layer would be to speak the action being performed; another layer, to speak the action before performing the action.
The last layer of this task lends understanding to people with Parkinson’s who are affected by freezing. They are forced to understand each movement, breaking them down, re-training the body in that moment how to complete a simple task (such as picking something up from the floor). One must understand weight shifts, flexion and extension of muscles and joints and movement initiations. In the classes we have tried to provide exercises that will help one to inhabit, break down, understand and execute movement.
In addition, we have entered a brief Authentic Movement practice which encourages letting the body move in whatever way it wants to move while blind-folded. It is a task dedicated to releasing control of the body and allowing the body’s own information to emerge, rather than the conscious mind controlling the movements. This I find especially important for someone researching movement, but who is not involved in a regular physical practice. It can show how the body itself can “speak” and has information of its own unrelated to outside stimulus or conscious desires.
On my own in the studio I arrived in Freiburg with a lot of questions left over from several instant composition (improvisation) workshops from the past few months. My questions involved solo improvisational performance – How to balance interior and exterior input and what is the line between ego versus embodiment. I have a difficult time watching performers emote in a way I find dishonest or self-indulgent (ego), and I myself have been guilty of it and am trying to understand how to allow what I’m feeling on the inside to exist next to whatever improvisational tools I am using on the outside (embodiment). Therefore, a lot of time was spent performing for my computer’s camera and studying these (mostly terrible and now deleted) improvisation videos.
Meanwhile, I dove into trying to understand Parkinson’s disease and its complexities and symptoms, along with researching previous programs combining dance and Parkinson’s research. At a certain point, some of the lines began crossing. Not to place judgement, but I find many of the previous attempts (that I value very much and learned a great deal watching their videos) at providing Dance for people with Parkinson’s have stemmed from this type of emotive work. I feel it places a layer of self-satisfaction on top of movement that is not necessary and limits a person’s ability to be present in their own body in whatever form that body is taking at that moment.
On the other hand, I also could see the pleasure experienced during exercises that simply let you move without too much forced presence and self-scrutiny. Returning to a more traditional dance practice, to simplicity, to joy, music, movement… So I as well, entered into creating exercises celebrating this simplicity (granted, a gauged simplicity with specific goals) and also entered into improvisations to music I found appealing and inspiring (even sexy!), releasing any expectations I had of myself.
What occurred was an exploration of rhythm and a challenging of speed and breath. And what appeared were movements in my improvisations that resembled symptoms (dyskinesia in particular). And then I took what appeared and worked toward exploring a question that Monica presented – Does dyskinesia have a specific rhythm? And something we both questioned – Where do these movements originate in the body and how does the body respond and compensate?
For now, I can’t envision what sort of presentation of any of this material could look like, but I do have a much better grasp of what Parkinson’s means and what my connections to it are. I feel confident that whatever is happening in those working spaces is fuel for creating positive energy for creation, for healing and for advancement.
For example, one of the Parkinson’s Dancers is embarrassed by her tremor, I’d love to give her the chance to overcome that embarrassment or fear. I explored my own fears/shortcomings in movement (lack of length/extension for example) just to see how I felt and try to find joy inside of this task. One of the most powerful objectives of this project for me is helping people to change their relationships to their shortcomings, fears and deficiencies. And to send them back out into the world with a little more ease as well as power in that ease.
My month of research is up. I’ll be back this summer. If anything from my writings has prompted questions or comments, please feel free to respond below in the comments section.
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