History makes one aware that there is no finality in human affairs; there is not a static perfection or an unimproveable wisdom to be achieved. -Bertrand Russell
The worlds of dance, disability and medicine came together in a wonderful way today. Tamar, myself and the dancers of Balletvale+ visited Valencia's premier's dance company, Generalitat Valenciana. With any traditional dance company, the professional dancers would have taught the dancers with disabilities, but the work that Tamar and I do is anything but traditional. For the last two days we have been preparing the Balletvale+ dancers by teaching them "Body Scripting." Today we asked them to be choreographers for the professional dancers of Generalitat Valenciana and develop choreography using the lessons they have learned during our sessions.
We have been talking to the teachers and PT's at Balletvale+ about developing methods and techniques that would work to change the habitual patterns of their dancers with cerebral palsy and other disabilities. It's also important to realize however, that classically trained dancers also have extremely entrenched habitual patterns that have been developed over years of consistent, repetitive training. Maybe dancers and people with cerebral palsy have more in common then they realize. Their both, in their own way, experts on their own body with very specific body intelligences.
So much happened today, but words are failing me at the moment. Maybe I'll let these images speak for me. Enjoy and more tomorrow.
Gregg & Tamar
Dancers from Generalitat Valencia, Teatre i Dansa
The Balletvale+ choreographers give "body scripts" to professional dancers
Dancers perform the choreography of the Balletvale+ choreographers
The Balletvale+ dancers join the dancers of Generalitat Valencia
It has been a very full forty-eight hours. I feel like Tamar and I have accomplished more in two days here in Spain then we ever could have imagined. This is in large part due to the generosity and dedication of our wonderful hosts at Balletvale+, who bring not only their incredible knowledge of dance to the table, but whom have created a space so filled with love and compassion for everyone who come through their doors, in particular the young people with disabilities we have met, and we will be forever grateful for their generosity.
Since we began on Monday morning, we have taught four classes and introduced our work, including "Body Scripting" (Tamar's term for her unique choreographic approach) and "Shaking" (our term for the release technique we used during our body work sessions), to dozens of children with CP and a small but dedicated cadre of dancers and physical therapists.
Meet Pepa our "anatomical spirit guide" during our sessions
In addition, this evening we gave a talk to parents, children and therapists at an organization called FUVANE/Foundacion Valenciana de Neurorehabilitacion.
A promotional poster for our talk at FUVANE
Every day brings new challenges and discoveries- "Eureka moments"- both for ourselves and all the participants involved. What's most exciting, is how quickly people of any age or nationality, are able to grasp the concept of identifying a part of their body, focusing in on it and exploring that particular part(s) through movement- be it their sternum, their two lowest ribs on their right side, or the space between their elbow and their belly button. The body is full of infinite possibilities and potential. In addition to choreographing for the students and giving them more awareness of their own bodies, we ask them to become choreographers, and develop movement scripts for people in the class- children and adults alike. This not only serves to reinforce the ideas, but gives them a sense of agency and ownership over the process. Y es muy divertido, verdad? Si!
Once we are finished with our classes with the students, and after a lunch break of delicious Valencian cuisine, Tamar and I meet with the dancers, physical therapists and dancers from Balletvale+ (along with a wonderful group of interpreters), to talk more in depth about our work and process.
Dancers and PT's from Balletvale+ experience "Shaking"
There is a special alchemy happening here with this exchange, the impact of which I'm sure we won't be able to fully measure for sometime. I wish I could go into all the exciting, minute detail, but there are only so many hours in the day, a lot of work to be done and a six hour time difference. For now, I promise to keep posting and am looking forward to sharing this experience with you.
Tamar and I arrived in Valencia, Spain yesterday at the invitation of the fine people of Balletvale+, a local dance company founded by Esther Mortes. Balletvale+ started a dance program for young children with cerebral palsy in 2012 after Marcia Castillo, a local professor who's young daughter has CP, saw the Good Morning America profile (which originally aired in 2009), about our work and Diagnosis Of A Faun.
We are thrilled that our work continues to have a global reach and are extremely excited about this international collaboration. What's most exciting about what the team at Balletvale+ is doing, is that two physical therapists are part of the company and work consistently with the professional dancers and the young people with CP who participate in the program. This merging of these three worlds- dancers, medical (PT's/doctors) and people with CP is something we are currently working towards in the New York Posse, and as of today is completely unheard of in the States. The fact that we can share our insights, about dance, the body and disability, with such a wide array of dedicated experts is a unique experience and a true gift for the both of us.
Throughout the week, we will be teaching a series of classes, speaking at a local neurological foundation and presenting a screening of Enter The Faun- with Spanish subtitles! Ole!
We look forward to posting regularly while here, we'll keep you updated on the work we're up to and if there are any new findings.
A few weeks ago in Tamar's class, Tamar started off the class by asking us where in our body we felt tight or stiff. I mentioned my feet, someone else mentioned their lumbar area and a third person said, their brain. We laughed, and then the laughter stopped. In the spirit of the class and following Tamar's lead, we began an hour and a half exploration of the brain as if it were just another part of the body and a point of initiation for movement. This exploration has continued for the last few weeks.
This dancing with and from our brains was a new idea for us that has opened up a whole incredible realm of possibilities. So much of our focus for the last several years has been about the body, its various parts and those parts in relationship to themselves and each other. We don't often think about that mush inside the bones that are our skull- and what mush! The brain is incredibly layered (it's mostly fat and water), full of neurons, it actually floats in liquid and generates and runs on electricity- Electricity! After a few classes, adding the brain to our arsenal of movement scripting seems like a real...well, no brainer.
For several years I have been working with a young woman named Margot. She is also a "character" in the documentary. We meet once a week for 2-3 hours at a time and she always sends me feedback in the form of notes. Following the first time we worked with the brain in class, I decided it to try it with her and I found her notes following that particular session the clearest and most articulate I have ever seen.
One major facet of the work is the development of a different vocabulary to address the body. More on this in a future blog post, but this meld of images, actual anatomy and ideas to feed into the body was something Tamar and I developed over time. It is something we are passing on to people like Margot and our Posse members.
With her permission, I have included Margot's notes here.
May 3 2015
Margot imagines a brain on her tailbone
I saw Gregg today. I think he noticed I was a little tense. I came into the room and had a pretty nice landing when I put my tailbone further down to sit. Gregg had an idea. He went down the steps, got on the floor and rolled over a few times himself. “I think I want to do some dancing with you rather than walking. I’m not a choreographer but I remember some stuff” said Gregg. “Sounds good to me. It’s all dancing with body directions though. Nobody walks like that.” I said. He put two books under each of my feet. The PTs used to do the same thing in an attempt to keep my feet in a more parallel position. It didn’t really work back then. “Your body is different now” Gregg reminded me. He was absolutely right. The muscles near my sits bones on the back of my leg felt like they had a giant knot in them but other than that my legs were more receptive than they were back in my years of PT. I asked Gregg to hold my legs in place at first just in case. For a change it was easier to keep my legs on the books once Gregg forced me to close my eyes because I didn’t feel like my legs were off the ground. “How about moving from your brain like it is just like any other body part” Gregg suggested. He explained that before we more or less viewed our brains as something big that we had to work around because it was against us. I also have to wonder if Gregg didn’t focus on the brain as much because I used to separate “the CP” from “myself” verbally.
Margot imagines brains on her hands
I understand why that was a concern for Gregg because in a sense by separating it from me I was denying a part of myself and letting “the CP” control me. In all honesty though I just thought of thinking of CP that way was just plain cute and nothing more than words before. Anyway, as soon as I started body scripting with my brain the same way I would with my shoulder blades or sternum my brain replied “Thanks for noticing me.” I noticed my brain could “talk” like the other parts of my body more or less. All I could think of was the fluid that surrounds the brain moving around like when I shake on the floor with the brain floating around. It made me get little mouth shakes. I had a lot of yawning. I used the brain image of lengthen my neck, I had an image of the CP(which kind of looked like a cute little bent neuron) finding a little door inside my brain and locking itself inside saying “I’m not coming out!” then pasting a sign on the tiny door saying “OCCUPIED!” Meanwhile the spiraling signal(a straight neuron) was watching nearby in another part of my brain. Gregg told me to put another little brain image in my pelvic floor. Then he turned youtube on again so I could dance to the classical music. I was happy both my upper and lower body were getting attention. Gregg told me to move my shoulder blades,clavicles, and from my armpits more. Then he had me work with “the inside of my legs”. It felt like dancing simply with the spiraling image itself. At one point the spiraling seemed to move at the same speed as the beat of the song. As this was happening I had the image of a door that looked like a saltine cracker and was completely edible. I tend to think of food when I do certain body/movement scripts for some random reason. Then my arms stretched over to one side of the couch and went in circles as my fingers ran over my neck and other body parts. As my legs and arms moved together to the song I felt a free flow of signals/energy that was similar to shaking(except voluntary) and had an almost magical quality. My whole body was in full voluntary spiral mode. When my body feels like this I have almost no tension at all and my body can move anywhere it wants. “You’re a good dancer Margot” said Gregg. I stood up and ended up stepping backwards instead of falling which was cool.
New York Posse member Christine Bruno: I know I had a breakthrough last week and really want to keep investigating with our posse and work toward a plan that keeps me on track between our meetings. I have been realizing the past few months - especially at last week's meeting - that I need to make this work a priority NOW!
Note from Tamar:
Christine was working with Gregg and Shawn Shafner, our newest Posse member from the dance community. They had her focusing and investigating her shin and calf muscles and how it is to instigate a new walk from in between those places. Sometimes, a brand new focus can break through a habitual pattern and in that moment of newness, the brain seems to figure something out. Christine, as an actor, has mastered the power of concentration.
We invite you to comment, and don't forget to like the Enter The Faun pageon Facebook!
I hope you all are enjoying this beautiful weekend day and are getting out into this Spring air a bit, because it sure is nice out there right now. Or it was until I came back inside.
I wanted to share an idea that we've got kicking around for the continued outreach efforts around Enter The Faun.
Enter The Faun premiered a few weeks ago at the Sarasota Film Festival and it was very well received. People loved it. In addition to that however, Tamar Rogoff and I did several workshops bringing together members of the dance and disability community down there, and it was phenomenal. We met and worked with over 100 people (abled/disabled, dancers/non-dancers), and are currently in talks with them to continue this work and develop a dedicated program a la Mark Morris's Dance for PD program.
There's an incredible alchemy in bringing these two communities together, and we think it can be a real model for effecting change. Dancers may have more consciously learned movement patterns than any other profession. Among the many forms and techniques of dance there are often conflicting instructions, and the dancer must translate these ideas into movement and artistry. People with CP may understand negotiating conflicting instructions and integrating them into movement better than most people. Both have a unique relationship and knowledge of the body. Dance is a performing art built upon the ebb and flow of muscular tension. Through muscular tension, dancers express their aesthetic sensibilities. The word "dance," in fact, stems from the Old High German "danson," meaning to stretch, and from the earlier Sanskrit root "tan," meaning tension. The building and resolution of tensions we experience in dance training and performance can affect us deeply -- kinesthetically, emotionally, and spiritually.
We had one of our posse meetings here in New York last Monday, and began to integrate dancers from the Hunter Grad program, where we collaborated on a project with the Posse last Fall. This set up just feels right. We believe there can be no limit to what can occur through this exchange of ideas and work with the body. As our experiment continues we now are asking ourselves two new questions; why can't physical therapy be an exploration of movement in its purest and myriad forms? Why can't it contain artistry? We feel we can model for this potential "Dance for CP Program" (working title) with the connections we have made here in NYC and now in Sarasota to see how this develops. New posses are developing and expanding all the time. We're still figuring this out, but we know this is the direction we want to go in. We'll keep you posted and look forward to sharing more of what we find. Gregg
I am thrilled to announce that Enter The Faun will premiere on April 15th and 18th at the Sarasota Film Festival in Florida. The team is terribly excited as you can imagine. Gregg and I will travel to Sarasota and do workshops and outreach activities. We will also celebrate the whole team's achievements to have gotten us this far! Thanks to all of you who have helped along the way these 8 long years. More soon from sunny Sarasota.
Sarasota Film Festival Screenings:
Regal Hollywood Stadium 20
Wednesday, April 15, 12:30 PM
Saturday, April 18, 3:00 PM
P.S. - Let us know if you know anyone in Sarasota and be sure to spread the word!
I’m wondering about the role of empathy in healing. Is it true that scientists/doctors fear empathy because it may obscure the diagnosis/treatment process? Emotions might come in and we all know how unwieldy emotions can be—so it follows that getting to know your patient intimately might be a bad thing because you then could get confused on the scientific path. For me the empathy (I admit to being the empathy queen) sends me to the exact right balance in doing body work with people. It’s in service of the person that I use my eyes to scan their bodies, my instinct to sense the rigid places. I call forth everything I’ve ever read and everything scientific and from the dance world I know to impact working with the them. The gift I give them is the balance I feel within myself. Empathy/emotions have energy and I need every bit of that energy to find the eureka solution in the situation before me.
Jessy Yates and Tamar Rogoff at the March 2015 NYC Cerebral Posse Meeting
This is me and Jessy Yates at our last Posse meeting. Jessy either whizzes around on her scooter or falls chaotically at a rapid rate through space to wherever she is going. Here we are using my ski poles upside down to slow her down and give her balance and awareness. In the background the whole Posse is giving verbal feedback. In this collaboration Jessy also has to find her sense of empathy for me and my body, as our conversation goes back and forth--body to body.
When the Cerebral Posse first met in March of 2014 several great things happened, but there were two big takeaways for me that evening:
The first, I had something confirmed for me; that people with disabilities, and in this particular case, people with cerebral palsy, don't commune on a regular, consistent basis. At the start of the evening all of us acknowledged how strange this was. None of us had ever been around this many people with CP before. This was 2014 and there were six of us ranging in age from our early twenties to our mid-forties. This was good for me to hear and important for all of us to know. It's something we need to make the larger public aware of; that very first meeting was the start of a very important paradigm shift. It brought to mind a Margaret Meade quote - Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
The second, as we sat around the table sharing our personal histories with various surgeries, physical therapy and experiences within the medical community, I noticed another common thread emerging. Each one of us had been given a different definition and reason for their cerebral palsy from their parents. Our parents had probably passed this story down from an explanation given to them by doctors, and these various stories had become a huge part of each of our personal narratives. The only problem was, none of us had explored much about our CP beyond this initial explanation. I don't think many people do. Until now.
Just a few days ago, I found a letter my mother had written dated May 4, a day before my birthday. In the top right hand corner of the first page, she had written down the time; 8pm, roughly nine hours before I was born. I haven't been able to bring myself to read the letter yet. I don't have a good reason as to why. It's true that I've heard that the past can't hurt me, but something in me is afraid of what I might find.
It is the goal of the various posses to connect with individuals in the CP community, and to empower those individuals to collectively engage with members of the artistic, disability and medical communities. We feel this simple act of engagement can lead to a change of attitude, both for people with CP and the people they come into contact with. It's no small feat and it does take practice, but it's easier than one may realize. Investigation into the unknown can be scary and fraught with peril, but the benefits of knowledge, greater awareness and potential relief that can grow out of that sense of curiosity, I feel, far outweigh the difficulties.