Notes From Dance Discourse Project #9: The internal practice informs the external world

Notes From Dance Discourse Project #9: The internal practice informs the external world

On October 18, 2010 Bay Area arts community members met at CounterPULSE for the Dance Discourse Project #9: Dance and Somatics in the Bay Area–What’s the Connection? Co-presented by Dancers’ Group the event looked at how somatic practices and dance are intertwined in the Bay Area. To learn more visit

At the exciting event participants were broken up into small groups where they discussed a variety of pertinent issues. Below is Maureen Walsh’s account of the discussions led by Anne Bluethenthal and Lisa Wymore about the intersection between (personal) somatic practices and how it informs the external, public body, and social change in general.


“Somatics teaches empathy!” she said exuberantly.

It was within the last few minutes of thoughtful discussion at a table brimming with sharp minds and eager hearts. Lisa Wymore (who co-facilitated the how-somatics-intersects-with-social-change table with Anne Bluethenthal) came to this conclusion after an almost 40 minute conversation that ranged wildly in topic: the institutionalization of somatic methodologies; the elitism of somatic practice; how civil systems and institutionalization affect our bodies/movement; the role formal educators play in our somatic and therefore intellectual and social learning; how social change is rooted in the body; politically why somatics has been rising in popularity in the past 20 years.

We grappled with huge ideas, but it was a pleasant surprise that all or most of the participants had questions and knowledge based in teaching practice. These weren’t just folks who like to move (although there is nothing wrong with that!) they are the people who continue the theoretical conversations by broadening young adult minds in University settings, the people who teach low-income kids movement and expression, the people who don’t charge much in their personal practice so that underprivileged women can feel deserving and empowered through movement and body knowledge–it was apparent right from the start that these are the people who are updating and changing our society with small movements, one body at a time.

It’s difficult to engage oneself so deeply in any one thing theses days. Life and information move at such a rapid pace that it can be hard to stop and dedicate time to becoming masterful at one thing. This is why somatic practice or body practice of any kind can be difficult for many people to pursue. People of our culture and information age can tend to get stuck in a rut, and “unconscious groove” as it was called at the table, with lives that are populated by material things, gadgets, quick streaming information and a fast pace to keep up with it all. We are taught from an early age to focus our attention to the minutia of life: writing and forming letters in between half inch lines on a sheet of paper, instead of drawing large brush strokes bigger than our bodies,and all before the age of 5, for example. We are taught to follow the leader, to fall into, and be comfortable in, this “unconscious groove,” to shy away from asking questions of our leaders, making bold gestures to change ourselves, or investigate our movements, both personally and societally. Practicing somatics, it was posited, is a tool that can take us out of this “unconscious groove.” It’s a way to challenge our body, to make changes at a cellular level that can inform us and directly translate into changes in mind, spirit, and outward change of our lives and the lives of others.

The rightful connection was made between public interest in the somatic movement during the early 1900s and our current interest in coming back to body awareness in a holistic way. Then the masses were fearful of losing personal touch to the industry, the city, mass production, and technology. Folks longed for a pastoral life, for a time when life was more natural, like life on the farm. Now society is fearful of losing personal touch, to the internet, digialization, cyberlife, and technology. It parallels that we desire a life more connected to material objects, to physical labor, to people, to bodies, to our own bodies.

After many heady and heavy topics were addressed, and many frustrations expressed, Wymore’s comment–that somatics teaches empathy–carried the enthusiasm and hope of solving world peace. It was an uplifting, light-bulb-moment, a positively pleasant way to end our discussion. Using somatic practice as a teaching tool (or teaching somatic investigation in itself) helps others connect with their bodies. Somatic practice takes a deliberate and often serious consciousness, one that calls for quietude and observation in order to fully engage and investigate problems, over-compensations and ineptitudes. It takes slowing down, being genuinely curious about challenging moments, working through difficulties with thoughtfulness, intelligence and a freedom to fail. It makes you vulnerable, makes you communicate openly, makes you accountable to how you move and how you move others, it allows an awakening of body, mind, and spirit. All these things are held within the body to start, but if somatics teaches empathy (which I believe it does), what starts in the body will translate to outward action, conversation; the investigation and changes within will translate into a changing and more informed, more curious external body–maybe even the societal body. What would our world be if we could attribute these internal changes and traits to our society? If we applied the deliberation, consciousness, vulnerable feeling, and curiosity of our somatic practice to our political structures, our leaders, our social programs–what would our world look like then?

Maureen Walsh

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