Cassandra: How does dance therapy traditionally use Laban Movement Analysis?
Katharina: In dance therapy we explore how our behavior is reflected in our movements. The dance therapist is trained to see these physical and emotional patterns in movement through the system of Laban Movement Analysis. Yet this information is often not shared with the client because it seems to be too complex to be understood without training. The information is kept as the professional language that is shared by and with professionals. The dance therapist does interventions; the client usually is not getting the full picture. But what if we work with people that are experienced in personal process, movement and/or therapy? Could we find a way to offer the use of Laban Analysis as a method to self-development and growth? How could we create a model that offers ways for clients to create their own interventions? These were the questions Joanna and I were asking when we began to form Moving Our Selves.
Cassandra: The application of Laban theory in your work is unique. How did you develop this approach?
Joanna: I had conducted a research project entitled “Carving Out a Personal Practice: From Complexity to Simplicity Through the Activation of Self”. I wanted to see if I could use the Laban Bartenieff Movement System (LBMS) to create an intervention for myself, in order to support my own process of change. I had reached a plateau in my life -- I felt physically, emotionally, and artistically “stuck.” By integrating LBMS into my work with a psychotherapist, physical therapist, and Pilates trainer, I was able to use LBMS as a common language to bridge between these three modalities. Much to my surprise, I discovered that my underlying patterns, psychologically and physically, were identical. I didn’t expect to find such clear evidence of the uniformity of my patterns, and my own predictability. I came to realize that my mind and body were not just interconnected, but one entity.
Using LBMS, I analyzed the patterns in which I felt “stuck” on micro and macro levels. I created and practiced, in the studio and out, variations of these patterns as interventions. By drawing on these variations, I was able interrupt my habits and created shifts in my ways of being and doing. I still use these tools to become “unstuck” in various aspects of my life, whenever and wherever needed. As I presented this research in various settings, I found it resonated strongly for other women. I was curious -- what was personal and what was universal about this research? I began collaborating with Katharina on ways to support others through a similar process of creatively exploring their own movement patterns, using LBMS as a framework.
Cassandra: How do you connect Laban Movement Analysis to self-growth?
Katharina: Joanna and I looked for ways to use the Laban Bartenieff Movement System (LBMS) with dance educators, dancers and therapists to support self-knowledge and growth. We designed methods for participants to gather information about their own movement choices and preferences through practical exercises with partners, groups and individually. Each participant then creates his or her own mini personal movement profile by graphically ordering this information so that it can be seen all at once. More awareness and understanding of choices arise by talking about movement experiences and connecting them to personal lives. Participants then play with the graphic representation to formulate personal interventions as a way to try on new possibilities, which are tested out in a physical way.
Joanna: While the patterns each of us have developed may serve us well at times, we may also wish to have more choices in how we operate. Using LBMS we can learn to recognize when, where, how and why we tend to “get stuck” in our patterns. From there we can explore ways to literally move through our “stuck state”. This can be challenging to do on one’s own because by definition when we are stuck in a pattern, we feel unable to find other options. We may experience our patterns as ongoing loops from which escape feels impossible. Alternate ways of being and doing may already exist in our repertoire, although we may not yet utilize them when we need them the most. This is where the richness of Laban Bartenieff Movement System is invaluable. It provides a taxonomy of what, where, when, how and why movement can occur, offering us a map of possibilities. We can use it to find our way to new places we’ve never been before. And there are infinite ways of going about using the system to create shifts. Some of the system is built on dualities, some on a spectrum or continuum, some of it progresses developmental. We can try going directly to the opposite of a tendency, which may or may not be accessible at that time. Or we can graduate through subtle developmental progressions that build upon one another. Or we can sidle up to change through a related concept or affinity, building on areas of expertise. Experiencing and practicing new options in the studio enable us to call upon these possibilities in our lives.
Cassaandra: How do you use graphic models to support the process of change?
Katharina: When I worked with Joanna on this application for the first time I was struck by the graphic clarity of patterns. Through seeing my personal tendencies in a visual model I had created, it was possible to create an intervention that could alter my unbalanced tendencies. I found that exerting myself to respond to other’s needs was so natural that I was likely to overuse this pattern. Only when I was alone did I retreat to rest and recuperate. When we talked about the possibility of exerting more in service to myself, and retreating and resting with others, tears came into my eyes. It was a huge change to let this thought resonate in myself. Especially interesting for me was the idea of finding recuperation in the company of others. Like many women in my professional and personal life, I’m accustomed to taking care of the needs of others, revitalizing only when I am alone. The idea of finding recuperation when in relationship with others was revolutionary to me. This possibility gave space for more quality time with myself. I reached this intervention by studying my tendencies, visualizing them in a graphic way, and playing creatively with possible changes in my patterns.
Joanna: We use writing, drawing and sculptures to create models that illustrate concepts and patterns, providing concrete representations of what might seem to be quite abstract. This grounds the work and provides a clear container for people to organize the content of their investigations. I was struck by the commonalities of certain patterns that were shared, and at the same time how each person’s mini-profile was so distinct and unique, and their process of change so personally relevant. The graphic, symbolic level of this work enables us to recognize patterns.
Cassandra: Can you give an example of how this process might play out in a dance therapy practice?
Katharina: A client I worked with was always exhausted. She believed everyone in her personal and professional life was depending on her. We decided to take a look at how she might be part of this problem. We investigated her physical choices when starting something new. We found that she used Quick Time Effort to start new activities, before she was even aware of what she was doing. She efficiently used Direct Space Effort and an Advancing Shape Quality to proceed forward. Because of her narrow focus, however, she could only move along that specific path. She had little awareness of the back of her body or the space behind her – it was difficult for her to “lean back” into herself, or the world around her, to recuperate and rest. This corresponded with her feelings of being alone and lacking support. We put these elements together: quick start/ narrow focused advancing pathway/little awareness of her back. We experimented with physically performing these three elements together. Then we changing the phrasing of the movement by finding alternatives to the quickness with which she initiated each action. The effects were amazing. When she started an action with more Sustained Time she had a chance to take in her environment. She was able to use more Indirect Space to notice the people around her, began finding alternate ways to solve the problem of over exertion, and felt more support in her back. Her walking changed in response to these shifts in perception and experience. When she brought this practice into her life she felt less alone and less rushed. Her energy level rose and she was able to set boundaries that accurately reflected her needs in relationships. People in her life enjoyed the opportunity to take more initiative, and expressed feeling more supported by her. Her life started to feel more pleasurable as her interaction with others developed more fluidity.
Joanna: As dance educator Bill Evans often reminds us, “a change in the part means a change in the whole”. Katharina’s client made a small shift in her use of Time Effort in the Initiation stage of her phrasing, which created a large and meaningful change in her life.
Cassandra: How does Moving our Selves differ from conventional dance therapy?
Katharina: In the Moving Our Selves workshop, and in my own private practice as a dance movement therapist, I’ve seen individuals use this work effectively to discover new insights and further their own growth. To understands one’s patterns, to play around with possibilities, to reverse possibilities into their opposite, can create life shifts. Rethinking choices and actually trying out other options can be the first step to real change. Moving Our Selves offers a clearly structured and guided path to creating your own interventions. In that perspective MOS is different from personal therapy. In essence the process is self-contained and conscious. It is designed for people that have the desire to create their own intervention under the supervision of two experienced Laban analysts.
Cassandra: What are the underlying concepts most critical to your work?
Joanna: We begin and end with the premise that we are our movement. I think the notion of the mind/body connection is misleading in a sense, as it posits our mind and body as two separate entities. Our movement reflects various thinking, feeling, sensing, and intuitive aspects of ourselves. There is a very real fractal relationship between how we move on a “physical” level, and how we move through our lives -- both of which can be identified in terms of patterns. These patterns, micro and macro, inner and outer, self and other, are reflected in lively and revealing ways. Our movement reveals our own stories, if we know how to look.
Once we become aware of our tendencies and preferences in movement, we begin to recognize these patterns in our lives. Then we can begin to play creatively. Change is movement and movement is change. New movement experiences in the studio allow us to make new choices in our lives. By literally “practicing” new ways of moving, these alternate patterns become available to us when we want and need to call them up. Conversely, changes we make in our lives can support us to access new movement possibilities in the studio. It’s a wonderfully vibrant circle.
Katharina: The work is not about someone else telling us who we are and how we function, but learning to use tools that enable us to determine our patterns for ourselves and make decisions about creating change. This is very powerful, to discover greater independence and depth of self-understanding.
Joanna Brotman CMA (Certified Movement Analyst) is a dance/movement educator, dance artist, and dance writer based in New York City and working internationally. She is currently on the core faculty of the Laban/Bartenieff Certification Programs in Scotland and Israel, and has taught at the Laban/Bartenieff Institute of Movement Studies, NYC. Joanna has led movement intensives in the U.S., Amsterdam, and Poland, and will be teaching in Russia in July 2017. A certified teacher of Evans Laban/Bartenieff-Based Dance Technique and Pedagogy, Joanna is also a Part-Time Lecturer in the Dance Education Masters Program at Rutgers University and on the dance faculty of The Dalton School. Her dance writing can be found in PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art (MIT Press).
Katharina Conradi, MA (dance therapy), CMA (Certified Movement Analyst), is a choreographer, dance therapist and dance/movement educator based in Amsterdam. She works at the University for the Performing Arts in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Katharina teaches internationally in Poland, Spain, Germany and Belgium, and in the Laban Certification Program in Belgium. She recently collaborated with Matina Sideri on the book The Home Project – At Home in Amsterdam, a collection of interviews of the residents of the Jordann. www.katharinaconradi.com
Cassandra Seltman is a Brooklyn-based writer and psychotherapist working with adults, children and families. She did her undergraduate work in written arts at Bard College and her graduate work at City University of New York, Hunter College. She completed her externship at the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. She published Palimpsest: Down in 2014 with inpatient press, and her critical writing has been published in The LA Review of Books. She is currently working with Felix Bernstein on an epistolary novel, Denver, of which a selection can be read in Flash Art International: 309.