Dance, movement, somatics and spiritualities

by | Sep 3, 2019 | 0 comments

This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Moving Soma conference Cultural, Intercultural and Transnational Dialogues in Dance and Spirituality (30, 31 August 1st September 2019) at Moving Soma’s brand new studios in Cheltenham, UK

The centre’s lead Dr Amanda Williamson curated and organised this powerful event bringing together a broad range of practitioners, academics, movers, dancers and open-hearted souls looking for the connections between the dancing, spiritual and somatic bodies.

In 2014, Amanda asked

“what are the meeting points between embodied somatic practice and spirituality, and how can they be analysed and theorized without diminishing the felt life of the moving body? How can we theorize practice without smothering sensation? How can we intelligently write about subjective deeply felt spiritual processes…how can we write about practice making sure comprehensible intelligent ideas are offered, avoiding the enduring idea that depth of embodied spiritual experience cannot be adequately articulated in words, and thus remains hidden in the realms of the nonverbal?” (Williamson, Amanda, ed. Williamson, Batson, Whatley, Weber 2014, p 5).

Drawing an alignment with Rudolf Laban’s theories and somatic practices such as Authentic Movement (which asserts the primacy of the first-person experience of moving and thinking) I am thinking about the experience of the moving body and its spiritual connections whilst attempting to bring such living presence into language on the “academic page” (ibid). I want to explore how the spiritual can be “felt and sensed and theoretically located in practice” (ibid).

This of course was familiar territory for Laban who sought to name and reveal the spiritual life of the body through dance and movement. He said,
[there is] an inner attitude out of which true dance arises like a flame…there is an energy behind all occurrences and material things for which it is almost impossible to find a name. A hidden, forgotten landscape lays there, the land of silence the realm of the soul” (Laban, 1975, pp 90-94).

I think somatic practices, in their various forms, offer us the possibility of accessing this ‘silent land’. By toning one’s inner focus to pay attention to the life of the heart, the cells, the fascia, the lungs and how their functions allow us to connect with the world around us, we might glimpse the mysterious places in-between. By corporeally, somatically knowing the cell and the heart, by extension we might come to know the spirit in ourselves and in our communities as Laban remind us, “the cell state of the body is a great co-operative of specialised cell-groups” (Laban, ed Ullmann, 1971, p. 13) and mirrors the potential for social organisation and cooperation. And the heartbeat is “a contraction of a part of the body” (Laban, 2011, p. 29) which is ultimately a ‘crystallisation’. In its beating, the heart ‘touches’ itself and ‘touch’ according to Laban is a “fundamental sense” (Laban, 2011, p. 4) which humans are increasingly losing capacity for and “his [man’s] increasing tactile incapacity”, results in an inability to see “the amazing unity of all existence” (Laban, ibid).

Attending to the inner gaze of movement experience was a core part of Laban’s work and Lisa Ullmann reminds us of this, where Laban himself led classes in “the other side of the art of movement” which involved a “listening inward, the becoming aware of one’s heartbeat and breathing…a kind of oriental prayer…a rhythmical interchange…movement with its inward and outward streaming between poles of meditation, contemplation and concentration at one end and at the other, action, efficiency and practical achievement” (Ullmann, K/XZ/2279, 1979, p. 22).

In a recent Facebook post after the death of writer Toni Morrison earlier this year, Dr Clarissa Pimkola Estes writing in remembrance of friends and colleagues passed, (including Toni Morrison; Maya Angelou; Mary Oliver; Betty Shabazz) said “writing is what I’d call ‘extending our limited memories’ into pages and pages of memories we could never recall all in one brain. What magic”. I agree and see the same in movement. Movement extends an image, idea, issue, memory into corporeal reality and therefore allows the mover to connect to it in a somatic way, making something which seems intangible into something visceral, corporeal. The mover can act on this information, with insight gained from an embodiment of the thing/idea/issue/image/memory and therefore meet the world with a deep embodied understanding of it. This is what I call the Artist citizen, whose, “artful actions are carefully cultivated, not for show, but for the benefit of individuals and communities” and where “somatic wisdom fosters a depth of awareness in making personal, social and political decisions” (Eddy, 2017; 276-277).

Or in Laban’s words,
“the bodily perspective, with all its significance for the human personality, can have a regenerating effect on our individual and social forms of life” (Laban, 1966, p. 8)

Dr Amanda Williamson and her family at Moving Soma achieved a remarkable thing this weekend. Much like I imagine Laban’s dance farm at Ascona, Amanda brought like-minds, bodies and souls into relationship, into deep connection where the often-rejected notion of spirituality in movement and dance was interrogated, celebrated and where harmonious and unitive experiences were frequent, embodied and shared. And more! These experiences will continue to flourish and find new insights in their written form thanks to Intellect who publish the journal Dance, Movement and Spiritualities

Thank you to all those who participated in the event. Your ‘touch’ has left an impression upon me that continues to work into my bodymind and I think will do so for a while to come. Thank you, Amanda and Scott.

Eddy, Martha. Mindful Movement: The Evolution of the Somatic Arts and Conscious Action, Intelllect: Bristol, 2017.

Laban, Rudolf. Ed. Lisa Ullmann. Rudolf Laban speaks about Movement and Dance: Laban Art of Movement Centre: Addlestone, Surrey, 1971.

Laban, Rudolf. Choreutics: Dance Books Ltd: Alton Hampshire, UK, 1966/2011.

Laban, Rudolf. translated by Lisa Ullmann. A Life For Dance: Macdonald and Evans Ltd: London 1975.

Ullmann, L. (1979). Laban Guild Magazine Article: My Apprenticeship with Laban [Typed manuscript]. Rudolf Laban Archive, K/XZ/2279 . University of Surrey, Guildford.
Williamson, Amanda ed. Dance, Somatics and Spiritualities – Contemporary Sacred Narratives: Intellect, Bristol, UK/Chicago, USA, 2014.


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