Dancing For Change: The Role of the Body in Creating Community Resilience

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

by Anna Swisher

How can you make a difference?  How can you embody systemic change at a local level?  How do you not burn out? How can you enjoy your life while simultaneously fighting violence, destruction and collapse?  What can you do in your community to support the healing of our world?

Recently, I led a community workshop focused on Dance as Activism.  We explored through movement, as well as group exercises from the Work That Reconnects.

The workshop was a huge success.  Everyone left feeling inspired, with clear action steps to take towards our intentions and initiatives.  But what moved me most was the feeling of togetherness. We inspired each other. We felt less alone. No one of us could do it all, but together, we could do so much.  

A range of emotions was expressed throughout the afternoon: Heartbreak, fear, love, longing, sorrow, anger, desire, doubt, frustration, guilt, tenderness.  Again and again, we turned to our bodies for insight, inspiration, information, and guidance. We allowed our bodies to inform and integrate our intellectual processes.  We danced around a metaphorical fire and hooped, hollered, and cheered each other on, as we burned our fears and doubts, grieved our losses, ignited our desires, and celebrated our unique forms of expression. 

As we shared our closing reflections, people were touched, moved…and hopeful.

Our entire lives take place in our bodies; they are indeed our vehicle, our home, and our storage unit. 

As humans, we have an innate impulse and capacity to use our minds to understand, create, and process things.  But this is not the whole story. Our entire lives take place in our bodies; they are indeed our vehicle, our home, and our storage unit.  We carry generations of genetic information, as well as (at least) one lifetime of experiences, in our bones, muscles, bloodstream, tissues, and organs.  We are the only animal that doesn’t automatically shake our entire body after a traumatic experience, in order to release the trauma from our bodies and continue moving through the world with the relaxed sensitivity needed to respond appropriately to our environment.  Instead, we (usually) carry all the hard stuff around with us, and we develop coping mechanisms, defenses, and addictions to enable us to continue moving through a broken and traumatic world. And then we pass these physical conditions on to our offspring, creating lineages of tight shoulders, stiff postures, mistrust, fear, dis-ease, and self-protection. 

This is why I believe we need to dance.  There is no possible way that we can find our way to a sustainable future with only our minds, when our bodies are responsible for so much of the story.  We must shake out our fear before it claims us; stomp and pound and express our anger before it poisons us. We must celebrate all that is good and beautiful by feeling it in our bodies as we spin around in circles with a grin on our face.  We must let go of our rigid, conditioned and structured ways of moving, and give ourselves permission to be weird, uncoordinated, and silly.  How else will we make it through this chaotic and unprecedented global crisis?  

How will we make it through, indeed?  Where can we look for guidance? Well, when we look to nature, and to all naturally functional systems on the planet, we find something quite astounding about how things change.  It’s called “Emergence.” 

New properties emerge spontaneously as networks connect and organisms adapt together.

Emergence is the idea that when different parts of a system come together, and respond to whatever is happening in the environment in order to continue living and thriving, something new often emerges that is different than the sum of its parts. Something unpredictable.  As connections are made between disparate parts of the system, the entire system develops new properties and capacities that no single organism possessed on its own. New properties emerge spontaneously as networks connect and organisms adapt together.  It is crucial to note that organisms within functional systems must be able to feel what is happening and move spontaneously in order to adapt appropriately. 

We need to come together.  We need to FEEL what is happening in our own bodies, as a response to what is happening around us.  Feeling is essential to responding and evolving appropriately; to preserving Life. We must loosen up our bodies and take deep breaths into our hearts, and dare to feel sorrow, pain, exhaustion, and collapse.  These are appropriate responses to what is happening in our world. And, of course, we have to be willing to change. We have to be willing to show up and come together without knowing what might happen. Then, maybe, we can evolve together in creative, functional, and unpredictable ways. 

How do we bring more organisms and networks together in the spirit of fostering emergence?   

Dance is one way; not the only way.  Our systems are complex. Our communities are already full of people, organisms, with ideas, stories, needs, skills, connections, and concerns.  I dare you to self-organize, to come together, and to see what happens.  

Raise a question that other people in your community might be curious about.  Invite them to show up for an exploration. Get your bodies involved.  If you don’t know how, then find someone who can help you learn to listen to your body.  Find a facilitator.  We need all the help we can get; why would we turn away from the wisdom inherent within us?  We’ve had centuries of denigrating the body in countless ways; let’s try something different.  Maybe we’ll even have some fun while we’re at it. 

This article was first published on Anna’s website:  https://www.tendingthesacredhearth.com/single-post/2019/10/18/Dancing-for-Change-The-Role-of-the-Body-in-Creative-Community-Resilience

Epilogue: Facilitating WTR and Movement

During that particular Dance workshop, in the Corbett exercise, I shared an intention to write an article about our experience together.  I think there is room for more conversation about embodied process within the Work That Reconnects network.  I do not find the Work to be lacking, but much of it is cerebral, and therefore complemented immensely by movement.  The Work aims to access people’s emotion, and I find the body to be the quickest and most direct way into that.  Sometimes trying to find emotion with your mind and your words can be trickier.  I find that weaving movement in between WTR practices feels very complete and complementary, and we avoid bodies getting restless or ignored during longer workshops.

We need to be placing our personal embodied experience into the context of the world we live in.

My perspective is that our body is our most intelligent resource when it comes to evolution and resilience; we just need to remember how to listen, understand, translate, and respect its wisdom.  I’ve been facilitating movement for years.  Then, as I continued to deepen into the WTR, I began wanting to bring the Work into everything I taught or facilitated — because I also don’t feel that movement alone is enough. The body and the mind need to work together. We need to be placing our personal embodied experience into the context of the world we live in.  There is a bigger story going on that we need to be talking about.

I’ve only begun experimenting with adding movement into the WTR exercises themselves. In my humble opinion, the effect of doing so would depend a great deal on the facilitator and on the approach to guiding movement–not to mention the audience/participants.  One of the beauties of the WTR practices is their simplicity and straightforwardness, and I would not want to overcomplicate anything.  I think a danger exists of isolating people who are not comfortable (or able) in their bodies, not accustomed to group embodiment practice, and/or not expecting movement; here the skill, background, awareness of privilege, and sociopolitical/racial literacy of the facilitator is essential.  My experience thus far is that movement-oriented workshops appeal to a rather selective group of people, whereas the WTR seems to appeal to wider audiences.  So combining the two approaches requires some finesse, a lot of awareness and humility, and potentially some compromise.  Simplicity is always good; even just some shaking of the hands and feet, patting or tapping the chest, or jumping up and down in place can make a huge difference.  It helps just to acknowledge the body, say hello, wake it up, ask it to come online and participate.

The physical body is the most direct way into the emotional body, and sometimes we need a little help accessing our emotions.

I will certainly be experimenting more as I continue to grow as a facilitator, but currently I am content to juxtapose movement with WTR practices.  I have enjoyed weaving WTR prompts or related ideas into movement practice, in preparation for a deeper dive into a WTR exercise; again, this mostly comes from my perspective that the physical body is the most direct way into the emotional body, and sometimes we need a little help accessing our emotions.  And, as I speak to in the article, it is essential that the organism is able to FEEL in order to RESPOND appropriately.  I also feel that movement practice can bring people closer to one another, allow them to share more vulnerably, and stimulate connection where words might not.  It also has the potential to bring up wounding and conflict, which is also essential to the conversation.  So it seems important that we prepare ourselves for that.

Anna Swisher “Garden headshot”

Anna Swisher is a community activist, ecopsychologist, youth mentor, movement teacher and Work That Reconnects facilitator from California.  She currently lives in western Ireland. Find out more about Anna, and her work, at www.tendingthesacredearth.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.