How does Dance Movement Therapy work?

Dance Movement Therapy starts with the base idea that the body and mind are one. “Body movement reflects inner emotional states and changes in movement behavior can lead to changes in the psyche. . .Helping individuals to regain a sense of wholeness by experiencing the fundamental unity of body, mind, and spirit is the ultimate goal of dance movement therapy” (Dance Movement Therapy, a healing art by Fran Levy, pg 1).

What I often find is that people with healthy relationships to themselves and others have a naturally comfortable interaction and communication between their conscious and their unconscious mind. There are different parts of the brain that interact, and some of what we do and think and feel is conscious, and some is unconscious. With people who have healthy relationships, the unconscious and conscious parts of the brain are communicating all the time and working together well, and not at odds with each other. Where there are dysfunctional relationships, or what I see as dysfunctional, the conscious and unconscious parts of the brain/mind have a very different relationship. It is oppositional, or extremely disconnected, and the flow of communicating between the two is disrupted for some reason. Dance movement therapy is so powerful because it works different parts of the brain at the same time, and works to improve the communication between the conscious and the unconscious parts of the brain/mind. This has a positive effect on the person’s relationship with him or herself, and with their relationships with other people.

 

The way dance movement therapy does this is by working both physically and symbolically. When you move in metaphors and symbols, or qualitatively in response to images or music, it taps into the unconscious parts of you. The conscious mind is invited along for the ride by witnessing the movement and feeling the physical aspects of moving on deeper and deeper levels as you continue the work. Sometimes, we begin from a physical place, where someone moves their shoulders in different directions, or experiences moving through the room in different directions, or with different speeds. The person is registering his or her experience, feeling the physical sensations that go along with moving, and noticing what happens and how his or her body responds when he or she make different movement choices. Other times, we begin from a mental place, starting from an idea or an image and allowing movement to come forth from our imagination. Last but not least, sometimes we begin from our emotions, which are a combination of physical sensations and thoughts. We are moved to move, and moved to express. This is a powerful way in the end to bring together our unconscious desires, thoughts, and feelings that rest inside of us, with our understanding, intellect, and ability to see ourselves. Clarity is gained through the process, and this helps people on many levels, emotionally, physically, and mentally.

There are many feelings that are hard to get to through words, and it’s important to have a way to move that leaves enough freedom for all of our emotions. Dance movement therapy brings together the healing power of the arts, of ritual and dance’s humble beginnings in our ancient ancestors, kinesiology, anatomy, learning how to use the body in more safe and stable ways, and a joy of movement that can be shared with others.

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My Favorite Place

This essay was an assignment from my current writing class.

My favorite place is a park. I haven’t quite been there yet, but it was in a book I read as a child, about a girl whose sister was going to die at a young age. It was a field with many yellow wildflowers, and the two sisters used to sit in the field for hours. After the one sister died of an illness, the other sister sat in the field alone. I used to picture this field, and have spent my life looking for fields to sit in that would remind me of the one in my imagination. There is a park in Highland Park that reminds me the most of this park, yellow flowers, trails through the woods, a little pond in the middle, and benches spread out occasionally. The sky is so huge when you lie on the bench, and I rested and rested there. There’s something about a field of wildflowers that continues to intoxicate me, perhaps from other memories as well. Today I went to a garden that had a field of wildflowers to walk though with a trail, and other parks continue to pop into my mind where there are trails through the flowers. Perhaps that is all I need, a trail through wildflowers. I went to a house a few days ago that had wildflowers in the backyard, and I was lonely, and those flowers were beautiful. I love the idea that there are flowers that don’t have to be planted by human hands, and I love that I think dandelions are flowers and not weeds. I feel natural, pretty, and soft when I am by the wildflowers.

Memoir of a Toothbrush

We didn’t just go to a regular dentist. We did that, of course, because all kids are in danger of cavities, and we needed our teeth cleaned. It took forever, and I thought I was going to die looking up at that ceiling with my lip ending up on the floor like Bill Cosby in that comedy skit of his. They never had anything on the ceiling though, just millions of millions of white dots. The dentist was way too friendly and I thought his mouth was going to eat my face as he smiled at me while fiddling with my teeth and those metal scrapers. No, we didn’t just go to a regular dentist, we also went to a PERIODONTIST. I told my friends and they had never heard of such a thing. “He’s a gum doctor,” I said. “He cleans your gums.” “Why would you need your gums cleaned, that’s ridiculous!” “We have bad gums.” Apparently, according to my mom, we had both bad teeth and bad gums. Teeth that were my father’s and gums that were my mother’s. Too big teeth and too small gums.   I was afraid all my teeth were going to fall out of my mouth. So I went to the dentist to get my too big teeth cleaned, and of which there were too many for my too small gums, so I had to get at least four of them pulled so that everything would fit. Intermarriage was a bad idea for happy mouths, because of all those different genes from different parts of the world trying to agree on how to work together! And I went to the PERIODONTIST to get my gums cleaned, because apparently I and my toothbrush did not do a good enough job.

It was a losing battle. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with my gums. My friends didn’t see anything wrong with them. I went around showing everyone my gums and they all thought they looked normal. But off to the gum doctor, I went. And they found things to clean, and floss, and rinse, and pick, and when I left, I thought I would never be able to get the taste of blood out of my mouth and be able to enjoy regular food again, which for a whole day, would taste like whatever cleaning solution they had made me rinse with. And they gave me a bigger goodie bag than the dentist did, although there were no toys in it. At the dentist’s office, there was this treasure chest that you could go digging into to find a little plastic toy to take home with you, dice, or a little wheel, or a small action figure. At the periodontist office, the most interesting thing was a metal rod with a rubber tip on the end. You were meant to push on your gums with the rubber tip to stop them from growing over your teeth. My mom warned me that my gums might grow over my teeth like her and that I would need to get them cut back again and again. My brother had to get them cut back. I pushed with that rubber tip. I never needed them cut back. But I do have some empty spaces in my mouth where they took out too many teeth.

 

Love of our Bodies

Love of our Bodies By Eve Chalom

Eve Chalom is a two time world competitor in ice dancing. She is currently a dance/movement therapist, a performer in both ice skating and modern dance, a yogi, and a figure skating coach. She is continually exploring the connections between dance/movement therapy, figure skating, and life in general.

 

There is no ideal body type. I was taught by my culture, my sport, and the people around me to hate mine. And I am actually kind of slender, with some of the curves in the “right” places, and a fair number of girl friends are envious of my figure. And with my body being not so far off from what people consider to be an “ideal” body type, even I have a next to impossible time finding pants that fit. The sizes keep going up and I haven’t gained any weight. And there are some stores where I can’t fit into the clothes at all. How is this possible?

Others know this, but it is a message that bears repeating as often as possible. We live within a system in the world where there is the message that there is one “ideal” body type. What this ideal body type might look like differs depending on where in the world you are. But, nevertheless, most women are not that body type. So where does that leave us? In an attempt to conform to society’s ideals, women come to the conclusion that if they are not that ideal body type, their particular body must somehow be wrong. And then they try to fix it. This leads to many different strategies, such as dieting and plastic surgery to name a few. Very rarely are women taught to just be themselves with their bodies, and that they don’t have to try to fit into a preconceived shape or idea of what they are supposed to look like.

This is not even necessarily a thin to heavy thing. My grandmother was a young woman in the days after World War II and she was always naturally on the thin side. Because people were coming to the United States as survivors from the concentration camps, being thin was not in. So the trend shifted towards curvaceous with some meat on your bones. My grandmother was out of luck and grew to hate her unpopular body. I found that it is a simple step to take to go from hating your body to hating yourself for having the body you do. At least that’s how it was for me. Self-hate became a huge driving force in determining how I functioned on a daily basis.

 

Love can be a driving force for change instead of hate. It may take a little longer, but the effects are much longer lasting and the ramifications and ripple effects are hugely different as to how the world around is impacted. A student asked me what the difference was between losing five pounds quickly by starving herself for a week, or losing five pounds by doing more work to totally revamp the way she thinks about food and how she feeds herself. Why should she bother to do more work? I told her that the first way is more efficient, more direct, and it accomplishes the goal but not much else is helped in the process. The second way takes a little longer and is more work, but she has the ability to grow much more as a person the second way, and it has the potential to positively affect the rest of her life and her perspectives on other things as well. It will also more positively affect the people around her because they will become more interested in their unconscious attitudes towards food, or maybe they will see her differently because she is interested in being open to change. The impact will be larger and more widespread with the second route. There is an expression “to kill two birds with one stone.” To be effective human beings who have a positive effect on our world around us, working on any issue or learning any new behavior should be done in as holistic or “whole-istic” way as possible. This will ensure that as many people as positive benefit from your personal work and that the ramifications are more wide-spread. To do something in a “whole-istic” way takes more time, but it is healthier, not just for one person, but for our society. When you take a shortcut that boils down to the “what” without caring about the “how,” (why does it matter how I reach my goal as long as I reach it?) we lose sight of the bigger picture. We are all connected and every action we take impacts ourselves and each other. When one person is hurt, we are hurt too, even if most of us may not feel it consciously. When we sacrifice part of ourselves to accomplish something, that has an impact on our future happiness as well as everyone’s freedom to fully be themselves.

      

 

 

Breathing (for skaters and regular people, and irregular people too :-) )

Breathing

By Eve Chalom

Eve Chalom is a two time world competitor in ice dancing. She is currently a dance/movement therapist, a performer in both ice skating and modern dance, and a figure skating coach.  

 

A lot of my students ask me about breathing. They probably do this because I ask them to breathe, and they find this confusing. No one ever asked them to breathe before as a skating correction. How can this be a correction? The answer is fairly simple. When you breathe, it changes everything. The most important difference is how it changes the way you are living on the ice. When you breathe naturally at the same time as you move, you are more able to be yourself. What I mean by this is simply that you are more the human being you are rather than a machine. In addition, we feel more alive and can move easier when we are able to breathe fully and easily. Imagine how being able to breathe easily as you are skating will affect your skating. Because you are allowing yourself to breathe, you will feel freer and have better energy flow throughout all of your movement. To skate at an elite level while breathing well is quite a skill, because it requires a more sophisticated understanding of our bodies and how they function. But if you can figure it out, it makes a lot of things much easier because you don’t run out of steam half way through a program or have attacks of nerves that you don’t have physical tools to deal with.   It has a beneficial affect on the nervous system, as well as how we process lactic acid. It also adds to your ability to bring yourself to your performances so that the audience can better connect with you.

 

It is impossible to skate naturally without breathing freely. Skating naturally is a relief, because then we can use our flow, rhythm, and momentum to accomplish speed and various movements, and not use excess force, which ends up being hard on the body in the long run.

So I guess the next question is, how do we approach this? It’s simple. We work on breathing and skating at the same time. It is so simple that it seems silly. But it’s actually not that easy because most skaters have a long habit of mostly holding their breath when they skate so that they can muscle through things. Once we focus on breathing and skating at the same time, it changes the way we can move. Instead of using force to accomplish certain movements, we have to move using the skills of rhythm and coordination.   With this change in mindset, we can’t force the body to perform certain movements anymore if it’s not ready.

I tend to start with simple exercises, such as swizzles forwards and backwards, and forward stroking. I often like to use the arms to move with the legs, to help with overall coordination and rhythm, and how the breath fits into that whole picture. The idea is that the skater has to go slow enough to be able to feel how the movement of his or her body fits together with his or her breathing. This helps them to allow the feeling of gliding and skating to enter into their conscious mind so that they can appreciate the feeling of it as well as enjoy the breath. As skaters, we work so hard to achieve certain goals that the focus is definitely on doing more than being. But I would like to argue that when there is space to “be” on the ice, just moving and breathing and enjoying those two concepts together, then the doing aspect become simpler, more direct, and more efficient when you get to it because you are more present in your mind and body.

Ultimately, paying attention to this allows skaters to do more than they thought they could and can be really healing, but initially, it may feel limiting because it slows the skater down. This is because we can only breathe naturally when we are comfortable and we often have to slow down to find our comfort zone. Often in today’s skating world, (and this is a mirror of the bigger fast paced world we live in), skaters are uncomfortable when they are moving, to the point where breathing naturally feels like an effort and an impossibility. In order to start working on the coordination of breathing and skating together, it is necessary to scale back the difficulty of the skating to a point where the breathing can start to happen easily. Then the work is one of coordinating the breathing with the movement so that one is able to move with less effort and strain.

The most difficult part for many skaters is deciding to take the time or figuring out how to back off on their muscular output to the point where their breathing can actually match their skating in a smooth and gentle way. This takes a while because the body is so used to pushing that it seems to require equally as strong an effort to stop the body from pushing. There is also a level of embarrassment sometimes with going slower or taking the time to do something softer or easier when you are used to demonstrating how quickly or strongly you can do something. But once you are able to find the balance of moving with the breath, there is a sense of wholeness that pervades your body. Then your body is really working together in a coordinated way rather than one part against another part or in a discombobulated fashion. This is extremely similar to what they teach in yoga. I attended a yoga workshop where we were constantly told that the breath is what supports the movement. Without appropriate use of the breath, you have to work much harder to create poses and hold them rather than the poses being self-sustaining with a continuous flow of energy throughout them by a continuous use of the breath. It is not just more efficient and allows for more freedom, range of movement, and power, but it is also a healing experience on many levels.

Not only does using the breath more completely have beneficial physiological effects, it also serves many emotional and psychological purposes. Focusing on your breathing when you skate allows you to stay present in the current moment and gives you something to come back to when you don’t know where to put your attention. It also gives you a way to calm down, by choosing to slow down your breathing if you notice yourself breathing quickly or to better coordinate your breathing with your movement. Often, movement, any kind of movement, will bring emotions with it. Focusing on the breath and choosing to skate in a fashion that is in more of a comfort zone gives people space to notice and process various emotions and sensations that surface in their bodies. Sometimes this can be overwhelming, but in my opinion, it is better to deal with the emotions than to avoid them, both for personal and professional reasons. As a coach, I have found it valuable to respect my students’ emotions and I find that the skating is better when I do this.

When you breathe, it is possible to find a quietness inside that allows you to be ready for whatever comes, no matter how busy it is on the outside. This quietness gives you space to be yourself with your movement. When it comes to external environmental changes, such as a test session or a competition, being able to connect yourself deeply through your movement and your breath is a saving grace. Then, no matter the circumstances, you can get comfortable enough to do what you need to do. As you breathe, and skate, and feel, and become yourself, you put yourself in a position of giving; giving to yourself as well as to anyone who sees you skate.

Falling gracefully

Falling is an important topic. You want to learn to fall without hurting yourself. You want to roll with it, find the momentum, and be able to get up again easily and smoothly, so going down the floor and getting up is just as easy as being on our feet. There is recognizing the weight of yourself, feeling your own body weight, sensing your own body weight. Then it is the sense of motion, of gravity, of momentum, of registering your speed. Then there is the ground. Familiarity with the ground facilitates a fall, because if your body is comfortable with the ground, it will best know how to accommodate itself to the ground. How to make the ground feel soft rather than hard, if the body is soft in the right places. Then a fall is delicious rather than painful. There are many, many ways to fall, and the more options you have, the more you have the possibility of a pleasant fall that is not painful. Each arm and leg, your head, your feet, your hands, all find their way in the fall, in the motion of it, to spread out upon the ground in the best possible way, to make contact with the ground in the best possible way. It is an encounter with gravity that is up close and personal, and it is a disturbance of our equilibrium. To get the balance back after a fall, it occurs on its own time, and in the process of righting one’s self. It is also a shock of accepting the encounter with the ground that most likely did not come out of choice. A fall comes out of the space, a person’s encounter with the space and objects in it. There may or not have been choice in the matter. Should you fall now, how is there choice in the fall, even if you don’t choose the fall? You can decide to fall gracefully, or you can just do the best you can to fall as smoothly as possible so that there is no pain. Falling also means that we give in. There is a letting go process somewhere, where we agree to go upside down, or not be right side up anymore for a moment. To fight a fall is helpful and sometimes possible, and sometimes, you hurt yourself in fighting the fall, or trying to hide the fall. Sometimes, it is better to dramatize the fall so that you really let go. Then you can see what is hiding behind it to begin with. Sometimes, there is just a fall calling your name. You can feel it coming for minutes before hand. It takes a dramatic shift, to change the energy and lead us away from a fall. It takes breathing, centering, and grounding. It is always worth it because the fall is more harmful than it is worth. If you choose to go to the ground, it is so you can make love, rest, or die. In every exhale, there is a fall, and in every inhale, a rise.

Belief, Faith, and Transcendent Relationships

 

     I am not a current believer in God.  I was raised as a Humanistic Jew, which can sometimes be synonymous with being an atheist, and sometimes not.  When I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life, I found myself believing in God because I found it helpful and natural.  I just started talking to Him (aka the ceiling) and I felt better.  I found faith in a supernatural being helped fill the gap in my life when I was struggling to emotionally survive.  At first, a belief in God made me feel calmer and less alone, as if there was someone always rational and calm, and in my court to talk to.  Then, a belief in God seemed to connect me to the irrational side of myself, which was the romantic, the artistic, and the creative.  Life started to become more beautiful because I was waking up and appreciating it instead of sleepwalking. 

     The waking-up process came about simultaneously with my belief in God.  To be awake is a huge subject and difficult to explain here.  A short explanation can help open the door on the subject.  To be awake means that we are able to see and hear what is happening around us, and that we are conscious of existing in a larger world than just in our own heads.  It also means that we are able to sense how we are feeling in the present moment, thus being aware of our current experience of life.  This is a difficult step to take, because often one of the motivators that pushes us into sleep walking through life is when we do not like how it feels in the present moment, and we find that experience so distasteful that we want to escape it.   If we can stand being awake, it is possible to get much more out of the life we live, thus having a richer experience during our short time on Earth.

     I started having a lot of beautiful experiences that I couldn’t explain.  There would be moments of extreme coincidences, where several events would happen at once and the combined effect would be simultaneously beautiful, deeply poignant and touching, sometimes coming with an incredible feeling of loss and mourning, and release.  I walked away from these occurrences with new insight and understanding.  I started calling these experiences transcendent experiences.  In those moments, I would feel deeply connected and at one with the world and the people in it, and my perspective would completely shift.  Also contributing to these experiences were the large amounts of movement therapy that I began practicing.  Physical/emotional conflicts that had been buried in my nervous system for years were being released, creating new flow and energy that helped me seek out particular types of experiences.            

      I assumed at the time that these experiences were due to my new belief in God and that He was making these feelings of transcendence possible.  For example, I have had several meaningful experiences on bridges, where I came to new understandings about relationships and what it meant to feel emotionally met by another person.  I had a particularly memorable experience on a trip to Grand Rapids, MI.  I had to use the restroom, and pulled off an exit where I followed signs to a nature center.  After using the facilities, the woman who worked at the information desk suggested that I go for a short walk on the boardwalk outside that went through the woods.  It was a beautiful day and very quiet and peaceful as I walked through the woods.  I had been upset about a particular relationship in my life and this walk was making me feel better.  Surprisingly, the boardwalk continued to become higher and higher off the ground because the ground was falling away to become a ravine.  Normally, I would have expected a bridge in these cases so that I could cross the ravine.  But this time, the boardwalk ended in a square platform that was high up in the middle of the ravine, surrounded by the tops of trees.   

    I stood on that platform with the sun coming down, and I had one of the most powerful moments of my life.  I let go of a very intimate love relationship that was not going anywhere.  It was incredibly painful and I didn’t know if I was going to survive the pain at that moment.  But, at the same time, I couldn’t help but see how incredibly beautiful the world was around me, with the trees, sun, leaves, ravine, fresh air, and a beautiful wood platform that held me suspended amongst all of it.  On the platform that was not a bridge, I also felt for the first time that I was emotionally meeting myself.  This was all there was, and it was beautiful.  I felt incredibly supported by nature and I assumed at the time that God had led me to that spot so that I would have the opportunity to let go.  It was a transcendent experience for me because I had been able to experience a major shift in perspective, simultaneously experiencing great beauty as well as deep grief, and an ability to let go and trust that I was going to be okay while feeling incredibly held and supported.  There are many possible conclusions that can be drawn from experiences like these.  It all depends on one’s frame of reference.   

     As I started to have experiences like this more often, although not usually to the same intensity as that particular time, I then started to realize that the same feelings of transcendence and deep satisfaction had been happening to me in a muted way whenever I ice skated.  From there, I started thinking about how our passions allow us to deeply connect to ourselves, and I guessed that ice skating was God’s gift to me.  When I ice skate, there is clarity, breath, relaxation, and satisfaction.  I transcend any difficulties that I am currently suffering in my life by relaxing into the present moment and the physical sensation of the glide on the ice.  The difficulties do not go away, but they are transformed by my experience of the present moment and I am able to see them with new perspective.  Somehow, I started to see this experience of skating as separate from God.  I felt secure and there was no gap or emptiness that craved to be filled.  It became about the movement and how I felt in my body.  I felt that I was starting to be there for myself in a new capacity and that this was important.

     My relationship with God took a backseat as I became more interested in the relationship that I had with myself, and what it meant to be there for myself.  I found that cultivating a relationship with myself also added a lot to my quality of life.  There have been many times when I wanted to give up because I would try to comfort myself and there was no answer.  When I would ask God for support, I would always get a response.  Then one time, I reached out to God for advice and He said, “Eve, you don’t need me, you can do it without me.”  This was very interesting because it was almost as if God himself was telling me that I didn’t need him as a crutch and that I really could do it on my own.  I had the sneaking suspicion (which had been there all along) that the voice of God in my head was really a subconscious part of me that could never abandon me and was always responsive to my questions. 

     I started playing with striking out on my own, occasionally resorting back to God when I felt that I needed the additional support.  This is similar to what children go through when they are developing independence and move away and back towards their caretaker.  Psychologists call this period rapprochement.  The children decide in the moment how much support they need and they continue to develop the ability to do things on their own as they are ready.  The more I was there for myself, the less I felt as if I needed belief in a God to be there for me.  This seemed to be a natural progression in my self-development path.  However, each person needs to do what works best for him or her.  Even now, I sometimes feel the gap where my abilities to cope have not quite caught up to the situation I am currently in.  I am glad that I know how to find the extra support when I need it.           

    “Every individual, every plant, every animal has only one inborn goal – to actualize itself as it is.  A rose is a rose is a rose.  A rose is not inten[ded] to actualize itself as a kangaroo” (Perls, Gestalt Therapy Verbatim, 1969, p 31).  There has always been a part of me that knew how important it was to I give myself the chance to become a rose.  Practically speaking, in order for me to have a relationship with myself, it is first necessary to be myself.  Even if I don’t like myself, that is the only way that I can get to know who I am.  If I don’t know who I am, it detracts from my ability to see who someone else is.  I can’t have deep relationships with people if I don’t know who they are.  I can try, but I won’t get very far, because eventually I will find out who they are.  Then I will end up either being able to have a relationship with them because I decide I like them enough, or I can’t.  It is completely to our benefit to find out who we are, not who we want to be.  Once we get to know ourselves better, there is the beginning of a comfort zone and we are able to start letting our defenses down.  Under the defenses, everyone is beautiful and sometimes, we have very appropriate defenses and we are still beautiful with them.  When we are invested in truly becoming ourselves, then we are building the basis for a beautiful friendship. 

     So I was first exposed to this transcendent experience of being because of my belief in God.  Then my transcendent experiences continued even as my beliefs shifted away from God and towards a bigger idea of how the universe works scientifically speaking.  I also felt more firmly my place in this universe when I felt that I was being more myself.  I also continued to have closer relationships with members of my family and was able to appreciate them more.  I had less need for an external supernatural being because the experience of being fully emotionally present within myself felt supernatural inside.  Somehow, I had gone from cultivating a relationship with myself to actually wanting to be myself.  Once I wanted to be myself, I found that my feelings of transcendence and deep satisfaction were happening more often as a continuous state of being.  I forgot to think about God.  Some new connections were being made inside, physically, emotionally, and psychologically, and I just felt more peaceful.  What the belief in Him made possible was a letting go of control and a trust in the process.  Surviving through a number of difficult experiences while being “awake” and getting to know myself in all aspects, I gained a new confidence in myself and my ability to cope.  Unconsciously, I had replaced a belief in God with a new belief in myself that I never had before.  I am continuously engaged in this process.  Faith and trust in myself and in my abilities to navigate life are important necessities in order for me to move forward without fear.         

              

 

Taking Time and Space for Joy: an article about a skater’s relationship to the ice

Taking Time and Space For Joy: An article about a skater’s relationship to the ice

By Eve Chalom

Eve Chalom is a two time world competitor in ice dancing.  She is currently a dance/movement therapist, a performer in both ice skating and modern dance, a yogi, and a figure skating coach.  She is continually exploring the connections between dance/movement therapy, figure skating, and life in general.        

 

     In dance/movement therapy, the emphasis is on “being” instead of “doing.”  For those who are not sure of the distinction between those two words, I want to illustrate the difference.  Two people are on a beach.  One person is looking around at the ocean, smelling the salt air, and eating an apple.  She hears the crunch of it and tastes the fruit.  She is sitting on a bench, her back relaxed against it.  She is comfortable and definitely not in a hurry.  These processes may or may not be conscious, but the person is aware of at least one of these experiences, if not more.  The second person is pacing back and forth on the sand, unable to appreciate the feel of the sand under her feet, running back to the car to pay the meter, then continually trying to spread out the picnic blanket so that it doesn’t get sand on it, and eating her lunch while wishing she had brought something to drink.  Compared to the first person, the second person is having a much harder time “being.”  She is less present in the moment, which leads to her not having what she needs to be comfortable, as well as feeling less satisfied with what she actually has.  This is not a judgment on her, however, for there are many reasons why some people tend towards “being” or others towards “doing.”   Dance/movement therapy works to uncover the reasons that push someone towards feeling the need to “do” a lot in an effort to remove herself from feeling her existence in the present moment.               

    As I worked through my Master’s Degree in dance/movement therapy, I found myself wanting to bring the philosophy of “being” onto the ice and into my skating.  I realized I didn’t know how to “just be” on the ice.  Growing up as a competitive skater, I had learned to always be in a working mode when I was on the ice.  The ice rink took on a negative association as a place where I felt insecure, frustrated, and constantly not good enough.  Those feelings drove me to push myself for continual improvement.  This is a common experience in the skating world, and in a way, those feelings do motivate people to achieve excellence.  But the lack of contrasting experiences on the ice can lead to burnout.  This was true in my case, as I quit competing when I was nineteen.  My search for peace on the ice began when I gave myself a chance to see my skating as a way towards better health and happiness.  I began to be grateful for my years of training and expertise because it meant I had that much more knowledge to apply to my path of health and happiness.  I stopped seeing skating as something to distance myself from or pull away from.  The poison had become the antidote. 

     One of the first steps that I took towards bringing dance/movement therapy onto the ice was asking myself to just “be” on the ice without “doing” anything.  I gave myself permission to only glide around the rink and not “do” any work or try to get anything done except breathe.  There were no planned ideas of what I should “practice.”  I did this for a few months.  It may not have looked like much to someone on the outside, but to me, this was exactly what I needed.  I often focused on my breath.  The fact that I already had some facility and ease with skating gave me something to look forward to when I would get on the ice, because I always did enjoy movement in any case.     

    A powerful shift happened during those hours of gliding around on the ice.  All those years of emotional, physical, and psychological baggage had combined to pull me away from my original feelings of joy and connection on the ice.  By taking the pressure off myself by telling myself I didn’t have to “do” anything, I found that once in a while, I actually felt like doing something.  Surprisingly, my body would feel like doing a particular exercise or movement or stretch.  I would follow my impulse and go do whatever my body felt like doing and then, when finished, go back to my gliding again.  I felt more relaxed after following my impulse and often noticed my breathing and other internal changes.  The main idea was to give myself space to “be” on the ice without having a specific goal of what I was supposed to “do.”  As a side benefit, because I had committed to the goal of only doing something specific when it felt enjoyable or satisfying, I began to build more self-esteem.  Because I only did what I wanted to do, a lot of the movement I wad doing felt nice instead of uncomfortable.  Because the movement now felt good to me, it contributed to my having good feelings in general and by extension, good feelings about myself. 

     It became apparent that I couldn’t really “be” on the ice without also “being” myself.  It was a shock to realize that learning to be myself on the ice is more important than any work I could possibly do on my skating.  After many years in the competitive world, I had forgotten how to be myself.  As a young competitor who was in the spotlight, I often sacrificed my own needs for the demands of my sport because I didn’t know there was another way to achieve my goals.          

    And to “be yourself” is not always that easy!  It can be a life-long journey to truly grow into yourself and to be comfortable being yourself.  I had grown very used to identifying my self-worth on the ice by how fast I could skate, or by how deep I could take an edge.  Instead, I belonged out there on that ice because I loved to skate.  It was very freeing to no longer judge myself anymore by how good I was at something.  It was a very different way of being on the ice than I was used to.  Instead of putting skating first before my needs as a person, my skating became mine and was for me, Eve.  Not only did my skating become mine, but my love for skating became mine too.  This love transformed me.  I am no longer the woman on the beach who is pacing and unable to enjoy herself.  I feel the freedom of the glide, the deepness of my breath, and feel truly, completely, alive and happy.     

 

 

 

 

      

      

                       

Some thoughts on time

  I’ve been hearing a lot lately about how good it is to be in the present.  Just be present.  Just be in the present.  Be here now, etc. . .  What’s wrong with being in the past or in the future?  I remember a beautiful modern dancer, a majestic male dancer in the Graham company, teaching us peons class at the Ailey School.  I shuddered when he walked near because we were all afraid of him.  He elegantly demonstrated a walk across the diagonal of the room, to demonstrate the ability to express an understanding of time.  At first, he walked bringing the past with him, his head and back being pulled magnetically towards the past as he walked away from it.  As he moved away from the corner, the past lessened its hold on him and he was able to walk erect, completely present.  Then, as he continued forwards towards the other corner, he took on a sense of projection, an air of moving forwards and embracing the future, an optimism, a strength, and courage.  For him, he was able to make artistic choices as a dancer about time.  His feelings about the past, present, and future were expressed by his body.  There was no judgment about the pull of the past or pushing forwards towards the future, because it was a choice.  When there is the ability to choose, and one can move freely between past, present, and future (even if only in our minds), there is a freedom, a wholeness, and three dimensionality.  There is also an opportunity for an exploration of one of the poles to inform the other two.  Sometimes, by diving back into the past, I inform the present and the future more.  Sometimes, by looking forwards to my dreams for the future, it makes me see more clearly where I am coming from.  Also, the more I explore the two poles, the more clear the center is made to me, and I can find easier where to rest in peace in the present.  

 

     I have spent much of my life operating in the future, always pushing forwards, being ahead of myself, and anticipating.  If I was a car, my car would always be driving forwards, usually going too fast.  Today, I found myself balancing on one leg, leaning way back with my head tilting back, and my back arched, and my pelvis tilted under, like a dive back into the past.  Maybe I might have to spend some time back here to balance out all the years I’ve spent in fast forward.  Maybe by allowing myself to sink back into the past a little, even if just through my body in a symbolic way, I might actually be more present.  It is similar to how I find myself needing to sometimes step back from a group situation, to give myself more space.  By giving myself more space, I find that I am more present and able to be more attentive to the group process.  Maybe going back into the past for me gives me that space I crave to be able to face the present moment with all that happens there.  

 

     I feel it’s human to experience the past (nostalgia, longing, fondness, shock, dismay, letting go) –and to be more accurate, these are current feeling states about the past.  The future (hope, dreams, projections, worries, longing, plans, excitement and anticipation, expectations)  The pregnancy.  The possibilities that we need to dream and inject our minds with, like a thought bubble in a cartoon, to allow space for things to happen in the future and to give our energy a shape.  The present, I love because it is so solid.  There is nothing like a body completely in the present, with its full weight and breath, like a tree trunk with its roots in the ground and only feeling the breeze that makes its branches move.  The feeling is delicious and addictive.  And elusive if I try for it too hard.  It is natural for our bodies to make adjustments to time, to settling into the present moment, sometimes being pushed a little forward or pulled a little back, finding the balance of being able to enjoy that deliciously centered place, where the palms turn upwards to rest on our knees and we feel that we are able to receive gifts.  Most importantly, a gift from ourselves, where we have given ourselves the gift of time.          

My Dance with Deafness

My Dance with Deafness

By Eve Chalom

Eve Chalom is a two-time world competitor in ice dancing.  She is currently a dance/movement therapist, a performer in both ice skating and modern dance, a yogi, and a figure skating coach.  She was hit by a car when she was four years old and has worn two hearing aids ever since.

 

     There is something transcendent about movement and being on the ice.  It lifts you up beyond any physical worries and insecurities.   The feeling of flow moves you beyond yourself.  When I began skating at the age of eight, I loved it because when I skated, I felt that I was the same as everyone else.  I didn’t feel that I was less of a person because of my hearing loss.  I could skate just as well as anybody!  Because it came easily to me, unlike many other areas of my life, it was my saving grace. The ice rink gave me a space where I felt free and felt that I could be myself, and I was happier there than anywhere else.  I still am. 

     Not a day goes by when I am not grateful to skating for how much it has given me and how much I love to do it.  I realized recently that I was teaching and/or skating seven days a week without even knowing it.  Growing up hard of hearing, there really is no way to “even the playing field.”  A child with a hearing loss is always going to struggle in places where other people don’t have to.  Even though I was gifted at skating and it came naturally to me, I still had to compensate tremendously in other ways in order to keep up with other skaters.  As an ice dancer who was on the solo ice dance circuit for a few years before I began dancing with my partner Mathew Gates, I was responsible for being on time with the music when I competed compulsory dances.  In practice, I unconsciously memorized all the pieces of music that existed for whatever dance I was working on.  I was familiar with my sound system at my home rink, and I was generally able to hear the beat of the music.  But when I went to other rinks, I was often thrown off.  There were moments when the beat would become unclear or I wouldn’t be able to hear it at all.  By memorizing the melodies of all the dances, I was able to sing to myself.   I would catch one beat and then become my own metronome, singing the melody to myself and straining for the next time I heard the beat again to confirm that I was still on time.  Many years later, as a coach, I still know all the melodies to all the compulsory dances.  When skating through a dance with a student, I often hum or sing the melody of one of the tracks.  I think my strategy helped me develop a better understanding of rhythm.

     Whenever you have something about you that’s a disability or a weakness, coming up with strategies that work to help you succeed are always a benefit because you end up developing other strengths.  With a hearing loss, verbal communication was always hit or miss for me, so I became an expert at non-verbal communication.  Hearing aid technology has changed a lot in the last twenty years, so I can actually hear normal conversation quite well now.  But from when I was four years old until I was sixteen (when semi-digital hearing aids came out), conversation required a lot of guesswork and fill in the blanks.  I read body language.  I lip read and, to help round out my general knowledge, I read a lot of books about people and what people talk about.  My emphasis on non-verbal communication actually helped my skating career, because I became a very visual learner and was able to imitate my coaches very easily.  My ice-dance coaches in the beginning were Jeffrey Benz, Carol Fox, and Gorsha Sur.  They were good coaches to imitate, as they were still skating themselves.  For the bulk of my competitive career, my main coaches were Igor Shpilband and Elizabeth Coates.  All of my coaches were always very patient with my hearing loss.  On the ice, I was good at making sure I knew what the corrections were and what to do, even if it meant asking several times for them to repeat themselves.  Having a hearing loss definitely takes self-assertion, and I was very motivated because I wanted to be the best skater I could be.  In the other aspects of my life, I found it more difficult to be as assertive, because I didn’t know how to handle people who were impatient with me when I didn’t hear them.  I also often ended up in many situations where people didn’t realize that I had a hearing loss because I didn’t tell them, and they assumed that I must be slow. 

     It has taken me a long time to discover how to be more assertive as a hard of hearing person in a world where most people can hear normally.  I also have had to work a lot on my listening skills.  I was very lucky to decide to get a master’s degree in dance/movement therapy (which I just finished last summer), and, in addition to changing my life and my skating in major ways, I also learned how to better listen to my own body.  It took time for me to slow down enough to realize that my body had the ability to communicate to me by way of feelings, sensations, and an intuitive sense.  Being able to register when there is tension in my body has taken me a long way towards being able to comfortably listen to others, both in verbal and non-verbal communication.  When I am relaxed, I can listen better. 

     The improved ability to listen to myself and others has also helped me a lot in skating, whether it comes to feeling how tight I can take an edge, or understanding someone else’s rhythm when we are partnering.  The assertiveness I had on the ice is now coming into the rest of my life, and I find that I am more able to ask for help or find ways to modify my situation so that I am able to hear more comfortably; at the same time, I also focus on relaxing so I can hear better.  Being aware of my own strategies has made me much more understanding of other people and their particular situations and able to notice when their strategies are working or not.  A lot of people have different ways of understanding their own limitations, and learning how to work with these limitations is part of a growth towards maturity. 

     I am grateful to skating because it gave me a place where I was able to feel whole.  It is the ultimate satisfaction to bring the lessons I learned and feelings of freedom to be myself on the ice into the rest of my life.