Dance and music is the oldest therapeutic medium of mankind.
In the form of healing dances and rituals, dance has had the function of expressing and sharing one's suffering within a community and thus opens up the possibility of healing together. It's not always about joy.
Clinical dance therapy "is based on the observation that the mentally ill person performs the fragments of a comedy, tragedy or farce on a personal stage. [...] Through dance a way is to be opened up to articulate complex and hidden feelings non-verbally." (Schoop 1991, 157). However, this principle does not only apply to mentally ill people, but functions under the aspect of self-updating and experience activation for every person. Trudi Schoop sums up: "It is also what I want to achieve with my work: that man is and remains capable of experiencing".
"An authentic movement arises in the moment, in and through the self. [...] When I see someone moving authentically, it is so real that it is free from pretence or appearance or imagination. It can often be just the movement of a hand turning around, or it can be a movement of the whole body. To achieve this authenticity, a sacrifice is required.
First of all, it is the uncovering of all the tricks, needs and desires that separate you from the real in you. Then, when you have found out what the trick is and what it prevents, it must be sacrificed, as must all others uncovered after it. True impulses and movements come from such another place in yourself that the person who has experienced it knows when it is there and when it is not, and then he can stop deceiving. What I call 'deceiving' is the personal arranging of movement on many levels."
Remnants of dancing rituals
When I first started conscious dancing, it was probably at home in my room. I suppose the interest in dance I brought with me into the world and later on found at some weddings my family was invited to and I was fascinated by the celebration together in the form of physical expression of just those who showed an unaffected joy of dancing. I remember stomping feet and yelling women's voices, energetic gestures and dexterous gentlemen leading the ladies across the floor in couple dance, but I was even more impressed by the group dances, which made me feel completely different.
At the age of about thirteen we girls began to go dancing regularly, first the youth dance on Sundays and later in the discos that existed in the village. But since we children had not grown up with any special dance culture and only at the few weddings was a kind of traditional dance performed that differed so much from the pictures on television because of the contemporary music, the MTV culture won. At the time, we girls had no idea of real expression, had no contact with authentic body movement, had only watched either music videos from the 80s (mostly electronic music and very robotic movements at that time) or "primitive peoples" with their drum dances - also on television.
That the dance could have been an expression of a feeling,
a story, I would not have thought of that as a teenager. The point was not to ridicule oneself on the dance floor, to "cut a good figure", i.e. to find as little as possible one's own form of expression, but rather to look like one had it from somewhere else, i.e. to copy it. Since I had been ashamed of my body for many years as a child, I could do little with it on the dance floor, but the timid attempts, in the form of group dances (dancing in step, in a row, imitating music videos, etc.) was a small taste of the joy of dance.
I wasn't aware of why as young adults we regularly flocked to the clubs on weekends, but it was always the case that we girls were looking forward to going dancing. Over time, I managed to progress from awkward teenage movements to more fluid and self-confident body expressions. Nevertheless, I never succeeded in completely freeing myself from forgetting to let the dance come to you rather than arranging it.
It seemed clear to all of us (unconsciously) that we were becoming from inhibited teenagers to inhibited young adults and that sexual experiences during this time guaranteed little to no real access to authentic body expression, because again the dance and the music, the sweat, the movements took place only under the eyes of a public that seemed to be mostly on display. An authentic expression would perhaps have shown the uptightness of a rejuvenating childhood that would probably have shocked the celebrating audience. So how did we try to escape these rather rigid body treatments - or contempt -?
Alcohol helped to release the inhibited expressions, to pay less attention to what others thought of you or how they looked at you judging you at the dance. Partly, the drinks taken at the bar fulfilled this intention, to free oneself from the eyes of others as "enemies". And one could instead become friends who could approach each other dancing.
In fact, neither the music alone, nor the alcohol, has made it possible for me to find a somewhat authentic form of dancing, it has been possible, to some extent under the influence of other substances, for me to finally feel liberated from an unpleasant self-perception, which included being observed and therefore at the same time becoming my own observer, who ensured that my dance was neither too strange, nor too boring, nor too adapted, nor too unadjusted. I delivered a show.
Trying to find authentic body expression
It was called "ecstasy", a drug that led to a kind of unrestrainedness that silenced the inner executioner and instead gave a sense of strength and invincibility. Also an impression of the greatest intensity and the goodness of any moment; at least in my case. To feel strongly drawn to rhythmic music.
For the first time I was able to express at least one dominant feeling authentically under the influence of ecstasy: The joy of being young, of pure energetic fluid movement of my body. I could - at least for a time - forget that I was judged as someone who watched me could disapprove of how I moved in this world.
My self saw through such things, but even with this strong drug of liberation of accustomed shackles, it was only possible to a limited extent to withdraw oneself and everyone from the observation post and simply surrender to the movement, if suffering or another experience were not to be expressed. Which the name of the drug alone prohibited.
The meaning and the name already contain their program.
My dance tried on the one hand to establish a connection to myself and on the other hand to find people who wanted to be in harmony with me. So I met the eyes of others, under the same drug, who approached me without shyness and I approached them. We gave space to spontaneity. I felt like a human being. It was an absence of underlying thoughts, intentions and conditions. The abandonment of a fundamental distrust of such intentions of other people and of one's own.
I would not claim, however, that it had been possible to have felt a form of spirituality, a shared experience of humanity, since the whole lacked a narrative superstructure, because unlike the dancing tribes, we clubbers and ravers told only a small part of ourselves, the one we wanted to experience and not that of needed to be experienced, that of the ancestors, still somewhat distanced to the complete range of human existence.
A sense of incoherence mingled with coherence
It is probably also the case that my childhood impressions at wedding ceremonies mixed with later impressions and perceived the dance as predominantly positive to "narrative", even if this narrative was already used as a somewhat powerful reflection of a reality and resembled parts of an embarrassing performance, such as the bridal shoe dance or the ritual of robbing the bride.
I felt that I understood the idea behind it, but experienced it as "too weak", like a ritual that people wanted to hold on to, but didn't know how exactly. The deeper psychology, which tried to show itself behind such single acts, should express some serious aspects besides the merriment of a wedding celebration, but by the partly awkward presentation it lost this significant character.
In fact, these - though not fully opening - experiences have helped me in my life. Dancing has always been something I have associated with life and the living, the body not just a vehicle that transports my brain from here to there.
Out of context, something like "dance therapy" sounds strange and like something you couldn't possibly take seriously. It often seems odd to me how little is actually published about physical experience. One might think the opposite would be the case, but apart from sex or appearance - in the sense of fitness and beauty - or physical pain and dysfunction, reading and thinking people are little concerned with their bodies.
Nevertheless, realities can be found in books, on stages and in films. The expressive dance that often alienated me, just like the dances that seemed too weak to me, the free expression seemed too strong to me, I was just as embarrassed when I watched men and women on stage or in films moving as they were shaking, without any order or sequence of steps. It all seemed like a great egocentric madness to me. It was probably because of the strangeness of the sight and the disturbing effect, because I knew either tribal dances or just practiced and rehearsed dances, but not this uncoordinated and unarranged moving and irritating.
Until I did a Kundalini session at home once,
going through three phases of physical experience.
This meditation instruction coming from the Osho movement was more plausible to me in that it said that we Westerners could not simply go into a resting posture from one moment to the next. We would first have to go through some phases before we could even become calm. So a phase of twenty minutes "shaking" began. Then a phase of free dance, again twenty minutes. And finally a phase of sitting and finding silence.
The hypnotic effect of shaking and free dancing was a completely different experience for me. I haven't repeated it since, also because it was a bit frightening.
I could now compare: it was something different to dance alone and also to move a bit animal-like or as one felt spontaneously, not as under ecstasy, not only feeling joy, but also to incorporate other facets of existence into the dance.
I felt like crying sometimes and sometimes like laughing, I felt like being silly, aggressive, I wanted to express something strong and then soft, it was a great spectrum of spontaneously experienced emotions. It was the missing arrangement, of pre-thoughts how to make the next move and just doing it.
Nothing to "show", everything to give.
It's what is being taught in sitting meditations: let an emotion come and let it go. Don't fight it, don't suppress it, accept that it wants its expression. The Kundalini technique made it possible for me to do exactly that through my body.
The music, which ran to it, one would probably also bear less in the listener mode, it had a certain thrilling effect, also some dissonances within it or, at least, this is how I remember it, as a continuing beat which goes on and on and on.
Music not as a dominating expression of itself to determine the dancers feelings,
but as a supporting element to let the body find its spontaneous (unartificial) expression.
If you now take everything together, the music (or better the music makers), the dancers, children and old people, the whole group comes together in the dance and everyone shows himself in his experience, experienced, frightening, happy, explainable like inexplicable has a stage, without being one, I get a reasonably round picture of human expression. In regular gatherings, the inexperienced become the practiced, the timid the brave, the old the young, and vice versa.
The complexity of reality is also a physical event.
What we have forgotten has also become what we are.
It's so normal to lead a bodily existence that we often forget that this normality is actually quite fascinating.
all enactments of life are integrated into the memory of the body, and here they remain preserved as experiences, dispositions, inclinations and skills. The body is … solidified or generalized existence, and existence a perpetual incarnation.
Most of what we have experienced and learned is not made accessible to us in retrospect, but rather through the practices of everyday life: habits formed through repetition and practice are activated of their own accord; well-rehearsed sequences of movements have been incorporated, thus becoming a bodily capacity – like the upright gait, speaking or writing, using instruments like a bicycle, a typewriter or a piano.
We can define the entirety of established habits and skills as implicit or body memory that become current through the medium of the lived body without the need to remember earlier situations. This bodily memory, which was first considered by Maine de Biran (1953) and Henri Bergson (1991), does not ‘presentify’ the past, but rather re-enacts it as a grown and presently effective experience.
Indeed, knowledge is "in the bones",
it's in the feet or fingers, where what one has practiced over time does not manifest as a thought-memory but "just knows" how to dance, how to cycle a bike, to play an instrument. I believe that using what one has learned through the body is therapeutic, when, for example, I feel sad or weak. Then I can activate it for our healing and well being.
Though, I have asked myself: How can I be so touched - and having the feeling of instant deep knowledge - when I receive a second hand experience, like watching a movie in which I see a ritualistic scene where people do things I never have done or practised myself? Is it because of my rich human imagination, only? Being able to comprehend something of which I have no first hand experience, how is this possible?
If each and every one of us is carrying memory of the entire human evolution, memory is understood differently from how I usually understand it (as an act of only the mind). More in the sense of a continuum of consciousness embodied.
Citations copied from researchgate.net: Collective Body Memories by Thomas Fuchs
All pictures are my own (except Trudi Schoop), taken on a trip to Italy in 2019 where we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by a crowd of dancing and celebrating people in the village square of Chianti. I took the scenes from the video recording I made that evening, and first isolated them as screenshots and then converted them to black and white images.The street musicians I photographed in Florence.
Trudi Schoop: Von Wanda von Debschitz-Kunowski - https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/4950890639, Gemeinfrei, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curihd=44665213