Let's study the dance, the music, the art, the poetry, the drama, the cultures of the world, to learn how to live with, instead of against each other
In 1994, the New England Rehabilitation Hospital in Woburn, MA “eliminated” the Movement Therapy Department which had been delivering mindbody medicine for 20 years to people with brain injuries, chronic pain, cancer, strokes, Multiple Sclerosis, etc. I was one of 14 dance movement therapists who made up that department. We were eliminated, not because we were ineffective, but because expenses needed to be cut. That night, I wrote an impassioned letter to the Board of Directors of the hospital. I later used that letter as the basis for a letter to the editor which was printed in the Newton Tab in December 1994. I reproduce that letter below.
The Kinesthetic Sense
As a dance therapist and teacher, I am strongly committed to helping dance play a more integral role in learning and in health. In my work for the past 18 years, it has become increasingly apparent that the field of dance is under-represented in our school systems and our society. This is both a result of, and a contributor to, our societal mind/body split.
Through Dance We Learn about the World Inside
In our schools, we learn that we have five senses. That theorem is untrue. Those five senses teach us about the world outside of ourselves. However, we have many more than five senses. In particular, dance teaches us about the kinesthetic sense, which informs us of the world inside. The kinesthetic sense is our internal muscle sense, which tells us where the parts of our bodies are located in relation to one another, as well as whether our muscles are tense or relaxed. In my work in the field of mental health and rehabilitation medicine, I have found the need to teach people on a daily basis how to breathe properly, how to use their kinesthetic sense to improve sitting and standing posture, and how to move with greater ease. I have discovered that, for the most part, people ignore their kinesthetic sense, which ultimately erodes health and self-esteem.
Through the Kinesthetic Sense Children Become Aware of Emotions and Communication
I believe we do our children a great disservice by not teaching them about, and through, the medium of the kinesthetic sense. Because we learned to breathe, sit up, crawl, move, and stand without teaching, we didn’t know that these were subjects worthy of studying. These bodies we move through are worthy of being studied, both from the inside and out. Children should be studying how the human body moves and functions, and discovering their responsibilities in creating and maintaining optimal health. This includes mental health as well as physical health. Through attention to the kinesthetic sense, children can learn to become more aware of their emotions and alternative ways of communicating, including assertiveness skills. Children can learn to manage their stress without reliance upon drugs and alcohol. By having learning grounded in the body through the medium of dance, children will learn more respect and responsibility for their bodies, which are their first homes, and from there can learn more respect and responsibility for their environmental homes.
I believe that to the extent that history is the study of battles won or lost they are not “social” studies, but “anti-social” studies. It is vital that we and our children learn not only to “compete” in a global economy, but more importantly, “cooperate,” with the other peoples of the world and with our environment. That means having a much greater ability than we have had thus far for tolerating, and even appreciating differences. The arts and dance are the subject areas which most directly address the relationships of opposites. Differences need not be polarized. They can be in harmony or in discord, in synchrony or not. Without stillness in dance, movement has little form or meaning. Without polarity, our sense of aesthetics would be unfulfilled. In dance, we learn to embody opposites. Perhaps if we could study the cultures of the world, the dance, the music, the art, the poetry, the drama, we might learn how to live with, instead of against each other.
To the extent that we want children invested in life-long learning, children’s internal realities must be validated. They must learn to appreciate what they learn through their own senses, as well as what they learn from others. Inasmuch as dance elevates the mundane to the extraordinary, it is a wonderful foundation for building self-esteem.