A time to dance – and rest

I have a cold. A common or garden head cold complete with red nose, dry lips and super velocity sneezes that elicit the response from my husband, “Do you really NEED to do that?” Yes I do.

I’m always amazed at how down such a simple illness can make me feel from the scratchy throat and lead weight around my head to the heaviness in limbs and spirit. I know this will pass: it’s transient, insignificant, a nuisance at most but, maybe the most important aspect is giving me a ‘breathing space’. An oxymoron – and an interesting choice of word given I’m very aware of breathing with blocked airways and consequent dry mouth.

All this – and a cancelled session this morning – has given me that breathing space: and I hadn’t realised how much I was in need of that. I’ve been pinging from job to job to thought to thought and chasing opportunities – much like a bagatelle ball. I’m tired, and relishing a little enforced downtime without the guilt factor creeping in.

This little guiltless idleness has helped me understand and illuminate some tensions within which I’ve been avoiding or suppressing. My energy levels are not what they were – and I’ve never been a dynamo if I’m honest. More a short burst and retreat to recoup kind of existence. I’m realising how best to manage this to sustain me and, enable me to offer what I can in terms of DMP work and other activities. Also, what may need to be let go or change their emphasis. These things have been important, vital in many ways and led me to where I am now but, the passion is now waning and I can no longer include these in the same way I have done for 20 years.

I’m allowing these reflections to incubate and crystalise much as the cold virus invaded and multiplied in my body before exploding into consciousness. Thank you little germs – you have given me a germ of my own to grow and inspect and assess its possibilities to cure,  heal or destroy, albeit constructively. This feels painful but necessary and I’m beginning to feel the beginnings of relief and a lighter mind.


wind-trees-wallpaperThe last time I wrote it was autumn and I was basking in the remembered warmth of a late holiday. Now we’re approaching the end of February with the promise of spring in greening hedgerows, the softer air, and in lengthening days.

Yesterday though, with Doris making her presence felt and starting play therapy with a new young client, I came to thinking about how both suddenly, and slowly, our lives can change and outside our control. Whether from a shocking event that upturns settled family life – like wind bringing down trees and buildings – or the transitions occurring with age from puberty to adulthood, menopause and ‘third age’.

Much of what happens to us in life can feel like that storm – chaotic, wild, dangerous, destructive and frightening. Yet, after that chaos and mess, some good can be found. The storms of winter remove dead wood from trees allowing new growth, the winds drive out dark clouds to reveal sunshine and blue skies. The storm seems to release energy and tension giving an opportunity for calm and reflection.

Looking around me today, our garden city strewn with the aftermath of the strong winds that made feel like Dorothy before Oz, I am reminded of the value and parallels of these tempestuous times. Not just to nature but to my self also.

Without these, there can reside a tendency to cleave to the status quo, to be on an even keel, to know where we are – for safety and certainty. Yet, therein lies stagnation, fear, inactivity and inwardness, inhibiting creativity and the potential for experience, wisdom and insight, enriching and fulfilling our soul.

We need those storms, painful, bewildering and disturbing though they be, as they stimulate us to grow, to look anew at ourselves, to release that we no longer need or benefits us.

‘Let it go’ says the song so, as the trees let go, I’m learning to let go of who I used to be and finding a new way of being as no longer young. This transition, unlike the sudden storm, has been slow and difficult, and inevitable. A workshop I attended recently prompted me to reflect deeply, unwillingly, on who and where I am now, holding up uncomfortable recognitions – repressed feelings of envy, self-hatred and frustration with my inability for action due to base beliefs of inferiority and incompetence.

These dark clouds have now lifted a little, the storm an apt metaphor for this recent psychic struggle. I have passed through more than just the eye of the storm. I will find serenity and the calm today so embodies.

I am alive. I am here. I am me.



Welcome to Hotel Transactional Analysis


I’ve recently spent a week’s relaxation in Majorca celebrating 20 years of marriage. We stayed in a beautiful, tranquil spot in a small natural park a few minutes saunter from two perfect pink-white sand bays with crystalline water: a beach lover’s heaven.

What I hadn’t expected from this late summer treat – we’d already been away in July – was the realisation that hotels turn us into dependent babies. This disturbed and challenged my sense of self, creating psychic tensions never before considered.

For some years we have embraced life under canvas for summer escapes, travelling to various locations in France as well as in the UK. I’d camped with my family but the experience as an adult, although rekindling the fun I’d had as a child, also brought essential elements to my adult life: freedom, re-connection with the earth, and even Maslow-style primary needs like building a shelter. OK, so I didn’t catch my food but, cooking outside, watching the stars emerge and being IN nature met some unacknowledged need for simplicity, self-reliance and connection with the universe.

I enjoyed being a bit ‘feral’ – living in shorts and flip-flops or bare feet – and not worrying what I looked like, luxuriating in the sensory and sensuality of warm sun, cool earth and moving water (we stay near rivers or the sea).

There was also the sense of empowerment: going where and when we pleased, and doing what we wanted without watching the clock, living with nature’s rhythms.

Going ‘properly’ abroad for the first time in years (as in taking a plane and staying in an hotel) gave me sleepless nights. I’d forgotten how to plan a trip of this kind, feeling all kinds of tension surrounding booking a flight, seats, baggage allowance and finding the perfect accommodation. In my case, perfect meant inexpensive, small and personal, away from crowds and any packaged ‘entertainment’. After a couple of false starts and cancellations, I booked our home from home. Cue the beginning of a creeping, increasing anxiety and weight of responsibility. What if it was awful? Would my husband enjoy it (a very real fear after the summer trip went a little awry due to his work induced stress and inability to relax and be in the moment). I also have a mild fear of flying – a lovely euphemism that isn’t it?

We arrived at 1.00a.m. after a delay and a magical mystery tour, first to find the transport I’d booked and then along little dark roads leading to seemingly nowhere. Yet the hotel was welcoming, simply furnished but adequate, and extremely clean. Relief flooded me as I finally slept, dreaming of the sea.

So, what felt so wrong?

It took me several days to understand the source of my discomfort: I wasn’t in control.

I couldn’t just go to the kitchen and make a cup of coffee or a sandwich. I had to wait to be fed.

I couldn’t stay in my room all day if that’s what I wanted as the maid came to clean.

I couldn’t speak the language, having only basic phrases.

I felt bad and feared judgment if the room were left messy.

Then I had my epiphany: the hotel was our playpen and nursery. We were omnipotent infants with all our needs being met on demand by benevolent adults.

And I wasn’t sure I liked it. I felt really discomfited. Out of control. A guest checks out their personal power when they check in.

Perhaps world-weary executives in spa hotels are only indulging in infantile fantasy – in a more socially acceptable way than dressing up as babies and being bottle fed.

This sense of dependence was enhanced by being remote from all but a tiny shop and a couple of beach restaurants (in addition to the breast in our hotel).

I adored the serenity- watching bats fly around at dusk and snorkelling in warm clear water with fish dancing around, beneath and above me. Yet I felt impotent and irritated at a subliminal level, resenting reliance on what the hotel gave us to eat, feeling displaced when unable to enter our room, fearful of being stranded and abandoned.

Yet I also became territorial, wishing the day visitors would go away and leave ‘our’ coves in peace. I also didn’t want to go back to reality. The holiday ‘bubble’ had provided a secure base from which to explore being together again, without concerning ourselves with anything more onerous than whether to have another beer or go for a swim.

I suspect it’s no coincidence that I work with children with attachment disorders arising from neglectful parenting, mothers with mental health disorders, and dysfunctional families. Was all I felt really just a projection of their discomfort and need to control and impose order on their chaotic early life experiences.

I’m curious how these reflections will impact our holiday plans next year: will it be a self-catering apartment or back to the Wendy House tent?















On being a yellow coat

Hi di hi Yellowcoat

Oh it felt so good to move and be with a group again: to experience those moments of blissful, spontaneous, synchrony, and attunement.

This was my first paid ‘gig’ as a DMP, although I wasn’t offering therapy at all: the workshop was called ‘Expressive Dance’ and held at a centre for various complementary therapies and movement classes. The web ad and poster specifically invited ‘over 50s’ and those who had yearned to dance but never felt able to try.

The workshop mainly delivered what it promised: 3 of the 4 attendees were indeed over 50, although one of these included me!

All three members – not clients – were also united in their desire to move.

I had spent some time planning before the event but, equally, had felt comfortable about being able to change the plan depending on what the group brought along. With the support of my supervisor, I also realised that simply people in the room moving together was what I should aim for, rather than trying to run before I could walk…

But, I had two hours to fill.

I made a playlist, edited it, edited it again.

I decided what not to wear and painted my toenails.

Finally, I put my mind to the actual content.

I elected to have a ‘coathanger’ on which to base the workshop, an image that led strangely on from the yellow coat fitting of the previous post. Yellow coat – whah – I’ve just noticed that sounds like Hi Di Hi…. one of my most hated programmes ever yet loved by many. “I want to be a yellow coat” was the plaintive cry of Peggy, Su Pollard’s character: was that what I felt about being a DMP?

And there I was thinking it had been about fitting into a new identity, trying it on, and making alterations to suit. None of it: this was pure yearning to do what I had trained for, yet felt so tauntingly out of reach.

As I had been reading ‘Beyond Dance’ by Eden Davies on Laban and Lamb’s work within business, I was inspired to use LMA shaping and efforts to underpin the workshop content. This worked well. I didn’t immediately introduce the concepts: we first warmed up and moved as a group, each being given the opportunity to lead by changing the movement in gradual ways, encouraging involvement and confidence. After we had moved in this format for some time, with swaying arms, swinging arms, flicking hands and twisting torsos, we had a moment’s break, I then brought in shaping in planes, then efforts, drawing attention to how we had moved earlier and described these movement components. As a group we also embodied these, adding images to help somatic comprehension.

Later in the workshop, I used the ‘name game’ to generate individual movements which we could share, put into sequence, and expand upon. The elder of the two women seemed undecided about her movement but, encouraged by the imagery of the door plane we’d explored, she stepped forward boldly and opened her arms into a wide vase-shape as she said her name: accompanying this with a confession that “I never do this” (making her presence known). I felt moved and itched to do more work with this woman.

Next, came a short exploration of the props, mostly the mesmerising ribbon wands which weaved magic in the room, conjuring metaphor and play.

The elder woman went to find an instrument “a drum” as she wanted to make a noise. She settled for maracas and we moved a stretch cloth wiggling and rippling to her rhythm. As this section came to a close, we regrouped into the corner where the props were laid out. Without words, we each chose an instrument and began a multi-layered percussive rhythm, adding our own personal signatures, ending with a bang on the tambourine, followed by full silence.

After a cool down and relaxation, I asked the group about how it had been for them: relaxing, losing tension, feeling freer. Feelings and sensations I could identify with closely.

We finished by leaving something in the room, in the middle of our circle. I gave gratitude for how the group had embraced the workshop and their courage in trying something new. The elder  woman blew a kiss to the circle centre, the younger, a ribbon swirl. The other member, a man, gave a simple formal bow.

I came home hot, elated, exhausted but happy. Despite only a small group it had happened, and I had held it together, psychologically and physically.

Now I’m hungry for more.

Yes, I am a yellow coat – albeit one with ‘P’ plates.

Participatory arts and the effect on well-being

women art 032_0

I read a quote the other day that said ‘medicine treats the body, but art heals the soul’ or words to that effect and it struck me how necessary it is to recognise this distinction and symbiosis in our increasingly technologically driven world.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with technology per se – it’s what I’m using now – but with many things in life, it’s a question of balance. When societies lose sight of the worth of cultural arts – and participation in them by everyone not just an elite few – then we’re really in trouble. Yet this leads on to the tricky issue of evidence base and ‘proof’ that something works and why it does. Many people accept what scientists tell us about quantum physics and nanotechnology and quarks etc – without needing to understand the principles. Yet, with the arts and well-being, it seems there is much more cynicism about the value and impact – despite arts having been around since the dawn of civilisation, albeit in rather simpler forms. Cave paintings and Egyptian friezes must say something about need for expression and the human condition and the creative drive that underlies all our development: including that of the technological explosion.

Participating in arts connects people, whether in dance, music, drama or art and allows people to express, communicate and respond at a deeper level – even where language might prove a barrier.

I’m ecstatic that the arts and creativity seem to be enjoying a little renaissance, especially in the area of healthcare for young and older people. Medicine and surgeons can do wonderful things but not heal the psyche and as the famous ad once said, arts can refresh the parts other treatments cannot reach.

I am going to hold on to these thoughts as I continue my process in creating work opportunities for therapeutic dance and Dance Movement Psychotherapy. This kind of work IS needed and vital to bring us back into our bodies, reconnect at a physical level, and celebrate the human spirit.

This new journal from the Arts Council – Create – is a fascinating insight into how wellbeing and the arts are inextricably linked. A survey accompanying the publication found that two thirds (64%) of adults think the arts can improve people’s overall sense of wellbeing and three in five adults (60%) saying that having more arts and culture in their local area would make it a better place to live (from People Dancing website).

Create – a journal about the impact of arts on wellbeing


On being fearless

At risk of sounding like the fired ‘Suralan’ Apprentice, a journey starts with the first step.

I took the first small steps to becoming a DMP when I observed the transformational power of dance whilst teaching different groups of women Egyptian dance. They came in all shapes and sizes, different ages, different abilities, different expectations and lots of baggage which wasn’t left on chairs at the side of the room with the shoes and outdoor clothes. Prior to that, my own feelings about dance and the emotions it disturbed, soothed or amplified, had been confined to myself. Witnessing bravery, fear, resistance, anxiety, joy and connection made me acknowledge the power of dance for emotional insight that went way beyond the studio walls.

That observation ignited a fire, fuelled further by experiencing verbal therapy myself, and studying for a counselling qualification. I found there is so much more to say than just words – words hide feelings, confuse and obfuscate: the body doesn’t lie – or lie still.

So, here I am, three years on with an MA in Dance Movement Psychotherapy from Goldsmiths, London (there’s another here in LGC and it wasn’t there to avoid any confusion); I am truly grateful I had the opportunity to take the J-word with such a wonderful, inspiring and supportive group. DMPs rock (and sway, and twist and jump and so much more).

I took a huge leap of faith to apply for the MA – not having a first degree but professional quals from my past life – and plunged into this creative, exploratory, revelatory world.

It’s not been a journey so far without fear: at times I have faced painful self-truths and internal conflict and shredded many a tissue. Fearless? Perhaps a little: I can face uncertainty with more equanimity and less panic than before and can almost enjoy the chaos that creativity needs to breathe.

I am now embarking on a new life as an RDMP – thank you ADMP UK – and if not making a step towards work in my chosen field than I am at least preparing my feet and choosing the right shoes. For those who know me well, THAT is very important and a potent symbol.

I am starting where I am, using what I have, and doing what I can, to paraphrase Theodore Roosevelt, and ready to take my own path less travelled, wherever it might lead. This is a lovely pic of Niki de Saint Phalle’s ‘Three Graces’: to me it depicts the joy and freedom of dance, acceptance of body and self, connection, empathy and love.