Participatory arts and the effect on well-being

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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



No sugar-coating – a new ballet about psychosis

Wow, this is fascinating: I think I’m more intrigued by the process of constructing this new ballet than possibly watching it. Ludovic Ondivela observed people with psychosis in hospital and used the movement patterns including twitches and other “ugliness” (his words) to bring a sense of realism to the more usually ‘ethereal’ realm of ballet. No floaty sugar princesses here…

Cassandra – article from The Independent

Dance Movement Psychotherapists also use movement observation and analysis tools to help understand a person’s psychological or emotional state. We use Laban Movement Analysis to look at the intention behind a client’s way of moving – which can be amplified during creative dance sessions. We also use the Kestenberg Movement Profile which links patterns and rhythms of movement to developmental stages: think about the oral fixations of smoking or chewing gum? Underneath the person is seeking soothing and satisfaction from their mother to take away frustration or inner conflict. We’re alot more complex than that but it’s sometimes the little things that tell A LOT.

How about the person who pats you on the back as you hug, as a signal to let go?

They have had enough of intimacy and need to separate: it’s akin to an infant’s bite reflex that tells Mum in no uncertain terms the child has had enough.

Movement analysis is about more than body language, which tends to be static: these tools help look at a person’s whole being, including connection or disconnection between body parts and how they respond to the environment. Fascinating stuff. It certainly makes a Tube journey infinitely more interesting.

So, back to Cassandra: will she be cured, should she be cured, what constitutes being ‘cured’?

Should pharmacotherapy prevail in cases like this or could it be a ‘chemical cosh’ suppressing a person’s identity to make them ‘fit’ our view of normality. Could there be a different way to help people manage their mental health problems whilst retaining their soul?

That debate could run and run: I hope the ballet is received well too and raises discussion and awareness of its subject.

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.