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.

The DMPeror’s new clothes?

DMP at LCHLOh what a week that was.

I’m left feeling somewhat ambivalent, holding both good and bad feelings about events and prospects.

After a time of incubation I finally delivered the first of two scheduled ‘free’ talks on DMP to a local centre offering complementary medicine and holistic therapies.

I wasn’t expecting the 70 that had crowded the centre for a rather more illustrious and established therapist but, I was a little disappointed only to have 10 people: two of whom were also linked to the centre so I felt they didn’t ‘count’ (OK, Mrs Superego, thank you for that helpful comment).

I had prepared fully – even making a short PPT slide show – of images – not death by bullet point.

I’d even checked the day before that the laptop spoke the same language as the projector. No more lastminutedotcom for me.

On the way home from this dry run, I felt warm and content inside – a happiness rush if you like – and an image of a fitting for a new tailormade coat came to mind. In yellow, with wide cuffs. I could see the stitching where the fabric had been marked for alteration for alignment and fit. It felt right.

I practised out loud… added anecdotes from clinical work and pre-DMP life … and allowed myself to use my body in ways that feel natural to me, not constrained by the concept of formal presentation.

I helped set up the room – somewhere I knew well – with a Chacian circle in mind. Well, a horseshoe to be precise so the slides were visible to all on the wall. Looking back, I felt something to look at would take the focus off me and prevent my audience from seeing my anxiety with X-ray specs. And PPT slides are professional: I had done many presentations during my previous career.

I think I paced myself and structured the talk well, with a bit of context, theory and principle, and then a chunky ‘experiential’ section. Playtime with props. This was received really well, with rich imagery of butterflies, womanly curves, childhood games and more. Despite being a demonstration, I also realised that amongst the playfulness, darker issues lurked in the corners – exclusion, loneliness, self-imposed constraint, body image and escape. I could almost smell it.

At the end of the session, there was a palpable energy in the air – excitement even – and a reluctance to leave. I thanked the group and they said no, thank YOU.

But what next… this therapy when experienced seems to move people yet the understanding and attitude towards adoption seems fraught with doubt and denial and distrust. Or are these my own concerns which I’m projecting onto potential clients and employers?

Emily d’Anunnzio – an American DMP and regular blogger – has recently commented on a similar issue, including her clamber for more qualifcations to validate what she offers. I understand this well too, having taken a further uni course in CBT last autumn (which I passed well): it was a case of ‘keep your friends close, but your enemies closer’. Now, I no longer view CBT as the enemy, rather as a useful and valuable strategic partner. Like the coat in my image above, one size or item of clothing does not fit all or all situations. Therapy is infinitely variable and flexible to meet the shape and needs of each client and their experience. Sometimes you need the structure of a tailored suit, at others, the freedom of flowing silk.

The following day I felt a sense of hollowness, of a light dimming, especially when my second talk – scheduled for tonight – was cancelled. Maybe Friday 13th wasn’t the most auspicious date.

The hollowness has faded and the light begun to glimmer once more. I tried one approach which produced a positive response. It will happen again. In fact I have been asked to hold two short sessions/talks at a women’s group health and wellbeing day. Who knows where that might lead?

Perhaps the way in is to engage people physically, to embody DMP, and from that maybe my fledgling career will begin to find its wings.

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.