As an artist working with young people in dance I (Sophie) have a responsibility to model a positive relationship with my body. Here I can be honest and say that my relationship with my body has shifted over time; from dancing making me feel incredibly sure of myself and my body and at other times has seen me as a crying mess. I have seen how dance has been an incredibly affirming experience for dancers who I have worked with, and also seen people implode and stop. To work in dance can be incredibly confidence building for the perception of self so I wanted to explore some of the reasons why it can be so damaging and at other times life affirming in the context of Youth dance.
It is an important issue to discuss when working with youth dancers; male and female. I have observed the young dancers who I have been working with over the past year or two change their perception of their body ideal. Generally the value system has shifted within them so that physical fitness and diet are the top priority with the understanding that their weight and health will be maintained as a bi-product. This I believe has taken place through a steady engagement with the artists at the company who model healthy behaviours around nutrition and exercise. Also we are a loquacious bunch so we often have the opportunity to challenge unhealthy values that we have seen in the wider culture of dance.
I am more aware of young people growing up in a media culture of increasingly homogenised representations of male and female visual norms. I regularly watch these innocent young minds processing these ideas through their presentation of themselves, in their choice of clothes, make-up, behaviour and social interaction. They walk into the rehearsal space with all of these ideas around them as a ‘young woman’ or ‘young man’. The beauty of working with them through dance and movement in a playful way is that they begin to have a ‘felt’ perception of themselves. As I see them working with concepts physically- not just throwing shapes but thinking physically- their perception of themselves broadens to know their physical self in action (as a verb if you will) rather than an image (object; noun).
The process of owning their creative practice (decision-making, palette of choices, reflection, collaboration) has a significant effect on the way that they dance. I have noticed (not scientifically validated yet!) that over time there is a link between ownership of body and ownership of thought. As they become more empowered to express the how and why behind their movement and their choreographic choices they then inhabit their bodies in a self-assured manner. This in turn becomes a healthy behavioural habit that they can utilise in other aspects of their lives.
Specifically in the context of my youth dance methodology, I have put together some snippets of a recent rehearsal where the dancers were sharing their ideas and thought behind a duet that they had choreographed. Here is a clip of the duet. This four minute duet was made from a process that took around 2 hours where the intention was for them to feel, imagine and create spaces in the room through work around creating complex shapes that had different textures. I am skimming over details as the process of making could be another blog! The thing that I would like to draw your attention to is their ownership of their bodies in a non-gendered manner. By this I mean that there are no way stereotypical ‘boy moves’ or ‘girl moves’ just moves originating from the idea. Ben spoke about this previously, here it is.
Here is a snippet of one of the younger members of the company (she is 11) who is explaining a part of the duet and how she approached the task. It is really exciting to watch the beginnings of her articulating her experience to us. There were was a shared realisation in that rehearsal by all of the dancers that each individual had had really different approaches to the task which made really different outcomes. Two principles of creative practice had emerged: 1. There is no right or wrong, only diversity. 2. By sharing their ideas they are beginning to understand true collaboration (not competitive showing off).
I started this rather long blog about appearance and young people’s relationships with their bodies. I hope that what I have conveyed is that I do not think that through a Cartesian Dualist’s lens we can split the mind and the body and expect a person to be healthy. The strength of working with the art form of dance and in particular this creative dance methodology which encompasses a feedback cycle of sensing, feeling, imagining, creating, communicating, moving, discussing, performing and reflecting, that youth dancers can inhabit their whole selves with self-awareness of their worth and possibility. This ownership of their self is an extraordinary practice for art and for their lives.