Monday, November 5, 2007

Movement, Healing, and Story

Musicals intrigue and often amuse me a scene unfolds a group of people talk to one another and go about their business when suddenly everyone spontaneously burst into song and dance.

In teaching storytelling I feel the most healing aspect of storytelling comes about in the creation of story and secondarily in the hearing or telling of story. In three workshops in Liberia I presented a method in which the participants create a story using their body energy to create two characters. The first character arises out of a process in which the participant identifies an area of discomfort or distress in their body and the second character is a counter character to the first. Both characters arise out of the awareness of the body’s emotional and physical energy and given expression with movement. The participants complete the process by writing and/or imagining a story in which the two characters meet and come to terms with each other and the participants then tell the story. I developed this method to work with individuals who were suffering from physical illness and for those with physical symptoms associated with various forms of trauma.

What I noticed in contrast to my usual American participants was that the African participant’s movement looked more like dance than a gesture such as a hand wave. So I had the participants as a group rhythmically do the movement of both of their characters individually and then slowly combine together the movements of both characters. And this was the point that I realized that musicals are for real and not just made up for screen and stage. The participants were encouraged to make a sound with their movement. Their sounds blended into a wonderful rhythmic beat and the movement and the beat combined into a celebrative community dance. In one group a call and response wrap type song burst out. This spontaneous combustion of sound, song, dance and movement lasted for about a half an hour.

At the end the participants reported a sense of healing, well being, and a different understanding of their physical discomfort. Most understood that the distress in their body was associated with trauma suffered during the Liberian Civil war. In the story the participants created a bridge between characters to help heal their trauma and in the movement and dance they reinforced that bridge. What I also realized was that the story and initial movement was an expression of individual inner healing and the dancing was a movement towards community and cultural healing. In African culture story and dance often go hand-and-hand. Simply the process encouraged movement from isolation to relationship with self, with community, and with culture.

So yes spontaneous outbursts of group songs and dance do happen not only in musicals but also in real life when people live in a culture that understands the connection between the individual and community, between dance, story and song, and between healing and celebration.

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