Authentic Movement and the Power of Getting Seen
Every Monday afternoon, I meet up with my friend and dance partner Lauren Tietz of Earth Sky Body Works, and together we explore what it means get seen. It’s a fairly abstract concept so we follow a specific protocol of tried and tested steps.
One of us assumes the role of Witness while the other becomes the Mover. The Mover spends 20 minutes feeling into her inner experience and following any and all movement impulses that arise therein. After 20 minutes is up, the timer rings. The Mover says something about what just happened; the Witness listens wordlessly. Then the Witness shares her observations while the Mover listens. Then Mover and Witness swap roles and do the practice again. It’s a process called Authentic Movement, based on Carl Jung’s work on active imagination and developed into its current form by pioneering dance and movement therapists Mary Starks Whitehouse, Janet Adler, and Joan Chowdorow.
Sometimes Lauren and I meet in a dance studio. Sometimes we meet in an abandoned field. Or under a bridge. Or at a public park. In the public spaces, passers by become unintended witnesses to our work. There is no music except for any that happens to be audible in the environment, the wind, and sounds of the city.
Sometimes when I’m moving I feel—and imagine I look—like a dancer, playing with form, alignment, agility, rhythm, strength. It’s easy to get seen when my authentic offering feels like a thing of beauty and connected expression. From this place, expressing my vulnerability feels like a show of power.
Sometimes when I’m moving, though, I feel—and imagine I look—disconnected, distracted, bored, sullen, swollen, anxious, awkward or any other in the vast range of regrettable human afflictions. My movement pulls me hulking or slug-like or powerless or ill-conceived. During these sessions, there is a small but very real part of me recoiling from myself. Still I press forward, continuing to lift the veil on inner experiences I’d much rather leave covered.
On these days, I sometimes say with words just how lousy it feels to get seen like this. But even if I don’t say it with words, my body expresses my twisted revulsion—just as much as it expresses a much stronger, much more vital deep-seated longing for even this darkness to be held. And a prayer that under Lauren’s constant gaze something will shift, and it will all feel more bearable—maybe even like the beginning of renewed vitality.