Sheila and I had the opportunity to hold our Physical Awareness workshop as one of the "Playshops" at the Taos Institute's Play with Purpose conference two weeks ago. What follows is the post-playshop summary we created for the participants which describes what we did and what people experienced. Following this is a 16 minute video of Charles Limb speaking on the topic of the brain, improvisation, and creativity.
During the one hour workshop the group choreographed and performed a dance which they collaboratively created based on a short movement phrase. To do this, they had to improvise together in the same way that a Jazz musician improvises on a set of chords. But, what makes this experience different, was that we weren’t requiring people to learn some complex technique or method but asked them to use a tool they were already familiar with; their bodies. By seeing each other move, creating movement together, improvising, the participants were able to activate the creative centers of their brains. By watching someone else move and then trying to replicate those movements, they were activating their brain's communication centers and preparing themselves for intense listening. Through dance, we were able to bring these people into a high state of receptively and group collaboration. What follows is the summary:
Now that we have a few days distance from the playshop experience, we wanted to share with you our thoughts about the experience. We also wanted to summarize what we presented to you and let you know what we had heard from you about the event. We invite you to continue the conversation with your comments and observations about what may have continued to resonate for you.
We began the workshop with a 5 minute introduction of concepts of dance, improvisation, play, performance and collaboration that looked at:
- How as dancers, we are our instruments.
- The performer must be mindful and aware of self, fellow dancers/creators, and the audience.
- Performance is an act of humility; a gift; and enabled by an ability to listen to self, colleagues and audience.
- Performance as a sacred experience, one that is ephemeral but also touches and draws upon the work of past, future, and present dancers and audiences.
- Dance is about communication on the deepest physical level and dance performance incorporates the unexpected improvisatory playfulness that a live event always evokes.
To start the process of awakening the dancer inside each of you, we worked on increasing your physical awareness. During these first stretching exercises you prepared your body to move but also became more aware of your body’s state. With the partner stretch, you practiced increased observation and awareness of another person’s body.
Leveraging this enhanced awareness, we taught you a dance phrase. You learned it for two purposes:
- So you could use the movement phrase like jazz musicians would use chords for improvisation, and;
- To practice the skills of observation, mimicry and rehearsal which you needed to embody in order to subsequently co-create with others.
We then asked you to create a new dance in groups with each other based on this movement phrase. Here you practiced improvisation, collaboration and learning from each other. You played together with the purpose of creating art. You were all artful.
At the end of the Playshop, we asked you to perform your creations and also act as the audience for your fellow participants. This was an opportunity to act, listen, and respond to each other through your performances. Performance is not complete without an audience reaction. Thus you were able to experience both sides of this interaction as performer and as audience.
Finally we joined together in a short reflection period. We treasured your participation and creative work and reflections. The following is an outline of what we heard as your reflections.
- The model of respectful relationship between JP and Sheila formed an environment of respect between Playshop participants
- Lack of competition in the process – “Yes and “ concept/experience through non-verbal communication contributed to an atmosphere of comfort for participants
- The Playshop was an opportunity for body/mindfulness, thus raised personal awareness of fellow collaborators
- Heightened the sense of how we affect people on a non-verbal basis
- Liked stretching warm-up, particularly the partner stretch.
- Personal physical touch helps build a sense of security/safety.
- Structure can be the basis of improvisation; in fact, some kind of structure is very often the catalyst or spark for improvisation. “Technique” leads to freedom.
What follows is a lecture by Charles Limb, brain researcher and musician, where he describes the work he is doing exploring the brain and creativity. The parallels between his work and what we are discovering through our experience based workshops were so clear, I wanted to share them with you here.
© 2011 by Sheila Peters and JP Harris. All rights reserved.