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TRAVERSING TRAUMA, TR ANSFORMING SELF: A JOURNEY OF HE ALING THROUGH DANCE BY ZOE CUNNINGHAM A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Professor Stephen Miles Sarasota, Florida February, 2013
i Table of Contents Chapter 1: 1 My Topic: The Transformational Power of Personal Narrative Chapter 2: .12 The Roots, Manifestations, and Ramifications of Rape Culture Chapter 3 : 3 3 The Healing Power of Dance Chapter 4: 4 Rebirth: The Process of Performance Bibliography 72
ii TRAVERSING TRAUMA, TRANSFORMING SELF: A JOURNEY OF HEALING THROUGH DANCE Zoe Cunningham New College of Florida, 2013 ABSTRACT This document serves as the written element of my senior project. It encompasses personal narrative, analysis of rape cultu re, my perspective on dance therapy, and details the process of creating a dance It is the background and basis for my focal point, a dance performance entitled Rebirth: A Journey of Healing through Dance The performance utilize d the medium of dance to e xplore the process o f overcoming sexual trauma The performance was created over the course of six weeks during which I met with a group of five women to rehearse and practice structured improvisational movement Through th ese rehearsals I aim ed to facil varying stages of emotion and its raw translation to movement. Going through this process of embodying different affects has therapeutic benefits, an outcome which I was seeking in the creation of this dance. The aim of th e material that I used for the dance was to speak through movement, to t he experience of anyone in the audience who has undergone pain and healing. It is a tribute to the transformative process that is grief, anger, and forgiveness Ultimately, i t is a ce lebration of healing, of reclaiming the body, and integrating the self Professor Stephen Miles Division of Humanities
1 Chapter 1 My Topic : The Transformational Power of Personal Narrative I did not choose to write about rape so much as rape chose me Since the moment it knocked down my door ten years ago, here it has stayed: a permanent weight that will not disappear. With time, its weight has lightened; it no longer festers. Sharp pain is no longer present; now it rests, a distilled ache. As I share it with the world, the remnants of its weight float off my chest, dark clouds passing by. When it was fresh, this mysterious pain infiltrated my being, an elusive sad ness saturating me. Years later I reflected upon my past with fresh insight. In moments of clarity, I unmasked the demon I was facing. I identified myself as separate from the source of the rot my essence, I sensed, was subdued, but intact A radiance peeked out from the dust. The beast of sexual oppression held me down, threatened to write my story, to rob me of authorship of my own existence. But with time, with patience, and with love, I learned how to reclaim my joyful, ever present essence. Shaking off the shackles of victim status to uncover my own identity, I join the rank of survivor s. I now proudly stake my claim to my sexuality, my wholeness, my self. The paradox is, this rape will always be a part of my self. But it is no longer a shameful secret. I simply had to renegotiate how I carry the weight of the rape so that I could move forward. Experience becomes art, education, and advocacy on behalf of
2 everyone who has ever been abused. If I could not have made this transition, I would still be sick. The fact that people are largely uninformed on the staggering scope of rape in our cul ture and the infec tious stains it leaves behind is the precise reason I think it imperative to write about it. In my college career, I developed strength and conviction through learning about patriarchal society and gender bias in our culture. This fueled me to attack the underlying causation of sexual violence in our so ciety. Because our culture condones sexual violence, backhandedly, covertly, and subconsciously, we are at risk of accepting coerced sex as a normal part of life. After all, boys will be bo ys, and no really means yes. We are a society in denial of the far reaching depths of sexual violence, unaware of how it seeps into our minds, our bedrooms, our sense of self. Rape happens behind closed doors, in a literal and figurative sense. To preven t its patterns from replaying, we must open the door wide o pen. By exposing its root cause the legacy of patriarchy we will prevent its manipulative patterns from repeating themselves. Sexual violence, on any level, is never acceptable. It is time to bring it to a close. I decided to d edicate my senior thesis to reaching that goal. My Project For my senior project, I sought to create a public platform for healing from personal traumas. I wanted to accomplish this through the use of creative movement, and I wanted it to be accessible and applicable to a group of my peers, who live in the same rape culture as I do I wanted it to reach a wider audience and not sit on a lonely library shelf. Healing does not occur in isolation
3 In addition to opening up a spa ce for healing, my other mission for this project was prevention. My hope was to set the stage to deter future acts of sexual violence. B uilding awareness around an issue such as rape is crucial to its prevention. Awareness is a guiding light in identifyin g and disabling problematic behavior, enlightening others through education and action. Furthermore, I believe that the practice of connecting to ones body, of truly being present in the visceral internal terrain, is vital to prevention. Moving our bodies in authentic, organic expression especially the embodiment of emotions like confid ence and joyous self possession is excellent training for assertiveness in all areas of life. Rape, with all its accompanying mental and emotional hurdles, is first a viola tion of the body. For this reason, working with the body taps into the capacity to heal on all levels. It has been said that the body is a map of the mind. Or, to use the words of a wise gnore the traumatic situations that have hurt or scared us throughout our lives. But our bod ies will store the memory of the pain until we take the time to discharge that energy. While talk therapy is an important tool for processing the healing, if we wa nt to fully awaken in the present, to fully experience a sense of ease within the body, we have to know it experientially; we must move. Body based and creative arts therapies are of special interest to me, both as future career paths and as personal heal ing modalities. Creative movement has allowed me to continually restore well being to my body. Its practice offers many gifts: assertion/exploration of space; expression of unfiltered, raw emotion; derivation of internal pleasure; connection to self as a s ubject; integration of self; and an entrance into
4 the experiential flow state 1 As I discus s in more detail in chapter 4 the final form of this project differs from what I originally envisioned. While it evolved, it stayed true to its essential intention of using movement to heal. I began with the idea of holding dance therapy workshops. Then, wanting to expand the power of dance to reach a wider audience, I thought about choreographing a danced dramatization of sexual violence. Eventually, the ideas evo lved to a fusion between the two. By working with my advisor and allowing my own creative process to unfold, I developed the following format: a group of women and I would meet for a series of rehearsals. There we would explore our range of improvisation o n themes central to the recovery from sexual violence. From material generated from rehearsals melded with choreography I would compose, we would put together a performance for the community. The performance would act as a healing journey for the dancers a nd provide a sense of cathartic healing for the audience. Furthermore, to incorporate activist principles, it would serve as a springboard for discussion and a benefit for Selah Freedom, a local organization working to end sexual exploitation. Before I sa y more about rape culture, dance therapy, and my creative process, I need to talk about the role that rape has played in my life. This is the foundation of my impetus to do work in this field. It is through the articulation of this story and the ability to reflect on it as an adult that I was able to begin my journey of healing. 1 When a dancer is completely enveloped in the movement, not thinking but purely sensing, the flow state is achieved. This is comparable to the state of mind during meditation, or any other time when one is sustains focus on the present.
5 My Story My story emerges from me when I least expect it. Juxtaposed against a sunset bike ride to the beach, casually opening up while cleaning out a storage closet, I reveal my past to others. If the moment is right, it is an empowering act: a liberation of my truth, a dissipation of the shock and secrecy. More than just a release, I forge ownership of my experience through voice. In explaining my past to another, I am integra ting it into my being. Revelation feels far better than rejecting a huge part of my self. T his unveiling of the truth is uncertain ground The freshness of disclosing such a closely guarded secret intrigues me, like running down the road naked. How much d o I disclose : how much detail do I care to reveal? My inner censor carefully monitors. How many layers of clothes do I want to take off here? I am curious a bout how my listener re acts. This is not something I, or anyone, is used to hearing: I was raped as a child. Neither is it something I would know how to react to or want the details of. And who does? I find no value in rehash ing the gritty minutia. And what purpose does it serve, only to bring fresh tears into my eyes? For this reason, the details rare ly surface. My mind covers them with haze so they seem a blur. But the inlaid details never disappear. T he tactile memory of my body hol ds them, irretractable, inside me. If I need to drum up fury, I know exactly where to go to in my mind to drink from thi s disgust, throwing fuel into my raging fire. Not wanting to linger in the hot flames, I avoid this spot, preferring the watery coolness of forgiveness. I recount my story in poetry. Silent Night
6 The smell of Winterfresh gum and Kool cigarettes Takes me back inside that car white, cheap, and full of fake smells. At once I am yearning for and dreading the darkness that extends infinitely outside the steel chamber shrouded in sheets of rain. I liked that you liked me, mistaking your affection for a thin g of value. I never even knew you, but you knew how to catch my ego in a web of your flattery. I fell prey to your plastic professions of love Is it e ven that hard, to manipulate a twelve year old? I never got the chance to get to know my own body. My fi rst experience of sexual sensation was at the hands of my rapist. No wonder, no awe, no excitement of discovery Not joy, no passion, no grace Just crude fingers trespassing, spreading grime, Robbing me of my initiation into self.
7 I learned to submit to m y role. My body, subservient object, manhandled, belonging not to me My own pleasure, a concept as remote as that white, steel prison. How did I hold my silence for five years? Simple, there was nothing to tell. In my mind, I was not raped. I was just a bad, slutty girl who acted a fool. I put myself at risk, and I got what I ask ed for. Never mind the fact that I did not ask. Never mind the fact that I said no. But after d besides, this is how people act when they're in relationships. That's what my rapist said. I realized the gravity of what this man had done when I was seventeen After picking me up from juvenile detention hall, incredulous at my second arrest, my mom got curious. She thought back to when she perceived a shift in my behavior. She asked, n you were twelve e I went from preparing for my bat m itzvah to haunting the night streets, prowling for parti es, partners, outlets for me to escape. Yes, something did happen. For the first time, I saw the truth of the act, made apparent by the structure of that sentence. Something happened to me. I had not do ne this to myself. In her eyes, sh e saw me go from a sweet soccer playing kid to a lying, absconding
8 teen. All of a sudden, soccer practice, scho ol, sleepovers at friends were meaningful to me solely through their offer s of a decent alibi. She was no more likely to find me in th o se places than in a smoky c ar, parked out with an invariably older boyfriend. Or perhaps in a park, melting my mind off with a cough syrup cocktail. Or, finally, in the juvenile detention hall, at which point I was so detached, I would have floated away had I not been handcuffed to my shitty reality o ne that did not belong to me. Growing up with the opposite of a healthy model for sexual relations, I struggled to experience true sexual autonomy. I learned the power of my body, yet still felt as if it did not belong to me. I derived power not so much from realizing my beautiful capacity for pleasure, but rather from m ak ing men weak Sex was a grey area of power dynamic s, validation, and escapism So I guess it's not that odd that I wasn't able to categorize it the second time I was v iolated. It did take me less time to realize about a year. My twenty year old self thought back to the party to the unsettling gap between vomiting red vodka and tequila in the toilet and being fucked on a stranger's bed. I remember my hair being pulled b ack, my clothes being peeled off a trashcan being pla ced by the bed How. F ucking T houghtful. I denied it well. I was not a rape victim, not again. I went back for more, placating him, rewarding his violence. After all, he didn't realize what he was doi ng, I'm sure. No one is that malicious. I can't be a rape victim again, right? And besides, that's how people act when they're in relationships right? But it did happen. Again. As a girl I was taught to please and obey. So is it any surprise when I submitted to my conditioning? When I'm told I'm loved and desired, that it's what I'm supposed to be
9 doing for the relationship's sake, it felt like less of a crime being committed than a fact of life, simply the way things were, just one more of the myr iad of injustices that women endure on the basis of their sex. It has been hard for me to accept that I am not to blame for my rapes. No gun was ever held to my head. But psychological pressure is as strong as a fist, much subtler than a knife. It seduces manipulates, and disarms. Now look what you've brought on yourself, you foolish girl. You're so cowardly, stupid, emotionally weak, and where in the hell is your self respect? Now I know, nothing is further from the truth. I have come a long way. I swal lowed my shadows long enough, got sick to the point where I had to throw them up. Regurgitating the events of my life, I can place the blame outside myself. I forgive myself. Forgiveness is my salvation. A moment transpires between me and you, my listene r. M y wound lies wide open, What once ached with emptiness and pain is now fused with self love, furious love. Now I invite you to walk over the bridge that bonds this canyon, to join me. Inevita bly, in this moment, the perception of who I am shifts : I become a victim, liable to become the guest of honor at my own pity party. But the truth is, if I still felt the aching vulnerability of victim status, I never would have shared. I have only come to unveil my history by shedding my culpable coat. My guilt stopped me from seeing myself as a victim : I believed myself wholly responsible for the trespass of another onto my young body. I had to first see myself as a victim before I could overcome that lab el and take back the power, regain the reins to my body.
10 I share because I accept my traumatized past. I do not define myself by it, although I feel it is an integral part of where I come from. I can accept it with grace because I know it is not dictati ng how I live any longer : I i dentify with a high er self, not the disgraced one t h at believed she was rotten, unworthy, and fundamentally flawed. What I do carry from the experience is my ability to survive. To endure, to overcome, to reinvent. Yes, I prou dly proclaim, I now cast myself in a role of my own creation. This soul, once crushed, and this self worth, formerly crumbled, have cobbled themselves together into something quite strong, no longer afrai d to be beautiful. My pleasure. I now own my own pl easure. I am beginning to realize my own treasure. My unbreakable soul, no limit, no measure. The Road from There to Here Amid the inner turmoil of the rape self blame, disgrace, disgust there has been a steadfast force in my life, a constant lifeline t hat has kept me tethered to the present. The force is what I experience while moving my body. In feeling the power of my stride, my swiftness, my dripping sweat, my heart pumping blood, I know I am still alive. More than just alive, this force reminds me I still possess gifts, that I have a well of a power within me. I am capable, it whi spers as it kicks a soccer ball; I am competent, it utters as I bik e up a mountain ; I am strong, it says sooth ingly as I drift off to sleep. In my mind, the tune is more t umultuous. I dwell, I judge, I berate myself. But my body never fully falls prey to such delusion. It carries me forward with a confidence I could not always consciously claim. Let me move, let me shake it off, and I will be okay.
11 My mind took a little wh ile to catch up. Paralyzed in faulty belief, I could not fully mature to embrace myself I was cluttered with cobwe bs of self doubt. Re framing my experience required extreme deconstruction o f everything I felt to be true While o n one leve l, I could see t hat I was raped; on a more base level, I still harbored all of the responsibility I still felt like a bad person Breaking down the oppressor in my head has been a battle won with a steady, earnest and gentle awareness Education has been my salvation. Through my studies, I was able to take a step back and view the connection between my experience and the gender imbalance in the world at large. I was not an isolated case, a lone mistake in an otherwise functional world. My experience was a symptom of the rape culture under which the globalized world operates.
12 Chapter 2: The Roots, Manifestations, and Ramifications of Rape Culture Rather than fall prey to the oppressive force of rape culture, I am working to deconstruct it. Through its deconst ruction, I dispel its force. I find empowerment through this process of re education. This process is not simple; its cultural roots are strongly planted in our collective psyche. What they say may be true: ignorance is bliss. But my bubble of ignorance ha s been permanently shattered. I am in the midst of dissecting the beast of rape culture. I try to grasp the reality of the rate at which sexual assaul t occurs (more than once every two minutes in the U nited S tates alone). 2 I try to stomach the startling normalcy of sexual encounters that involve coercion, domination, and phallocentric force. I try to comprehend the residual effects of the deep scars inflicted onto the bodies and souls of women, in the past, in the present, and for generations to come. Ho wever, attempting to quantify the sense of shame and violation that accompany rape is near impossible; defining rape in turns of statistics can make the misery abstract. Periodically, I take a moment of silence to acknowledge the suffering. While this har sh reality leaves me nauseated, awareness is of utmost importance. Through identifying the patriarchal constructs of sexuality that hold us hostage, we can start to climb out of the cage of conformity. We can reclaim ownership of our bodies, savor their de liciousness, and honor our true desires. By stripping away the shackles of rape culture, we can envision the joyous path to living in a rape free world. 2 RAINN, Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network Accessed October 15, 2012. http://www.rainn.org/statistics
13 From staring at the discontents of modern society, at the state of sexuality in particular, my eyes a re wide open to the dysfunctional and disconnected relationships that develop within our patriarchal cultural inheritance 3 A person cannot take in all the depressing information without feeling that its weight requires some sort of response. That reactio n may be denial, apathy, or despair all dangerous traps. Ideally, and most constructively, its disturbing nature is transformed into an impetus to act in its reversal. This impetus has been the motivating factor for the creation of my thesis performance, m y own attempt to resist and reverse rape culture. But first, we must dissect the beast. Rape culture is a term that I was not familiar with until a couple of years ago. Before that it wa s not that I was blind, or living in a vacuum I am intimately famil iar with how our culture systematically splinters the bod ies mind s and souls of women 4 but whereas before, I only knew how disturbed I felt, I now have the words to articulate my discomfort. I now have the wisdom to witness the larger backdrop of injusti ce confronted daily by females around the globe. By learning about rape culture, I now see the connection between my own traumatizing experiences and th ose of oppressed females 5 everywhere. Through this realization, there is a modicum of comfort in knowi ng that I do not suffer alone, that I have allies in those who share experiences of discrimination. By rising up together, we refute the belief that sexual violence is a personal and inevitable act. We 3 I refer to not only dysfunctional relationships rampant between spouses, intimate partners, and males and females, but also the often broken connection between our selves and our own bodies, as well as between the various parts of our selves. 4 Emilie Buchwald, Pamela R. Fletcher, and Martha Roth, Transforming a Rape Culture (Minneapolis : Milkweed Editions, 1993). 5 While rape culture is problematic for both genders, in this paper I focus mainly on how it affects women because they are typically the targets of sexual violence.
14 can resist feeling like our bodie s are prey, like we a re properties of men, like our sexuality is fundamentally flawed and dirty. By bringing our stories into an open dialogue, we can liberate ourselves and begin to formulate counteraction. We realize that violence, harassment, and discrimination based on g ender are not happenstance. Such antagonistic actions are not inborn to humanity, not a natural attribute of males; rather, they are the product of our cultural context, which is currently predisposed to a patriarchal, dominator society. This hierarchical system based on pain, ownership and abuse culminates in the rape culture in which we live. This culture condones the belief that women are no more than pieces of meat free to be manipulated by men with or without their consent. According to Riane Eisler' s investigations in her book Sacred Pleasure there are two major constru cts of human sexuality. Both these classifications, termed dominator and partnership models, correlate to the larger framework of social organization inherent to that culture. The maj or distinction between these two diametrically opposed mod es is that in the dominator social model, the focus is on pain, shame, and control, w hereas in the partnership based society, the focus is on mutual pleasure, divinity, and nature. The dominant mod el of sexuality emerges when one sex (in rape culture, the male) is deified and the other (the female) vilified. The belief in the inherent superiority of men causes degradation to carry over into interpersonal relationships. People are conditioned to equa makes sex and its accompanying violence a tool for conditioning, a practice of
15 6 A relationship model th at relies on fear and force is one in which the party or p erson deemed superior asserts its dominance over the other, using force or the threat of force to maintain i t s status. It is extrapolated beyond sexual relationships to inform how rulers relate to t heir subjects, how police officers relate to citizens, how authority figures yield their sense of power over marginalized people, and how entire groups of people see themselves on a higher footing than other groups of people. On the other hand is the partn ership model. How do such societies function? Of course there is infinite variability in social organizations, but here I am making sweeping generaliz ations about societies that operate under the partnership system. They tend to be matrilocal, communally governed, economically symbiotic, and free of excessive violence. This is the social organization that is often present in indigenous cultures, and it is not the female versio n of patriarchy. Matrilocal societies, wherein the women exercise their fair shar e of authority and are equally considered and respected, refer to a social organization in which mothers are the hub of the family 7 Often o ffspring remain in or near the home s of their mother s This system is advantageous to the self sufficient lifestyle practiced by horticultural societies. In this model, neither male nor female humans situate themselves on the top of the world; they see their place as one within the whole of nature 8 Community is formed 6 Riane Tennenhaus Eisler, Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body (San Fra ncisco : Harper, 1996). 7 Robin Fox, Kinship and Marriage: An anthropological perspective (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1967). 8 Riane Tennenhaus Eisler, Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body (San Francisco : Harper, 1996).
16 by bonds of pleasure, like cooperative work, food sharing, and loving touch. This type of society is not a n utopian ideal ; before colonialism took over the world, it was a common reality. Native Americans such as the southwestern Pueblo people are an example of matrilocal societies that operated on the l and in which we now live 9 These societies function ( function meaning people are actually satisfied with their life) because they connect to one another on the basis of mutual trust and respect rather than fear. While I don't think a return to matrilocal s ociety or horticulturally based living is a requisite, I think we all can learn from the values of respecting the mother. It is a living model for the rape free world we must create. Much of our rape culture relies on fear. Most women are made to experien ce the fear of rape, if not rape itself. This is evidenced in such female behaviors as: defensiveness around males, aversion to direct eye contact, fear of strangers, adoption of a guarded posture, and never walking alone at night. There is an implied dang er in a woman going out by herself. If she chooses to do so, especially if it's after dark, rape and helpless property, the antidote to uncomfortable male advances is t o claim affiliation to a boyfriend or husband, real or imagined. The burden of fear and defensiveness that women are made to experience is a result of society placing responsibility for preventing rape on their backs. The outcome is a limitation of women activities and a restriction of their sexualities. In rape culture, pleasure becomes dangerous territory. Fear is also a factor when victims do not know how to speak up. This is a definite 9 Stephen Plog, Ancient Peoples of the American Southwest (London: Thames and Hudson, 1997).
17 obstacle to overcoming rape culture, because silence festers int o shame. The silence may occur for a variety of reasons. Maybe it feels safer than speaking up, because society tends to blame victims anyway. Or perhaps, the victim does not consider her violation an act of rape despite its compliance with the legal defin ition. Given the ingrained sexual scripts between genders, females are often saddled with the responsibility for being raped. Victim blaming, or saying that the woman somehow incited the rape, shames victims of abuse and is yet another tool in rape culture 's toolbox to make victims stay quiet and swallow the belief that rape is a natural behavior. Victim shaming has been especially salient with the ability of the internet to widely and anonymously disperse opinions. In the recently publicized Steubenville, Ohio rape case, two male teenage athletes were videotaped hoisting an extremely intoxicated woman from party to party, in and out of cars, laughing at her state of helplessness, and raping and assaulting her body. Defenders of the athletes ridiculously a ssert that because this woman drank to the point of passing out it was okay to treat her like a sex doll. R feel bad for the two young guys, Mays and Richmond, they did what most people in their situation would have done 10 The court declared the teens guilty, but that did not stop the victim from receiving death threats for having sp oken up 11 10 CNN Justice Last updated March 17, 2013. http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/17/justice/ohio steubenvill e case/index.html. 11 New Yorker. Last updated March 15, 2013. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/closeread/2013/03/steubenville rape malik richmond trent mays.html.
18 Given that the victim in the Steubenville rape case actually rece i ved death threats, it is easy to see how the silence of rape victims may stem from fear for their safety. Maybe the perpetrator is a father, husband, boss, doctor, policeman, or so meone a woman feels protective of or dependent upon financially. Fear and shame are highly effective weapons. They are demons that exert their inhibitive force in all that we do, impeding progress in all areas of life. Maintaining a sense of fear in women is what rape culture is about: the assertion of control, from the inside out. In this society of subordination and control, women are not the only victims The destructive effects of rape culture degrade and limit the entire female and male population s Fear becomes a huge hurdle for people who have been violated. After going through an intensely traumatic experience (be it rape, a car accident, or the death of a love d one), it often becomes difficult for individuals to achieve true intimacy in relation ships with others 12 After trauma, people tend to socially isolate themselves, even while living among the company of famil ies or friends This is a defense mechanism. Social engagement, connection and intimacy are embodied activities; they require presence wh ich presents vulnerability. Th e people who violate struggle too, because they have blocked themselves from experiencing empathy, a cornerstone of a strong relationship. In rape culture, women and men run the risk of failing to form relationships that a re truly mutual and loving. Intimacy in rape culture is challenging, even for those whose lives have not been touched by sexual trauma. Females are conditioned to think of sex in terms of me n's pleasure, while males are conditioned to see females as means to their own pleasure. As 12 David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper, PhD Over coming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming the Body (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2011).
19 any Cosmopolitan magazine cover will assure you, it is of utmost importance to please your man, even if it means an i nauthentic experience for you. However, mutual pleasure and connection require both parties to be present, sentie nt, and consenting. The porn industry holds a share of responsibility for this problem. As the primary disperser of vapid and violent sexual images, porn has entered our bedroom s Its messages color what our most intimate spaces should look and sound like. For its millions of young viewers who do not receive any messages that question or counter the f o rce ful of porn, it can dictate how people relate to one another sexually. This extends to how men treat women outside the bedroom. Now that we have an under us consider its many manifestations. Precisely what constitutes rape culture? It is defined as a set of beliefs and practices that promote male sexual aggression and condone violence against women 13 Its presence is sometimes subtle and often overt in music videos, the judicial system, pornography, children's books, television shows, news reports, advertisements, jokes, gender roles, sexual behavior, and our cultural lexicon. Rape culture is nearly one t hird of North American women experiencing sexual or physical abuse over the course of their lives at the hands of their boyfriends or husbands. 14 It is four out of five students i n public school between grades eight and eleven experiencing sexual harassme nt by their peers or superiors 15 It is half of college aged women who have been victims of forced intercourse not identifying the experience 13 Emilie Buchwald, Pamela R. Fletcher, and Martha Roth, Transforming a Rape Culture (Minneapolis : Milkweed Editions, 1993). 14 cest National Network. Accessed October 15, 2012. http://www.rainn.org/statistics 15 Nan Stein and Lisa Sjostrom, to Student Sexual Harrassment in Schools (National Education Association, 1994).
20 as rape 16 It is an act of sexual assault being perpetrated every 1.3 minutes, while the majority of these incident s are never reported and the perpetrator rarely punished. In f act, it is estimated that only 46 percent of cases are reported 17 This means that the num bers I just shared vastly under represent the problem. Rape culture paints violence as erotic, setting a dominant/submissive model as the standard for sexuality. It commodifies and degrades the female body, ignores a woman's pleasure, and discounts the spiritual aspects of sex. In rape culture, women experience a continuum of threats ranging from inappropria te comments or sexual remarks to unsolicited touching or rape itself. So pervasive is rape culture's reach that I challenge the reader to find any woman who has never in her life time encountered some form of harassment based on her gender. Let us addres s some common assumptions that keep rape culture in place. Rape is not the consequence of an uncontrollable sexual appetite a criminal disposition, or overly seductive female behavior. Crimes of sexual violence are not the misbehavior of ignorant individu als or flukes in the system. They hardly resemble the mad man jumping out from behind the bushes scenario that is so often conceptualized in popular r ape myths. On the contrary, two thirds of all reported rapes are committed by someone the survivor 16 Janet Shib ley Hyde, Half the Human Experience: the Psychology of Women (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007). 17 RAINN, Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. Accessed October 15, 2012. http://www.rainn.org/statistics This occurs for a variety of reasons Embarrassment and shame often accompany the reporting process, making it uncomfortable to relive the experience and possibly re victimizing the survivor. More often than not, the victim knows the attacker, so he/she may wish to protect him/her because it is a family member or someone who pays the bills. Another hindrance to reporting is not recognizing the experience as rape itself, because of misplaced self blame or the belief that husbands have the right to sex with their wives regardless of objections.
21 knows with 38 percent of offenders being a date or a friend 18 This statistic signifies that underlying this phenomenon are deeply ingrained issues of power imbalance, gender disparity, and oppressive sexual relations. Roots of Rape Culture In my research int o the roots of rape culture, I sought to answer the question H ow did this cultural bias toward dominance, violence and authoritarianism develop? I was What historica l events might have yielded such a dysfunctional legacy? And finally, how have we arrived to the distorted image of our bodies as degraded sexual propert ies rather than the expressive, respected, and beautifully energetic beings that we truly are? The an swer, I have found, is that its roots are as complex as its many manifestations. To begin, I will recount an extremely basic outline of early hominid history, in order to see where we as a human species are coming from, in terms of social development. Then we will look at economic and cultural institutions that have directly influenced and perpetuated rape culture. Firs t let us take a look back to a less civilized age when small bands of gathering hunting 19 peoples populated the planet. Extrapolating opin ions from artifacts found in both European Neolithic settlements and civilizations of the Early Bronze Age, archaeologists and historians have connected evidence to a partnership based society 20 While these civilizations were not wholly free from hierarch ical rankings or cru elty, 18 Ibid. 19 In Sacred Pleasure Eisler situates gatherers as the primary community builders. 20 Riane Tennenhaus Eisler, Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body (San Francisco : Harper, 1996).
22 violence and domination were never idealized. Art is one of the most telling symbolic encapsulation of cultural values and individual experiences. Therefore, in comparing prehistoric art with art of the first great civilizations and with modern Western artwork, we can make inferences as to what was significant in people s lives. The Neolithic art exalts common themes, such as cycles of nature, birth and sex. Some artifacts, such a s those depicting hybrid animal/ human figurines, interconnected view of the universe. Sexuality and the body were celebrated, and fertile feminine figures were the height of beauty. Deities were often imaged as motherly g oddesses or as gender transcendent spirit s There was no glorification of domination or veneration of violent masculinity, such as the war and rape scenes that Greek and Roman art has portrayed Other archaeological evidence such as the size of dwellings, their contents, and funerary gifts sugge st th at the gaping inequities among inhabitants like those that we experience today were nonexistent. While there were different ranking s evidence indicates that they worked in cooperative, complementary capacities, not to the detriment of one another. Am ong settlements that practiced trade, while they had methods of self defense, there was not a market for warfare. While the art depicted different male and female roles (most of these cultures had a gender divide in the daily work they performed), each rol e was equally respected and valued. 21 Moreover, from the body of art of indigenous people, we can see that sexuality was integral to the human experience. It was not compartmentalized into a drawer labeled appropriate. Sex, the body, and spiritualit y were intertwined entities, equally honored 21 Furthermore, there is evidence that women held important religious positions such as high pr iestess.
23 as divine forces of nature. None exist ed without the other s Sex was instrumental in creating life, expressing care, and affirming affiliation 22 It was considered a sacred and sometimes ritualized act that offer ed a higher state of consciousness, a brush with divinity, and an increase in connectedness self and with the whole of creation 23 It was recognized as the very basis of how our species thrived. How could somethin g so vital for the continuation and satisfaction of life become sullied as sacrilegious, secretive, and ethically deprived? Some scholars theorize that the initial paradigm shift away from embracing bodily pleasures, erotic love, and a connection to a lovi ng higher power resulted from trauma itself. In fertile and hospitable climates, nature was seen as a benevolent, nurturing mother that met all needs. Natural disasters were viewed as part of the cycle of life, with death and destruction playing a necessa ry part in the wonder of being alive. However, the historical geographer and scholar James DeMeo theorizes that in arid, harsh environments (the Arabian Desert and Eurasia in particular) the inhabitants experienced a different relationship with mother eart h. In times of extreme drought and scarcity of food, they endured psychological and physical trauma. These geographical origins propagated the view of nature as a force that must be controlled to serve humankind Other scholars support this theory, such as the anthropologist Peggy Reeves Sanday support this theory. Her survey of more than one hundred tribal societies suggest s that environmental stress leads to men oriented power 22 Contrast this with the role of sex in rape culture: to degrade and control, while still creating life. 23 Riane Tennenhaus Eisler, Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Bo dy (San Francisco: Harper, 1996).
24 ceremonies, and turning aggress ion against women 24 I n other words, they form a dominator social organization. Another result of trauma i s a defense mechanism known as psychological armoring. This term, borrowed from the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, refers to the hardening of positive o r soft emotions in an attempt to become numb to pain 25 It contributes to how humans bec a me complicit in oppressive patterns of social and sexual organization. Eventually, these patterns took hold, spreading from their places of origin into m ore fertile reg ions. From there they were passed down through generations by the institutionalization of trauma (circumcision, constrictive child rearing, restrictive gender roles, and emotional repression). The legacy of stringent control over women is highly evident in these regions to this day. Psychological or psychosexual armoring continues to be a relevant player in rape culture. In effect, it turns sentient beings into desensitized automatons. It blocks full emotional and sexual expression as well as sexual and em otional satisfaction. It dehumanizes men, driving them to more sexual conquests and the association of violence with sexuality. It is openly expressed and fostered in the modern pornography industry, in which a myriad of violent acts of male domination ove r women are equated with arousal and watched by millions of viewers daily. Another factor that may have contributed to a shift to a dominator social model is the practice of nomadic pastoralism. In extreme ly arid regions, inhabitants could support themse lves primarily through one means controlling herds of animals. In the 24 Peggy Reeves Sanday Female Power and Male Dominance: On the Origins of Sexual Inequality (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1981). 25 Riane Tennenhaus Eisler, Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body (San Francisco: Harper, 1996).
25 enslavement of living beings, the seeds of rape culture are planted. This occurs for two reasons. First, humans must block themselves from becoming emotionally attached to an animal the y raise in order to slaughter it successfully. This blockage impedes our ability to be empathetic. Second, once the enslavement of another living being is established as acceptable, it is not a far leap to extend the principle of ownership to humans. Just as humans have domesticated animals, so have men domesticated women. When women are viewed as servants of men, their bodies become vehicles to breed with and exploit. When a person is viewed as the property of another, her humanity is lost. Her agency is d isregarded; she become s an object. It becomes justifiable to control, abuse, and dispose of another person. The institutionalization of this power dynamic was cemented with the practice of marriage. While today marriage is conflated with love, originally i t was more of a negotiation of economic reciprocity. Much like an auction, women were sold like chattel to the highest bidding husband s so their families could profit 26 Women and children at the hands of their owners were subject to physical harm. Today, the marital custom of husband as disciplinarian has not disappeared. Domestic violence continues to plague our country. In fact, it was only as recent as July 1993 that every state officially outlawed marital rape 27 The legacy of economic reciprocity has n ot disappeared either. Modern relationships too often base themselves on an imbalanced model of transaction: the woman provides emotional comfort, maternal care, and sexual entertainment while the man provides protection, provisions, and sperm. True recipr ocity 26 Riane Tennenhaus Eisler, Sacred Pleasure: Sex, Myth, and the Politics of the Body (San Francisco: Harper, 1996). 27 Marital Rape, RAINN, Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. Accessed October 15, 2012. http:/ /www.rainn.org/public policy/sexual assault issues/marital rape
26 would inv s returned. Fast forward a few centuries in history, and we witness the rise and fall of the those of t he Greeks and the Romans, developed cultural customs, myths and a linguistic legacy that endure to this day. Their societies are largely responsible for our conceptualization of men as iron clad, aggressive warriors and of women as disposable bounty or ch ild bearers. This early dichotomous casting of gender roles permeated societies for centuries to come. It a ffects the social construction of our sexuality, dictating how the bodies of men and women should relate in intimate relations. Once a fertile symb ol of sexual and spiritual power, the feminine form shifted to an object under the control of men. This shift is integral to the organization of a dominator social system. The reconceptualization of the female body as an object to be controlled by a force outside the body has a number of important results, the legacy of which we still struggle with today in the form of sexual dysfunctions, eating disorders, and poor self image s to name a few. How we imag in e the body and its relation to others is a crucial factor in whether we learn to practice respect and compassion or fear and fo rce and in our inter and intra personal relationships. I am not able to cover in this chapter the whole ocean of histories that describe ways in which women have been controlled o ver the ages 28 Mainly, I think it is important to realize that there was a time i n history when men and women co existed in complementary and cohesive ways. The war of the sexes is not inborn. Humans are fully capable of living together in harmony through b onds of pleasure rather than antagonistic 28 For example, the vilification of sex and the belief in the sinfulness of the body popularized the Roman Catholic Church. The Salem Witch Trials. The rape of native peoples as standard practi ce for colonialists.
27 and disheartening distance s It is not necessary to sacrifice a high standard of life for this peaceful coexistence to occur. On the contrary, we can all thrive in a world of abundance while affirming the value of every human. Contemporary Rape Culture In the United States, the unequal power of the genders has been markedly problematic since the nation's incept ion. Sexism endures to this day. I t spans political, economic, academic, interpersonal, and intraperson al spheres. It reaches across borders of age, ethnicity, and class to inflict unilateral damage. Why do we live with such an oppressive system in place? Just like power imbalances in the past, rape culture exists today to maintain the pecking order in whic h our society operates with m ales (wealthy and white) on top and women (poor and of color) at the bottom. 29 The status quo of society is informed by an insidious belief system that includes common values, myths, and media influences. These support rape by normalizing, condoning, and glamorizing male sexual domination of women. Encouraging verbal and physical sexual violence 30 as the norm is so ingrained in our culture that we assume it is a natural fact of life. We say but she meant yes ate at night dressed like that? conditions grant ed a person the right to sexually violate another individual. These types of remarks typify several tactics used to uphold the ra pe culture: the trivialization of 29 Sexual Assault Response Services. http://www.sarsonline.org/resources stats/reports laws statics Women of color are more likely to experience sexual assault and less likely to receive treatment for their trauma. 30 Nan Stein and Lisa Sjostrom, to Student Sexual Harrassment in Schools (National Educat ion Association, 1994).
28 sexual violence (rape scenes are shockingly common in movies or TV scenarios) 31 the polarization of gender ro les, the objectification of wome n's bodies, and the false belief that rape is precipitated by the victim. 32 Alth ough I am describing constructs of the larger social system that condition men and women to fit in, not everyone operates within society's guidelines. It is important to remember that there are always men and women who avoid these patterns. As early as the nineteenth century, with the advent of major social movements, and notably within the past few decades, both genders have challenged the dictates of rigid gender roles. It is increasingly evident that we are all losers in the war of the sexes. Nevertheles s, the fact remains that so much of our society conditions men to view sex in terms of domination and control and instructs women to see submission as sexy. In the 1970s, when rape awareness came onto the radar, it was masked in sensationalism, mythologi zed, and marginalized. Its definition was pigeonholed as a phenomenon that happened when a suspicious stranger select ed his prey, violently overpower ed the victim violently, and r an away. The public was in denial, and understandably so : no one wants to b e lieve rape could happen to him or her However, raising groups were growing. Through sharing and giving name to their experiences, women realized that the stranger attack myth was not the typical rape scenario. They realized that ther e was in fact a much larger undercurrent of violence at work in the way men and women interact with each other. 31 October 19, 2012. http://www.parentstv.org/PTC/facts/mediafacts.asp W itnessing re peated violent acts can lead to desensitization and a lack of empathy for human suffering. 32 rape or, believing it was their fault, not labeling themselves as rape victi ms.
29 Women identified the power imbalance inherent in courtship rituals. The y noticed the prevalence of non consensual sex. They began to question wh y they were submitting to a version of sex that d id absolutely nothing for them 33 aside from unwanted pregnancy, discomfort, or various diseases. This is the result of centuries of socialization that instruct women to put their bodies at risk in order to s ustain interpersonal relationships that do not support their own well being. A new name was given to classify the more common experience of rape, one that was not the violent act of a stranger. This occurrence became known as date rape 34 Date rape is less likely to involve physical force. Here men gain the upper hand by way of ingrained sexual scripts that cast their bodily desires as urgently important forces that must be heeded 35 Males in our society are often raised with a sense of entitlement, so this f eels natural to them. On the other hand, women who are raised to meet the needs of others above their own, are preconditioned to go along with it. Eventually, the name of this phenomenon was changed to acquaintance rape to encompass violations outside of a dating scenario, perha ps between friends. As the New York Times The End o f out, dating is, while I hate to say completely dead, 33 Christine Northrup, Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom (Revised Edition): Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing (U.S.: Bantam Books, 2010): According to a study by the Harvard doctor Jan Schifren in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology dy spareunia (painful sexual intercourse) and other sexual problems are distressingly common in North American women: 43 percent of 32,000 reported some type of dysfunction. Additionally, it is estimated that only 25 percent of women regularly experience orga sm through intercourse. 34 Christine Northrup Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom (Revised Edition): Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing (U.S.: Bantam Books, 2010). 35 Janet Shibley Hyde, Half the Human Experience: the Psychology of Women (Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 2007).
30 definitely on the edge of extinction 36 Enter the millennial generation. We are raised in a vacuum of adequate sexual education, healthy relationship models, parental guidance, and opportunities to positively relate to our bodies and their budding sexuality. What we do experience is an overflow of exposure to marketing and access to the inte rnet. When children become curious about sexuality, it is extremely simple to go online and satisfy that curiosity. On average, the first time a male adolescent i s exposed to sex, it is at age eleven 37 and it is through the medium of pornography. The multi million dollar pornography industry is the most pervasive source of our erotic conditioning 38 Pornography is the marketing of materials that excite people sexually. While some of what is sold is erotica, which depicts the giving and receiving of pleasure, the majority of readily available porn does not have to do with pleasure. It influences the viewer by equating the sadomasochistic giving and receiving of pain as sexual pleasure. Men brutally abuse women, and the actresses fain enjoyment. It dehumanizes m en and women, divorces body parts from the whole, and plants a poorly conceived model for sexual union. In particular, it champions the male orgasm, and places intercourse on a pedestal. It sends explicit messages about how bodies should look and how they be treated on the basis of their gender. Even if one does manage to avoid the worldwide web of pornography, it is hard to 36 The New York Times Last updated January 11, 2013 http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/13/fashion/the end of courtship.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1& 37 Eve Ensler, Jimmie Briggs, Joe Ehrmann, Tony Porter, Dave Zirin, and Peter Buffett, VDAY. March 26, 2013. http://www.vday.org/livestream 38 Gail Dines, Pornland: How Porn has Hijacked our Sexuality (Boston, MA: Beac on Press, 2010).
31 escape the soft porn that is widely broadcast through music videos and advertisers. Commercial rappers (and many other popular genres ) and insensitive advertising objectify women to such an extent that they are relegated to the same level as an object or an animal. This is evident in how common it is to address women as bitches, that is, if they are given any identity at all besides ser ies of oddly deconstructed, almost autopsied body parts (namely, butts and breasts, which are commonly on display in rap videos, beer commercials, etc.). The endgame of the rape culture is to rob women of their entitlement to love, self respect, and ega litarian relationships. It begins by rupturing the most sacred human relationship: the one we have with our own bodies. Women and men are made to forget that we are souls that inhabit bodies, not the other way around: our bodies are bodies, not who we are. Rape culture exerts its influence on the roles women play in their romantic relationships, within their families, their workplaces, and their social circles. Women internalize the message they receive as weak, dependent, and defective, so they act out t hose adjectives in their relationships. Instead of realizing their inherent worthiness as humans, they are threatened away from owning their full power. Men also suffer from the rape culture because it locks them into their hyper masculine gender role. The ir social role discourages them from connecting with their own empathy and sensuality, thus building an internal dam which blocks emotions from flowing. In addition, they are placed with the onus of sexual aggressor. Sex becomes a sporting event: the repea ted conquest of the female body, rather than a collaborative exploration of the infinite pleasure of which united bodies are capable.
32 Sexual violence is not the inevitable part of life that many of us may assume it to be. It is purely learned behav ior. Ea rly childhood adoption of gender biased behaviors plays a huge role in the perpetuation of rape culture. Children resemble sponges: they absorb all the information around them. Their environment is critical in shaping them to be either independent, compass ionate thinkers or apathetic victims of oppression. For the good of all hu mankind, we want our children to be the former. The question that then remains is: How do we raise such children? How do we transform the world so that instead of one in every thre e women experiencing sexual assault 39 nobody d oes ? If we as humans are fundamentally sensitive, empathetic, and intelligent beings, it should not be hard to cultivate our true nature. It is merely a practice of resetting our mindsets, of stripping away o ur miseducation. Movement is an excellent method of shaking off the shackles of patriarchy. Through dance, people can awaken to awareness, empat hy, and assertiveness. Dance and movement foster the critical connection between our selves and our bodies. Th ey allow for the seamless embodiment of self to shine through. By way of connecting to our selves, we can awaken to our basic expressive needs, become empathetic to the needs of others, and experience a sense of carrying ourselves with love. In the next ch apter, we will take a closer look at dance therapy and its many faces. 39
33 Chapter 3 : The Healing Power of Dance In birth, we are ushered into the world with a corpor eal means of experiencing life. We are ou tfitted with a home that provides protection, pleasure, and an agency to seek out what is good and avoid that which does not serve us. This body, our own best friend, is self nurturing and sustaining; it is a source of renewable energy. We are conduits of this energy, not only for our personal replenishment but so that we may share it with others and pour it into life affirming pursuits. When we are engaging this energy in activities that make us healthy, it is as if we are recycling the energy. W e are rew ar ded by our brain certain neurotransmitter s which produce feelings of pleasure 40 The wiring that guides us to achieve pleasurable feelings has ensured the survival of o ur species. Con sider the positive cognitive state we enter with upli fting social interaction, focusing on physical exertion, or eating nourishing food. What some may consider the peak experience of pleasure, the orgasm is responsible for the continuation of life itself the free flow of this energy. Such disruptive events, be they physical, emotional, or sexual, are blanketed under the term trauma Traumatic situations become scars in our subconscious, stored away in the memory of our tissues 41 They stunt our capacities for growth, creativity, 40 Forb es, last updated May 21, 2012. http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2012/0521/leaderboard pomc dna jim watson top gene.html 41 Peter Levine, PhD, How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2010).
34 giving and receiving love, and experiencing inner contentment. In the place of these qualities, self destructive patterns of behavior often emerge. The lasting effects of traumatic events are referr ed to in medical literature as pos t traumatic s tress d isorder, or PTSD. PTSD occurs when the body is not able to discharge the residual energy from the stress response; a person is essentially stuck by the traumatic situation. When human s perceive a potential threat to their safety, an innate biological chain of response is activated. If this instinctual response is allowed to transpire in full, it carries us to safety and allows us the sense of having taken the right action to defend ourselves. There are four stages of response to a per ceived threat: freeze, flight, fight, and submit 42 Generally people are familiar with flight or fight. The predecessor, freeze, occurs when we are momentarily paralyzed in order to take in the maximum amount of information in the midst of a potential threa t ening situation. The response submit is a third alternative to fight or flight; at times, playing dead and surrendering are what will see us through. In the case of sexual assault, the submit response is a common defense. Unfortunately, although this defe nse mechanism allows victims to survive the situation, it can leave them with a feeling of failure for not actively fighting to phys i cally escape the situation. After a person undergoes trauma, the relationship with her body is liable to change. If she was not able to escape the dangerous situation or if she survived by submitting, her sense of security is greatly diminished. Instead of feeling safe and capable, there is a sense of betrayal, of having failed to protect one's own self. The 42 David Emerson and Elizabet h Hopper, PhD, Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming the Body. (Berkeley : North Atlantic Books, 2011).
35 feeling of self blame can be paralyzing. This can manifest in a destruction of self esteem. Trauma victims can feel that they are incapable, worthless and at the will of the world. play ing the victim because they were stripped of their agency, so victim has become their imposed identity Working through PTSD is possible. It can be addressed through a variety of modalities, from talking with supportive friends and family, visiting a psychotherapist, to seeking other therapeutic methods. However, th ere is only so much change that can occur through talk. To truly reframe ones experience and heal the broken relationship with based therapy is invaluable 43 The body that has experienced trauma is no longer perceived as a vehicle for exp eriencing pleasure; instead, it is a source of pain and shame. Through relearning the ability to self regulate one s personal rhythms, the relationship with the body can be healed. The body can return to its natural state as a source of joy and pleasure. In dance, this transformation of body and healing of the soul is available. Why I Dance Albert Einstein once said that dancers are the athletes of god. This quote resonates with me because when I dance, not only do I sense that t he living are present, bu t I also feel a direct connection with the divine inspiration that breathes through each one of us. Dance enables me to tap into the natural wisdom of my body, to discover what it wants to express. All concepts of time and the chitter chatter in my mind ev aporate into the ether, out of my re ach. As I give my body full rei n to move, it knows what to do. Innately it 43 Peter Levine, PhD, How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2010).
36 stretches which part it needs to stretch, shakes how hard it needs to shake, embodies trapped emot ions so they can be released joining the cloud of discarded energy. After I drenched in sweat, I feel an incredible sense of peace emanating from inside. I feel buoyant and exuberant, and I feel this not only through th e smile on my face and in my heart but in every muscle in my blessed body. There is only one thing greater than what I describe above: t hat is sharing in this process with fellow seekers of sweat soaked, dance induced liberation When I am engaging in fre eform, body guided activity in a safe room with like minded individuals, I delight in the energy that our bodies generate. It is an incredible connection that I feel with these fellow dancers because we are tapping into our individual essences, and that al lows us to truly connect to one an other and to the divinity that dwells between us Dance, for me, is a healing salve. It reinforces a positive, proud relationship with my body, something that has been made to feel shameful and dirty by negative forces in the past. With dance, I unleash my feelings creatively, w ithout the filter of language. With dance, I am spiritually cleaned. Within dance, I am presented with time and space to love m yself using the most basic medium: my body. For all practical applicat ions, I do not feel destined to become a professional dancer in a company or the owner of a ballet studio. Although I love choreography and dramatic productions, I believe my true calling is in unearthing the therapeutic qualities of dance. I wish to facil relationships with themselves into one of love, acceptance, and realization of their souls
37 and sacred vessels. In particular, I would enjoy working with women who like m e are survivors of sexual trauma, disordered eating, and the blatant and subtle abuse regularly experienced by women that leads to broken relationships with their bodies. In motion, I have discovered a taste of the delicious spiritual juice in which our souls swim. That water is w arm, welcoming, and accepting it is love. I want to invite as many people as I can to come take a dip, to get wet, and not to worry about a thing. I hope that by living in the joy dancing has brought to me, I can help unwrap this precious gift for others Joy is contagious Nurturing the spiritual growth of individuals ine vitably strengthens communities and allows for the collective transformation of societies. Dance as Therapy From the beginning of history, humans centered their communities on the bond ing rituals of music and dance. Dance, the most fundamental of the arts, involves direct expression through the body. Dancers often befriend the music they are moving to, making it visible through their embodiment of its sound, and accompany it with their own improvisations. The act of dance provides an outlet for our vital need to communicate, to the outside world, ourselves, and other realms. In the Minianka tribal culture of Mali, if people arrive d in a village square disheartened and not wanting to danc e, they were encouraged by the community to enter the circle to be renewed and to release the bad feelings 44 The dance restores the individual to wholeness. Even secular dances offer a type of community preventative therapy. In celebrating together, there is no place for such questions 44 Yaya Diallo, The Healing Drum (V ermont: Destiny Books, 1989).
38 good. Dancing in community instills harmony and helps foster a love for life. This illustrates the innate healing ability of dance. Such a tremendous p hysic al and psychological outlet is frequently lacking in Western society, in which we often neglect the proper care of the mind body. Ho wever, in the past century, we have become aware of the significant therapeutic value of dance. Dance is experienced in the present moment, much like meditation and singing, and this principle of awareness can carry into other areas of life. Now dance therapy is commonly used for children and adults suffering from developmental, medical, social, physical and psychological impairments. It is valuable in rehabilitation, medical, educational, and forensic settings, nursing homes, and day care centers, as well as in disease prevention and health promotion programs. It is effective in group or individual practice, and group par ticipation offers the additional benefit of social interaction 45 T he American Dance Therapy Association (ADTA), founded in 1966, defines dance therapy as "the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process which furthers the emotional, cognitive and phys ical integration of the individual 46 The powerful medium of dance therapy bases its approach in the assumption that mind and body are intimately linked. Almost everyone can recognize this connection by thinking of the profound changes movement creates in feelings, cognition, and behavior. Consider how the body might respond to the position of depression: bowed head, slumped chest, furrowed brow. Contrast this with the feelings a tall spine, a lifted head and heart, and a clearing, deep breath might invoke The body is constantly communicating information to itself in an 45 S.L. Brooke (Ed.), Creative arts therapies manual (Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas, 2006). 46 American Dance Therapy Association l ast updated 2009. http://www.adta.org/
39 endless feedback loop. Body awareness that is awakened through dance movement can bring attention to areas of habitual tension. Explicitly, we can give the body permission to release. We ca n actually shake out our sorrows. The body will seize the opportunity to let go of it all, to release all the residual energy and dead weight of past traumas. Speaking on the topic of letting go, I sho uld like to share an excerpt fr om a poem that aids me in the liberating act of releasing mental self sabotage. This has been helpful in my personal practice of dance therapy Without a thought or a word, she let go. She let go of fear. She let go of judgments. She let go of the confluence of opinions swarmi ng around her head. She let go of the committee of indecision wit hin her. right reasons. Wholly and completely, without hesitation or worry, she just let go. Reverend Safire Rose 47 As I discussed in the previous chapter, the ex perience of sexual abuse is a common one. Coercive and abusive sexual behaviors can leave lasting emotional and physical damage in individuals long after the experience ends. Potential consequent health problems include depression, panic and anxiety attack s, eating disorders, substance abuse, addiction, and relationship conflicts. Dance/movement therapy is particularly helpful for survivors of sexual assault, who are reported to have difficulty talking about 47 Gene sis Global Spiritual Center, last updated May 18, 2011. http://genesis global.org/she let go/.
40 the experience of abuse 48 Dance/movement therapy allows survivors to express emotions without saying a thing. By letting go of words and trusting the body's wisdom to move and express what we really feel, even that which makes us most uncomfortable, we connect to our body temple. Within the body temple there lives a teacher. When we take the time to listen, dance therapy reacquaints us with the wisdom of that inner voice. Its wisdom reaffirms that we have the tools to heal within ourselves. Dance is a tool; it is a means of transformation. Di scovering re sources helps re establish a positive relation with the body. In my thesis performance, I sought ways to create safe opportunities to adapt different affects, to freely express, to let go, and to arrive fully in the moment. T he power of the being in the moment, which is achieved through moving intentionally 49 is that we are not ruminating over the past, not paralyzed by worry for the future. In the present, we are complete. We enjoy the gift of our bodies. Wherever we are in o ur healing journey, in dancing, we can feel whole. In life, we do not always give ourselves to the present moment so easily. The mind often resists because it can be an overwhelming experience to let emotion pass through us. The practice of dancing diffe rent emotions help s us realize that despite their potency, they are transitory states. Through practice, we cultivate the ability to move from one affect to the next, honoring the process of our feelings. In my thesis ression of scenes that serve as containers for 48 Peter Levine, PhD, How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness (Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2010). 49 It can be achieved many ways, whether one is me ditating on stillness, mobility, or the continuity of the two.
41 different emotions. Ultimately, the message of the composition is that we have the power to liberate ourselves from our internal suffering. Humans adapt and heal despite all odds, and the more we do the dances of healing, the stronger our resiliency grows. Dance as Activism dance is a subversive act, a defiant act in a world that is ruled by anti celebratory patriarchal forces that have done their utmost to smash, rape, violate, de nigrate the joy out of the feminine through systematic violence and oppression. Dance is a rebellious expression of body in civil disobedience. It is a wild and unfettered revolutionary jamboree that jazzes wildly in the face of the fire and brimstone wrat h of a patriarchal, capitalistic, heteronormative, linear interpretation of life a destructive anti celebratory phallocentric force that has for centuries been thrust upon the entire global Gillian Schutte, feminist, filmmaker, poet, activis t and author 50 One of the pioneers of modern dance, Charles Weidman, has been inspirational in his approach to movement. H is background was in pantomime an art form and technique dedicated to expressing emotion, action, and symbolic gestures without the use of speech. Instead of unleashing his more dramatic, tumultuous feelings through dance, he opted to make people smile. I love the idea of using dance as a tool to generate smiles and laughter. This was important in a time when the typical tone of moder n dance was heavy and emotionally loaded, and it was especially relevant in the face of the tragedy of W orld W ar II, during which many of his pieces debuted. Weidman drew on material from his life story to generate his humorous performances. One thing that he had in common with 50 Enough Already! One Billion Rising Blog Last updated March 21 2013. http://onebillionrising.org/blog/entry/enough already
42 Martha Graham is that they both drew from certain emotions and experiences that are universal to the human experience be it guilt, jealousy, and rage or joy, love, and silliness. This enables audiences to connect to their pieces, re gardless of who they are or where they come from. Weidman did not seek to uphold antiquated standard ballet or any other imposed aesthetic: instead, he sought to "dance man and woman in America today 51 Another inspirational legacy of modern dance is its utilization for the sake of political activism. In N ew York City in the early 1930s a collective of dance companies united to form the Workers' Dance League. They fused social consciousness with public performance, using dance as a vehicle for raising awa reness and protesting issues that oppressed them. Because they were working the the labor movement, the dance companies created works with titles like "Eviction," "Hunger," "Unem ployment," and "Anti Wary Cycle. including Anna Sokol ow and Doris Humphrey reached out to new audiences by going into factories and offices to offer dance classes to the workers 52 The legacy of dance as a method of social resistance continues t o be effective. Here in Florida the Coalition of Immokalee Wor kers organized a protest in which choreography played a key role in calling attention to its cause. In the protest, th e workers used dance to highlight their request for Quiznos to sign a fair food agreement promising not to buy its tomatoes from growers who exploit ed their undocumented 51 Charles Weidman, On His Own Produced by Janet Mendelshon and V irginia Brooks. Dance Horizons Video, 1990. 52 Victoria Phillips, Dance Heritage Coalition. http://www.danceheritage.org/newdance.html#
43 workers 53 Another worldwide uprising fueled by dance is the One Billion Rising campaign, an effort of V day groups around the world. V day, or February 14 is a global day of awareness when productions of Eve Ensler's Vagin a Monologues are performed. In addition, people gather to dance together in public spaces toward the goal of reversing the statistic that one in three women will be sexually assaulted or abused in her lifetime. Dan ce is such an effective method not only to empower proteste rs but also to grab attention for social change. It never ceases to amaze me how dance touches and transforms so many areas of life, from the personal to the political, which after all are one and the same. To further the politically ac tive aspect of my project, I invited a local organization working to stop sexual exploitation to speak at my performance. The organization, Selah Freedom, offers a unique service. It act s as an educational and therapeutic facility, offering classes for sur vivors o f sexual assault. In addition, it is raising funds to build a safe house for victims of sexual trafficking. In presenting beyond a night of dance for people who may be dealing with the effects o f sexual trauma in their lives. 53 This protest was part of the campaign by the Coalition of Imokalee Farmworkers of Imokalee, Fl, a group largely comprised of immigrant agricultural workers who are also excellent organizers. In the past 15 years, there have been 10 cases of modern day slavery rings in Florida in which workers were robbed of their wages, beaten, and chained up, force d to work against their will and in horrible conditions. The majority of our nations tomatoes come from this region. So far, they have successfully convinced several fast food chains and supermarkets to not do business with farms convicted of slave labor. They are still working at earning a livable wage.
44 Chapter 4 Rebirth: The Process of Performance Initially, my idea for this project was not a performance; it was to hold a series of experimental workshops in dance therapy. These sessions would offer participants an op portunity to express the raw felt experience of their bodies without the mediation of vocalization or analysis. My intent was to explore such issues as relationship with self, sexual health, and body consciousness. After an exchange of ideas with my projec t adviso r, we came to the conclusion that perhaps attempting therapy is beyond the scope of an undergraduate thesis. I am not discouraged ; it is something I will surely return to once I am more qualified. Moreover, a purely therapeutic endeavor would negle ct my passion for performance art and the aesthetic distillation of experience. Furthermore, an important undercurrent of my work is the desire to transmit a message, be received, and connect with a wider audience. Thus a performa nce that welcomed the publ ic 54 to witness this work became a nec essary component to fully represent my academic and healing journey. The importance of an audience was highlighted and clarified for me through the experience of the performance. My original purpose in having an audien ce was to raise awareness concerning the crippling effects of the epidemic of sexual violence. I also saw it as an opp ortunity to contribute funds to a local organization confronting sexual exploitation (Selah Freedom), giving people a chance to donate and feel proactive. 54 The term public in reality applies to only those who entered the public space of New College and the internet, where I advertised the event. This gave the dance a feeling of security to the intimate crowd we were performing for, which contained many of our peers.
45 However, their attentive presence manifested itself in multiple benefits beyond consciousness and fund raising, toward a deeper gratifying factor. Simultaneously, the performers gained validation from being watched, while the audience expe rienced a v icarious healing journey. I discuss the twofold nature of this phenomenon below. Being observed adds to the therapeutic dimension of performing the actions of the dance. The movements in the dance could be executed by an individual in isolatio n probably to the benefit of the dancer. However, the dancer could potentially be re traumatized while touching on the emotional content without a support system and the feeling of companionship that a community offers. I did not want to rip off any B and A ids only to produce fresh scars. Throughout this process the transformational power of having a witness became apparent. From a therapeutic standpoint, to truly be seen can allow for transformation. We must be heard, echoed, affirmed, g iven solace, empath y, solidarity. For performers, the audience holds this space for us by giving us its attention. We are given license to move, to present and express ourselves. In life, a great gift is an ear that listens, because it pulls our inner lives to the surface, w here we can process our experiences in the safe company of others. A receptive friend aids in the teasing out of our interior tangles. Likewise, when we are given an eye that observes, stories come out of our bodies. These corpor e al expressions are perhaps even more vital than spoken disclosure because they are unfiltered by language. In movement, we can take off the masks we wear daily, strip off our protective armor, bask in the spotlight of honesty with where we are in our bodies. A central strategy for in general, is its communal nature. To feel that the authentic expression of all that dwells
46 within is welcome, and even invited by a tribe, builds a strong foundation for a community of hope. All a re welcome to heal in this space. So far I have only spoken of the benefits bestowed upon the dancers from being watched. However, the transformational benefits are symbiotic; there is a reason the audience is able to hold us in its attention. It is rel ating to us. It is vicariously experiencing the dance. Physiologically, its mirror neurons are firin g, imparting the experience of kinesthetic empathy 55 Here, the observer is recognizes and interpre ts t he muscular behavior of another on the basis of simila rly human patterning of muscular reactions. This is the same phenomenon that occurs when we wince at seeing someone getting punched or kicked in the groin, for example. Or, it is the joy we contagiously experience from seeing a smiling face. While cultures certainly have idiomatic gestures, I believe there are universally understood postures and movements that we read on an innate level. Just like they say of courtship rituals, body language is more potent than words; it is the most viscerally expressive me ans of communication. The audience feels gri ef at our displays of anguish; it rejoice s in our moments of revelation. Mentally, it may be drawing upon personal experiences that resulted in similar processes of grief or joy. Many people can relate to the st ory of struggling to overcome an obstacle as well as the feeling of new found strength that springs forth. We are affirming the reality of the struggle, while not giving an exact face to the oppression so as to make it universal. I think someone could watc h this piece and have it speak to his or her experience of a battle with anorexia, poor self image, gender role stereotypes, social discrimination, economic oppression, or any number o f hardships. We can feel a 55 M iriam A Collection of Early Writings: Toward a Body of Knowledge. Vol. I, 191 230
47 collective sense of empowerment through parti cipating in the process of working through an issue. Working through the struggle together becomes a catalyst for individual transformation. Albeit painful to watch and experience, it is necessary and invaluable to get through to the other side. The funn y thing is, healing is not a linear process. It is not as if I do a dance and I am healed, and the person who watches is instantly better. To a certain extent, it is exactly like that. But it is necessary to keep doing the dance. Healing is a continuous pr ocess in a world where love and charity are not central tenets. If you know the worth that exists between thou and me in a society that attempts to squelch our unity as embodied souls, you are a survivor. For despite being told that we are lacking, that we always must reach higher and climb the ladder, we are there. The performance itself was a pinnacle moment. It was beautiful, magic, a rush of loving energy. Yet in reflecting back on the project in its entirety, I can see how the process was just as impo rtant as the product we created. The work that went into its gestation was an invaluable teacher and healer. The Evolution of the Dance In the beginning I was unclear in my vision of the dance's design. I had fantasies of a dramatic solo narrative, a lo ne dancer delivering a story. I soon realized I preferred people to be in the piece alongside my self. I came to this conclusion for several reasons: First, I knew there was more emotive and expressive potential in a multitude of bodies, allowing for more choreographic options. Second, a range of dancers allows for a more universally relatable performance; their diversity of experiences speak s in a language like
48 snowflakes, each one in her unique movement vocabulary. Finally, going through this dance togeth er and arriving safely to the other side felt like a requisite for its participants to experience healing. This ties back in to the rationale behind being observed by an audience: it is comforting to have dark issues once stowed inside come to the light, w here they become validated. Often if left to our own devices we will not bother to touch on those issues. But in commun ity we can dispel their secrecy, dissipate their sting. Once I decided on working with a group, I began to mentally construct the cont ent. This was somewhat useful and somewhat futile. I developed the idea of using successive scenes to represent the emotional reaction to rape. I classified eight stages that told the story of sexual violence. The stages underwent rearranging and refining, and eventually became seven. For example, I began with purity, awakening sexuality, coercion/crumbling, numbness/self destruction, fear/anger, story sharing/release, re finding rhythm, and lastly, wholeness. Eventually this became purity, conditioning, gr ief, anger, reconfiguration, reconnecting to sensuality, and wholeness. I made the revisions on the basis of clarity, universality of experience, and thinking of what would translate best in dance. I wanted to include spoken word poetry in certain segmen ts, but that became too much and I did not want to take away the power of the movement. Also in the beginning I thought certain dancers would perform various segments, but in the end to go from my solo to the whole group worked better for the entirety of t he performance. Before I started thinking of the movement, I embarked on a quest for approp riate music. I picked random CD s from the library s s, dug up some instrumental tracks from my Itunes, and donned my headphones. I listened with an open but selective ear. I was seeking songs that expressed particular moods, and
49 it was easy to immediately recognize the right song when I heard it. I am extremely fortunate that the CD Breath by Stuart Saunders Smith caught my eye (and subsequently my ear) on the library shelf intervals olotropic Breathwo rk M usic I knew its repetitive drone and mournful tone were perfect for the conditioning and grief piece. The natural sound of the first song, drawn directly from the rainforest, spoke of a fresh beginning and an inviting expanse of space. The sensuous an d spiritual music of Ravi Shankar and George Harrison resonated with me as the perfect fit for the sensuality piece. Finally, the playful, joyous, and rhythmic Toubab Krewe 's Bamana Niya spoke to me of resolution and harmony. It gives a feeling of moving along, of a rhythmic progression waning to calm. The music, once set, acted as a compass for me to delineate sections and inform my choreographic decisions. The music is what enabled me to start moving. As much as I wanted to choreograph the whole dance in my head, I realized that this was simply impossible. Using the music as the backdrop, I started dancing. The songs allowed me to access the states of affect, and once I was there, I let the movement emerge. This independent process was repeated several times until I was exhausted. Then I came back to it and felt ready to capture it on film, so that I could observe my movement themes, qualities and patterns. This served as choreographic material to draw on when I was developing each stage. I would like to mention my sources of movement influence in addition to the music. Past projects with New College definitely influenced my choreographic ideas. In
50 particular, the Gettysburg Project and Theatr e of the Oppressed, two i ndependent study p rojects in which I participated, gave me ideas for content. For example, the grid that the played with in the Gettysburg P roject. It is a method of homogenizing travel by following imaginary straight lines and restri cting directional changes to ninety degree angles. To me that is indicative of conformity and oppression. Another activity that inspired me was a game I was taught in Theat r e of the Oppressed in which someone sa id a word like shame and without much thinking, w e st ruck a pose representative of that word. This was helpful in developing movement to fit particular sentiments. Additionally, Professor Bola os Wilmot's modern fusion class was a continuous source of movement ideas on a weekly basis. In particular, I in corporated some dramatic elements we learned from Martha Graham technique, such as contractions and stomach clutching. The use of sound that comes from such guttural contractions and emotional conviction was another idea I utilized from Professor Bola os W ilmot's class. Looking back on my conception of the project, I realize the importance of adaptation. I did not know what each section would look like exactly, and I had to accept that. While I had ideas and concepts to guide me, the movement that emerged while working with the dancers was ultimately what became the material of the performance. The Rehearsals The process of putting together a group dance begins with the gathering of the group. I emailed about ten women and one man with whom I had danced pr eviously. In hindsight I do not think the dance would have been the same had it not been a fully
51 female ensemble, although the man I contacted is self identified a s a diva (we mutually arrived at the conclusion that it probably was not the best choice for this piece). The audience would have read it differently; it would have been confusing and not have sent the same message: this is a dance of women. It is an experience of our gender. Although ddressing is males exerting power over females through the conquest of their bodies. Plus, there is a special quality bestowed up on a group when it is all women: a certain sanctity, a safeness, a sisterhood. This is the feeling I was going for. I reached out to these individuals because I took notice of the expressive qualities in their bodies and I admired their richness of movement. Our familiarity allowed me to feel comfortable working with them, and the rehearsal process definitely bui lt upon our relat ionships with one an other. Moreover, I thought they would enjoy using their bodies to move and emote in new ways. Out of the eleven folks I contacted, five expressed interest and availability to participate. Once the group's commitment was established, we planned five meeting times to practice together, roughly one session a week beginning in late October. During the week of the performance we had two rehearsals to run through the piece, and one dress rehearsal right before the show. I will briefly discuss what each session entailed leading up to the final performance. The first time we met, my goal was to open up an improvisational space in which we could all feel comfortable, as well as to introduce the practice of embodying emotion by playing with diffe rent movement qualities. I prepared for this by brainstorming and jotting down some interactive activities that I thought would be conducive to these goals,
52 activities I had done myself in dance classes over the years. I ordered them in a way that allowed us to build up to more trust and risks. I began with the most basic of dance therapy and group activities sharing our names. To do this, w e formed a circle and checked in by giving our names a long with a moveme nt, which the group then repeated back. We co ntinued going around the circle giving a movement that expressed our state and had that echoed back. Gradually we shifted the game so that we reacted to one another s and incorporated sound in this new level. This fed into playing with rotating l eadership, in which we moved together as influenced by the leader. The circle dissolved and the idea of shifting leadership continued, with the leader freely moving about the room. It was playful and fun, especially with the whole inner space of the Mildr ed Sainer Music and Arts Pavilion to explore. We then broke off into some partner work, experiencing direct mirroring, until the set leader role dissolve d and it was unclear who was leading/following. I then led them through some individual explorations of affects, such as hostility. For hostil ity I named different actions for them to interpret, incorporate, or ignore, like seething, slapping, kicking, boiling, punching, etc. To bring the group back together, we played with passive versus active movement, with one person active and the rest of the group passive, and vice versa. This is an exercise in being receptive to others. Next, we came back together in a close circle and did some synchronous movement with shifting leadership and body contact. Finally, I led a stretch and a yoga cool down to close. It was a learning experience for me to lead this first practice. Although I had written down a plan, I heeded to the natural progression of the activities. I found that in some cases, without my having to say anything, the dancers naturally moved on to the
53 next stage such as beginning to react to each other or to dissolve the static leadership role. Also I had not planned to do some yoga to close, but after things got heated it felt like a good idea to resto re our collective calm. The group feedback from that first session was a general sense of enjoyment from moving in these directed yet totally liberating ways. I was glad at how eas il y everyone got along with and related to one another, which I think danc ing together can accomplish quickly. I felt the first practice was a success in that the dancers gave themselves to the moment; they were present, engaged, and sincere in undertaking the exploration of their expressive bodies. During the second session I set the choreography for the second piece, movement phrase I had developed and a vision for the choreographic format. Since this was one of the more choreographed pieces, I wanted to begin teaching it early on so the dancers could internalize the movement. It also set the somber tone for the dances to come, serving as an introduction to the heavy emotional themes. Here we were playing with the idea of being controlled by an external influence. This influence says that we are inadequate and ugly, and our sexual parts are the only parts that matter. We are individually unimportant drones, moving in a mechanical melancholy. This is represented by the repetitive movements and constricting grid figuration. We are reaching to achieve the impossible standards of the idealized woman, but we never quite reach there and the effort is unhealthy. At the end we become slightly more frenzied, trying to regain our balance and self control but we are unable. The image here i s of wearing oppressively high heeled shoes as we walk on a balance beam ; eventually we give up, toppling over. Theoretically this is the time when
54 the sexual trauma occurs. This was one of the more technically challenging rehearsals because I had a disti nct vision in mind, which I needed to articulate and orchestrate onto other bodies. The formations, transitions, and timing I developed required explicit explanation, despite its seeming self evid ent in my head. I had written out on paper how the dance wou ld go, chain gang line to the separation and crumbling. Starting it early turned out to be an advantageous strategy because teaching the movement phrases and explaining its concep tual basis actually helped me refine and develop my vi sion. Through my respon ses to questions the dancers asked, the choreography and emotiona l content they had to portray were clarified. For example, I had not thought of which foot we would start on and if we all would be stepping on the same foot until some one a sked. Another question about what the focus was when we reach ed allowed me to more fully explain the concept of reaching for impossible standards. Additionally, seeing the choreography come to life inspired ideas for improvement. Overall I was not to o nitpicky about the choreography being identically fixed on each body. I mainly wanted to see a recognizable and similar, if not uniform, shape in their bodies, and I wanted them to follow the structure of the grid. Most essential was that they transmit te d certain emotive qualities. My goal for this piece, and the dance as a whole, was for each dancer to feel the emotion of every movement. I wanted the dancers to take my choreography into their bodies and make it their own. Once stored in muscle memory, it wa s transformed into their unique expression, thus keeping the choreography fresh. In continuation of my effort to tackle the heavy stuff early on, our next rehearsal
55 focused on the middle two sections of loss and anger. For this rehearsal, I had less specific activities planned, but I still had certain gestures and postures in mind. I intended to direct the dancers with the backdrop of the music in a more improvisational style. Like the performance, it was a mix of movement suggestions and artistic fre edom, so I gave some movement cues along with the imagery. My goal was for us to embody the emotions of loss (including grief and fear ) and anger and find an authentic expression of these feelings through movement. Given a space scheduling conf lict, we we re working outside Sainer Pavilion that particular Sunday. The outdoor environs might have clashed with the tone of the materi al it was a beautiful sunny day but it did allow the dancers to feel comfortable rolling around on the warm grass. I announced th e concept of the pieces : loss and anger. I had the dancers find their own space s on the ground. Verbally I instructed them to enter into their bodies, to become small. I facilitated their experience of fear by telling them to go to a dark place inside, to imagine being isolated, completely alone, lost, and scared. We distance d our bodies from one another, representing us all in isolation. We beg a n an inward drawing dance, the mourning of internal pain. I asked them to draw upon an experienc e of physical or emotional pain and to go to that place and reside there, to sit with it, despite it s being a scary place to be. I told them to think about where this pain wa s felt in the body, perhaps the stomach. How d id it feel? I gave some physical cues such as compre ss ing all the space in the body and obscuring one self as if trying to hide. Other suggestions were to smother themselves grimace, rock to comfort themselves try to back away to escape, but be followed by unbearable pain. Another important cue was to use your face to transmit the pain. Eventually, we ca me to be scared toget her in the
56 center, rocking. We we re not directly comforting one an other, but the toget herness and human contact offered the slight solace of mourning in community. When the mourning had run its course we delved into anger, which was a spectrum within itself. The transition to anger, and most of the transitions from piece to piece, were orchestrated in the rehearsals themselves. From the sadness piece, we collapsed to the floor forming a depressed pile. There we started the next song. First I prompted apathetic anger at existing. From our pile in the center, we bega n our struggl e against gravity. I said it w as as if we wer e being forced to get out of bed when all we want ed to do wa s slee p and shut out the world. We mad e intermittent attempts, really giving our all in the struggle, and the exertion wa s so much that we collapse and give up. But something in us tells us to keep struggling. Eventually our attempts get us farther and farther up until we are more upright than not, but we are not happy about it. I directed the dancers to express this anger into the ground, banging feet, hands, body into the grass. Physically we we re throwing our weight around on a low level. Mentally we we re feeli ng a guttural sense of rage, not necessarily connecting it to a person or object but just feeling the rage. Then I suggested as a motivator to think of all the oppressions we ha d experienced, all the obstacles and injustices that enter our path to b eat th em out into the ground in this low level guttural anger. We then came to a middle level in space and I prompted them to feel a more heated anger that was now directed toward their own bod ies The levels of movement ( from ground to middle to high) we re mea nt to coincide with the progression of anger. I said to call to mind a sense of burning self hate, which leads to more active displays of anger through self destructive gestures. We are mad at our clothes, our skin, our own
57 shadow s We are mad at the spac e we take up, disgusted and betrayed by our bodies. One magine being encrusted in dirt and trying to get it off your skin we re now working the anger outside our bodies and beginning to externalize its intensity. It was fascinating t o watch the dancers go through this. After they express ed the anger at self it seemed to naturally work its way out, and without m y saying anything, it was a natural transition to shift the onus of the anger to external sources. This occurred as the dance rs gradually noticed one another in the space. Other people become the new target of the rage. I went ahead and narrated the shift, saying now we we re mad at those taking up our space. We become territorial, enrobed in ego driven anger. This new layer of a nger is healthy in that it is directed at a source outside the self. It acknowledges that the self is something worth fighting for, protecting. The dancers got really into it and sound emerged organically, which I liked and encouraged. Allowing sound to a ccompany the movement was a helpful way to release the anger. Not wanting the anger to disperse just yet, I gave some directives for the dancers to diversify their expression s of anger. First I told them to remain without contact, acting territorial and th reatening. Eventually I had each establish a partner and beg in to express maximum hostility still without contact. I suggested verbs like slap, punch, kick, shake head and fingers, and dis, and when one or both of them had had enough, to stalk away, stew ing in anger before encountering a new partner. Then I told them to actually exert force, pushing and feeling the resistance of hands on hands and w hen one or both ha d had enough, to dissolve that partnership. Next I said to use their whole body weight ag ainst one another in order to fully express hostility, like an aggressive version of contact improvisation. This chaos gradually (and seemingly naturally, but also with my
58 prompts) transition ed to formin g rival teams, in which anger was still expressed bu t so were partnership and protection. Gradually the teams tire d of the anger and the intense energy it uses. After the teams and their angry antics peaked, I instructed someone to initiate a friendly gesture, to instigate the hesitant and gradual process of forgiveness. The dancers were really ready for this moment after the intense exertion of anger. Almost immediately one person made a friendly gesture. The dancers all went in for a hug. But I warned them to be more hesitant and distrustful of the peace to make their amends more slowly. Gradually everyone gratefully agreed on forgiveness in a cluster in the center. Anger was actually a healthy experience for the dancers. After that session, one dancer commented that it felt really good to express ange r. The group echoed her sentiments. Giving them license to express an often repressed emotion was a good clearing for the body. It also gave them the opportunity to visit and work through issues that upset them, to work it out with themselves. That is heal ing and empowering when you feel pain and work through it, coming to the resolve of forgiveness and release. Plus the reconfiguration piece that follows allowed for some soothing to the painful feelings of loss and anger. Going through the process together in a group also offered safe space and comfort because they were moving through these emotions in the company of friends sharing the same typically solitary experience. After the emotional turmoil Reconfiguration This pie ce is about releasing the destructive anger and identifying our own inner voice s underneath all the reactive stress. It is about realizing our ability to perceive our own needs and desires and learning to satisfy them. It entails reclaiming the body's righ t to
59 make these choices and exert control. Physically, it feels as if we we re being reborn, stretching out fresh limbs. We are exercising our ability to move the body in an exploratory way to find what feels good. This is a precursor to healthy sexuality: when we identify that which brings us pleasure, we are enabled to ask for what we need and want. This becomes assertiveness and allows us to excel not only in healthy sexual experiences but in life at large. Through the course of the anger piece, we have all forgiven one an other. Amends made, we form a group statue. I instructed the group to form an architecturally interesting structure making sure to touch at least one other person; t his re presents solidarity. From there I gave the directive to melt out o f this communal structure, finding a little space and releasing the tension from the anger into the floor. I encouraged them to indulge in the release of tension, letting all frustrations dissolve into the ground w hile relaxing all the muscles, to find a sacred moment of stillness. Once they had relaxed, I told them to go inside t he body and stretch in ways it wa s craving, as if waking up from a nap ; to s ense what the body need ed to discharge, fe el how it wanted to expand in space. I told them to begin to stretch more expansively, really feeling where the breath went and being attentive to the intricacy of every movement. To encourage a novel approach rather than rote stretches, I asked: W here does the impulse of movement begin? Does it stem from mind, musc les, skeleton, or skin? Can you move as if solely from one body part? Can you move with different layers, stretching patches of skin, sheaths of muscle, pushing bone out against skin? All this movement requires tuning in to our bodies' inner voice, that w hich inevitably guides us toward healing. We focus on listening to the innate impulses that arise, paying attention to our amazing gift of intuition.
60 After stretching, I told the dancers to come to a stationary pose. There is no cue to when this occurs, so it was an exercise in attentiveness to see when one person ha d frozen and let everyone catch on. Then, according to an order we had predetermined, one dancer move d about freely through the statues. It wa s completely up to the dancer to choose how she in teract ed with the forms around her, my only instruction was to relate to them in some way. When she return ed to her original spot, the whole group shift ed to a different pose and h e ld while the next dancer t ook h er turn. After the last dancer had gone, the group bega n to shift and pose in synchrony, finding new poses while slowly traveling back to center. Here I instructed the group to call to mind classical statues and to take on the air of tho se proud statuesque women to d isplay the temple of the body in all its infinite artistic angles. This invites a sense of pride in the structure of your body, the one made individually for you. Gradually we arrive d back in the center and ma d e contact. Our final shift wa s back into the origin al group statue. Finally, w e re solidif ied as a whole. This piece, which began being about finding inner voice, encompasses so much more. It symbolizes the need to honor one individuality, while emphasizing the power of community. With each person given the spotlight, it hig hlights the dancers' unique movement qualities while showing how much our surroundings influence our movement. It shows how we gather strength from human contact and mutual support, which serves as a platform to realize our inner voice. Near the end, as we approach the transition to the sensuality piece, it introduces the proud stature of self realization. We become self aware of our power to assume new shapes. Statues, forming and reforming, finding new positions of strength and beauty, eventually become f used into one. After this session, we took a couple of weeks off for Thanksgiving. Upon our
61 Sensuality piece. I was glad to work on this section. The heavy emotional content of the previous pieces was definitely not easy to wo rk with. It was a relief to move in a more dignified, graceful way. This piece, influenced by belly dance and yoga, involved more structured choreography, and the synchronous movement was pleasant to return to after we had ventur ed within and do ne our own thing. As I choreographed this dance, it had a very reverent, spiritual feel, representative of our offering gratitude for the gift of our bodies, our temples, our means to experience life. Paradoxically, to me this sensation takes on a transcendent feel, like w e are more than just our bodies, l ike our bodies know no boundaries, like we are one with the space around us, vibrant fields of energy shimmering in the light. The choreography for this piece is enhanced by some imagery that I gave the dancers to e nrich their experience. Some directives here were : magine bathing your face in sunshine, sanctifying yourself with cleansing water, feeling the curvature of your skin for the first time, and describing endless circles with your body. Most of the dance w as choreographed, save for the end, where I encourage d the dancers to solo riff on the themes of reconnecting to sensuality and luxuriating in the feel of beauty. I told them to embrace their sexiness, all for themselves, and to throw in a shimmy if they p leased. After this session, the dancers vocalized how enjoyable it was to move in this juicy, sensual manner. It was affirming of the truly beautiful nature of our bodies. Accepting struggle for many women. Feeling completely comfortable and satisfied in our own skin during this dance was my goal. The last rehearsals before showtime were dedicated to dancing through the entire
62 performance and learning the wholeness piece. Finall y going through all the stages was a wonderful feeling. The dancers flowed seamlessly from stage to stage in a natural progression. As the choreographer I was thrilled to witness my fragmented ideas come together at last. This also presented me the opportu nity to figure out transitions between the pieces. Developing a cohesive dance gave me the feeling of completeness that I brought to the choreography of the final segment. As a transition fro Sensuality we come to crouch down in a circle facing one a nother to begin the holeness piece. Choreographically, the circle is the perfect way to begin. Its continuous structure represents wholeness in itself. From there I had us slap the ground, this time playfully drumming in time with the music rather than beating it in anger. To come up, we did a breakdance inspired action, modified for dif ferent bodies. Once up, we began to skip in a circle in a follow the leader fashion, making a figure eight pattern on the floor. We slow ed down our skipping and join ed ha nds to do the hora, a traditional Jewish dance. To me this signifies all inclusive celebration. Faces light up all around the circle as we move in unison around, together, apart. Eventually we each ha d our solo before coming back to a circle fo r some group improvisation. We we re all following the lead of a shifting leader. There is a riff on a game of duck duck goose. There is a theme of playful interaction and wholeness that shines through this piece. Here we are coming to a place of closure and h armony not just with our bodies but one ano ther, the music, and the free flow of energy among us. We are feeling the completeness of this moment and taking the time to appreciate one an other, our spirits, what it is to dance. The choreography for this piece was p artially conceived in my head and then evolved and solidified after experimenting with the dancers. Something vital I
63 learned from this whole process is how I have to accept that creative ideas arr ive in the moment of action; they cannot be planned. Moment s of insights seldom occur when we are trying to manifest them; rather they pop up when we're driving to work or taking a shower. I had to allow my active planning brain to relax so that my subc onscious would float new ideas to the surface. The feedback f rom my dancers made the whole project worth it. At the final rehearsals, we began moving through the stages in succession, practicing the shifts from conditioning to loss to fear to anger to reconfiguration to sensuality to wholeness. I asked how it felt f was thrilled that she experienced it as such, and that others chimed in to describe si milar sensations. While it was a challenging task to embody some of the more painful emotions, the cleansing and closure they felt from going through the whole dance made it a healing experience. Professor Bola os Wilmot witnessed the dance in our final d ress rehearsal, just moments before the actual curtain call. She offered several suggestions that fine tuned the piece, with the perspective of the audience in mind. This was inval uable feedback for me because given that I was in it, I was not able to subj ectively sit back and watch the piece. I watched videos, but I was already so embroiled with the material that I could not imagine how I would perceive it if I had had no background information. Some of her advice included making sure the dancer's focus wa s clear in the conditioning segment, making our formation tighter in the belly dance part, and remembering how crucial our face s w ere in transmitting joy at the end.
64 The Performance The night of December 7 was perfect The week prior to the performance, I suffered from anxiety. I felt fear that the dance would not come together. I think this was compounded by the last minute stressful nature of securing practice time and space with all the dancers present, as well as developing a light scheme and employi ng it in conjunction with the lighting technician. When I slept, I had dreams that the dancers were absent the night of the performance. This was actually an extremely beneficial experience. I believe my dreams prepared me mentally for the big night. In th e dream, the worst possible scenario had already happened, and I had survived. That made me realize that I would get through the performance no matter what; even if the music skipped and the dancers blanked out and the audience hated it, I would live on. T his allowed me to feel at ease with the experimental nature of the piece. The week of the performance, I still had some nervousness as I made last minute alterations to the choreography. But after we had run through the piece from start to finish, I felt a profound confidence in my dancers and myself. The sense of calm I experienced was surprising. I attribute this to affirmations and prayer. Although the thesis project is an academic endeavor, the spiritual aspect of asking for help of a higher power was integral to my experience so I want to share it. I asked the universe to bestow me and my dancers with the confidence to dance to our maximum expression. I repeated mantras affirming that the dance would be beautiful, that the dancers would feel graceful a nd confident, that the audience would receive it well. I prayed for inner peace and fortitude. Lastly, I reminded myself to relish the experience, to embrace even the anxiety. After all,
65 if I w a little nervous, something would be wrong! The wonderfu l way in which these thoughts manifested deepened my faith in our power to realize the change we wish to see and to create our own reality. In reflecting on the experience in its entirety, from the practice sessions to the performance to the supp ort of t he audience, I realized this was a healing ritual for my self. Having a group of my peers, my professors, my family and friends come together to witness this special night was like being held in a web of love. But this dance was not intended to be for my s ole benefit. In exposing my inner journey of coping with trauma through the abstract medium of dance, I all owed the audience to enter this healing journey with me. The audience could relate to the dancers because they drew on their own life experiences. Th e authenticity they expressed enabled the audience to relate it to its own individual experienc es. In the next section, I further discuss the reaction, questions, and experience of the audience. The Response of the Audience To enable a positive recepti on of the piece by the audience, it was necessary to supply it with backgroun d information so it had a framework of what the dance was all about. I accomplish ed this preliminarily with a flyer and a F acebook group that advertised the event. At the performa nce, I opened with a brief introduction to my work and passed out a program that detailed the content of the dance. I also announced that afterward I would open the floor for comments, questions, and discussion. The program I distributed was especially cr ucial in helping the audience frame the experience. I was fortunate to be able to use artwork from my friend Katherine Oglesby, a
66 New College graduate, whose thesis centered on an art show displaying art and poetry as a medium for exploring sexual trauma. The image that graces the cover is a better visual inspire the title collaboration 56 Within the program itself, as you can see below, I gave a synopsis of my creative process, an outline of the seven stages of the dance, and bestowed credits to the dan cers, my mentors, and my music 56 Katherine's call for art related to sexual trauma to u se in her spring 2012 thesis show was influential in my own creation of poetry and collage. I contributed several pieces that were pivotal in my own healing process. This helped me arrive at the conception of my own thesis project.
68 With the audience primed, we performed. The time flew by and before I knew it, the journey was over. When we reentered the stage after the performance, I was overjoyed to see the audience standing and proffering a generous sho wer of applause. In that moment I was so el ated. As the audience took its seats, I felt high reall y, like someone had just pumped me full of laughing gas. Carefully avoiding the eyes of my best friend, I took some breaths to compose myself to lead the discussion. Public speaking is not so mething I am naturally adept at; I actually felt more nervous abo ut the spoken introduction at the beginning than the dance itself. However, with the confidence I summoned coupled with the energy from performing, I led an articulate discussion, save for a few nervous likes and ums
69 When I initially asked for feedback, there was a moment of silence before the hands began to shoot up. Here are s ome of the questions and comments thrown out and how I addressed them. The first question was, W hat concepts served as the source of movement inspiration? I could have answered i n lengthy detail for each section, so I started by explaining the conceptual basis of the first and second piece s For the first piece, I the second, I referenced the idea of being conditioned and controlled by a malevolent external force. A si milar question I received was, D id I instruct the dancers through cueing based more on emotions or movements? I replied that they wer e intimately tied. The movement expression I sought is achieved through accessing the emotional state it evokes. I provided an extensive description of what emotions to embody while g iving specific suggestions on physical manifestations, like showing pain through contracting and clutching the stomac h, for example. Someone remarked how the beginning stage of the dance was evocative of coming out of the womb, perceiving the whole piece as representative of a life cycle. This plays off the title of the piece and is an excellent metaphor to view the pro gression of the movement. One audience member felt a sense of transformation as he saw himself going through the turmoil the danc ers were going through; he felt that the second a nd third sections in particular was a prime motive behind this work, to invoke kinesthetic empathy in the viewer.
70 Another viewer noted the potency of the anger piece. She described how she perceived us: we were reacting in a state of anger stemming from a personal violation, yet the anger did not bel ong to u s and the dance was the depict ion of the discharge of the anger. Someone else mentioned that she liked how the end of anger and the beginning of the healing process started with human contact. This shows how we need to be careful not to isolate ourselves in order to get through traumatic experiences. A couple of commenters expressed gratitude for the last scene which depicted wholeness; they connected to the feelings of love, energy, and excitement that the dancers exuded. I echoed th eir sentiments by saying how coming to a release and finding joy are what it is all about. It is vital to regain equilibrium after the tumultuous territory of repression, loss and anger we traverse Laughter, play, and joy are healing forces because they a re love in action. An audience member mentioned how neat it was to view what seemed like six original performances in one. He was referring to the opportunity of witnessing six dancers simultaneously embark on a journey in which each woman stayed true to her own unique style of expression. The dancers chimed in that this was something I asked for and enco uraged as the artistic director and that it was a very nice gift to receive. This is what the dancers said made it genuinely therapeutic and real for them Giving people license to move in ways that feel right to them is a gift we are all entitled to receive. It is societal standards of conformity that impinge upon our freedom of movement, often constricting our range of authentic expression. In response, a nother viewer conc urred but added that there was something special about the unity achieved when the individuated dancers came together as a whole. I think
71 the highlighting of individuals heighten s the significance of community because it depicts the stren gth of diversity and the range of the human experience. One viewer enjoyed the organic flow from choreographed movement to the freedom of expression. I appreciated this feedback because the hybridization of choreography and improvisation was central to my project. Lastly, I had a friend come up to me after the show for a personal comment. Noting the lack of emotional responses as opposed to content based questions and comments, she said that as a survivor of rape she found the piece to be a poignant remin der of her own journey. She found it touching and affirming to witness the process of healing. Conclusion Judging from the response of the audience, the experience of the dancers, and the positive growth within myself, I can proudly claim that this proj ect culminated in success. In watching the filmed recording of the performance, I noticed minor mishaps in the choreography, such as a shift in lighting out of time with the transition or a dancer emerging prematurely. However, in the end these details d id not detract from the overall goal of my thesis: to acknowledge the trauma many women experience and to highlight the tangible process of healing through the medium of dance.
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