Archive for May, 2013

Acting, body language, and authentic self-expression

By Stephanie Nash, MFA – Acting Teacher, Body Language Expert & Mindfulness Meditation Coach

I’ve always been interested in body language – especially when I first encountered other cultures in my teens.   I was interacting with people who moved and related to each other physically in ways that were quite foreign to my WASP upbringing.

When I got to Duke, I wanted to study body language, but this school with a top psychology department had no classes that delved into such material – so I took acting classes where I not only studied body language, I experienced it.

I had to move my body in ways I’d never done.  After 35 years as an actress, I believe the work on my physical “instrument” has been an integral part of my development as an actress – and my maturing as a human being.

I had to let go of old tensions and restrictions, and embrace new ways of moving as different characters – which created a much greater sense of compassion and connectedness to the characters I played – as well as to anyone who had ever been in such a situation.

When I became an acting teacher, I discovered that most acting teachers were not emphasizing body language as much as my training had, and I found that when I could align the actor’s body with their intention and emotional/psychological state, the result was a truthful, grounded performance.

When I became a mindfulness meditation teacher, I discovered that I could help people’s “inner” life, but then their habit of holding the body in restricted ways tended to create the feelings that were part of developing that habit.  I’d hear people complain of unpleasant emotions returning, and I would notice that they were holding their bodies in ways to create those emotions.  I then began my programs to help them “unlock” these habit patterns physically, creating a body that was free and a grounded environment that supported all the inner growth and shifts that were happening.

Now my interest is to help anyone (not just actors & meditators) to understand how the body can be an easy tool for self-transformation and discovery.

An Inspiration from Boston: Making Sense of the Constantly Changing Scenery of Life

An Inspiration from Boston: Making Sense of the Constantly Changing Scenery of Life

Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH, Founder and President of the Foundation for Art and Healing, eloquently distills the essence of a heartwarming video of a marine’s visit with two marathon bombing victims and makes clear the role of art and telling our stories in helping us see and hold onto who we are.

Because of the homemade nature of the explosive device, the Boston Marathon bombing injured hundreds of spectators with wounds similar to those sustained by active duty combat troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of these wounds were devastating to the lower extremities, requiring amputation. The video clip below was taken during a heartwarming visit of one such Marine, a bilateral amputee, to the hospital room of a marathon bombing victim who also lost both legs. In the simple but stunningly warm and caring conversation between two strangers, united by common wounds, one witnesses firsthand the power of human engagement, connection, empathy, compassion and support.

In his sharing of his own personal experience, one Marine says simply “This is the start,..this isn’t the end, it’s the beginning. Another Marine says, “This doesn’t matter,…this is just a change of scenery.” Just a change of scenery. That simple reminder opens the door to a realization that what is essential about who we are remains, even when much is removed. The Marine’s wise guidance invites us to consider the difference between the externalities of life that similar to “scenery”, passes us by without altering that which is vital within us, makes us who we are, and sustains us as we struggle with life’s challenges.

At another disruptive disaster a few months ago, this one the result of the destructive 100 mile an hour winds of Hurricane Sandy, thousands were left homeless and sought shelter in schools and community centers in Long island and New Jersey. In one such shelter in Queens, a creative art and expression therapist working with the traumatized children asked them to draw the things that matter to them that they have with them all the time. With this simple exercise, the children had the chance to differentiate the transitory “scenery” of life from what they will always possess, and in the end that was exactly the reassurance they needed. It calmed their fears, allowed them to sleep without nightmares, and in a real sense to return home.

As we head out each day into the challenges that face us and those we love, the one thing we can count on is that the scenery will always be changing. With a little “practice” perhaps we can all also learn to count on those things that will never change, our essential “one-ness’ and connection with each other that this lovely video so clearly conveys, our commonly shared aspirations for a better world, and hope for a better future for all of us and all who come after. Perhaps it’s how we all can return home.

Click here to view the video of the exchange between the Marines and the Boston marathon bombing victims:

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Is it Art Yet?

Registered Somatic Movement Educator Marilyn McLaughlin, and creator of All Bodies Dance!, shares how freedom from perfection brings joy of creative expression.

All Bodies Dance! is a simple accessible approach to teaching dance and body awareness that celebrates individual differences while also promoting creativity and personal expression. It is a synthesis of all that I know and love in the poetry of dance, theatrical expression, sensory awareness, and music. One moment participants are bopping around the entire room to James Brown getting bone strong with a heavy stomp or a spoke and pump polka, while 5 minutes later they are exploring body part triplet variations to a beautiful Chopin waltz. It’s all easy accessible movement that anyone can do. I am thrilled to be sharing my passion and even more thrilled to facilitate others discovering their own.

With all my years of strict and disciplined training, I rarely exercised the luxury of art making for its own sake, for the purpose of health and well-being, until fairly recently. Though there was certainly plenty of great play and love of process while making dance and theatre works, I always felt the pressure to get somewhere with it, that it had to ultimately be good, if not great. Even simple composition assignments where the goal was to learn and make mistakes while skill building were excruciating for me. I became plagued by a level of perfectionism that ultimately shut me off from the ability to do anything creative if I could not excel almost instantly. That left me with a very small playing field.

One time, I bravely branched out and took a watercolor class. I loved buying the supplies, but I quit painting soon after. I couldn’t master it fast enough. The same thing happened to me with figure drawing and pottery. I loved the idea of it all, but I couldn’t find the actual pleasure in doing it as a novice. I always ended up feeling disappointed with myself. So much for a beginner’s mind.

I would rather doodle. Scribble. Take notes for a poem I was thinking about writing and then leave the paper crumpled in a bush to disintegrate. I would rather just compose dance to the sound of crickets and frogs on my evening walk. It could be a secret between me and Mother Nature.

My first encounter with the true joy of process came to me in spurts during my post-graduate training in Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis. LMA/BF is the study of movement expression, observation, notation and body orchestration. Because my teachers often presented the information in the form of play and in the spirit of pure exploration, for the first time in a long time, my love affair with creative movement expression was invigorated and fresh. Not bound to any style or form I felt incredibly free.

A few months ago I developed an intense craving for drumming. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I joined a Saturday afternoon drumming class and rediscovered my own personal version of heaven. A month later, I looked into attending Arthur Hull’s Rhythmic Alchemy Playshop. I had no idea what to expect and I was adamant about “not having the time to play” for a whole weekend. I had never attended a facilitated drum circle, and I was a bit concerned that it would just be a sloppy, groovy free for all.

Within minutes of walking into the room, my patterned response of fear and anxiety came up to bat first. But very quickly, that all disappeared and by the next night, especially after a late night drum circle, I had officially crossed over into pure joy, connection, and celebration. Partnership. Community. Group creation. Liberation. No words. A total paradigm shift. There was no way to get it wrong. I could finally snuggle up to my comfort edge and gently but firmly coax myself into staying with the experience of creativity and the encounter with something new. Simple eye contact, a smile, or a nudge would coax me into allowing a song or movement from deep within me to emerge. Actually it wasn’t new at all. It was more like finally coming home.

All Bodies Dance! classes have enabled women to reclaim a childlike love of dance/movement expression and sensory awareness at any stage of life. It offers an opportunity to stoke the creative fire while doing something healthy, community oriented, and soul nourishing. The time to let our body’s voice sing out with all the life lived, and yet to live, is now.

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