Friday, 25 May 2018

What is Somatics and how can it Benefit bellydancers?

Soma' is derived from the Greek word σμα meaning 'the Living Body’

Somatics is a field of body-mind inquiry that allows the body’s innate intelligence to guide movement for a deeper, more fulfilling and more conscious sense of connection with the moving body.
At its core, Somatics is about mindful movement. Key elements of Somatics are perception, heightened sensory attentiveness and familiarity with the visceral, or internal experience of movement. There are many modalities that can be considered Somatic practices, including various forms of dance, yoga, bodywork, martial arts, rehabilitation or therapies, which highlight the body-mind relationship, and are practiced with attention and inner-focus. Sensory terms may be used in Somatics, such as:
Interoception - awareness of sensations within the body

Exteroception - sensitivity to stimuli outside of the body

Proprioception - awareness of the body’s position and movement in space
Graviception - how the body connects with, or senses, gravity
In Somatic practices, ‘embodiment’ is a term often used, and with it comes a sense of richness and fulfillment. Somatics is more about the ‘noticing’ than the judging of movement – as this is when patterns of resistance and flow can be identified. From this authentic space the truth of the body’s bio-circuitry, sensory knowledge, even blockages from old traumatic memories, and their effect on movement, can be revealed. Only then, can a remedial approach be integrated, through movement and the body’s inner-knowing, to correct the energy flow, restore balance, refine movement and even improve health. Somatics provides bellydancers with a toolkit of user-friendly resources that can enhance their dancing, in terms of skill, movement technique, musicality and emotional connection. It is an opportunity to explore the dynamics or form and flow more deeply and personally.

At its heart, Somatics for Bellydance blends science and art, and is about mindful movement applied to the art of Bellydancing.
 Through Somatic exercises, dancers will develop a new vocabulary and be able to articulate their movement more clearly. They will enjoy enhanced mindfulness; the ability to take notice, be present, and pay more attention to the nuances within their body and the essence of its motion and mobility. All exercises should allow flexibility to suit the dancer’s own personal preferences, and eventually inspire a personal practice. These exercises or ‘flows’ reflect the key movements, shapes and postures that are the foundation of bellydance styles and genres worldwide. They can be considered the ‘roots’ of the movement. They allow the dancer to experience effective ways of tuning into their body’s innate “knowing” and to become familiar with the body’s unique energy flows. It also makes for a more visceral experience, or dancing from “within” which allows the dancer to connect more deeply with the music, and become aware of the energetic resonance between music and movement, which will enrich their sense of musicality. As dance becomes more responsive to its musical impetus, and movement is internalized before being expressed - lyrical movement flows with more ease, naturalness, confidence and interconnectedness.

Somatics supports safe dance practice and lessens the need to ‘drive’ or push’ the movement. Rather than use force, Somatic awareness allows the elements of gravity, levity, self and space to generate movement. Knowledge of breath work, the fundamentals of Laban Movement Analysis (LMA), Bartenieff Fundamentals (BF) and basic principles of physics for motion, provide an effective means of understanding the dynamics of movement, and their psychophysical relationships to the self. This is just one aspect of Somatics, and there are many more branches; for example, the internal experiencing of movement as researched by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen’s Body Mind Centering (BMC) can help the dancer discover the interconnectedness of body systems (such as circulatory, organ systems, skeletal, muscular, etc) which in turn can help to establish neural-pathways that feel easier on the body, as new movements are assimilated with the least resistance. The dancer can also use Somatics to learn more about the energy behind the movement and ways of allowing a state of flow, to clarify their technique. In my own practice I also bring in 20 years of music-movement connectivity, and several body-mind disciplines including Yoga, Meridian flows, breathwork and dance movement sequencing.

A regular Somatic practice can be as short as 10 minutes a day. After even the first few sessions you will be sure to feel the benefits! Some benefits of incorporating a regular Somatic practice are:

* Improved breathing when dancing
* More fulfilling and present experience when dancing
* Deeper visceral experience, feeling the dance more fully
* Ease of movement and flow – distinguishing gravity from force
* Enhanced weight sensing ability
* Improved confidence and skills for improvisation
* Better sense of musicality and rhythmic aptitude
* Refinement of technique and choreographic choices
* More effective ways of describing and understanding your dance
* Ability to bring more authentic expression to movement
* Better proprioception - less reliance on mirrors
* Being able to dance in an alert yet relaxed state
* Ability to identify energy ‘knots’ and how to remedy them
* Better sense of awareness of the interconnected systems of the moving body
* Psychophysical understanding of movement and practice
* Linking movements to support emotional issues
* Less injury, better self care and movement preparation
* Better sleep and more relaxed responses in everyday life
* Means of self support in everyday life

As Somatics is about mindful movement, there are also other practices that are relevant, such as Dr Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing exercises, to support mental health, trauma release and clarify the profound connection between body and mind. Many dancers report that these exercises have supported them on the emotional level, and provide a means of self-support when needed in many real-life situations, particularly when coping with the more stressful elements of life. Stress can affect our dancing, and this may be seen as social, mental or physical stress that occurs within the class environment, or if you are running a bellydance business or related service in the community.

Keti Sharif

For more discovery – the Somatics for Bellydance online course is available and includes a 14 day priactice.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

Teaching Dance with Support for Participants with Autism, ADHD or Depression

“Adult praise, focused attention that communicates approval and positive regard … is an abundantly available natural resource that is (all too often) greatly underutilised.” 

Walker, Ramsey, & Gresham

Dance has the potential to support every learner in a variety of ways, including people dealing with several common mental challenges that affect many nowadays, including Autism, ADHD or depression. Unless asked, participants may be reluctant to share this information with the instructor, so it is often left unspoken. In any dance class, the teacher may have participants living with these circumstances, so it is important to be aware of, and understand more about these conditions.

Teachers can benefit from having some awareness of Autism and by teaching with compassion. Knowing that a participant has Autism is helpful for the teacher, so together, student and teacher can build their relationship with this insight. For teachers, it is respectful to maintain the confidentiality of the student's specific condition, whether given verbally as part of an introductory chat or via a confidential section on the enrolment form.

Dance is temporal, happening in real time. Emotions and mental elements play a key role in the learning process, and with a clearer understanding of Autism, ADHD or depression, less misunderstanding will arise between the teacher and student. As body and mind are connected in dance, the participant’s sense of “integrated self” can indeed serve to support them as they move through life. Remember, they are already dealing with their own process, and these conditions, especially depression, are particularly difficult to live with. Yet dance can be a positive, supportive force in their lives.

Autism is one of the most rapidly expanding categories of ‘disability’. It profoundly affects four areas of development: language, socialisation, sensory, and motor skills. The term Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is used to indicate that there are different types and degrees of symptoms associated with this disorder. Participants with ASD often have problems with attention and eye contact and have significant problems interacting with others. Signs of Autism may show up in movement patterns, such as rocking or fidgeting, or with repeating verbalisations or activities.

Dance students with Autism often have a strong preference for routines but may have problems with transitions and directional movement. Subsequent behavior difficulties such as distress can result from confusion or anxiety.
You can minimise these by providing well-structured dance activities with clear instruction and giving advance notice of transitions. It is also helpful to pre-frame the class content, and provide a program or schedule so participants know when activities are being scheduled. People with ASD are often visual learners, and it is important to support verbal instructions with imagery and modelling. Clear notes with images are also useful. Despite proficiency with language, participants with ASD may have difficulty in using and interpreting nonverbal behaviors, such as facial expressions and body language, as well as conventions such as taking turns to do movements in class, individually. As a teacher, you support students to develop their understanding of nonverbal communication, and spatial movement by being clear in your own intentions, and verbalise rather than assume people are ‘reading’ your body language signals.

ADHD or Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a common disabling condition that adversely affects learning. It is characterised by inattention, hyperactivity or impulsivity. Participants may have difficulty with following directions and may be easily distracted. Participants with ADHD may have difficulty waiting and often blurt out answers or interrupt, causing interpersonal problems within the class with those who are less tolerant. Dance activities that emphasise body control, musicality and focusing on changes between fast and slow, help support balance and foster a sense of self-control.

Depression is distinguished from ordinary sadness by the intensity and duration of symptoms. Psycho-physical complaints such as frequent headaches and stomachaches, irritability, and restlessness are common in adults who are depressed, or they may be lethargic, or have distressing ideas that they dwell on. People who are depressed may sleep or eat too little or too much, and are often withdrawn. Dance is a good way for people with depression to ‘get out of their mind and back into their body’ so as a teacher, encourage the student to move, but avoid pushing them to perform or do solos where they may feel vulnerable. Allowing people to go at their own pace and also letting people know that are free to leave at anytime, and will not be judged, is a useful way of keeping the environment safe. I have found that a focus on musicality before technique is beneficial for students prone to depression, as is the study of Somatics - dancing that is felt from within.

Several core principles may assist the Teacher with their relationship with their students dealing with Autism, ADHD or depression:

#1: Meet every student at their current level of learning, and move them toward achievement with realistic progress. Students with disabilities deserve the same high expectations for their own appropriate levels of achievement.

#2: Create a caring relationship in a structured setting, with the understanding that in our art form, there is a therapeutic aspect to our work. We have the opportunity to reinforce positive behaviors, social interactions, and help our students improve their self-image.

#3: Be aware of appropriate boundaries: over-involvement and ambiguous relationships are not helpful to students’ growth. It is important to maintain professionalism, especially when responding to challenging behavior. Do not take students’ behavior personally. Appropriate boundaries enable dance educators to be firm, fair, and respectful. Managing our students’ behavior starts with managing ourselves.

#4: Teach with clarity - articulate body parts, shapes and actions. Utilise tools such as imagery and motif symbols to represent and remember dance experiences. Descriptive language helps distinguish between contrasting movements, both as performer and observer. By making connections between dance concepts and the world outside the classroom, participants become more deeply aware of personal space and its relation to safety and well-being.

"Most importantly... Mean what you say, say what you mean, but don't be mean!"

To conclude, here is a Dance Activity Benchmark chart I have found very useful, by Sandra Stratton-Gonzalez.

By Keti Sharif (May 2018)

Thanks to Dr Delmonte, 
Sandra Stratton-Gonzalez, Blueprint for Dance NTC Education, Paul L King, Joan Finkelstein.