Looking through the development of movement practices in the 20th century, it is easy to see that they are overwhelmingly Eurocentric in origin. White European men (Jacques Lecoq, Rudolf Laban, Jerzy Grotowski, etc.) brought male Eurocentric standards to these spaces, and movement spaces are still overwhelmingly white, able-bodied, and moneyed. The conversation with Harry was enlightening, and it confirmed some thoughts and revelations that have been bubbling up for me in the past year or so. As we were walking out of the theatre, I remembered I’d left my cane inside. I am still getting used to this new accessory, its necessity arriving with the chill in the air. I excused myself to retrieve it, my brain abuzz.
Back outside the theatre, we finished our conversation, and I said my good-byes to Harry and Laura. As I ambled to the train, I turned over our exchange in my mind. I know that movement practice doesn’t have to be a scary or exclusionary thing. Movement, in some form or another, is essential to us. We use movement to tell stories, to execute tasks, to show affection and despair. We inherently understand gestures as language. We read each other’s bodies on a daily basis, picking up the subtleties and idiosyncrasies. Why, then, should it be that movement practice is only for a few?
Before disentangling that question, it's important to talk about movement practice as I understand and teach it. I recognize the term connotes a certain precision or ability, and in some cases—as in my Lecoq-based graduate training—that can be jarringly true. Lecoq’s “20 Movements” come to mind, each to be executed with faithful adherence to sequence and detail. I learned them all, every painstaking flick of the wrist, turn of the head, and swivel of the torso. While this granular study in movement has undeniably made me a stronger performer and educator, it is so antithetical to my goals as a facilitator in movement spaces. Movement practice, for my purposes, is a vehicle for ensemble play and discovery. Exercises like "Flocking," "Open Canvas," and "Sitting, Standing, Lying Down" require no real prerequisite skill. What they do require is an attuned awareness of self and space, an outward focus. It is in that space of physical play, stripped of verbal language and inner monologue, that we connect.
We inherently understand gestures as language. We read each other’s bodies on a daily basis, picking up the subtleties and idiosyncrasies. Why, then, should it be that movement practice is only for a few?
My favorite part of this work is how students are constantly surprised by the sheer profundity wrought from the simplest gestures. In that same Movement for Beginners workshop, one student arrived halfway through, having gotten the time wrong. I invited him to jump in as the other students continued their “Open Canvas” exploration, which is a loosely structured physical improv, but he sat back and observed. After the exercise concluded, we debriefed. The newcomer marveled at the fact that what he witnessed was unrehearsed, an ephemeral piece of physical exploration between complete strangers. He was sure we had been working on this in his absence and didn’t want to ruin it.
This idea of ephemerality, of uniqueness and kismet, can’t be overstated. Physical improvisation takes joy in the experience, in the doing. The feeling of creating something that no other group of humans could possibly create because they are not you is your reward for jumping into the abyss, counting on your ensemble to catch you. I take from the improv world when I say “each offer is a gift.” A gift to give, a gift to receive. In that context, it seems silly that anyone could be excluded.
Before my injury, these ideas were vague, unformed things because they didn’t have to be any clearer for me. For context, I am a college educated white woman who grew up with little adversity during my suburban childhood. It wasn’t until the fall of 2015, when I began my first theatre teaching position at a low-income high school outside Houston, Texas, that I really dove into physical theatre practices. Stanislavsky was not going to free these students from the emotional quagmire of being a poor kid of color in the South. I became deeply interested in physical storytelling as an alternative to having children access unresolved trauma as fodder. As I learned, I taught. As I taught, I learned. I loved teaching, and I was devoted to my students. But I was teaching from theory instead of practice. All the more reason, then, to return to school myself. In the fall of 2018, I began an intense, Lecoq-based training program at the Pig Iron School in Philadelphia. Before COVID forced the last semester and a half of my MFA education into the virtual realm, the majority of our time was spent running around barefoot on unsprung hardwood floors. The repeated shock constantly pounding my bare feet on those hard floors destroyed my body. I threw out my back every few months, so much so that it became routine. By my second year at Pig Iron, I had two herniated discs in my lower back. I saw a specialist who explained to me that, no, thirty-one is not too young to have these back problems, and there was nothing he would do about it. So I dealt with pain when it came up and tried to prevent flare-ups in the meantime, all the while continuing to ruin my body and paying for the privilege.
I freelanced as a teaching artist after graduation. After a solo road trip to Texas, my back was in pretty bad shape. Shortly after returning to Philly, on 22 October, it happened. I was puttering around the house. And just like that. A pop. Searing pain in my low back, a jolt down my leg. My right leg seized, electrified. I collapsed to the floor. Any movement was torture. In short, I was absolutely screwed. Five weeks later, I went under the knife.