“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” – Philip Pulman, writer
The stories that inspire me the most are non-fictional stories, stories that are about real life and real people. These kind of true stories are the most compelling to me when they incorporate emotion, vulnerability, unexpected twists and elements of change and rebirth. Basically, I’m a sucker for stories that show how people survived difficulty and got to the other side. This interest in truth telling brought me to the work of expressive arts therapy and education. It was an invitation to learn about the human condition through the arts, and to move away from the pretense and pressure of the art world. After twenty years of study and practice, I still feel extreme privilege in witnessing people’s real life stories, and grateful to support them to share their memories through visual art, creative writing and dance.
I don’t think of myself as a storyteller by any stretch. I have always struggled to find words to describe my experiences in detail. Images and concepts come quicker to me, but even more so I sense things more clearly than I can imagine them. When I dream I don’t see vivid images but rather remember sounds or touch, or feel myself moving through space. Through all of these reflections, I discovered that I have a strong kinesthetic sense. I learn through the body and by experiencing something directly. In regards to storytelling, I am very attuned to the stories that are told through the body in dance, gesture and sound. I have seen first-hand how powerful it can be when people reveal their truths through the body, but it can also be very intimidating. Author and researcher Brené Brown states, “For many of us, there is no form of self-expression that makes us feel more vulnerable than dancing. It is literally full-body vulnerability.” Therefore, having an experienced arts practitioner can help to create a space where it is possible to open up to the resources and gifts that movement-based expression can offer.
I work multi-modally with a method called the Life/Art Process, and in this method movement is used in partnership with drawing. I personally am not very talented with drawing or painting as I can’t record what I imagine on paper. In college, one of my drawing teachers would get very impatient with me. My homework assignments were usually mixed media work, rather than the drawing exercises he assigned because I felt I could express myself better with found images. This brought me to my study of photography and film, because I realized I could capture something directly through my visceral experience. I still love working with mixed media but over time I have also developed the ability to draw and paint abstractly which helps me to express my feelings and my stories through color, shape and texture. I don’t have to worry about a house looking like a house. Instead I get to play with metaphor, imagination and what is stirring inside of me in relationship to the house. Am I feeling sad? Does the house feel heavy and laden with old memories? Do I feel welcomed by the house? The aim is to reveal something personal about my life in a creative way.
I truly believe that we need to tell our stories more than ever, and we also need to listen to others’ stories with attention, care and curiosity. Poet Ben Okri says, “Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger.” I love being able to facilitate this exchange in creative group work and allow space for emotion, vulnerability, and connection to take place. This year I am bringing the theme and technique of storytelling through movement and the arts to my workshop offerings in Los Angeles in May and in Europe this September. Here are a few things that I have learned about telling stories through movement and the arts:
- The simplest gesture can speak a thousand words
- We can ruminate on a story for years, but when we stop thinking and start dancing our stories, we feel them in a different way
- When a raw feeling is expressed through a specific movement and one word or short phrase, it can reveal the essence of an emotion
- Our stories may be very painful but if we give form and shape to our story through a drawing, a photograph, or a poem, we get relief and have more space for joy
- When given the opportunity to see someone’s story reflected through dance, visual art, spoken word, music or song, it is a gift. We are able to see a piece of their soul
Come join me this year to share stories in an artful way. Unplug, listen to your soul’s desires, release what no longer serves you and find some new stories to enrich your life, all with the help of an experienced guide in a supportive environment. My next workshop will be in Los Angeles on May 20 and 21st. Find the rest of my schedule here or contact me if you want to weave your story through personal coaching or therapy.
Photo Credit, Adriana Marchione. Jeff Cravath, Performance Moment at Tamalpa Institute
Self-Published April 5, 2017