Carlos’s Comments on “Won’t You Join the Dance?”

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” – Krishnamurti

Trudi Schoop’s revolutionary and inspiring work as a dance therapist, Won’t You Join the Dance?, is an eloquent explanation of the techniques used to treat emotionally ill patients with movement therapy. Through improvisation, through “physical doodling,” she is able to unbury the mental coffin that traps the troubled individual and help lead that person into a future of confidence and vitality. Schoop writes: “There is no doubt that dance therapy can offer new body-experiences, which in turn can engender new mind-experiences, thus furnishing new material for psychiatric examination.” Her primary methodology consists of adjusting our perception of ourselves by playfully smearing the line between fantasy and reality. She aims to undo the disconnect between the organism and its surroundings, the lack of awareness of the self as a part of the environment and not apart from it. Dance can then become a valuable part of the tool kit utilized by hospitals in the effort to repair those who are cognitively damaged.

Counselors can transform a room of the psych ward into a place where the art of motion can have therapeutic value. And conversely, a dance studio can be a makeshift mental hospital: a safe space where everyone can share their wounds in a moving embrace. The dance floor serves as a sanctuary for the widower, the divorcee, the disillusioned and the disheartened. The broken people (like ourselves) can find solace in gentle contact, even if we can’t find the rhythm, even if we misstep. Maybe especially if we misstep. We offer our damaged spirits to our partners and connect to each other as both patient and therapist. Through this connection, we find reassurance and comfort by moving to music, and we feel at greater ease despite our vacillating moods and unsteady fortunes.

And if we extend the dance floor, we can explore Schoop’s use of movement therapy within an even broader context. In the process of learning to navigate through our culture’s many rules and requirements, often individuals are criticized and confined by the unreasonable expectations and controlling behavior of parents, educators and employers. At best, the individual adapts to strict, rigid conditioning; at worst, the individual is brainwashed into believing certain toxic ideas about the self to be true. When a person is oppressed in this way, the self may seek protection in a type of docility, a safe emotional paralysis; or the self may construct a type of mental fortress, an edifice (made out of thoughts) that shelters the manipulated mind and the wounded heart.

If our society is broken, if constant struggle, conflict and confusion are the norm, then mental illness is something almost all of us share. When we acknowledge the instability of the world outside of the “nut house,” we can then expand the walls of the hospital and see everyone, in a sense, as a patient in the mental institution that is our culture. So many of us arrive at the present as damaged goods: hurt, lost and confused by the stresses and demands of a world that is cold, callous and cruel. Movement arts, such as Schoop’s healing dance, are a means by which we can transform our collective lunacy into a personal lucidity.

And finally, Trudi Schoop’s notions of limits and liberty have greatest significance when we choose to view the brain as the ultimate asylum, an arena that may serve as a place of refuge or bondage. Our consciousness is frequently where we lock away and imprison the most valuable parts of ourselves. Dance affords us an opportunity to challenge the way we think about our experiences by encouraging us to share our treasure with others. Movement arts also inspire us to carefully critique our ideas and impressions. How do we manage our mental patterns? How do we control (or fail to control) our habit energy? How do we respond to the enormous societal pressure to acquiesce and conform to social roles? The greatest therapeutic benefit of dance lies in the act of breaking free of the constraining, habitual patterns of movement and thought. And, once and for all, to find the courage to wiggle loose from the tight emotional straitjacket and to make a bold escape from the padded cell that is the mind.

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