by Valerie Baadh Garrett

Dance as Movement History is revealed in common patterns of movement relationships that reappear and develop again and again in games and dances from many cultures and times. Circles, spirals, squares or facing lines; each era in history seems to have particular forms and shapes of dancing. It appears there is a streaming movement memory, a flow of movement of generations and eras past expressed in these folk forms of circle, spiral, column or pairs. From early ritual through contemporary street dances, this continuity of recurring movements and relationships expresses the human being in his world and his moment in history.

Movement Gestures and the Growing Child

These movement gestures also seem to recapitulate the phases of development of growing from young child into adulthood. Study of this profound process through workshops and training is valuable to educators and therapists. It should be part of the curriculum in private, public, or special education. Walking and gesturing circles, spirals, columns and partnered movement patterns have a cumulative, developmental effect on brain development, sensory integration and impulse control. And finally to just having fun as an individual and the group.

We’ve all heard the expression, “to walk a mile in his shoes.” It means that one can have the experience of the other by putting on something of his life, by moving as he moved. This concept of a shared experience through time is a central aspect of this research. If we try on, so to speak, the movement of another person, in another time, can we have a real movement relationship to the forces of that time? Or, are we just pretending?

Empathy Through Movement

Gottfreid Richter beautifully describes this concept

“Man’s journey through the long ages and the different peoples and cultures of the world takes him from one experience and stage of consciousness to another. Nowhere are these stages of inner experience accidental or arbitrary. His journey follows the same laws as the serene growth of a flower, which sends out leaf after leaf, puts forth buds, opens blossoms and bears fruit, each in its own time and each containing its own irreplaceable, unsurpassable, eternal value.”

Man's developement follows the same process as that of a flower

The synergy of movement processes is a very complex affair, full of fluid, streaming impulses which have no names yet in our Western culture. Trying to capture and reveal the essence of these movements is like trying to hold smoke in our hands. But the inherent joy in dancing these forms continues to delight and challenge us today. Contra dance, sacred circle dance, esctastic dance, folk dance and social dance from all cultures are all available for us to experience dance as movement history.

A Deeper Look

In looking deeper into the processes of movement, we learn that physical movement begins as an inner soul gesture in the human being.  With practice and study we come to understand that the movement of our “finer” bodies, our etheric and astral bodies, precedes the physical gesture of a movement.  Physical movement starts with movement of the etheric, the life body and the astral, the body of feeling. The physical body follows, entering into the space already prepared by the movement of the finer bodies.

We begin our movement with a voluntary intention, whether to put on our sock or reach for a cup or skip in a ring. In our intention to move, we are already in movement with our finer, non-physical bodies.  In the field of Dance Imagery, this is called “being ahead of yourself.”  Dr. Michaela Glockler, in her lecture on movement on February 21, 2001, tells us that recent studies in medical science show that the intention to move creates measurable changes of temperature and increased neurological activity in our bodies.  Current research on imagery and mental practice offer examples of how our intention to move can be measured materially without outward motion and how this might benefit health, rehabilitation, and mastery.

Eurythmy, Dance, Gymnastics and Sports

After a lively folk dance evening at the West Coast Waldorf teachers’ conference in February, 2001, Dr. Michaela Glockler spoke of the place of dance in the hierarchy of healthy movement organization of the human being.   While sports games form a bridge between the physical and etheric bodies, gymnastic movements harmonize the bridge between the physical/etheric and astral realms.  Eurythmy connects the ego with the spirit self, and dance brings all to “full astral expression” in uniting the astral with the ego.  Dr. Glockler offered the following schema on the blackboard:

  • Eurythmy harmonizes ego and spirit self
  • Dance harmonizes astral and ego
  • Gymnastics and practiced exercises harmonizes etheric and astral
  • Sports and games harmonizes physical and etheric
Social Dance in High School Movment Class

Social Dance in Education

We can begin to observe this phenomenon in every social dance. In my workshops, we practice circles, spirals, doubling, reversing, and relating to one another in every single dance form. Teens and adults dance Bransles to waltz, Lindy Hop and salsa. Toddlers play singing games in Mommy and Me and preschool. Grade school classes can take Play Party games to a whole new level, with a sword dance for middle schoolers. Through these exercises, we truly experience dance as movement history.

from Introduction to Dance As Movement History  ©AWSNA 2001 revised Valerie Baadh 2014

Music For Dancing is a CD created from my best tunes for teaching dance for older students and adults. It includes music for bransles, pavanne, waltz, swing, polka, tango and more, and is available in our Shop.

Many thanks to my teachers Jaimen McMillan, Alheidis von Bothmer, Aaron Osborne, Bella Lewitzky, Donald McKayle, Angiola Sartorio and others who have finely articulated a dance and movement vocabulary for me. I’ve tried to apply your wisdom to the widest view of this journey, from the cosmic to the vernacular, in viewing human dance as movement history.

Follow me @Healthy Movement on Twitter and keep up as I follow research and opportunities to learn more about social dance in education.

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