In a democratic school such as ours, where students direct their own learning, students are exposed to a highly social environment. Students are constantly learning how to navigate this environment in ways that work for their own unique self. This includes navigating relationships with lots of other human beings – beings of different ages and with different belief systems, temperaments, and communication styles. This can be a lot! There can be lots of conflict, conflict with others and inner conflict too.
These conflicts offer us the opportunity to grow and develop ourselves but how to do this is not always clear to us. One thing that can help is allowing ourselves to experience our emotions and express them in a healthy way as this can lead to a greater awareness of ourselves, and of others, which in turn can help us to manage ourselves in such a way as to make responsible decisions and also to build and maintain healthy relationships.
Of course, how to do this is not always clear either, or comfortable (!) but I think most would agree, it is important. After all these competencies of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision making and relationship building that we can develop in our school environment are transferable to all areas of our life and are utilised for all our life.
So, where to start? Consciously experiencing our feelings, expressing our feelings and experiencing the transformation of one feeling into the next feeling can greatly help us to develop our self-awareness and in turn our self-management. It can also greatly assist our nervous system in coming back into balance if it has been out of balance, for example due to experiencing stress – such as from pent up emotion. One medium that’s really good for doing this is dance.
Dance is a non-verbal form of expression that allows us to focus on what we are thinking or feeling or sensing in the body and then release that through physically moving our body in a way that we feel expresses what’s going on for us. To find your dance is to find yourself, at your most fluid and creative level. The movement facilitates the expression of the emotion or set of emotions that we are feeling. Often, we feel emotions that we don’t actually have a word, or words, to describe because of the limits of language. You might feel an emotion that there isn’t a word that particularly describes it – sadness might be close to describing it, or anger, but it might be a mix of the two, or it might be something else. But where language has that limitation, dance or movement doesn’t. You can move your body in whichever it feels like as you attune to it – whether that’s jumping up and down and stamping or very gently twirling your hand or stretching your back or spinning around or putting your hands in the air – they’re all different types of expression. And as you connect with your body, your body will inevitable guide you as it knows what it needs to do, what it in needs to express in order to bring itself back into balance. Just like a sneeze or a yawn!
So, in our self-directed dance activity that we have once a week, we come together in a space and we dance. It’s like a movement meditation. The music supports the movement and goes through a wave like flow generally starting in a slow, quiet manner inviting us to attune to our inner self, building to a more vibrant, energetic, chaotic rhythm that invites us to shake it all out before gradually returning to a stillness where we can return home after letting it all go so we can let it be.
Within the 45 minute wave of music there are many invitations to many different parts of ourselves to express themselves. Of course, accepting these invitations is not always easy as there can be a large element of self-consciousness. Moving yourself in a way that you truly feel like can feel quite exposing. Exposing different parts of ourselves in this way can evoke feelings of vulnerability in us and, sometimes, discomfort. So a key thing for the space that we create is that it is safe. It is an emotionally safe place to express yourself. So as you move, and as you expose parts of yourself that feel vulnerable, you experience that it is safe, that you are safe from harm. You are in a safe place to express yourself, to be yourself. Sometimes simply by looking around the room and seeing others expressing themselves it becomes easier to give yourself permission to do the same. This experience can be quite transformative.
We started our self-directed dance activity in September 2019 when we created our first co-created curriculum, and it has remained on the menu since then. We come together each Wednesday with a playlist of about 45 minutes of music. The playlist is put together by one of us which in itself offers the creator the opportunity to attune, reflect and express themselves through their choices of music – it can be quite a personal process. We do a quick optional check in about what we might be bringing with us to the dance today and what we may wish to focus on or what we hope to transform and leave with. And then we dance. And sometimes it’s loud and boisterous with lots of interactions between us all and sometimes it’s quieter and more introspective. Each time is unique. Each time is what it is. We then do a quick optional check out to share our experience and how we are now and then we part. Generally the reports back are that the person has managed to process something that’s been on their minds or something came up that they’re weren’t aware of and they’ve managed to work through it or some of it. Overall, there’s just that sense of this feels good, I feel grounded, I’m grateful I can do this in school and I’m glad I did this today.
Ideally, in my world, we’d have dance on the menu every day – but we are just starting out on our journey so we’ll be patient, knowing that the best is yet to come…
“I have come to drag you out of yourself and take you in my heart. I have come to bring out the beauty you never know you had and lift you like a prayer to the sky.” ~Rumi