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Embodying Consent

Last November I had the pleasure of participating in the Toronto Dance Community Love-In‘s class “Aggressive Snuggling: From the Politics of Touch to the Poetics of Touch”, facilitated by Eroca Nichols – a class that combined aspects of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Contact Improvisation to offer an approach to partnered movement and touch that highlighted an incredible clarity of boundaries and consent.

I decided to attend the classes out of a personal and professional curiosity about consent and touch, especially in relation to working within a dance/movement framework. My main question was: What are some of the ways in which we can facilitate touch in sessions in a safe and consensual way?

Touch can be such a powerful way of communicating – a hand on your shoulder when you’re feeling vulnerable, a group hug after a difficult disclosure – and yet, our relationship to touch, both giving and receiving it, is so often lacking in awareness and clarity.

What I appreciated most about Eroca’s classes was that any time we engaged in touch, it was always with clear intention and consent. By checking in before coming into contact, and having a pre-defined way of saying no (both verbally and non-verbally) if we were at all uncomfortable or needed to pause, it created a safe space for us to explore relating to each other in different ways using physical contact. In other words, because it was part of the culture of the class that we always had the freedom to say yes or no, or change our minds at any point, we were more able to take risks and feel safe in doing so.

Knowing that I could say no, at any time, and that it would always be respected, was an incredibly powerful experience for me. So many times in life our no’s are not heard, valued, or respected, and when that happens enough times, it’s easy to believe that our no is worthless. This is especially true for anyone who belongs to a minority group or a group of people who have traditionally been oppressed by patriarchal systems. And if you’ve experienced this, you’ll know that it can make saying no in the first place feel next to impossible.

That’s why this experience was so profound for me. I was given the chance to re-educate myself in an embodied way that my no actually means no. After years of being conditioned to believe otherwise by societal beliefs that traditionally devalue the opinions and subjective experiences of women, I was now being told on many levels – physically, emotionally, mentally, and relationally – that my voice matters, that my no matters, and that I matter.

This experience was so profound for me that I knew I needed to incorporate it into my work. I decided that I wanted to facilitate this process for other people, using my skills as a Dance Movement Therapist and the tools I learned in these classes, so that others could have the chance to experience the incredible power and healing that this process offered to me.

That’s why I’ll be facilitating a workshop on February 24th, in partnership with the Common People Shop, to offer people the chance to embody consent in a culture that so often teaches us to do otherwise. Check it out on our Workshops page or buy your tickets here.

Hope to see you there!

-Jessica Houghton, Dance Movement Therapist

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Moving into a New Year

For many of us, crossing into the New Year marks an important shift. It’s an opportunity to start fresh, reflect, let go of the things that weren’t so great about the past year, set our intentions for the year ahead, and recommit to the things we value most.

And while I’m a big supporter of setting intentions, whether it’s for the year ahead or even just for this moment, I know how hard it can be to follow through with our intentions once we’ve set them. It’s so easy to make these big plans for ourselves and believe that this year will be different – this year we will make the changes we want to see in our lives.

The trouble is that we have no idea what the year ahead has in store for us. 2018 might be the best year of your life so far, with endless opportunities and personal victories, or it might involve a lot of uphill battles and unfair obstacles. There’s no way of knowing!

That’s why this year, I’ll be setting an intention that is practically foolproof, regardless of what happens in life – good or bad. This intention isn’t about changing something about myself. It isn’t about making a promise that I may or may not be able to keep. That’s why I’m calling it an intention, and not a resolution.

My intention for 2018 is simply to learn.

To get to know myself even more, discover new resources within myself, become aware of my patterns of relating to others, what past events might have lead me to be this way, and how I want to shape my future.

And my plan for following through with this intention is to continue my personal learning process through an ongoing commitment to being in therapy.

I can honestly say that being in therapy has taught me more about life than years of schooling ever could have. The more I learn about myself, the richer my life becomes, and the better I get at following through with my goals. Since starting therapy, the quality of my relationships have improved across the board, my ability to make changes in my life has continued to develop, and with each new resources I come to know in myself, the better I am at helping others discover their own.

And while I know that not everyone’s intentions for the next year are the same as my own, I would argue that being in therapy would be helpful in accomplishing almost every goal, intention, or resolution that you wish to set.

Obviously, being a therapist myself means that I’d love for you to engage with some of the services I offer. But I also know that finding the right therapist or type of psychotherapy makes a huge difference in how effective the therapy will be. That’s why I’m also happy to refer you on to one of the many skilled and compassionate therapists I know, either in Canada or the UK.

If you do decide you’d like to try Dance Movement Therapy with me, there are many ways for you to do so – whether it’s a free individual trial session, attending the open day for our weekly Moving Women group on January 14th, or participating in one of the workshops I’ll be offering in the New Year!

Please get in touch and let me know what your intentions are for the year ahead. I’d love to help you find a way to see them through!

-Jessica Houghton, Dance Movement Therapist

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Finding my way home

Stress has a way of messing with our priorities. It can make it feel easier to tackle the thing that is immediately in front of us, and lose sight of the bigger picture. Well, I can relate. Stress has, at times, found its way between me and the most important things in my life. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “You can’t see the wood for the trees”, and for me, I can’t see my passion for all the stress!

But when I step back to look at the whole forest, I can see what I was missing: Dance.

Dance has always been my home. It’s the place I go to feel safe, to find relief, to express, to be happy, to feel alive. Dance has continually shaped and changed my life. It has been my passion for so long, that I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t identify as a dancer. I’m one of the lucky people who was given the gift of dance at an early age. I got to grow up knowing the joy and exhilaration of expressing myself through dance, and now, I get to share that gift of dance with people in the most pure and enriching way I’ve known it, through Dance Movement Therapy.

One of my favourite quotes comes from Rosa Shreeves, a dance artist and Dance Movement Psychotherapist in the UK, whose work I came across while doing some reading before starting my MA, and stumbled upon again while going through some old notes I took at the time.

“To dance is in the deepest sense of the word to be more vividly.”

And that was it. That quote made me think “YES! That’s why I dance! That’s what I want to share!”

Shreeves hit the nail right on the head so precisely that I couldn’t find more perfect words if I tried my whole life! That is exactly how I feel when I dance – that I am the most fully alive that I could possibly be. That I am feeling vividly, experiencing vividly, living vividly, being vividly!

And so when I find ways to step back from all of life’s stresses, it’s clear to me that unless I’m dancing, I’m not really living. So whenever I find myself back in Stress Forest, I make the conscious decision to get myself back in the studio, back on the dance floor, and back to dancing my heart out. Because if I’m not living with passion, joy, and dance, then what’s the point of going through the woods at all?

This blog post isn’t about self-help. I don’t have any advice to give. I don’t have steps for you to follow to make you believe in dance. I just have myself, my passion, and my belief. So if you’d like to come share in my love of dance and all of the joy, healing, learning, and enlivening that comes with it, please get in touch. Let’s meet and move together and celebrate this gift of dance.

Until then, stay well and keep moving!

-Jessica Houghton, Dance Movement Therapist

DMP

Why Dance Movement Therapy isn’t just for “dancers”

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about what might get in the way of someone trying Dance Movement Therapy, what obstacles there are to overcome before you can commit to coming to a session. One of the things I’ve heard from clients is that the dance/movement aspect can feel intimidating if you’re not someone who identifies as a “dancer”. My goal for writing this blog is to try to put some of those fears to rest.

But first, if you need a bit of clarity around what DMT is or why you would consider it as an option for therapy, you can read my other two blog posts here.

So – Dance Movement Therapy – there it is, first word, right off the bat: DANCE. I actually know quite a few DMTs who refer to themselves as Movement Psycho/therapists because of the implications the word dance has. I’ve chosen not to do that because I feel that dance is such an integral part of the process and I don’t want to negate that by taking it out of the title.

I’m not denying that dance can be a scary experience: moving our bodies can feel vulnerable and exposing, especially if there are other people in the space, as there are in DMT groups. But I want to assure you, the therapy space is a safe space. There is no room for judgement. There is no right or wrong way to move, and we will celebrate your dancing body regardless of what your movement looks like.

Another thing that you may find reassuring, is that everyone is moving and focused on their own experience and body. For example, in a warm-up, we might do a moving body scan, going through each part and asking the question “what does my (shoulder/back/foot) need right now?”. The focus is inwards, and people may even move with their eyes closed to start, to help them focus on what’s happening in their body. At other times in the session we might move in pairs or as a group, but I would only start a group with this if they had been moving together for some time.

In the session we will engage in verbal reflection as a group, and when we do everyone is encouraged to speak from the “I”. So when I talk about a movement exchange I had with someone, I might say “I noticed that I felt hesitant to make eye contact when we moved together. I found it easier to focus on the scarves we were moving with instead.” I would NOT say “Your movement was weird. I didn’t like it.” We always want to hear how and what you’re feeling, but not at the expense of someone else’s self-confidence.

In our DMT groups we celebrate difference. One of the things I love most about DMT, is that each person in the group is coming in with their own unique way of moving and being. That’s what makes it so exciting! Moving in a circle I may see someone moving in a way that looks totally different to how I move, and if I were to “try on” that person’s movement it could tell me something about my own preferences or patterns of moving.

The other thing to remember is that a DMT session is not a class. I do not teach anyone how to dance in sessions. All of the movement we do is spontaneous, creative, or improvised. I might suggest certain ways of moving – quick, sharp, loose, free, soft, strong – but these are suggestions, not instructions. You are never required to do anything you don’t want to do.

I think that one of the other reasons why DMT feels intimidating to people is that we spend so much of our day to day life thinking, and when we do connect with our bodies, so often we are focused on trying to improve it – whether that’s at the gym, in a yoga class, or going for a run. Now I’m not saying that those practices are bad in any way, what I mean is that connecting to our feeling, sensing, expressing , vulnerable physical bodies is not something many people practice regularly, so it can feel a bit scary to start off.

That’s why we take it in steps –  we start with a short check-in to see where we are, then we move into a warm-up, nothing too crazy, just getting into our bodies and getting the blood pumping, next we might try moving with other people, or not, touching a bit on what that might be bringing up for us emotionally. There’s always space to step back if things are moving too quickly, and we take time to reflect verbally throughout. It’s really not until half way through the session that we might start looking at the emotional content or themes that may be present for us that day. And you always decide how deeply you want to work. Maybe you’re feeling too overwhelmed or stressed from other life events, and we just work with embodied movement and keep things a little playful or lighter. Maybe you’re feeling ready to dig deep and have something specific you’re curious about. Almost anything goes!

And at the end of the day, you have confidentiality. No one – not other group members, and especially not the therapist – will be telling anyone outside of the session about what was going on for anyone but themselves. That’s all discussed and agreed on at the beginning of the group. Everyone is free to talk about their own experiences, how they felt and what came up for them, but that’s their story, they’re not going to be sharing yours.

Well, I think that’s all I’ve got to say on this topic. I hope this has been helpful for you and that I see you in a group soon!

Looking forward to moving together,

-Jessica Houghton (Dance Movement Therapist)

DMP

Why choose Dance Movement Therapy?

Sometimes I think the hardest part about being a Dance Movement Therapist is convincing people to give it a chance. Once we’re in the room and moving together, that’s when the value of the process becomes clear. But starting therapy, even a form as widely known as psychoanalysis or cognitive behavioural therapy, can be intimidating enough as it is. I’m asking you to take a chance on something you’ve probably never even heard of before! It’s a lot to ask, I know, and that’s why I’m writing these blogs.

In my first blog, I wrote about what DMT is and what a session might look like to give you an idea of what you’d be getting yourself into. My goal in writing this blog is to share a little bit of my own experiences with DMT and why I chose it, in the hope that it might inspire you to consider DMT as an option for therapy.

So, why did I choose Dance Movement Therapy?

Dance has always brought a lot of joy to my life. The freedom and connection that I experience while dancing have given me some incredibly fulfilling moments: moments where I feel alive and awake to the incredible depth and richness of sensations in my body, and moments where I feel I am most fully myself. These experiences have at different times brought healing, growth, and purpose to my life.

When I first heard about DMT, I couldn’t quite believe it: I had found a career that brought together my love for dance and my desire to share the dance experience with others. So the choice was easy for me, in fact, it seemed inevitable. Since doing my training as a DMT, my passion for the modality has only grown. The more I learn and facilitate, the more convinced I am in the power of dance as a tool for healing and growth.

For me, DMT is a way of incorporating the moving, feeling, expressing body into everyday life. I am constantly surprised by how much wisdom and instinctual knowledge are present in my body. There is always something new and rich and exciting whenever I give myself the space to stop thinking and start moving, and yet, it feels like the ways of accessing our body’s resources aren’t readily available in our culture of fast-paced, thought-oriented living.

So often we put the mind at the top of the hierarchy, neglecting the importance and intelligence of the body, emotions, and other felt senses. In DMT, we seek not only to bring the body and mind closer together (hierarchically) through bringing the moving, expressing body into the forefront of the therapeutic process, but also to encourage the idea that maybe the mind and body aren’t so separate after all.

This is addressed through the process of embodiment – an important concept that you wouldn’t always find in a talk therapy session. There are slightly different definitions of this term depending on where you’re encountering it, but for our purposes, let’s think of embodiment as the process of bringing the body and mind together, of coming into and being in the body.

Through embodied movement I can feel integrated and connected, and have access to all of the instinct, wisdom, and resources held within my body. It is one of the main reasons why I feel DMT is so effective. When I embody an emotion, I can feel it coming to life within my body. As I move with it and follow the impulse to its completion, it can allow for a release and transition to something different.

To give you an idea of what this might look like, I’ll use an example from one of the experiential aspects of a course in my DMT training, where we were experimenting with embodying depression. Embodying this state made my movements much smaller and I drew myself into a ball on the floor, hugging my legs tightly to my chest and hiding my face. Our professor asked us to make our expression as fully embodied as possible, and the energy of my movement changed as I started pulling in with my arms and pushing against them with my legs, creating a rocking movement. As I followed through with the movement I continued to push my legs into my arms and resist against that until eventually I burst open, lying back on the floor with my arms and legs outstretched, breathing deeply and freely. In this position I found grounding, balance, and openness, or as my professor put it “the antidote”.

Had I sat down and thought about what the antidote to my depression might be rather than embodying and moving through it, I doubt I would have arrived at my open position lying on the floor, but when I trusted my body and movement to lead me instead, I found exactly what I needed.

The embodied therapeutic movement practice has offered me a new perspective about myself: maybe I don’t have to look outwards to find solutions, the answers I need are already in me, and if I can just let them move and breathe they will become clear. This is what DMP has given me, and part of what I hope to share with others.

I could go on listing and explaining all the ways that DMT continues to enrich my life, but then I would be writing and you would be reading for so long that we might never be able to move again! So I’ll stop writing for now, and thank you for taking the time to read this. If you’re interested in what you’ve read or have any questions, please feel free to get in touch via the contact page. Also, I offer free consultation appointments so please let me know if you’d like to give DMT a try!

Thanks again,

-Jessica Houghton (Dance Movement Therapist)

DMP

“So, what IS Dance Movement Therapy?”

“…and what do you do Jessica?”
“I’m a Dance Movement Therapist.”
*confused look* “A what?”
“A Dance Movement Therapist.”
*blank stare*

It’s the start of many conversations I’ve had recently, especially since moving back to Canada after completing my training in the UK. And while most of the time I’m more than happy to explain, I can feel myself shrinking inside every time I see someone start to tune out as I dive into one of my various definitions of the profession.

So far, it seems that the best way to explain what DMT is, is by doing it. Words just aren’t enough to convey the complexity and richness of what DMT has to offer. And yet, here I am, writing a blog in attempt to find another way in, because while I’m happy to offer free trial sessions to people who are interested, I need a way to reach those people who, for whatever reason, might find it difficult to get to a session.

So here goes!

What IS Dance Movement Therapy (DMT)?

“DMT is a relational process in which client/s and therapist engage in an empathic creative process using body movement and dance to assist integration of emotional, cognitive, physical, social and spiritual aspects of self.” (www.admp.org.uk)

But what does that mean?! “A relational process” seems straightforward enough – two or more people engaging in a therapeutic relationship based on empathy and trust, where one person (the therapist) is trained to be aware of the different layers of interaction taking place and offer feedback and support to the client(s) while they explore some aspect of their personal process. But that could be said about pretty much any type of therapy. This next bit is what makes DMT different: “an empathetic creative process using body movement and dance to assist in the integration of emotional, cognitive, physical, social and spiritual aspects of self.” Phew! Let’s tackle that part piece by piece.

Hopefully empathy is a term we all understand (if not, click here for a quick definition). “Creative process” refers to the artistic aspects of process used in DMT, i.e. dance and creative (improvised) movement, and is similar to the creative process used by some dance artists.

HOWEVER, the dance and movement aspects of DMT are not taught! Meaning that DMT is not a dance class, nor are Dance Movement Therapists (DMTs) dance teachers. This is also part of what makes DMT different from therapeutic or applied dance, which are dance classes that are tailored to be accessible for a wide variety of populations, like what Miriam Schacter is doing with danceABILITIES. This differentiation can be a bit confusing, so I’ll write more on it another time.

Right, moving on to the last bit of our definition: “to assist in the integration of emotional, cognitive, physical, social and spiritual aspects of self.” All of these layers of the human experience can be accessed through the act of embodied movement. Also, DMTs believe that the body, mind, and emotions are interconnected, and that the three are mutually influential. This means that any changes experienced physically or in movement are reflected in changes on emotional or psychological levels as well.

For example, imagine that you’re coming into an individual DMT session. You’ve had a hard day and are feeling pretty depressed. This is expressed through your posture – sagging shoulders, lowered gaze, limp arms, and a lack of expression in your face. Your therapist notices this and reflects your movement back to you. This gives you the chance to become aware of your starting place, and offers a way to (literally) see how you’re feeling.

As you begin to warm up, your therapists asks “how does your body feel in this moment?”. You start to notice a lot of tension in your upper body. Your shoulders are tight and your breathing feels restricted. Your therapist encourages you to explore the areas that feel tense, experimenting with different qualities of movement. What happens when you actively contract your muscles, exaggerating the tension? What happens when you release?

As you continue exploring movements in your upper body, your therapist asks if there are any words or emotions that come along with the movements. Starting first with contracting movements, you notice that this feels as though you’re trying to protect yourself. When you release and open, you sense a lightness in your body that is reflected in your mood.

Throughout the session these feelings and movements return in different ways, and your therapist facilitates explorations of these qualities, both in movement and through verbal communication. Together you discover a connection between these movement themes and some events in your life that are making you feel this way.

The session described above is not a real session and the client is also fictional. It is merely an example of what might happen in an individual therapy session. One of the things I love about DMT is that it can look completely different depending on who is in the session and how they’re feeling that day. The session could involve a lot of movement, a combination of movement and verbal reflection, or more time spent talking. The movement aspects may take place seated and explore posture and gesture, or could include dancing to music and using props like scarves, balls, or stretchy fabric. Regardless of what it looks like, the session is centred around the client(s) and their needs, which makes DMT an incredibly adaptable option for therapy.

I could carry on about the many benefits of DMT, but I think I’ll leave that for another post. I hope this has given you a good idea of what DMT is, and what a session might look like. Please let me know what you think, and ask any questions that this post may have inspired either by commenting below or via the contact page. Thanks for reading!

-Jessica Houghton (Dance Movement Therapist)