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Movement is defined as “an act of changing physical location or position or of having this changed”. Art is defined as “a diverse range of human activities and the products of those activities.”
Movement Arts: a diverse range of human activities involving physical movement and the products of those activities.
It seems like for most children, Movement is natural and fun. A child learns to walk without the self consciousness of falling. With each shaky step, they discover a new technique, a more efficient process and eventually their walk will become a run. Learning to move is a daily discovery, filled with curiosity, spontaneity and uninhibited enlightenment.
When I was young, I was obsessed with swinging. I remember Saturday mornings… getting up at the crack of dawn, the rest of the house still deep in sleep. I would quietly creep out the backdoor, dewy grass beneath my bare feet, to swing for hours, back and forth, losing track of time and space, just moving blissfully through the air
Swinging was not the only movement that inspired me. I was that girl with permanent bloody knees and scrapes from climbing fences, trees, flipping and contorting my body in the front yard, riding bikes “no-handed,” running around with our two little Dachshunds and trying to get boys to pass me the ball on the soccer field.
As I grew, the front yard flips gave way to gymnastics, while running and jumping, proved to be useful for soccer. Ultimately I had to choose a focus, and the next decade and a half was dedicated to blood, sweat, tears and futebol. Playing soccer gave movement meaning beyond the physical. I learned valuable lessons on commitment, determination, perseverance, and being part of something bigger than myself.
Post soccer career, I was living in Denver when a good friend dragged me to a Yoga class kicking and screaming. I loved dynamic movement and Yoga seemed like a boring stretch. Unbeknownst to me, Yoga would become a foundational movement practice in my life. The integration was evident when I moved to DC, working for several years at an AIDS Hospice. The practice of yoga was an integral avenue to embodiment and breath, crucial in the field of death and dying. Yoga bestowed tangible benefits beyond the physical, such as cultivating real presence, learning to breathe and develop awareness of somatic sensation.
Currently I practice and teach Yoga on a regular basis. I also seriously train in Martial Arts or what could be defined as Combat Sports.
The physical movement or “asana” of Yoga offers a safe space to breath, experience full range of motion, practice alignment and natural architecture of the body. On a good day, I am able to slow down enough, to discern subtle bodily sensations. These sensations provide clues to diagnosis my emotional and mental state. With that knowledge I am able to make conscious decisions to alter habitual patterns. (Of course, not that easy, but the opportunity is available.) After the physical practice, I feel more open and grounded in my body, which permeates through the rest of my life.
Through Martial Arts, I am called to execute technique and remember to breathe while under stress and conflict. I have to make non-emotional decisions, in the moment, while sensing my partner’s movement, energy and strategy. Martial Arts offer a physical outlet to release stress in a dynamic, engaging environment, requiring exquisite mental focus.
I define these types of Movement as Art, as they offer a diverse range of physical activity, and provide a container to express other mental and emotional human capacities. The Physical activity acts as a canvas for creative and integrative self expression. Any Movement, Dance, Rock Climbing, Functional training, etc can be considered Art if it calls forth our fullest human potential, while providing an avenue for higher education and lifelong learning.
So how is pursuing “Fitness” different than pursuing “Movement Arts”?
As a current “Fitness Professional”, most of my work revolves around the Body. As an Activist, I cannot separate the Human Body from the societal and cultural norms of image, acceptance, and shame. I am constantly asking the question, “What defines fitness? Who defines fitness? And what is it that we are trying to achieve by gaining this so-called ideal physicality? As a woman and a human, I have struggled at times with body image. Is my body okay compared to our cultures ideal image of “being fit”?
As a little girl, I never thought twice about how my body was viewed, I just loved living in it. So what happens as we enter adulthood? For many of us, our lives become more complex, and movement or “exercise” becomes a chore. Something we “have” to do in order to burn calories, stay in shape, lose weight, or obtain a culturally-approved body image. We have more responsibility, more stress, and less time to do it all in. We also develop insecurities and inhibitions based on how others view us and the need for acceptance/ belonging. The desire to achieve culturally defined “fitness” can replace our opportunity to do something we truly enjoy, to discover something about ourselves, to express who we are or who we desire to become. (Disclaimer: in using the word “fitness” I am using the most basic colloquial definition. According to textbook, fitness is defined as “one’s ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment.” This leaves a gap to interpret “survival” as not just physical, but also mental, emotional, etc.)
From my perspective, pursuing “Movement Arts” is different from pursuing “Fitness” (as defined by popular culture) because the primary benefit is not simply a physical state. The primary benefit is the enjoyment of the activity itself, while achieving the mental/emotional products, engaging in progressive learning, with the improved physique as a tertiary benefit.
“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” – Mary Oliver
Stay tuned for Part 2 and 3 of the Movement Arts Series.