A stampede of children gallop through the dance studio, arms zipping back and forth like lizard tongues, squealing and skidding to a halt in front of the wall before they veer back around to regain lost speed. The game is freeze dance and I think my movement instruction was, “Run around like electric monkeys!”
Abstract? Definitely. Hard to execute? Not in the least. Teaching groups of six through ten year-olds at summer dance camps, I’m reminded of children’s deep capacity for movement interpretation and it reenergizes my reverence for kinesthetic synthesis.
One of Merriam-Webster’s definitions for kinesthesia is, “A sense mediated by receptors located in the muscles, tendons and joints and stimulated by bodily movements and tensions.” And for synthesis, “The combining of often diverse conceptions into a coherent whole.”
We synthesize our kinesthetic perceptions of the world when we combine diverse elements or ideas using the tool of our ‘felt sense’. In other words – our bodies. I could yell out simpler freeze dance commands, such as, “Skip!” or “Bounce!” or “Only shoulder movement!” and I often include these options in the game. But what I’m reminded of this week as I work, is how willing kids are to personify seemingly dissonant ideas with complete commitment. Electric monkeys? We know electric and we know monkey, but what does it mean to be both at once? Children often relish the opportunity to blend dissonance into coherence – it is one of the many reasons why their light is so precious amidst the more heady and conforming aspects of society. Not only do they take on these challenges with abandon, they are willing to access their kinesthetic awareness to do so, which in my opinion, is one of our most profound human capabilities. Physical improvisation is a particularly scary prospect for many adults who learn to avoid their bodies and in doing so deny the information stored within this wonderful resource. But before we decide what is ‘foolish’ and what is ‘mature’, before we learn that there are behavioral norms for grown ups and before we heed these behavioral norms steadfastly to gain acceptance, we know the true essence of play. We know it when we’re young. And then we forget.
The electric monkeys, the lazy bumblebees and the saltwater taffy parrots continue overtaking the dance studio and eventually the game becomes even more abstract than it was to begin with.
“Dance the color blue!”
The kids don’t even hesitate. They are knee deep in the moment and the moment is governed by the color blue. They don’t let their minds cut off the instincts of their muscles. They navigate with the compass of their body. Modern dance stereotypes often play on this super abstraction – making fun of what some may see as vague and overly dramatic movement. What happens during this particular game of freeze dance is just the opposite. It’s what creates the ‘it’ factor in performers – when the beauty of kinesthetic synthesis meets the prowess of technique. These kids are learning all about technique at dance camp and it’s easier for some more than others. What they all bring to the table though, is a willingness to let the body speak and to let dissonant ideas meet each other in a place beyond limitation. It reminds me to go for it when I’m making art. To never get stuck behind the phrase,
“I can’t think of anything new to do.”
Perhaps you have to play freeze dance every day for two weeks straight to remember it, but the world is not missing new ideas. We adults, afraid to use our entire vessel in the exploration of an incongruent yet divine world, are only missing the willingness to try them out.