When Getting it Right is Getting it Wrong

movementA side effect of being so self-conscious is that I excel at turning any activity into an exercise of compare and contrast. Especially the ones that are meant to be fun.

Take a party last weekend; after the meal and numerous bottles of wine, the night rolled into a silly, interpretive dance on the living room floor. We flung our limbs about with commitment, twisted our faces up in mock torture and spent an appropriate amount of time evolving from buds into blossoming flowers. Whilst everyone else giggled away, I, between concentrating on making precise, controlled movements and choosing a repertoire that might give my four years of childhood ballet a chance of getting spotted, remembered every so often to laugh.

Self-preoccupation is not fun, and for years I have attempted to think my way out it, which has only strengthened its grip.

Last month, I started seeing a therapist, but rather than fixing my problems, I found my main concern became making sure she felt adequately entertained during our sessions. On one occasion she let slip a yawn whilst I was in the middle of an anxious ponder on whether I was ‘an interesting person’ or not. I decided then, that if my therapeutic goal was to get out of my own head and stop being so self-conscious, I’d better find a less cerebral and more private approach.

‘Movement Workshop’ is part of the arsenal of alternative therapies my friend Amy throws at herself to bomb out the despair. Once a week, in a fusty church hall, twelve humans commune on a floor of colourful plastic mats to moan, howl, thrust, and bray their way into their subconscious. She describes it as a, ‘voyage of non-cerebral self-discovery’, an opportunity to close the eyes, switch off the mind and give in to ‘The Body’ –  The idea being ‘The Body’ has an intelligence of its own, and by moving in whichever way it directs, it releases blocked energy, pent up anxiety and helps untangle the mind… I sign up!

Stepping into the church hall, a sprightly, older woman draped in gemstones and neutral linen graces her way over. ‘Hi there, hello, welcome, hi’, she purrs.

‘I’m Cynthia, your instructor, so good to see you’, and she plants her hands, a museum of chunky silver, around my shoulder blades.

‘My name’s Emma’, I say, peeling away to try and address her face.

‘Yes, yes’ she confirms for me, eyes pin-balling about my face in delight and smiling prophetically as if our encounter was written. For a moment, I allow myself to fantasise that perhaps she is seeing in me a new protégée, but before I can go too far with celebrating an undiscovered talent, she’s leading me around to meet the rest of the group.

First I meet Pamela, a middle-aged woman, lying on the floor and thrusting her pelvis up and down wildly in a warm-up exercise.

‘Welcome to group’, Pamela pants, her crotch gathering the momentum to match the Jolly Roger at Chessington World of Adventures. Weaving in and out of the other movers in a walking meditation, are two older women, Gertie and Rain, their long breasts knocking about freely underneath a thin layer of cotton.

Then I met Hales; a woman wrapped in tie-dye and toe rings. ‘Congratulations’, she says stroking my arm, and launching into her powerful experience in ‘Workshop’ last week.

‘Since my rebirthing, I feel like I have the permission to really be the person I am, do you know what I mean?.’ I nod quickly and vigorously, hoping to offset a flinch I feel slip. Apparently last week, forming a grunting puzzle of bodies the group created a makeshift womb and Hales was given birth to again. This time without the cold metal forceps, without her screeching, traumatised mother and all in under ten minutes owing to the fact the Girl Guides took over the church hall from seven.

‘Okay movers let’s gather,’ Cynthia says and everyone dutifully forms a cluster in the middle of the room.

‘Hi’, Cynthia says, trailing motherly eyes across the group and grinning as if she were keeper of some very special secret. ‘Hi Cynthia!’, the group promptly resonate back.

‘As usual I’ll be breaking you into two groups. Group one will ‘move’ first while group two will observe and then we’ll swap, okay?’

‘Observe! ‘Shit’, I think, in a panic. ‘People are going to be watching me ‘Let Go’?’

‘Remember, observing and tracking one’s own inner response to a mover is an equally important part of our process here’, says Cynthia, as she gently touches shoulders to shore us up into two groups.

By a miracle I find myself in group two, observing first, giving me a chance to find out what ‘Authentic Movement’, as the term goes, actually looks like.

Group one close their eyes and begin. At first many of them don’t do anything at all, clearly it takes time to surrender control to the body and await its instruction. Then suddenly arms begin to swing left and right and knees sway. Some of the group start to move around the space, eyes still closed like a litter of newborn hamsters.

As they get into it I notice a lot of variations on the fetal position, which is usually combined with muted howling and crawling, I see is also popular. At one point a group of movers find each other in the middle and entwining their bodies, begin some sort of dance, navigating around the space in a roaming knot of limbs, like a psychedelic Ganesha.

I’ve taken notes, and by the time group one are parting their eyelids and sighing in gratitude at one another, I have already choreographed a routine.

It begins with the obligatory moment of stillness, and I allow it to stretch out a whole minute. Then after a little swaying, I take the fetal position, rocking back and forth in an oblong, before turning on to my back and waving my limbs about in the air like an overturned beetle. Suddenly conscious that those in the first group, now watching me, might recognise their own moves in my routine and so I decide to come up with something signature. After much deliberating, spent rocking in the corner, I lie on my side and bring my knees up to my chest. I clasp my hands out above my head. Then I push my hands and knees out behind me, forming a backward ‘C’, and pump and shuffle along the floor like this. Ridiculous, but one of the only arrangements still available.

Eventually I hit a wall in more ways than one and decide to tone it down. Just as I’m trying to figure out where to go next I get my answer as I become aware of an eager presence closing in. Someone, I assume, is looking to dance! I roll away quickly, face screwed up in a frown to convey the message that I’m following my innermost impulse and not just being a bad sport! I then buy myself some time throwing my hands up and down like a caged chimp until Cynthia lulls us out of our ‘inner space’ and invites us to form a big circle on the floor for the next part of the session called ‘Share-time’.

‘Any discoveries?’ Cynthia coos at me the newcomer.

The only thing I’ve discovered is that once again I’ve side-stepped the point of the therapy and substituted being ‘authentic’ for fitting in, so I have little to say. However, luckily, looking up at the ceiling and blinking thoughtfully as if I don’t know where to even start works, as Hales starts for me.

‘Cynthia, Sorry to jump in here, but I just want to really thank Emma for being with us today’. Hales squats buoyantly beside me and twiddles a toe ring. ‘It was so moving to watch her like, emerge, from this frightened foetus into this like powerful amazing, capable women, you know?”

Uh… no. However, apparently my ‘shuffle’ had quite an impact on Hales, who is now crying (in the purgey way), so at least my self-consciousness has been useful to someone!

The final part of the workshop is ‘Creative-time’, where we get to scrap big hunks of chalk wildly about poster-sized paper to express our new feelings. Obviously having discovered little that I wasn’t already painfully aware of, I keep my picture to an attack of energetic squiggles, but remember to nail that expression of childlike forgetfulness as I do it.

After we’ve all complemented each other’s contribution to the de-forestation of our planet, I do the round of obligatory hugs and tell everyone I’ll see them next week. Walking home, I spend what energy I have left, managing the cringing pangs and vowing never ever to return.

After a quick shower to wash the dust out of my ears, eyes, nose and hair, I decided to treat myself to the one form of therapeutic escape that actually works. A trip down the pub!

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