Psyche, Terpsichore, and Ghosts of Rorschach
Just a few days ago, Broken Rhythms Dance Company, my photographer friend Ian Sparks and I put together a very experimental event. The opening night for Ghosts of Rorschach photography series, for which Ian and I created images of Rorschach ink blots from dancers’ bodies, was meant to mix a few things right up. These “things” to be mixed up were: psychology and dance, science and art, audience and artists, spontaneity and structure. I continue to feel incredibly grateful for the way this event unfolded. I met psychologists interested in art and dance, and artists interested in psychology. I experienced people from such different worlds (or so it seems) coming together to share in their commonalities. This reminded of an entry I began writing some time ago that explores a small piece of the relationship between dance and psychology.
Dance and psychology seem like two such different worlds, don’t they? When I am in my psychologist/researcher role, I might sit alone, clutching the computer keyboard, scrolling through thousands and thousands of numbers in a statistical software package, blinking either way too fast or not nearly enough, tensing my shoulders and twisting them in likely very awkward ways, looking at the “raw” data, trying to find that one data entry mistake that is throwing a monkey wrench into my analyses...and then that quick transformation when the time for statistics is up, and I rush to the dance studio. Suddenly, I am surrounded by people and the smell of sweat and aging leather soles of ballet slippers; there is a chatter of women’s voices that surrounds me. My shoulders may begin to tense and twist again – but intentionally this time, with all of my effort directed towards awareness of my body and its movement. The focus is both inwards, yet outwards.
The psychologist (-in training) part of me often leaves no space for the dancer, the artist. The psychologist demands of me to be calculating and scientific, to pay attention to myself and my experience mainly in the service of others (if I am engaged in clinical work) or in the service of an external goal, such as grant, publication, job, and so on (if I am engaged in research). Yet, the structure-oriented, calculating science-nerd part of me seems suspiciously similar to the discipline, strict form, and stringency of classical tradition that can found in ballet. You see, it would be too easy to write that the psychologist part of me is the nerdy detective-scientist, the one that indulges the Gods of boredom by poring over numbers all day while foregoing bizarre social congregations typically known as “parties,” and the dancer part of me is my chance to “let go” and “break out” of that neat scientist cube, explore my embodiment, explore the world. Such a post would certainly play to the stereotypes of “psychologist” and “dancer”, but it would reflect neither my experience nor the wider reality.
Interestingly, the dancer does often leave room for the psychologist. While creating or learning choreography, I may not be explicitly verbalizing psychological theories of Carl Jung, but I may be activating a part of me that is considering notions of synchronicity and the collective unconscious, if those concepts are relevant to the dance work. Even further, dance has the potential to make use of all parts of me in a holistic way – the intelligent, the emotional, the primal, the bodily, the linguistic, the disciplined, and the intuitive. I say “has the potential” because I do not intend to paint an idyllic picture of dance as a form of art in which one is in a perpetual state of what positive psychologists call “flow,” never emerging into harsh realities of boredom, repetition, failure, frustration, and envy. I merely suggest that dance seems to present an opportunity for such holistic self-experiencing.
I often miss that opportunity, but those moments when I do not create boundless joy and memories of a lifetime. When all the aspects of a person are joined in a meditative self-awareness that the process of dancing can elicit, all the “I’s” we have are joined and therefore there is no more “I,” there is only a Zen/Heideggerean hybrids that remains, dancer-on-the-floor, being-in-the-world, and so on. As all the “I’s” dissipate, they betray themselves as nothing but ideas bursting forth from a consciousness that strives to position itself as solipsistic and independent, yet is always in its milieu and never divorced from the particulars of its environment. We have an interdependent consciousness that’s constantly faking it. What do I mean by that? I simply mean that I have never had an idea, image, or thought that did not relate to another person’s idea, image, or thought. Have you? Interdependence is as simple and as complex as this.
In the realm of dance, the full, existential potential of the human animal can be reached. In psychology, at least in my experience, I have only been able to reach part of such potential. This, too, is steeped in my own personal limitations in the way I view and practice psychology, and I imagine many individuals may say the exact opposite! Someone may feel trapped by the necessity for constant repetition of movements in a dance class, but feel intellectually stimulated and free in the world of psychology. Certainly, I find many freedoms within psychology or else I would not seek to practice it. Further, existential psychotherapists often emphasize just the kind of approach I am talking about here, integrating an understanding of themselves and their as whole beings, not just thinking beings; focusing on thoughts and behaviours, but also on bodily and emotional experience.
What can the psychologist in me learn from the dancer?
For the psychologist, taking a lesson from the dancer means moving towards acknowledgement and integration of different parts of experience. For instance, the current prevailing paradigm of psychotherapy in psychology Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) emphasizes thinking processes and changing behaviours, with less of a focus on the emotional processing or somatic experience. Yet, psychologists are beginning to question this paradigm as they realize that the latter are crucial as well. While we may think with our brains, we do not exist in our brains, we exist in our bodies, and our bodies respond to our mental machinations. Interesting research has been emerging in this area, suggesting that adding a greater emphasis on emotional processing in CBT improves the outcome of the therapy. I have yet to see studies that also incorporate a focus on the bodily experience and, while such studies could require complex designs, I believe they are one of the next steps in expanding our understanding of the art and science of psychotherapy.
The Ghosts of Rorschach opening reminded me that we need spaces where different parts of our selves, whether we call them psychologist, researcher, dancer, artist, or something else, can be engaged together, where all the “I’s” that may be in conflict begin to grow quiet because they unite in a holistic understanding of one’s self. No part is shunned, shamed, or criticized. I hope that those who attended Ghosts of Rorschach experienced at least a touch of this. By creating external, physical spaces and structures with such as aim, I hope we can create internal, psychological spaces where integration and acceptance can flourish.
Ghosts of Rorschach is currently open at Dance Victoria, 2750 Quadra st., Victoria, BC.
Connect with Broken Rhythms Victoria and find out about their next show here.