Identity – Chapter 2 (Movement)

While I was dreaming the follow-up to my chapter on identity, I kept looking for inspirational quotes by great dancers. They all made sense to me because I feel I say more dancing than I do when I speak. As I researched more and more, the initial idea of identity through movement via culture and society, changed shape into something else: our innate need to move to seek balance, release memories but ultimately, use our bodies for storytelling.

Martha Graham, the renowned dancer, teacher and choreographer of Modern Dance, saw movement as a portal to our very core by stating that “The body says what words cannot.” Of course, movement is much more than dance – it’s how the body, wrapped with memories and emotions, reacts in response to its surroundings. But allow me to indulge in dance for a little while longer…

Before we could talk, we could dance. You don’t believe me? Look at infants and watch how they move to music. Before a full sentence is even uttered, the sense of rhythm already lives within them, from head to toe. When they dance, they dance for joy and happiness. As we grow older and discover life, our bodies express other emotions: love, loss, desire, rage, shame…For most of us, we stopped moving, stopped expressing those spirits trapped within and lost our greatest assets: our voices and our stories.

“Dance is the hidden language of the soul, of the body”. Again, a great insight from Martha Graham. I also believe in that.  Dance is within us but we have domesticated our bodies to fit with our social environment. If we are lucky to engage in dance, or another form of movement, we learn to unlock its creativity, either in a cultural manner or not. Trying to unlearn restraints done to the body by listening to how it wants to move. But it’s far more complex than that…It’s the body, the mind and the history between them. 

As to better understand this I have recently developed an interest in biopsychology, neuropsychology, somatic approach to movement and how traumatic memories are stored in the body. This bought my attention to Peter Levine, Gabor Maté, Bessel van der Kolk and a few others. My book collection on these matters have grown exponentially and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to absorb this knowledge! Perhaps this is why I was so drawn to Tango when I first started my journey into movement, whether consciously I knew it or not. I guess it could be considered as movement therapy in a Jungian fashion as Tango unlocked a great deal of shamed emotions and on occasion, a few tears on the dancefloor. No stepping on my toes or a sharp heel caught in my ankle but a release…The exorcism of a trapped memory. Gone. Just scars, not wounds.

Movement never lies. It is a barometer telling the state of the soul’s weather to all who can read it.

Martha Graham

Different forms of movement come with different schools of thought, something that will occupy me for the rest of my life. In my attempt to get my head around some of these concepts, I reached out to the wonderful Olga Metzner, who has extensive experience of movement. Everything from high competition and high impact sports (swimming, tennis, kickboxing and HIIT) to more controlled and conscious movement/embodiment such as Tango, Pilates, Animal Flow, and Rock Climbing (and to be added very soon to be list are Release, and the Feldenkrais Method). You may be forgiven to think she uses her body as a machine (she hates that term) but instead, think as using the body purposefully (she loves this term).
Her introduction to movement started at a young age due to necessity, but it quickly grew to be part of her identity. A self-declared forever student, Olga was a great interviewee and inspiration. Listening to her speak about “intelligent movement” (work with the body, not against it), the trinity (body, mind and emotions) and how the “body is a monument to humanity” – all of which leads us to a better understanding of ourselves by understanding our bodies. Olga said something during our chat that reminded me of a Pina Bausch’s quote, “I’m not interested in how people move but what moves them”, i.e. what is it about a movement that makes people compelled to do it? It is a learnt movement or is it the surfacing of emotions? Olga is interested in that and shows an earnest desire to better understand the body (her continuous interest in gaining knowledge from the several disciplines encountered along the years is a sure testament to her commitment, which I find inspiring). “I see it as a long corridor with doors” is how she described this passion for knowledge, and through each of these doors is a different facet to each of us that is waiting to be explored. As you peruse at the entrance of your chosen door, it will test your limits: you can push past them (go all in and you will find your breaking point), expand them (grow beyond your comfort zone: like an elastic band – flexible –  but if you let go of it, it will return to its original size and so will your comfort zone), or be fluid (combines elements of the two previous states: constantly pushing within reasonable force, expanding them, learning from it, resting and picking it from where you last left). 
This set of principles shared by Olga interested me because I believe I am at the fluidity stage – I am now constantly curious and willing to test myself (anyone else for variations of burpees?). This has been possible since first stepping through one of the many doors down this corridor of life. Which door will I choose next? Will it have an impact on body, mind or emotions? When asked what comes first, Olga believes it’s the body – not necessarily the movement – and then the rest will follow almost instantly (this can vary from person to person). The trinity of body, mind and emotions is a structure that works in unison, according to her experience. By fine-tuning one essential part of the trinity, the rest will chime in vibrantly – just like a beautiful piece of music, where all the notes are in the right place.

Photo by Brett Sayles on

That image of trinity resonates with me. I felt my body had been quiet for a long time and it showed. I struggled with how I existed in the world. My voice resembled a whisper and I knew the pavements I walked on by heart (I religiously studied each loose cobblestone of our traditional calçadas) as to avoid looking up and seeing people in the eye. From an animated young child who had to wildly gesticulate as she spoke, to a young adult with low self-esteem and social anxiety. What a transformation! As I welcomed dance and movement into my adult life, there was yet another cycle of change – this time it brought me closer to a freer, surer and happier self. 

Photo by AG Z on

Movement is storytelling; it’s the key that unlocks memories in the body. That is why moving your body is so important. As we move our bodies purposefully, we shape our minds likewise. If your body is your voice, don’t stop moving. As Isadora Duncan – another great name in dance – once said, “You were once wild here. Don’t let them tame you.” So, be that person I see dancing freestyle with headphones on a cloudy day. Be that person I run past in the park, who is seemingly moving along with the trees as the wind blows. Be in flux with movement. Listen and trust your body. Be that person.

We carry our stories in our bodies. We carry our identities in the way we move. We carry our souls on the soles of our feet. That is why I dance; that is why I run; that is why I move. Hear my story as I listen to yours.

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