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Play It Through

How It Feels To Remember by Erica Hedge and Daniella Budd at BADth Conference

There were four choices for performances we could attend on the Friday night of the BADth Conference. I had been attracted to this one as I was interested in how pre-verbal trauma could be worked with. We had been told in the blurb that:

“Often the events that shape us happen to us before we even have the language to re-tell and make sense of our stories.

One of the questions we are most commonly asked by parents and care staff of the children we work with is ‘but can my child really remember the events that have happened to them if they happened to them so young?’ Often, there is no straightforward answer to this question as frequently the child might not remember the specifics of events. Rather, they have a felt sense of trauma: something which words alone cannot describe. The body has a language of its own. The way we behave, move and move with others are all telling of our personal stories. Perhaps then the body holds the key to helping our clients find a language in which to map and make sense of their past traumas?

Drawing upon some of the real experiences of the pupils we work with in a therapeutic school for pupils with behavioural, social or mental health difficulties, this short performance and workshop explores how the body stores adverse memories and how without a language to express oneself behaviour becomes the main form of communication. How can we enable our clients to make sense of these bodily experiences and how can we empower them to find other ways of communication using the body? “

British Association of Dramatherapists, 2019 Conference programme. Page 12

As we enter the space there is seating on three sides of he stage. The two performers sit on chairs at opposite corners of the stage connected by a long green piece of fabric. Erica greets the audience cheerfully as they arrive. Daniella sits curled on her chair annoyed at the world.

“Shall we begin?” Asks Erica moving close enough to allow Daniella to reach the back of the stage and start the music. They maintain the connection of the fabric.

The soundtrack takes us through a school day. Sometimes soothing, sometimes confusing. Sometimes they are far apart, sometimes they are entangled in the fabric, sometimes they push and pull against each other.

In one sequence we are in a maths lesson. The teachers voice is trying to explain how to analyse statistics and present them as a Venn Diagram. “If I have 7 of one thing…. nothing else… show your working” His voice comes in and out as if the listener is struggling to maintain focus. The teacher patiently tries to explain again this time we get slightly different parts of the explanation “to make a Venn diagram you need to know the range… so if there are 7 over here and 3 over there…. what is the answer” A third explanation… “what is the range of the possible answer if we know that that there are no things which are neither”. Daniella can’t focus on this – it is too hard; she is hiding under the chair. A fourth explanation, this time the teacher is more exasperated “it’s not hard” the voice says. Daniella screams and kicks the chair away. She lies in a fetal position, curled up under the fabric.

When eventually she emerges, Erica sways with her, they then slowly walk along the green fabric path, clearing obstacles and finding ways to balance as they move towards each other. Then the two begin to run backwards and forwards. There is a danger of audience members coming into contact with the billowing fabric as they go.

Once they return to stillness it is time to drop the fabric and for a short while move separately before the performance closes with a bow.

Workshop on KMP-rhythms (Kestenberg Movement Profile-rhythms)

After the performance we moved into a workshop exploring the piece again this time looking through the lens of Kestenberg Movement Profile rhythms.

“The body and its manner of moving not only reveals an individual’s feelings and emotions, but can give us insight into an individual’s past. ALL life experiences get stored in the body and are reflected in body movement. A person who feels rejected may develop a hollow, narrowed body attitude which expresses and reinforces such feelings throughout life. Because both physical and emotional experiences leave long term traces upon the way people hold themselves and move, the study of movement opens a door to understanding patterns of early development, coping strategies and personality configurations, and how to heal psychological traumas.”

Why use KMP. From http://kestenbergmovementprofile.org

KMP-rhythms track the different developmental stages of movement which a child progresses through. As they introduced each stage, Daniella and Erica showed us where in the performance they had included that movement, gave an example of how and when a child might use that movement and then invited us to experiment with doing the movement ourselves.

1. Sucking rhythm

The first stage is sucking and is usually the primary developmental movement for the first 6 months of life. It is an even transition between in and out which could be represented by a baby physically sucking a nipple or by a rocking style of movement, usually in a heartbeat rhythm.

Often when people feel stressed they return to this sucking rhythm and may rock themselves or even return to sucking their thumbs.

I remember as a teenager there was a time when many of my friends were buying Ruck Dummies: suckey sweet in the shape of a dummy, a confectionery excuse to return to this rhythm with a sugar rush as well.

During my dramatherapy training one of my tutors challenged my group to notice this rhythm by inviting us to think about the sports cap water bottles which many of us carried into every lecture and liked to have next to us at all times; she invited us to be a bit curious and to wonder what that need for a teat shaped bottle was about.

This is not to say there is anything wrong with revisiting an earlier stage, therapeutically it is often helpful to revisit stages of development, particularly if we can gain something from revisiting which we may have missed out on. In the context of our training to be therapists we were often invited to really examine our own needs, desires, feelings and actions to help us understand more about human psychology.

This sucking movement is about self soothing, being nurtured and attuning to others as we are rocked and fed. It is the rhythm of incorporation.

2. Biting rhythm

Similar to the sucking motion but more force and aggression. Often there is closeness but this rhythm invites separation. So a baby bites the mother and she may remove the breast. Or perhaps a tired parent will rock their baby in this rhythm to try to stop cries and persuade the baby to sleep. We may still use it as an adult; if we tap someone on the back during a hug we usually expect them to end the hug or at least change the intensity of the hug shortly after.

There is a “yes but” about this action – perhaps something is wanted but also criticised and pushed away. Or perhaps a need to control how much of something is received. It is the rhythm of separation.

3. Twisting rhythm

This rhythm often begin when the child is about 9 or 10 months old and just beginning to sit up or crawl. It is often a playful rhythm, the child does not need to rely on others to meet their needs but can begin to explore for themselves.

In adults we also see twisting as playful – twisting hair around a finger may be a sign of flirting and many styles of dancing involve a twisting rhythm.

But there is also something in this rhythm about avoiding. In martial arts twisting is often a way to avoid and deflect an opponents attack. Even in a verbal argument one or both people may twist part of their body away, twisting or turning away from the other person. It is the rhythm of avoidance.

4. Strain and release rhythm

At around 18 months the child is learning some bowel control and there is a new rhythm of straign and release associated with this. The same rhythm is used to help the child to stand up alone and then sink to the floor or pull themselves up and then release.

I use this rhythm in my yoga classes as I am invited by the teacher to hold plank or to lower down Chaturanga (although ideally my release should still be controlled there).

A similar rhythm may be involved in being tight lipped as secrets are held back words are kept to oneself; sometimes with a release where they are said later or sometime held indefinitely.

There is a link to control in this rhythm, keeping feelings inside or pushing things away. It is the rhythm of autonomy.

5. Running and Drifting rhythm

By about three the child has mastered standing and toddling and is into the running stage. Moving quickly and purposefully. At other times the movement seems aimless as the child drifts around and may appear to be going nowhere in particular.Sometimes they may do both together and run around playing aeroplanes or similar.

The child has learnt how to speak, and their conversations may also run on, with lots of “and then” “and we” “then they” streaming together one very long sentence.

A.A. Milne

They may like to play with objects that run too, like sand or water which run through fingers, or toy cars that rush forwards.

There is still a link to toilet training, this developmental stage is linked to accidents or weeing themselves.

We sometimes talk about people drifting when they seem aimless in life. Perhaps a young adult who has got their exam results, left education but seems in no rush to decide where to go next. Or sometimes we speak about someone drifting from one bad relationship to the next.

Drifting can indicate being lost. Sometimes it is in moments of being lost that a person finds themselves. Ramblers know that wandering in nature can allow them to appreciate the beauty around them. Many people travel to experience new cultures and find a new perspective. Lying back on a lilo and drifting on a pool can be deeply relaxing.

Many people take up running as a hobby, either around the park or perhaps on a running machine. People also talk about running around after other people, particularly kids or sometimes demanding bosses.

Sometime we think about things as running away from us like the sand slipping through our fingers. That could be opportunities, energy, happiness, time.

It is the rhythm of letting go.

6. Starting-Stopping rhythm

At about 2.5 years old the child is better able to start and stop when they want / need to. People sometimes talk about toddlers in this age throwing a temper tantrum and then stopping abruptly once they get what they want; turning the waterworks on and off.

Perhaps someone will do one action but then not quite complete it as they become distracted by another like checking emails.

There is something in this rhythm about self control and moderation. People who have not fully developed this stage may struggle with this; addictions and compulsions are examples of starting something and not stopping. Perhaps the intention is to only have one but later you have had the lot of whatever it is (alcohol, drugs, sex, chocolate, gambling…).

It is the rhythm or interruption.

7. Swaying

At about age three the swaying rhythm is usually dominant.

The movement is wave like. It may be similar to the sucking rhythm but there is an increase and decrease to the intensity of the back and forth movement.

Playing in a swing creates an exaggerated version of this movement; so does reclining in a hammock.

It is the rhythm of hatching.

8. Surging and Birthing

A gradual, wave like increasing of tension and then gradual decreasing of tension.

Children aged 3 and a half to 4 often experience stomach cramps or pains in their abdomen which may be related to this rhythm.

A similar pattern emerges when people “get something off their chest” – there is the build up of something they want to say and then often the freedom once it has been said.

The act of giving birth follows this rhythm with the intense build up and the push to bring life into the world.

People sometimes talk about birthing ideas or projects or refer to things which are important to them as their baby. There is something about putting in the effort when something is hard and then finding a way to transition from surging to birthing as the struggle all becomes worth it.

It is the rhythm of birthing.

9. Jumping Rhythm

Five year old’s may be like bouncing balls at this stage. Couches, beds and anything else may be treated like a trampoline.

It is an exciting rhythm, celebratory and expressive.

As adults, we may not allow ourselves to display this phase very often but watch the crowds at a football match when their team scores a goal.

Many forms of party dance also use this rhythm – think about crowds jumping at a festival.

It is the rhythm of enthusiasm.

10. Spurting or ramming rhythm

The final stage in the KMP cycle is prominent at around age 6.

One of the more violent stages, the child may crash into someone or something or may kick or punch out at someone.

It has been noted that children in this stage often repeatedly head but the pelvic or tummy area of their parents in play.

Those car games from the running stage may now become crashing games with repeated collisions within the play.

Dodgem cars give us an opportunity to play with this same ramming rhythm as do many dare devil activities such as bungee jumps, roller coasters and assault courses.

Many forms of fighting and martial arts use a lot of this energy for the contact parts of their practice. Because it has a violence to the urge of the rhythm, children are often discouraged from expressing this movement stage but it is important to explore in order to complete the Kestenberg Movement Profile and not get stuck.

It is the rhythm of explosion.

Exploring the movement

The workshop concluded by inviting us to move in one rhythm and to be drawn to someone with a similar rhythm. How do the two versions of the movement influence each other? The pairs became 4s and then groups of 8. One half of the room then watched the movements of the other half.

Erica and Daniella spoke about how it can sometimes be useful to join a client in a movement stage and at other times it can be developmentally beneficial to encourage them to progress to the next movement stage or perhaps even return to an earlier stage.

They shared how the movements manifest in the children they were working with from rocking to stomping to twisting to spurting. The child who threw the chair in the maths lesson was surging. The emergence from hiding under the fabric was birthing.

Since doing the workshop I have been thinking a lot about my own clients. I can really notice this pattern in two clients I no longer work with; one who used a lot of twisting movements and another who used a lot of spurting. As a therapist, I hold in mind clients who I no longer see, and sometimes wonder how they are. In this workshop I imagined what would have happened if I had brought some of this wisdom to the sessions we had together. When a client finishes therapy you can never be certain that they will never return but nor is it my job to encourage that.

I will be keeping KMP movement in mind for sessions in the future as I see a lot of potential to use this to assist clients whose body keeps the score of what has happened without necessarily their cognitive mind having the words to express that verbally.

Erica Hedgesis a Dramatherapist, currently working within a specialist therapeutic school. She holds play and movement at the heart of her therapeutic approach. Previous to her current post, Erica gained experience working in both mainstream and SEND school settings. She also worked for a small charity supporting young people with ASD.

Daniella Buddis a Dance Movement Psychotherapist, currently working within a specialist therapeutic school. She has a keen interest in working with the body to facilitate development. She draws upon frameworks from Rudolf Laban and Kestenberg to gain a whole sense of developmental stages within a young person. Daniella has completed the Trauma Informed Schools Practitioner training.

British Association of Dramatherapists, 2019 Conference programme. Page 12

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