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I like me more…stepping into the unknown – On dancing Art in Motion with Cathy Ryan

Reviewed By: Cathy Ryan

Recommended by:

Cathy Ryan

Recommended Reading Program: Art in Motion

Language availability: English


Éadaoin Ní Challaráin is an Open Floor teacher and a medical practitioner in palliative care in the West of Ireland. Here she tells us about her experience of Cathy Ryan’s Empty Space workshop, which she attended, in October  2017 in Dublin, Ireland.

Although I organized Empty Space for Cathy I didn’t really know what to expect as it was the first time she was running this workshop and I took part as a regular dancer.

The workshop took place in the Sean O’Casey theatre, where the seating had been rolled back to create a dance space. The first thing that struck me when I walked in was the boldly patterned red and white rug that had been placed right in the middle of the stage which was framed by heavy, red velvet curtains on both sides. It made for an arresting visual that was to be the common thread throughout the weekend.

The rug was both a symbol of and a prop for exploring the Empty Space: that unknown place we step into to meet ourselves and our world. At one point Cathy turned the rug into a stage and we practiced taking it in turns to step onto this “stage” and giving expression to whatever wanted to be moved in that moment without any rehearsal or preparation. So, it was less about acting and more about being there… showing up and showing who you are. I was touched by each and every person who stepped onto the rug and the words, shapes and stories they shared …it was exquisite and tender and funny. It was playful and spontaneous…so raw and simple.

Switching between dancing and theatre or making art was really helpful and fresh. Cathy’s soundscaping is fantastic and her music is super supportive of the process. When I’m dancing I have more awareness of my body and I am able to ground and settle or activate myself and approach the exercises with a more open, flexible mind…like I’m in touch with a more primary aspect of my senses. I’m informing myself on different levels and it feels like I have more ways of recognizing myself and others.

I found it a really effective way to move out of my habitual story of self. I was able to meet my heart, which, on that weekend I discovered was soft and curious and there was a shakiness too. I was touched by the vulnerability and, somehow, I liked me more by the end of the weekend, maybe because more of me got to be there.

Open Floor is a great practice for me to be immersed in and then to take what I learn off the dance floor and into my everyday life. I find I can get to know better and include the parts of myself that I might want to hide from, or feel uncomfortable about, with greater ease. Not just those stereotypically “shadow” aspects but that softer, more yearning part of me that longs to reach out and connect…there’s often shame in that too.

I feel the impact in my personal and professional life where I notice how I can stay present to what arises more easily. Often that leads to a new outcome as I’m not shutting down connection because the situation is distressing or unfamiliar.

The workshop was both thrilling and excruciating! Cathy is so skilled and so full of heart. She was welcoming of being curious and seeing what it’s like to not know. She has a huge ability to move and include, working with whatever shows up for people on the dance floor (or in this case on the ‘stage’). Her particular quality of presence is quite unlike any other teacher I’ve met.

It was a very empowering experience. Ultimately this practice  equips me to be present to my life, here and now, and to step fully into the vitality of that. I can’t wait for the next Empty Space to open up!

Words by Audrey Boss

Photography by 4everphotos & Cathy Ryan

Mask Illustration by Emiliana Kanellopoulou


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