When (am I writing this)
A Monday in May 2021, 72 hours after cease fire of an 11-day war in Israel and Gaza.
Why (am I sharing this with you)
Right after teaching this class, I felt so full of emotions, that all I wanted to do was to download it in writing. After doing so, I thought it could be valuable to other OF teachers. Though this is a documentation about my specific class, in this specific situation, it feels to me there are many universal themes that can serve OF teachers worldwide during challenging times. You can take ideas, bits and pieces from the class plan and fit them to your groups’ needs.
What (the situation)
Here in Israel, there was a joke going around saying: “While the rest of the world is still struggling with Covid, here in Israel – praise the lord – we’re back to normal”. It was a dark joke, tragic really, as what “back to normal” referred to was another war.
Different dance groups across Israel have been finally physically meeting again in studios, finding a common ground on a shared dance floor after a long, 4th lockdown. We were just beginning to lean in again into the rhythmic vital pulse of regular, in person classes. Finding what the new normal post-Covid feels like… And then… BOOM!
Literally – boom. Sirens, shelters, rockets and missiles, explosions, horrid news from within Israel and from Gaza. And just to spice things up a bit – this time the scariest thing was the explosion of violence between citizens of Israel, Arabs and Jews, lashing out at each other in the streets throughout the country.
Once again we retreated back to our homes, experiencing fear of the raging violence and of the fragile social fiber that seemed to be disintegrating. Along with fear, many – including myself – experienced deep sorrow, sadness, heart-break and a sense of hopelessness, especially the peace activists amongst us, as well as the majority of the people who wish to live peacefully on this burning land.
Three days after the ceasefire, exactly 2 weeks after the first missile fired, I am back to teaching my class of acting students in the Theatre department in Tel Aviv University. Though we are all shaken, there is still a wide range of experiences after the 11 days of war, depending on where you live – some cities were heavily attacked, others less; Some areas had major civil uprising and violence, others less; And depending on who you are – Arab or Jew.
Who (am I)
An Open Floor and 5Rhythms® teacher living in Israel. A Dance/Movement Therapist. A graduate of the theater program I now teach at. A mother, wife, daughter, sister. An active member of Women Wage Peace, a grassroots movement that was founded following the previous Gaza war 7 years ago. An Israeli adult who carries in her system memories of wars beginning from age 4 (and counting). As to how I arrived to teach this group – luckily my nervous system was relatively steady, as where I live was relatively quite, except for one missile which landed right near my house, and occasional distant booms. However, I was constantly worried about family, friends and students, as many of them were under on-going missile attacks. My heart was extremely heavy with the sadness and despair of it all and with guilt over what was happening to the people in Gaza. And so, I met my group of students physically stable, mentally alert and emotionally tender and raw.
Who (the group)
In this class, a third of the students are Arabic – Christians, Muslims and Druze, the rest are Jewish. Many of the students spent the war in heavily bombarded cities, running in and out of shelters during missile attacks. Some of the Jewish students still do reserve duty in the Israeli Defense Force. One Jewish student lives in a settlement. A micro cosmos of the society in Israel (and I’m not even getting into the diversity of political views…!).
What can I say… Thank goodness for Open Floor!
How (The class)
OF GLOSSARY by color:
CMRs | MOVEMENT CYCLE | DOMAINS OF EMBODIMENT | RELATIONAL HUNGERS | SCORE
Luckily, this class has 2 semesters worth of Open Floor movement practice experience. I decided not to bring a new CMR to this session but to recap the CMRs and anchors we’ve already worked with and reconstruct ourselves after the fragmenting experience of the war, reminding ourselves of what our bodies already know and have practiced.
The class is 2 hours long.
For this particular session, it was important for me to first of all settle our nervous systems and really build from the ground up.
We started with PAUSE in sitting meditation, OPENING ATTENTION to breath, and tuning in to how we are at this moment – physically, emotionally & mentally.
We then did a round of verbal sharing, just giving the headlines of what is in front stage of our awareness right now. (MIND)
From there we went right to the GROUND and some SOLO time. I lead a very long ENTER phase with gentle warm-up exercises, with the emphasis of leaning into the support of the ground. The guided warm-up lead gradually to standing, feeling our weight supported by the ground, and putting our hands on our CENTER (= lower belly). We did some centering exercises and then let our center lead us into the shared space. (PHYSICAL)
*The soundscape till this point was grounding and steady.
We opened SPATIAL AWARENESS through our centres as well as eyes and feet and began to EXPLORE with TOWARDS & AWAY with different partners in the room.
I gave this some time as in this particular socially diverse group, with a heavy charge, I really wanted the movement towards and the movement away to be fueled by the emotional truth as it arose in the moment in response to who they met in the dance.
It was time for CONNECTION with the invitation to face each other with hands on the heart center, from there EXPANDing and CONTRACTing in a dyadic dance.
After the heart softened and opened in connection, they got to WITNESS one another -the witness keeping one hand on center and the other on heart center. After switching roles, both shared a dance and SETTLED again with hands on center and heart center. (EMOTIONAL)
*The soundscape for this segment was what I categorize in my music library as “heart”, “moving” and “spacious emotion”.
I invited the dyads to join as a group and form an OPEN CIRCLE – it was time to open the field of BELONGING.
By now the group was very physically embodied, resourced and present. And yet, I noticed that though as a whole they “kept it together”, were kind and attuned to one another, they kept accidentally bumping into each other, much more than any class before and despite the multiple times I instructed spatial awareness. This suggested to me that things in the shared space were not as together as they seemed to be on the surface…
Till this point, I worked with the ‘here and now’, however, for the Open Circle I invited them to reflect on the 11 days of war, and respond to the different musical pieces in the soundscape when they felt it expressed any aspect of their experience during the war. I talked about the power of art – in our case the dance – where we can be free to express anything, unlike with words which can quickly turn into a blaming game, get us stuck in stating our opinions, political views, analysis of who started and what should be done or could have been done or the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, etc etc.
I invited them to be as dramatic as they wanted, acknowledging that our reality is indeed dramatic. I went over the 4 stages of THE MOVEMENT CYCLE and reminded them of the value of ACTIVATE & SETTLE.
Witnesses on the edges of the circle were asked to keep their hands on the anchors of center and heart-centre and off we dove. (SOUL and all DoE).
*The soundscape for the open circle was very evocative allowing room for the complexity of emotions with many different tones and textures: tension, fear, intensity, anger, sadness, tenderness, hopefulness.
To try and describe the dances I witnessed would be futile. As I told the students – words are limited, and indeed words will fall short to describe the depth and range of emotions that were beautifully, powerfully, courageously danced on that dance floor. The duos and group choreographies that organically emerged, were more powerful than any I’ve seen performed by professional companies on stages. The stories that were told through the dance, the unfolding of different emotions and states, the resolutions, left me in awe.