Props in Movement: Scarves Are More Than Just For Fashion
by Allie Bulliman
I had an open house at the office here in Pioneer Square over a month ago as an opportunity for people to get a more in depth explanation and demonstration of “what I do.” Dance movement therapists do just what any other therapist does: listen. We create a safe space. We work with you to create your best life. I like to say I am just a regular therapist/counselor/psychotherapist (whatever you prefer) with an extra tool in my toolbox. If you would like to read up on the history of dance movement therapy and see what other work is being done across the country (and internationally) please check it out at www.adta.org .
Dance movement therapy is an approach to counseling that involves your mind, emotions, and body. Think about any physical activity you did this week. What did you feel? Tingling or sore muscles? Strength or pain? Now think about what emotion was attached to any of those. Pride. Frustration. You told your body what to do, and in turn it told you just what it felt about that 5k or lifting those weights. We remember these emotions just as our bodies remember how to run. They are interconnected. Some of us might be in denial about their connection, but that’s another blog (see Imei’s Finding Motivation) entirely.
Sometimes finding, eliciting, or exploring the linked connection between mind and body is the struggle.
In a world of connectedness (FB, Twitter, (See Imei’s Blog) Texts, phone, etc) we
seem to fall farther away from our SENSE of SELF. One of the many tools in the DMT Toolbox that I love to start with when meeting a new client interested in movement in therapy is, drum roll please…, a scarf.Huh? An everyday, run of the mill, chiffon, silk, colored, opaque, transparent, whatever you fancy, scarf. Introducing props into therapy is not a new concept (Play Therapy is full of them!). We all have objects that we love, take with us everywhere, and possibly cannot “live” without. Those objects can help us with coping and transitioning… but it can also have the opposite effect. If I forget my phone when I leave the house, I feel lost (at least for a few hours). I would not call this a helpful aid or transitional object. Now, if I can healthily reflect and see how leaving my phone at home makes me feel, then I would say I did accomplish something.
In the same way, using scarves are used for socializing and interacting. Ok, so it is not quite the same as using my phone to make a call, but imagine the piece of fabric itself. I am in a room with three other people that I know nothing about in a group therapy setting. None of us feel like being social and opening up just yet. But we all have a scarf with us. One person feels like hiding under the scarf. Another likes the way it feels in their hands. Another prefers watching it fall after throwing it up in the air. After we become familiar with our object, would you say we are all playing a game? We may not be playing a collective game together, but we are together and at the same time using the scarves. Interaction is inevitable. It may take five minutes. It may take five weeks.
Using props with children needs no introduction. Children see colorful shapes of fabric and automatically begin to play. Some of us older folks might instead see a fashion accessory. Our imaginations might be ready, but our inhibitions take over. This is the beauty of props; your scarf can hide you or you see it as an extension of yourself. Or to a child with social anxiety it may eventually allow him to interact with a child across the room. Using these simple pieces of silk as an extension of your body and your self encourages growth.
Let the creativity flow and see the social empathy grow. Words are a huge piece of communicating, but so isn’t our body and facial expressions? We can find relationship or connection through a look with a stranger, sharing an experience, acknowledging someone’s ideas or beliefs. All this through a look or a gesture? You bet. And it can mean the world to someone- especially children. Would you roll your eyes at your best friend when they share some great news? How about a smile when you hear a tragic story? Chances are your emotions reflect socially appropriate responses in your voice and body language.
What about those children still growing? It is possible to learn that social empathy in groups using props. Exposing children to interaction through movement with props encourages certain behavior. Take the game of peek-a-boo. It is hard to play that game one sided. But visual and physical interaction with a therapist, parent, sibling, or in a group therapy setting only enhances a child’s response, over and over. It is regulating a response and encouraging group participation with others. And cannot creativity be born from that “expected” response in peek-a-boo? It amazes me how often children are mesmerized by peek-a-boo smiles, but it amazes me more when those smiles grow into funny faces eliciting a new response from their partner. Social empathy and creativity in one.
We might not all be looking to play a literal game of scarf peek-a-boo with our therapist, but we can certainly learn a lot about ourselves when we start “thinking” with our bodies and moving toward that healthier you.