Movement in Education
by David Boadella


So let us look for a moment at the role of movement in the therapeutic sense. Even if it does not, usually, happen in school, it certainly concerns children. In 1966, at Senate House London, the Laban Art or Movement studio put on a three day course which was called "Movement as therapy". It was the first tentative venture of that versatile group into the area of therapy. This was followed four years later by a conference in Edinburgh that was concerned with "Communication without words". People from therapeutic and from educational disciplines took part.

One of the first papers given there was on the treatment of autistic children. Now it is true that you are rather unlikely to meet the severe problems of the autistic child in the ordinary school. But he demonstrates in a particularly clear way. The state of being of someone whose movement impulses are radically blocked, and from an early age. These children are usually intensely withdrawn, they have a lot of latent but unexpressed anger, and very often the block on motility is sufficiently severe to have arrested speech.
Psychologists are divided about them. Some believe that this is an inborn condition due to some neurological defect. But there is a body of evidence accumulating to show that these are children who were turned off by their environment. Something emotionally crippling happened in early infancy which stopped them wanting to reach out and to communicate witll their environment. Since they do not communicate through words, conventional methods of teaching or of psychological treatment are difficult to apply. But recently a number of different approaches to this severe problem have been made through movement therapy, and through movement education.
I am going to describe something of this approach to you. It has proved capable of restoring speech, and improving the motor functions and power to communicate of autistic children. It has also proved to be a basic method of working with people who have any kind of emotional problem. It is axiomatic in this approach that emotional disturbance always registers in a movement disturbance.
All this work I have been describing involves very fundamental areas of movement. I would like to call this the level of the involuntary movement responses. We do not really choose our emotions, you know. When you fall in love, or become anxious, or are made to feel furious about something, you are moved from within by a very powerful energy. What you have control over is the bodily expression of this emotion. Unfortunately people learn, very often, to control not only the outward acting-out of strong emotions, they turn against the emotions themselves. And the end product of this is a life which is lived more from the head than from the heart. A.S. Neill called one of his books "Hearts, not heads in the school" - a provocative title, but one that suggests that it is easy for educators to get their priorities wrong.
Let me suggest that the fundamental choice facing us in education is one between spontaneity and conditioning.
There is basically a choice between spontaneity, creativity, as a source of action; and conditioning. Let me try to make the distinction clear by dwelling a little longer on the two contrasted situations in schools. The keynote of any go-ahead progressive primary school today (and I single primary schools out here deliberately, because I think the school today is orientated around the children's inner needs: emotional, intellectual, physical) is pleasure. It has been recognized at last that children learn best what they need to learn, and what they need to learn is what satisfies them, and nourishes them. So the progressive primary school is orientated around pleasure; it is geared to offering and encouraging pleasurable activities. Children are led to explore their environment at first hand, that is by discovery methods where creative thinking and insight are at a premium. They also explore on their own with their hearts - with inner resources - and learn to find themselves as persons, through such media as dramatic work, creative writing, group music-making, painting and modelling etc. Anyone engaged on work of this kind with children soon learns to trust the child, and to trust human nature. Without this trust, without the confidence in the creative potential of children, and the patience to wait for this to unfold, this kind of education would not be possible.
I won't have much to say about the contrasted method of education: it is associated with dislike of school, anxiety in the presence of teachers, the possibility of punishment, results, learning to repeat what is in the textbook, and so on. I am not concerned here with whether exams are a good or a bad thing. I am concerned with the means of getting there, and whether they are good or not. One of the cardinal principles established by the then Ministry of Education, through its Inspectorate, was that education should be suited to the child's current stage of development, it should not always be a preparation for the next stage. To put it simply, if we teach nature study to infants, it is because infants are interested in the world around them, and are better people if they use their senses to explore it, NOT because the university would like more science graduates, or the government more technicians.
Contrasted Viewpoints
In terms of physical education, this means that one wants to make the movement experiences as far as possible situations that children will enjoy in their own right. They must be helped to develop kinaesthetic pleasure from the aware use of their own bodies. This was where Rudolf Laban came along to produce a quiet revolution in movement education in Britain, because his focus was on encouraging greater and greater degrees of self-awareness and sensitivity to fine nuances of movement, and his ideas lend themselves to a free, but controlled use of the body.
I should like to talk for a little about how I see this Laban movement work. What he provides is a kind of vocabulary of movement. After all, if movement is a form of communication, then you can have movement sentences. I like to see the various categories of movement description that Laban uses as resembling the forms of grammar: there are, basically, nouns and adjectives, verbs, prepositions and adverbs.
The noun and the adjective together give you a descrip-tion of a body shape. Think of all the immense varieties of human posture, think of all the attitudes they can express, the degrees of tension and relaxation, strong positions, twisted shapes, the nuances of the human stance. Think of all those colloquial expressions: the hang-dog look, Ihe stiff upper lip, a man who digs his heels in, he had no stomach for it, put your back into it, take it on the chin, and any number more. All these indicate both a typical posture and certain character attitudes.
In Laban movement work the posture of the body and its muscular expression says something about WHO one is. This is also of course the foundation of dramatic expression since the first thing an actor has to learn to do is to feel himself into the bodily and kinaesthetic state of being of the character he is trying to portray.
Well after the nouns and adjectives we have the verbs. After the who, the what. What do people do with their bodies when they move them? Laban tended to divide action movements into two groups - locomotory, those that take you from place to place, and gestures, where the body may stay in one area of space, but the upper part particularly, the arms, eyes and face, are used to express a meaning. What Laban was trying to do in his physical education work was to extend the range of movement capacities in people. He found that people were usually very restricted in their movements. Their bodies limited them. And his aim was to extend these limits.
Then one can think about the prepositions of movement: up, down, in, out, to, from, with, without, back, forward. These define one's orientation in space. It is interesting to reflect on the development of locomotory movements in animals:
The very earliest animals, protozoa, one-celled creatures, had no heads and no tails. Their movement was confined to one dimension: basically they could flow in or they could flow out. (It is interesting to record in passing that the word exploration means literally, to flow out). Or if you like to use Laban terms, they could open and they could close. With the development of the body-shape to the stage of the worm, there is a clearly defined head end and tail end. Movement forwards and backwards in a clear sense now becomes possible.
Finally, with the attainment of verticality and the upright posture in the higher primates, the directions up and down have a much fuller meaning. There is a whole literature on this dimension alone - the physiology and psychology of the upright posture of man - that I could refer to. The fundamental idea behind it is that in attaining the upright posture man has the maximum defiance of gravity, and the maximum degree of instability, as compared with a four-legged animal. At the same time, by virtue of the fact that to stay upright at all his posture must be dynamic, he must constantly be making minor adjustments in order to defy gravity and avoid falling over (you have only to shut your eyes for a moment and stand on one leg to appreciate the instability latent in human uprightness). He is also more adaptive in his posture than any other animal. The skill of the matador who can pivot on his small centre of balance, and twist his body in the lateral plain more than other animals, is usually quite enough to enable him to outwit the much more linear movement of the four-legged bull.
The whole question of the relationship of a person to the ground he stands on is a fascinating one, and there are many possibilities in Laban's approach for exploring it. Security is related to one's posture in relation to the ground; indeed one can talk of grounding as a very fundamental quality which the child develops as he moves towards independence. There is also a relationship between the way one perceives the world, and the kind of grounding one has in terms of posture. If one has one's "feet on the ground," one is not going to have one's "head in the clouds." And the word "understanding" means what it says. We can think clearly about the world if we are able to stand firmly and securely in it.
The next part of movement-speech to look at is the how of movement - the adverbs. Laban spoke of "effort qualities." I prefer to see this as a descriptive account of the qualities and expression of energy in a person. Laban distinguished attitudes to space - flexible and inflexible - straight pathways or indirect, wandering pathways; attitudes to time - quick movements or sustained movements; and attitudes to weight - delicate move-ments and forceful movements. He also made an even more fundamental distinction between bound movements character-ized by tension, and free-flowing movements characterized by relaxation. Again the direction of his work is to explore the range of movement possibilities, to develop the capacity for delicate movements in those who are brusque and forceful, to develop the ability to sustain aggression and to apply force, in those who are too passive or quiet.
You see how the remedial and the educational are inseparable, because here we are back with fundamental ideas of the ability to be tender and sensitive, and the ability to apply all one's energy towards a given objective. Above all, the development of awareness in people into their own energy qualities, and effort patterns.
We have had the who, the what, the where and the now of movement, but not the why. To discover the why one needs to read the movement sentence, since all movements are either expressive of some communication, or are functional in an exploratory, work-oriented kind of way.
And Laban recognized with his emphasis on group work that one moves in relation to others. The why of movement can be answered only in the content of the group process, the group that is the microcosm of society and of human interaction.
And here we enter the realm of drama.
Much has been written about the role of drama in schools, and one of the best books on the subject in my opinion is that by Brian Way. Way is one of the people who have emphasized most clearly that drama is really about becoming aware of yourself, and aware of other people. It is to do with coming alive, and with being able to feel what someone else is feeling. Again the link with the world outside the school and beyond the stage can be made with the development of the human potential movement and the encounter culture. There is now a growing realization that modern conditions of life lead to people becoming out of touch, depersonalized, and disembodied. The encounter movement is a kind of growth-orientated spontaneous experience where people are encouraged to explore the emotions that are normally not expressed in the conventions of everyday relationships.
I have left to the end what many people think of as the prime purpose of movement education to teach specific skills. I regard the specific skills as techniques that are best built on the foundation I have akeady been describing. It has been recognized in most modern drama schools, for example, that the most effective way of getting someone to portray another person convincingly, you have to get through to the actor at a deep personal level. That is why many people associated with the method school of acting have been people interested also in prsonal change, and in looking more honestly at their own motives and goals in life, than the average person perhaps does.
In the realm of specific movement skills then, there are also changes afoot. In the past, skill-teaching has tended to be governed by the heavy hand of tradition. If one thinks of the traditional sports, cricket, football, perhaps things have not changed much. And yet a Sobers or a Pele are distinguished most of all by the fact that they seem to involve their whole body in what they are doing, and by their mastering of those factors of time, space, and weight that Laban described. In a sport in which I am particularly interested - Judo - there were stereotyped ways of teaching the basic throws that were honored by tradition in Japan and which spread to the west. But recently to the consternation of the traditionalists, a man called Gleason, who is British National Coach, astonished everyone by showing from a careful examination of photographs of Judo experts in action, that these experts were breaking most of the rules that the coaches had tried to lay down. So instead of perpetuating the dead hand of a skills-tradition that the experts only were intelli-gent enough to violate, Gleason is now encouraging a much more personal style in the teaching of this sport. He is encouragmg those learning it to approach movement situations as challenges which can be solved by trial and error, by exploration, by innovation; in other words, by sensitive and intelligent feeling for one's own body in relation to an opponent and in relation to space. Gleason has in fact brought a Laban movement approach to bear on an international sport and has revolutionized the teaching of it. The result has been a much higher standard of Judo throughout the areas where he has had influence.
Let me try to sum up. I am suggesting that children in school would benefit from a carefully planned series of movement experiences in which they were helped to gain an increased and enriched sense of identification and feeling for their own bodies. That a Laban movement approach, coupled to some of the postural concepts found in Judo teaching, and with some of the expressive outlets used in movement therapy, can help children to get not only more in touch with themselves, but more in touch with each other. That the kinaesthetic awareness so developed is the basis on which the teaching of specific skills and crafts should rest. I am also suggesting that if this kind of body-awareness approach is coupled with the kind of self-exploration through drama that Brian Way has described, then this is a way of helping children to gain insight into the feelings of others, and so can be that basis of a rational moral education. That a rich dramatic experience of this kind can be a wellspring to nourish the arts.
Education, it seems to me, is concerned with developing sensitivity both to the outer world that we seek to control through the sciences and technologies, and in a more personal way, through crafts; and with the inner world of emotions and aesthetic appreciation that is expressed in the arts. My belief is that for the exploration of space, both outer and inner, movement education of the broad basis that I have tried to suggest, is the best preparation.

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