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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Feet on the ground, wings in the air
Animated, Autumn 2001. As founder and director of JABADAO Centre for Movement Studies Penny Greenland was recently awarded an MBE for her services to dance. Here Greenland (the cynic) interviews Greenland (the impassioned)
So, 25 years into a career as a community dance practitioner you've written a book. Can't have done much practitioner-ing recently, eh?

No. Well, yes. Depends what you think community dance practitioners do I suppose. I don't think it's only about thrashing round running projects, reaching the parts that other dancers don't reach. The longer I work with movement and the body the more convinced I am that we dancers must make a central political rule for ourselves. Writing a book is the beginning of following that route for me. Only a book could hold all the things I wanted to say about the significance of 'body' in our ordinary, day-to-day lives.

Blimey! A central political role? Have you spoken to Tony Blair about this?

No. But I'd jump at the chance. (I haven't missed your sarcasm by the way. I'm just choosing to ignore it.) I'd like to tell him how dancers respond to the question at the heart of politics: 'How should we live?' In our culture, dancers are most often seen as entertainers, or as physios-with-attitude, or as particularly energetic supply teachers who actually relish kids physicality. But all that aside, we also have a key role to play in contributing radical approaches in mainstream polities. This is a role we need to take seriously.

I'm trying ... really, I am. (Rearranges face.) So where do these dancers train? Is there a course for dancing politicians?

These dancers don't need to be athletically and aesthetically honed. These are people who are prompted to learn, and come to understanding, in their bodies. They have an intimate understanding of what the body knows, they seek answers to question, in sensation and movement, they are compelled to develop coping strategies through direct participation with the senses, as well as through mental reasoning. These are ordinary ways of sorting things out, of course, which have become obscured in our culture. The book - Hopping Home Backwards - is my way of starting to explain how we might begin to focus seriously on 'body intelligence'.

'Body intelligence.' 'Emotional intelligence: Not jumping on a band wagon here are we?

Perhaps. But it's a useful term nonetheless. I want to draw attention to the fact that we human beings don't just have thoughts and ideas in our heads; we also have them in our bodies. It's a big subject. I know that lots of people say you can only have an idea if language is involved. OK ... but I say the language here is sensation, feeling and movement. And we have to learn about these languages just as we learn about verbal and written language. Body thoughts and ideas are part of our capacity for intelligent action.

You say: 'Starting to explain' ...'begin to focus'... all sounds very hesitant to me.

There are no quick fixes here. Not just one book's worth. There's so much more to be said on the subject. But Hopping Home does suggest a completely new curriculum for physical education in the early years. Start at the beginning, work up. It deliberately includes polemic for policymakers, a structure for learning for curriculum builders and loads of practical ideas for nursery workers who want to start yesterday. It's what we dancers have to do if we want to make a difference - address everyone from policymakers to grass roots workers. There's nothing very hesitant about that.

Keep your leotard on! I only ...

All policymakers - education, lifelong learning, health, urban regeneration, poverty and deprivation, social inclusion - need to be thinking about 'body intelligence' as a major human resource. Radical thinkers in the field of education continue to outline new ways of understanding human intelligence; neuro-scientists are providing extraordinary new insights into the working of the human brain; dancers must speak about their experience of intelligence and understanding. We must speak up about what the body knows. We hold a missing piece, which needs to be presented in serious political arenas.

Can we look forward to a Cabinet softshoe re-shuffle then? Prime Minister's Excuse-Me time, Adjourning to the Barre for further deliberations?

OK. If we're in silly jokes territory, how about this? Two men of different nationalities meet on holiday. 'I'm English', says one. 'I know', says the other, 'I've seen the way you dance.' As a culture, we devalue things of the body. We are embarrassed and uncomfortable and we systematically, if accidentally, disembody our children. They arrive in the world ready to live in their bodies - not just their heads - but by the age of eight most do a pretty good line in physical embarrassment. People learn 'I have a body', not 'I am a body'. But the extent to which we have access to our bodily-felt experience and our physical creativity has huge implications for our health, well-being and an intelligent living of our lives. This should be a vital part of political debate.

So?

So there is research to be done into the nature and implications of being 'embodied' - having ready access to the internal world of sensation, image, feeling and movement, feeling the bodily stir in all that we do. There is a new understanding to be gained (beyond the concern that modern life breeds lack of exercise) about the ways that human beings live in their bodies, not just their heads. That's my next project ... the follow on from Hopping Home. And

There's more? Relax! Take it easy. Dance should be fun!

As a society, we need to understand the significance of the early movement patterns in promoting neurological development. If, as seems likely from current research, they play an important role, early movement play might be much more significant than we think. There is a partnership to be made here between the neuro-scientists, the educationalists and the dancers, to learn more about the impact of early movement experience on future functioning (anything from reading, writing, and memory through to fine and gross motor skills), and how the lack of appropriate experience might cause barriers to learning. That's what I'm working on at the moment.

And what do you think you'll achieve with all these projects?

Less than I want to.

That's a bit defeatist, isn't it?

No. Just a rare moment of realism. I can tell you what I think the important challenges are if you like, the areas where dancers could make an important and lasting contribution.

Go on then.

Number one: addressing the downright unfairness of the dominant learning culture in schools. It fits so few children. Why is this important? Because the statistical connection between high academic achievement and future happiness is weak. Because happiness is a major source of health and well-being. Because we under-rate and under-use human potential by allowing mental reasoning to be so dominant. What can dancers contribute? Understanding of how we human beings learn in our bodies. And practical ways to develop and use body intelligence alongside intellectual intelligence.

Oh. And number two?

The need to replace the current Health Service with a small Illness Service and a large Health and Vitality Service. Why is this important? Because we have to create a new balance between medical solutions and other ways of addressing health issues. Because we need to make a change in the way money is spent on health - putting the largest portion into maintaining and boosting good health and a smaller amount into crisis intervention. What can dancers contribute? If a doctor's best contribution is to help people learn from their illness, then a dancer's best contribution is to help people learn from their bodies. Did I mention that we've just published another book, What dancers do that other health workers don't.

No. So many books all of a sudden.

All part of the strategy to offer our work to more people. Many people who don't want to come to a workshop or a conference are very happy to read about the work. What dancers do ... has chapters from five different dancers - one theme, five different approaches.

I hardly dare ask. Is there a number three on your list of important challenges?

Yep. The third one is to explore new ways of working with kids, or older people for that matter, who display challenging behaviour. I think many young people are disciplined for behaviours they can't help because there is an underlying neurological issue. These kids tend to end up on behaviour modification programmes or, in extreme cases, on drugs. But going back to the root of the problem - the movement patterns that promote neurological organisation - could be a really effective alternative. Wouldn't it be good if we could reduce, rather than increase, the usage of prescribed drugs?

I won't argue with you there.

At last! Haven't you got anything scathing to say?

You'd need to convince me that you really can make an effective contribution with your movement stuff.

Well of course. We need to discover this for ourselves as well as for others. I'm sick of always having to crow about my successes in order to attract further funding; never having time to ask the difficult questions; never having time for the conversations (in-depth conversations lasting months and years) between dancers and scientists and innovative health workers and ... and ... and

Stop! I'm feeling dizzy. Please stop! Stop!

So, could you concede that it is important for dancers to make a direct contribution to the mainstream political questions of our time? And that we need to behave like politicians if we want our work to be better understood and have our contributions used to better effect?

Maybe. Perhaps.

But if I do, what I want to know is this? Who decides on the questions that need asking? Who writes the reports, the articles, the evaluations? Who goes to the meetings? You or me? (Pause)

Both of us. (Grudging pause.) OK, both of us. Not just you, and not just me. This requires all your cynicism and all my optimism. All your mental reasoning and all my leaping, bounding, rolling and spinning. All your despair and all my joy Your feet on the ground, my wings in the air. Your grey suit and my diaphanous deshabille. I'm game if you are...
What do you say?
Are you in or out?
Shall we go for it?
What do you say?

Penny Greenland, director, JABADAO. Contact +44 (0)113 231 0650 Email info@jabadao.org

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001