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Curiosity, the moving body and identity
Date posted: 03 May 2018
Independent dance artist Danielle Teale, will co-lead an ‘Introduction to dance for Parkinson’s’ course at this year’s People Dancing Summer School. Here Danielle blogs on how dancing with Parkinson's has made a significant contribution to her dance practice... and her life.
Danielle Teale. Photo by Sara Hibbert

I have been dancing with Parkinson's for close to 10 years. In that time, I have had the pleasure of learning from some of the most inspiring, motivated and resilient people I have ever met.

In her personal account, ‘So, we progress, Parkinson’s and I,’ Terry Rummins sums up a subject that has been of great interest to me for some time: “I’ve often wondered whether what I learned about myself over the years, before I developed Parkinson’s, is now redundant. Are the answers to ‘who am I?’ now completely different?” (Rummins, 2016)

In my dance practice I have seen and begun to understand how dancers with Parkinson’s grapple with their sense of identity from within their own body; becoming frustrated and feeling at odds with the many new versions of themselves that they encounter day to day. With Parkinson’s, an on or off moment can bring a sudden and tangible full stop to a person’s progress. As it is a degenerative condition, the dancers I meet are constantly readdressing new physical and emotional challenges that arise and finding new ways to incorporate these into the fabric of their daily routines.

Imagine, like an unwanted metamorphosis, suddenly the body you have inhabited for your life up until now is shifting around you. You’re still the same person, but the way you feel, experience and make your way in the world is constantly changing. Anyone experiencing this would begin to question whether they were genuinely the person they once thought. In her PD365 vlog, Day 127, Emma Lawton describes this as ‘The Change’:

‘Nobody tells you, when you’re diagnosed, that you’ll change…no one tells you that because you’re dealing with something big, your personality is shifting to cope with that’ (Lawton, 2017).

Dance is a highly tuned, embodied practice which teaches us to read movement and respond physically through dynamic variation, weight change and pathways with and around others. It therefore seems to be a perfect match for a person with Parkinson’s, who is on a journey of constant reimagining and rediscovery of their own body and their identity within it. 

I believe it is through kinaesthetic empathy or heightened awareness of the body that I, as a dance artist in this setting, can interpret and adapt in the moment to support the dancer’s personal journey towards self-efficacy. I do this by adapting choreography, choosing appropriate music, or being selective about my choice of language or tone. It is always ultimately my aim to enable my dancers to feel they can establish a renewed connection with themselves and to instil a belief and confidence in their adaptability in the moment… so that they feel empowered to ‘go with the flow’ and to experience freedom from the constraints of their symptoms. 

I have always considered the dance process a collaborative one and see the moving body of the dancers I work with as a resource that can provide constant inspiration. My approach is to foster an environment where co-ownership can be achieved; where we dance alongside each other, experiencing new possibilities together. Co-ownership doesn’t mean that the approach is purely one of total, boundaryless freedom and improvisation. It involves listening, responding, leaving space within structures, and acknowledging that the learning is going in both directions between artist and dancer.

I have personally learned that in the Parkinson’s context, an open and empathic approach and the ability to hold the space for my dancers is vital to understand the factors that I can shift or choreograph, which might enable the dancers to enjoy freedom through a greater connection with their own bodies and to encourage a sense of reaffirmed and valued identity. 

People with Parkinson’s have a lived experience that has sparked in me an unending curiosity in the moving body and taught me invaluable lessons about persistence, listening and agency. I am so grateful for the huge contribution that this community has made to my practice.

Danielle Teale
Independent Dance Artist

References:
If you are interested in personal accounts directly from people with Parkinson’s, Danielle would highly recommend the following:

Terry Rummins, So I’ve Got Parkinson’s Disease, (2012)
Terry Rummins, So We Progress, Parkinson’s and I, (2016)
Emma Lawton, Dropping the P-Bomb, (2015)
Emma Lawton, PD365 Video Blogs, (2017) www.youtube.com/channel/UC9E0F9eSoW5eA83YnfWszhQ

Photography by Sara Hibbert.

Danielle Teale is collaborating with the Dance for Parkinson’s Partnership UK to offer a mentoring and shadowing opportunity for dance artists new to this field of work. To enquire go to www.danielleteale.com/dtd-blog/2018/4/26/shadowing-and-mentoring-opportunity-for-dance-artists 

And you can click here to find out more about Danielle and David’s ‘Introduction to Dance for Parkinson’s’ course at our Summer School.