Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Evergreen Adventure

Doing BrainDance with young children can be revealing but it is also a little bit messy, especially when there are 26 of them.  This summer I had the delight of working with about half that many grownups who were really psyched to be doing movement.  And how fascinating it was to see how the adults' work was the same as the kids', and also how it was different.

For four intense days in July, students at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, crawled, danced, watched each other's eyes as they read, made rhyming words out of bright-green playdough, and checked their eyes' convergence -- and these were only a few of the activities the students and I engaged in during this summer class. The students also engaged with Bette Lamont, neurodevelopment therapist based in Seattle who works all over the country.

The class was called, “Developmental Movement and Emotional Health,” an unusual subject for an undergraduate class at a public university, perhaps; but this was The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington.  Evergreen is well-known for its unusual take on the world, and for the way it stretches its students and faculty in interesting ways.

"One of the fascinating outcomes of this work is that students often experience new emotional insights as well as physical ones as a result of fine-tuning their neurodevelopmental patterning through movement activities," explains Jehrin Alexandria, professor of dance and movement at The Evergreen State College who teaches this three-credit undergraduate course. "The body-mind connections are highlighted and reinforced by this work."  Students reported feeling unsettled or euphoric after an afternoon of practicing movements for the support of their neurodevelopment patterning.

In addition to movement patterns, we -- students and teachers alike -- worked through the activities laid out in Red Flags for Primary Teachers, my handbook of developmental movement and vision exercises.    
(Some of these I, too, learned from Bette Lamont.)

“I never knew that there were so many parts to vision,” one student marveled.  “I am wondering now how my eyes are working – or not!”  “I liked your dances, and the BrainDance,” commented another. "Doing belly-crawling had a real impact on my state of mind."

The students did creeping and crawling activities, played games such as pick-up sticks, eyeball tracking, copying a pattern exactly, hookups, and balancing to learn about their eyes’ movements; learned, practiced, and performed two folk dances, one from Norway and one from Mexico, each of which incorporates all eight developmental patterns of the BrainDance.

Students read and reported on various books, including Brain Rules by John Medina, Brain-Compatible Dance Education by Anne Green  Gilbert, Red Flags for Primary Teachers by Katie Johnson, Jillian’s Story by Robin Benoit, Smart Moves by Carla Hannaford, and others.

For a final activity, members of the class built a machine, complete with movement, sounds, and purpose, with individual focus and group collaboration.

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