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Elder Workshops June 5th at First United Church

The outreach workshops that we have been offering at different locales in the DTES to garner interest the fall workshops for elders through the Arts and Health Project are often a practice in responding sensitively and effectively. This includes: feeling the room, getting a sense of the abilities of each participant, being sensitive to what the group responds to and is excited about.

This morning Mirae and I taught a workshop at the First United Church, just across the intersection from the Carnegie. It was a group of six people. Mirae brought some music (CDs!!) to play to get the energy and interest up.

We start with Miles Davis. Nice and rhythmic and playful. Introductions are first - we go around the circle with names. This time, we don't have a translator. (At other centres, we have a translator for Cantonese and Mandarin speakers, which has been the primary chunk of our workshops.) Mirae leads a bit of a warm-up: reaching to the centre of the circle, reaching towards the ceiling, some breathwork, stretching through the leg into a flexed foot then pointed foot. I then lead and arm and shoulder section: reaching to centre clenching fists then opening palms wide. Repeat.

Irene Dowd hand dance (an exercise I learnt in dance school from an anatomist/dance educator from New York) led into tossing an energy ball of various sizes across the room. Make eye contact, throw to the person, person catches it. This is playful and free, and social without being verbal. People respond to it - they smile and get a bit silly with it, all while staying in the task. This is what we are going for - that sweet spot where the difficulty of the task allows for just enough newness to keep space for play.

There is a bit of nervous energy in the room. Close the eyes and take a deep breath in through the nose, out through the mouth. Shoulders up to the ears, hold, and release. Keep the eyes closed. Put your hand on a place that is tense today, breathe into your hand and imagine a melting ice cube as you breathe out. Put your hand on a place that feels strong today, breathe into your hand and imagine sunshine and warmth radiating into your hand as you breathe out.

Next we do the name with choreography game, a Liz Lerman exercise. This consists of going around the circle one by one, saying your name accompanied by a brief movement of the upper body. After each name we repeat the name and action, and go back to the beginning and repeat. By the end, we do the whole sequence of names and movements, then take away the names. This is a simple and effective way for everyone to become more acquainted with the group and to build choreography in an easy to follow and sequential manner.

The lines of connection follow; the fascial patterns that help to hold us up, move us around, keep us in integrity with practical physics. A brief introduction to the back line of the body leads into getting up from our chairs (up to here, everything is done seated) and exploring the physical patterning of bear. We move inside the circle and find another chair. The side line is drawn, and we move into fish (some stay seated, some move through the middle of the circle). The front line takes us into loon. Mirae and I speak briefly afterwards of the effectiveness of this exercise, and that it stays away from pantomime by virtue of its emphasis on the simple following of physical patterning rather than doing physical/expressive impressions of animals.

We lead the room to sit facing a partner and do a mirroring exercise. This is a great way to introduce the subtleties and rhythmic sensitivities of working with a partner: be aware of your pacing, the space you use between the two of you, and the sharpness of your movement and keep it within a followable range. Switch leaders and repeat.

The workshops winds down at one hour (a couple participants mention they have to leave) with some gentle seated stretching and a clap on three.

After this particular workshop we notice a couple things we can work towards: building sequencing gradually towards exercises that require more coordination, repeating that the movement will look different on every body, and introducing the concept that all you need to dance is your heartbeat and breath.