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“Establishing & Re-establishing”

by Christina Motley, MA, BC-DMT, LCMHC

December 2022

Woman being held in her husbands are in a fetal position.
Pas de deux Man leaning back into his wifes are and being supported.
Pas de Deux: woman in a position lying on husband's chest reminiscent of a fish dive.
Pas de Deux: husband and wife in embrace with low arabesque lines.

I began 2020 as a fresh Master’s graduate and credentialed registered dance/movement therapist with my first full-time position at an inpatient psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of Chicago. I was also a part-time creative movement instructor for a ballet school in the city and an assistant dance instructor for a varied-style adaptive dance class in the suburbs. At the same time, I was beginning to train and perform again after two years of struggling to understand what “dance” meant to me in my current body/mind/spirit as a professional dancer.

As I reflected back recently, I almost forgot that I was in the midst of two different rehearsal processes with artists close by our home as COVID-19 cases began to spike, classes and rehearsals kept being pushed further into the future until I stopped getting updates on when performances might actually occur. I began to experiment with “Zoom” for the first time, recording ballet classes with my cat scurrying around in the background, dancing with others in rehearsals trying to mirror movements, and guiding therapy sessions while kicking my fiance out into the cold for a couple of hours to uphold confidentiality with patients.

In the hospital, I had to begin using “imaginary” props rather than our real balls and scarves due to the spread of the virus quickening, though we were initially told that our hospital did not support us utilizing masks or gloves. We were told this would not affect our facility and to just use good handwashing.

That quickly shifted into me ( and many others) being double-masked, everything doused in Clorox, and somehow still leading dance therapy groups that promoted connection while keeping patients distanced from each other the entire time. The amount of anxiety, confusion, fear, depression, and crippling grief from personal, communal, and global lives lost on top of the lack of justice and acts of oppression leading to social unrest clearly displayed was literally debilitating as well as mobilizing all at the same time.

Supporting my patients, my dance students, and myself during this time taught me more than any of my studies had ever done. I realized that I needed to move in whatever way I could. I needed to “move out” the emotions I contained for others in our therapy sessions. I witnessed as I taught my dance classes, and I could not help but absorb emotions from the community around me as we all faced the unknown in very different ways.

So I healed by creating a ritual of dancing every day, whether it was for five minutes or an hour. I danced in silence or to music in my living room as I laughed at my cat “dancing” with me, I cried out what I needed to release from the day, and I settled in who I was in the present moment. As I witnessed others’ movement and dance around me, I noticed the preciousness they displayed.

I noticed how we all discovered the meaningfulness of our expression, and the power it held to share a truth that we all had great difficulty expressing through our words. I found a harbor of hope in my dance spaces and saw this same hope found in the friendships created somehow through the zoom screens, the outdoor stages that began to be used more than ever before so that dancers could really use their space, and the new “accessories” through masks that helped to keep us all safe while protecting us from isolating more than needed.

As I have continued to perform, teach, and practice therapy as mandates have been lifted, vaccines have been administered, and spaces have been reopened, I continue to see the lasting hope and preciousness we can all connect to in art creation through movement.

A concept I continue to identify in the ballet classes I teach, as well as the therapy sessions I lead, is the idea of “establishing and re-establishing” when situations occur differently than initially planned. It is incredible how the mind and the body work together to continuously establish and re-establish the balance we need to continue navigating our movement while balancing in arabesque, as well as balancing our decisions in day-to-day life.

I am excited to see what type of meaningful growth this interruption of the stage will provide for our young and seasoned artists as we collectively establish and re-establish our movement into new unknowns alongside new hopes for the future.

Dance Headshot of woman with long brown hair and big smile against a colorful mural.

Christina, originally from Southeastern Virginia, received her Master of Arts in Dance/Movement Therapy & Counseling at Columbia College Chicago and is a board-certified dance/movement therapist and licensed clinical mental health counselor working primarily in outpatient mental health settings.  Christina is also a dance teaching artist for Dance Project, Inc. After receiving a BA in Dance Performance and BS in Psychology from UNC Charlotte, along with the Professional Dance Training Certificate from Charlotte Ballet, she danced with Virginia Ballet Theater. While a company dancer, she coordinated and taught for a dance program that created accessible outreach dance and movement classes for people of diverse abilities and ages. Christina has supported the creativity of children, adolescents, young adults, and aging adults in her work as a therapist and as a dance teaching artist. Her identity as a dancing artist, teaching artist, and dance/movement therapist informs her various ways of moving, seeing, being moved, and being seen by others.