In the previous week, I explored ways of weaving immersive experiences in the context of MRI machines, but for those patients with an operable tumor, there is another facet to their story: the surgery. As a general rule, an operable tumor can be surgically removed with minimal risk. That is, it is neither located deep within the brain (i.e., the brain stem), nor is it near a sensitive region of the brain that regulates vital functions (i.e., movement).
When considering movement on stage, a dancer jumps into the air, but is brought back to the floor thanks to gravity. In relation to physics, the force that is applied to floor is an action, while the reaction to that force is a sound. Similarly, during intra-operative motor mapping, the surgeon will electrically stimulate discrete cortical or subcortical pathways of the brain that control movement. As this step is performed prior to removing the tumor, their hope is that mapping these stimulation sites will help guide the resection more efficiently and accurately, as tumors with poorly defined borders may often be mixed with healthy tissue. Thus, in this case, the action is the electric stimulation and the reaction is involuntary movement of the arm or leg.
Yet, there is more to the physics of dance than merely gravity and applying forces. It’s important to also consider displacement, a term used to describe an object’s overall change in position. In dance, displacement is the distance traveled by the dancer. So, when a surgeon simulates a pathway, the direction or degree to which an arm will elevate, for instance, is going to vary and there are a multitude of patient-specific reasons of why this is the case. Perhaps the patient is older and has restricted arm movement, and so, the displacement is short. So then, how would you demonstrate this on a stage? You would need to also consider the complex interplay of additional factors, like time, speed, and equilibrium. As expected, each dancer will create a space for themselves, but the distance traveled will inevitably vary.
On Monday of last week I was recovering my strength from a virus that forced me to crash pretty hard, and after a few days of weakness and sense of ennui I believe I’ve made a good recovery.
When your body forces you to rest, even as a little kid being home sick from school, I would find my mind would become more active, becoming the stronger sense in a way and taking over for the movement that my body couldn’t necessarily do. There’s an empathetic understanding that overcomes someone as well, if they’re willing to see it, for the blessing that is a “healthy” and “able” body.
Over the weekend I participated in an Advanced Training Workshop for Dance for PD teachers from across the country and even the world, getting to talk theory and teaching techniques, as well practicing somatic exercises for ourselves as well as our students. Gyrokinesis, Somatics, and Anatomy were standouts, and understanding them comes from the idea of experiential learning with the body and mind becoming united in their efforts to learn through movement and exercise. I’ve learned in my Basic Body Work classes at West Side Dance Project that it is through skin sensation that we discover our proprioception, our sense of where our body is in space. In fact, 90% of our proprioception comes from skin sensation from the time we are infants, but as adults we start to lose that sense, and rather than go throughout the world touching and rubbing against every object our visual field (not an especially healthy idea in NYC), one must accomplish this knowledge from experiential learning, and over time perhaps in a dance studio lying on the floor, guided by repetitive motions with a knowledgeable teacher who can cue you with sensitivity, imagery, and anatomical analysis.
Pandiculation is a cool, new word I learned this weekend, and something my cat apparently does over 40 times a day - perhaps why she is so graceful! Basically it’s a stretch, but not the static stretch forcing muscles to their set point to promote eventual lengthening by allowing time to act on our own muscle’s inhibitory response; pandiculation is more about the movement of the spine for example, through your own range of motion, in a gentle and juicy kind of way. This word promotes the importance of a healthy, reflexive spine, and healthy posture throughout the day, not by harsh words like: “sit up straight, chest open, head back…” because although these are decent ideas, they promote tension in their approach. A big thanks to one of my first teaching mentors in Dance for PD, Megan Williams, for this experiential Anatomy lesson in what will be an inspiring new approach to my classes, as well as my own body. Sometimes it is easier to “open up or stand up straighter” when you have experienced a more extreme iteration of the opposite. Try this for example, seated: rather than just thinking “chest up and open(!),” which may cause undue tension in your back and neck, try softening your chest first, by closing off your shoulders and accentuating a hunch bringing your chest towards your spine, letting your head relax down. Try resetting to “neutral” and then repeat the activity by adding an exhalation to the “softening” movement. Now try opening up by bringing your chest/sternum up towards the sky. Repeating this activity, paying particular attention to your jaw and tongue may be of interest (as it was with me). Repeating this activity nice and gentle, can increase awareness of where you might sit naturally, where undue tension may be, but also just give you a nice thoracic mobilization. Ah…
Especially in diseases like Parkinson’s, human interaction can dwindle leading to isolation and eventually depression. Promoting solo exploration in class that includes patting, tapping, rubbing, massaging etc., one can engender a sense of knowing in the simplest of ways. Partnering also helps accrue some of this knowledge, but if you are alone try this:
Thinking more critically about this, one can start to unpack the inherent difficulty and added challenge when dealing with certain Parkonsonian symptoms such as reduced arm swing, heavy and lowered head, thoracic kyphosis, and a contracted lateral pull. Think what it’s like to experience this while seated, but also while standing, and especially while walking.
Taking processes like somatic and subcortical learning to dance (or physiological) concepts like effort and counterbalance, and complicating it with the addition of performance filters like variances in time, space, and touch in partnerships or solo work can be quite compelling, lending their own narratives to rather quotidian movement. Continuing thoughts from previous conversations, I know that immersive theatre techniques can be exciting, but I also am searching for ways to exemplify brain phenomena, like communicating dendrites or failing dopamine molecule structures, in essence, not through anthropomorphic means, because the brain is very much a living entity, but through personification, seeing humans in motion depicting patterns within the chaos, which I believe do exist. I believe there is an internal rhythm and architectural beauty within the mysterious brain, and a loss of structure and rhythm when in the face of illness such as neurodegeneration.