School of Movement Medicine - Mindfulness in Motion

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Issue: October 2007

by Bea Alleyne
I started dancing the Rhythms in September 1997 when I attended a weekend workshop led by Susannah and held at Cecil Sharp House in London. I wasn’t immediately convinced this was my kind of dance community but I do remember feeling comfortable with the way the whole evening was managed. I was willing to return a few weeks’ later to another of her workshops, appropriately called ‘Diving Deeper’.

Since then I’ve done a lot of work with Susannah but always resisted Sanctuary. Despite the name, I felt that it was more likely to be purgatory. I was afraid that I would be found lacking in femininity in the midst of all those women. However, I finally decided to be brave and challenge these fears. My experience of dancing with Susannah over the years went a long way towards getting me there. I was confident that her leadership would mean it would be an emotionally safe environment and that, if my own demons led me down difficult pathways, I would be able to turn to her and would receive love and support.

In the event, it turned out to be one of the most life-enhancing workshops I’ve ever done. The timing was right for me to see and have reflected back to me just how far I’d moved from the apprehensive, wary, woman who had found her way to Cecil Sharp House in 1994 to the mature person whose sowing of seeds along this dancing path is now bearing fruit.

In this workshop the struggles as well as the joys of being a woman are explored and celebrated in dance and ritual processes. One of the most important for me was that in which we experienced what it felt like to be our mothers: their fears, anger, sadness, joy and spirit. I found that I now had the physical and emotional vocabulary to go deeper than ever into this kind of work: to articulate with my body and vocal chords all of my mother’s stifled anger and frustration, but also to feel the glory of her great soul. This had enabled her to face all the trials and tribulations that came her way and, although she was unaware of it, to do so, in my opinion, magnificently. At that moment It felt as if I’d come to Sanctuary just to do this service for her.

But then, there was the ceremony in which each of us in turn was welcomed into the tribe of women. I was surprised at the emotions that welled up as I stood in the warm cocoon of my fellow dancers who embraced me, whispering my name and uttering encouraging words. It was as if they were saying, ‘You are free to reject us if you wish, to insist that you don’t belong, but the fact is that you are one of us and do have a place here.’ While aware of lingering fear and reluctance to be enfolded in this way, it was impossible not to be moved and to reciprocate when it was other people’s turn. I did this one for me.

In fact, the experience of my five days with this group of women was one of support and tolerant compassion. We were a group of all ages, nationalities, shapes and sizes and the message which Susannah enabled us to hear and witness, loud and clear, was that we, an ordinary, cross-section of people, were ‘an amazing, beautiful and powerful group of women’, with doubts, fears, sadness, and vulnerabilities as well as incredible strengths and creativity.

The proof of the pudding was the way in which, working in groups of three or four, we devised and performed pieces of ritual theatre on our last evening. Each individual contributed fully and openly from the heart to create performances that were moving, entertaining and life-enhancing. My personal experience of working with three strong, assertive women was yet another example of how far I’d come in my personal journey. I held my own without difficulty, stating my wishes clearly and coming swiftly to a decision of what my contribution would be then being acquiescent and supportive when the others stated their wishes. Working in this way everything seemed to fall quickly into place with much greater ease than I expected when we first came together as a group.

But for me, this workshop was not only about celebrating how far I have come and gaining momentum to keep moving forward but also a celebration of and gratitude for my teachers and their progress, and Susannah in particular.

She was already a skilled teacher when I first met her but now somehow it feels as if she’s really come into her own. Like all effective people she makes controlling a large group, time-keeping and DJing look deceptively easy. Together with her two supportive assistants, she moved us seamlessly through the five days’ of ‘plerk’ (play and work), to coin her phrase. There is a now a clarity to her instructions that makes it extremely easy to understand what she wants the group to do and, as expected, it was an extremely safe environment that enabled us all to go as deeply as we needed to into our own emotional work. Two simple examples of her expertise come to mind.

When, sitting in a circle, we each had just over a minute to speak to the whole group, her advice was very clear: ‘Tell us the most important thing first and you’ll find there’s enough time to say what you need to’. Following this guidance meant that each of us did in fact speak movingly from the heart and offered value-filled moments to one another. I’ve since been able to use this advice to focus on essentials when time in short in other aspects of my life, like piano practice sessions.

An even more significant example is the way she was able to turn what, to an unskilled teacher, might have been an irritant into a very positive teaching point. The group was one of the chattiest I’ve ever encountered in a 5 Rhythms workshop. After a while Susannah brought this to our attention. She commented that it seemed to stem from many of us speaking to check, politely, whether or not it was our turn to move forward into the dance, rather than having the confidence to step up, knowing that ‘This is my time to go’, and trusting that everyone else would do the same. Up to this point I had been struggling with critical thoughts about all the chatter going on around me. After she had spoken I was able to focus on what I was doing and on sensing when it was my turn to dance rather than on the behaviour of people around me which, in any case, subtly changed.

If there’s anyone intrigued as I always was by Sanctuary but hesitating because of a fear of ‘women’s groups’, I can only say that under Susannah’s leadership, this is one of the safest, most rewarding workshops at which to explore this reluctance and any other pre-conceived ideas. I certainly found it to be a rewarding experience and one that has moved me further along the road of spiritual and personal development on which I’m travelling.

With love and gratitude to all the teachers and students who have accompanied and supported me along the way.


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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the School of Movement Medicine. Roland Wilkinson, Nappers Crossing, Staverton, Devon TQ9 6PD, UK Tel & Fax +44 (0)1803 762255 http://www.