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“Establishing & Re-establishing”

by Chistina Motley, MA, BC-DMT, LCMHC

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 as
well as an assistant dance instructor to 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 closeby 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 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 initially were 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 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.

(December 2022)

Christina Motley is…