We sat on cushions at a Japanese tea table, a meditative soundscape emanating from a nearby speaker in the softly lit sitting room of Hayley Shannon’s quaint Ballard apartment. Ever since Shannon’s return from the Tamalpa Institute this fall, her Dance Healing practice has gained more and more traction, and I welcomed the opportunity to learn more about her ongoing movement series. Interested in her work from the beginning, I had never been fully clear on what Dance Healing looked like… A trauma-informed dance class? A movement meditation series? An embodied mindfulness practice?
Upon conversing with Shannon, it became more and more clear that Dance Healing can adapt to suit the intentions and expertise of the practitioner, which for Shannon, is a sort of embodied mindfulness in which she maintains a sensitivity to her body’s language, allowing it to inform her choices and educate her needs. “[Dance Healing is] witnessing… movement and watching it evolve – less the mind directing how you want it to go, and more observing how it wants to evolve on its own,” she says. “Mindfulness makes me think of you witnessing something; that’s a huge part of dance healing itself. Can I witness my physical body, my emotional body, and my mental body…?” Shannon lets her mind take a backseat, notices what the body wants to do, and then explores those pathways with curiosity; the body becomes the teacher, the mind an observer, and if she finds keys to “unlocking emotional holding” in the process, that’s merely an unintended, albeit welcome benefit.
This sort of conscientious movement practice isn’t an exclusively easeful experience however, and feelings of judgment, fear, self doubt, and emotional resistance are also natural in the process; Shannon reminds me that part of Dance Healing is seeing those judgments, acknowledging them, and coming back to what the body is asking for. “Can I notice something coming up and make a space to release it and explore it?” she asks thoughtfully. “Where can I carve out space to just listen to my body, trust it, and spend time there?” In the end, there is no right or wrong in Dance Healing and the ways in which participants surprise themselves are all part of what makes the practice both exciting and inherently therapeutic.
Healing as an integral part of dance has always been Shannon’s primary interest and also what led her to resist Dance/Movement Therapy and higher education models, which tend to turn movement practices into clinical exercises as opposed to focusing on the inherent benefits of dance practices while modifying as needed to accomodate a participant’s needs. So when Shannon found LivingDance~LivingMusic, a methodology geared towards self-connection and empowerment, she was immediately taken with the program’s prioritization of dance as a fundamentally rejuvenating form. After several years growing her own teaching practice, she attended a two week LivingDance~LivingMusic immersion in Greece in 2016 under the instruction of Dr. Danielle Fraenkel. “That was my first deep dive into embodied healing work and it was extremely challenging…” she recalls, “and definitely the most transformational experience of my life.”
Shannon went on to pursue her Certification in Somatic Expressive Arts Therapy, completing Level 1 this fall from the Tamalpa Institute in San Rafael, California where she studied under Anna Halprin, pioneer of expressive arts for healing and postmodern dance. “I didn’t want to separate dance and healing,” Shannon emphasized. “I really want to find where those two can exist together and Tamalpa spoke to me in that way.” Shannon has since developed her Dance Healing program in Seattle to reflect her personal practice and foundations taught at the Tamalpa Institute. Using dance, imagery, drawing, group work, and meditation, she guides participants through their own movement experience.
Classes begin with dancers getting attuned to the space, followed by an embodied warmup based on Ann Gilbert’s Brain Dance method and a guided meditation. “I’m attempting to get people out of their analytical mind and [calm] the nervous system,” she explains, “dropping people into their felt senses.” Shannon uses floor work and Bartenieff Fundamentals, ultimately leading dancers into simultaneous solo experiences surrounding a movement concept such as shape, level, or rhythm. A drawing or writing reflection allows participants to explore their solo research on the page before they connect with an “ally,” sharing what came up, finding mutual connections, and then bearing witness to the other participant’s physical journey. “That’s some of my favorite time,” she reflects, “[witnessing] people connecting in that moment of authenticity.” Shannon always closes with one last group experience and a reflective circle.
While classes are geared towards the adult age group, Dance Healing is open to dancers of all ages, movement backgrounds, abilities, and body types and has attracted dancers from 18 to 80 years of age. Open Flight lacks ADA accessibility, but finding a space that allows for adaptive participation is Shannon’s next priority; dance healing is for every body and it is her goal to offer the benefits of an embodied healing practice to anyone interested. Above all, Shannon wants to reassure prospective participants. “Wherever you’re at is valid… Permission to be exactly where you are is what the practice is about. If that is: ‘I’m really afraid to even be in my body right now,’ that is beautiful. And that’s where so many of us start… Your body will take you where you’re ready to go.”
Dance Healing is held on a drop-in basis the first and second Sundays of each month at Open Flight Studio from 12:30-2:30pm. Three-hour Workshop Series are also offered on an intermittent basis; a Dancing Sound workshop will be held on May 26, 2016 from 12:30-3:30pm. Please see hayleyshannon.com for more information and registration details.