Movement Choir: Dance for Community Building

Two years ago, the day after the election for President of the US, dance students at the University of Maryland came into the building stunned. For many of them, this was the first time they had voted for federal offices and they described themselves as angry, sad, frustrated, devastated. They were concerned for their futures, particularly for the status of immigrants, the racism and sexism that had already been revealed, for the future of the planet itself.

The morning class became one of self-care, through somatics practices. But the afternoon class was about building the community, in order to support each other through the coming months.

Movement choirs are specifically devised dances based on the voices of the individual participants that are shared into duets, quartets, and whole group phrases. Each participant creates a short phrase that reflects…a concern, a celebration, identity, whatever is salient in the moment. They rehearse the phrase. They observe other phrases and may incorporate a moment from someone else’s phrase—a splice. In duets phrases are shared and a cumulative phrase, the duet phrase, is created. Then the same happens when duets are turned into quartets. The way we then develop the dance is thus: Single phrases (with a splice) are performed 3-4 times; the last time the phrase is performed while moving into the duet. The duet phrase is performed 3-4 times, the last time while moving into the quartet. The quartet phrase is also repeated 3-4 times. After that, each dancer returns to their original phrase while moving, picking up and discarding movement moments from the other movers, until the group decides to end in a group formation.

There is much information in the above process, much individual voicing, and much coming together. Movement choir is a metaphor and a practice that recognizes the input of each member as valuable, the ability of each individual to dialogue with another and to create in a group while including each, to move with others while honoring one’s own identity, and to find a culmination of the whole group, with individual relationships to and within the group.

As a map for community building, the movement choir is a guide for a group to acknowledge individual voices, adapt and include ideas, create structure, and find a moment of coming together that reveals individual and collective placemaking, and thus, community.

In my experience, the sense of belonging and of contributing is key to solving problems, coming together over issues, developing plans of action, and perhaps most importantly, to supporting each other through change.

I love leading these choirs and am always happy to do so!

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