What does this mean?
Dr. Suzi Tortora is a Certified Movement Analyst (CMA) and Board Certified Dance/Movement Therapist who works with infants, children, and parents using her copious skills to engage in a highly effective therapy. She has clarified her approaches over a myriad of observation and intervention skills into a methodology she calls Ways of Seeing. I completed the two year training in Ways of Seeing in June 2019, and just received this form of validation in the mail. I am now more able to help young children and their parents address behavioural, learning, sensory, and physical challenges through movement.
Suzi has done beautiful work with children on the autism spectrum, including one child (now young man) that the author Malcolm Gladwell wrote about in his article/chapter called What the Dog Saw:
For a number of years, Tortora has worked with Eric (not his real name), an autistic boy with severe language and communication problems. Tortora videotaped some of their sessions, and in one, four months after they started to work together, Eric is standing in the middle of Tortora’s studio in Cold Spring, New York, a beautiful dark-haired three-and-a-half-year-old, wearing only a diaper. His mother is sitting to the side, against the wall. In the background, you can hear the soundtrack to “Riverdance,” which happens to be Eric’s favorite album. Eric is having a tantrum.
He gets up and runs toward the stereo. Then he runs back and throws himself down on his stomach, arms and legs flailing. Tortora throws herself down on the ground, just as he did. He sits up. She sits up. He twists. She twists. He squirms. She squirms. “When Eric is running around, I didn’t say, ‘Let’s put on quiet music.’ I can’t turn him off, because he can’t turn off,” Tortora said. “He can’t go from zero to sixty and then back down to zero. With a typical child, you might say, ‘Take a deep breath. Reason with me’—and that might work. But not with children like this. They are in their world by themselves. I have to go in there and meet them and bring them back out.”
Tortora sits up on her knees and faces Eric. His legs are moving in every direction, and she takes his feet into her hands. Slowly, and subtly, she begins to move his legs in time with the music. Eric gets up and runs to the corner of the room and back again. Tortora gets up and mirrors his action, but this time she moves more fluidly and gracefully than he did. She takes his feet again. This time, she moves Eric’s entire torso, opening the pelvis in a contra-lateral twist.” I’m standing above him, looking directly at him. I am very symmetrical. So I’m saying to him, I’m stable. I’m here. I’m calm. I’m holding him at the knees and giving him sensory input. It’s firm and clear. Touch is an incredible tool. It’s another way to speak.”
She starts to rock his knees from side to side. Eric begins to calm down. He begins to make slight adjustments to the music. His legs move more freely, more lyrically. His movement is starting to get organized. He goes back into his mother’s arms. He’s still upset, but his cry has softened. Tortora sits and faces him—stable, symmetrical, direct eye contact.
His mother says, “You need a tissue?”
Tortora brings him a tissue. Eric’s mother says that she needs a tissue. Eric gives his tissue to his mother.
“Can we dance?” Tortora asks him.
“O.K.,” he says, in a small voice.
It was impossible to see Tortora with Eric and not think of Cesar with Jon- Bee: here was the same extraordinary energy and intelligence and personal force marshalled on behalf of the help-less, the same calm in the face of chaos, and, perhaps most surprising, the same gentleness. When we talk about people with presence, we often assume that they have a strong personality—that they sweep us all up in their own personal whirlwind. Our model is the Pied Piper, who played his irresistible tune and every child in Hamelin blindly followed. But Cesar Millan and Suzi Tortora play different tunes, in different situations. And they don’t turn their back, and expect others to follow. Cesar let JonBee lead; Tortora’s approaches to Eric were dictated by Eric. Presence is not just versatile; it’s also reactive. Certain people, we say, “command our attention,” but the verb is all wrong. There is no commanding, only soliciting. The dogs in the dog run wanted someone to tell them when to start and stop; they were refugees from anarchy and disorder. Eric wanted to enjoy “Riverdance.” It was his favorite music. Tortora did not say, “Let us dance.” She asked, “Can we dance?”
Then Tortora gets a drum, and starts to play. Eric’s mother stands up and starts to circle the room, in an Irish step dance. Eric is lying on the ground, and slowly his feet start to tap in time with the music. He gets up. He walks to the corner of the room, disappears behind a partition, and then re-ënters, triumphant. He begins to dance, playing an imaginary flute as he circles the room.
If you know of a child who could benefit from this work, please contact me and I would be happy to discuss what I might be able to offer.