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Collaboratively created with: Olivia Bohrer, Sabrina Canas*, Hallie Lahm*, Kris Lee, Kiera McMahon*, Anna Merritt*, Maddy Mikami*, Ashley Tillman*, Laura Witsken*

*This process spanned 2 semesters at The University of the Arts. Collaborators with a star indicate participation during both semesters. 

Facilitated by: Katherine Desimine

About this process:

I facilitated this process as an Independent Study at The University of Arts from Fall 2017-Spring 2018, a year long process.

We started with this question: What are the natural, physical ways that we serve as therapeutic* outlets for each other?

*A way to think of therapy in this context is just a mode of support and comfort.

From there the question expanded to: How do these natural physical modes of support function in our relationships and communities?


Then the question became: So we know what these natural physical modes of support are and how they function. So what? What does knowing that information do?

This was a very process based project. We did present 2 hybrid performances-workshops as part of the study, but we thought of them as just another part of the process, not necessarily what we were working towards.


The way we worked included was mostly based in physical/dance-based, usually improvisational, exercises. We all drew from our experiences as dancers and improvisers, as well as different experiences with therapy and other healing practices, to create/bring in/modify/adapt exercises and scores that we thought might help us work through our questions, and bring us some kind of articulation of the answers. We also did a lot of talking and writing. See the photos below to see one of the first collective writing/brainstorming exercises we did during the process.



(click on image to see larger)

Working through this process and these questions, we came to the proposal that awareness of and sensitivity to our and each others’ physical selves is absolutely essential in creating and maintaining emotionally supportive, compassionate, empathetic relationships.

The above proposal is a hyper-condensed summary that we came to as we prepared our final performance-workshop at the end of the almost year long process. Supplementary proposals that we came to include:

  • Doing this work, of being in the world with each other in a way that is constantly aware and active, is both instinctive and hard work. In that way it embodies a paradox.​


  • Physical communication is often overlooked and undervalued, as compared to the dominant verbal communication. 

  • Our physical selves are imbedded in our emotional relationships and responses so deeply that we don’t even realize what most of these physical responses and interactions are unless we really stop to focus on them (see examples below in the performance-workshop program). That’s why we feel like this process has been like learning to speak a language that we already know. Not creating something new, but uncovering something that’s always been present.

  • Both therapy and these physical ways happen in two different kinds of situations. They happen in situations of distress, when things are bad, when you need comfort. But they are also cumulative, you do them over time to create and solidify and check on the status of your relationships. You do them so that, when those times of distress do come, you know how to support someone sensitively and with awareness, with your whole self.

  • There’s value in being aware of your own physical tendencies as well. How do you physically feel or what are your physical instincts in times of distress (for example: tightness in chest, crying, avoiding eye contact with others)? When you’re upset do you want to be touched or not? If you do, how so? Do those close to you know this? How do you communicate this either verbally or physically? ​

  • Biology supports these ideas. According to a 2017 TED Talk by psychology professor Lisa Feldman Barrett, emotions are not universally expressed or recognized. Our biological responses to emotion are constantly changing, they’re not hardwired within ourselves or within humanity at large. The way I relate that idea to this process, is that that constant changing is exactly why we have to train ourselves to recognize emotional responses in specific people and specific situations. Once we notice them and name them in ourselves and in our friends, our brain immediately starts to recognize them more and more. The brain inherently recognizes pattern, creates meaning; we are predisposed to do this work. But because our biological responses to emotion are constantly changing, part of this work is the constant awareness. 

  • Possibly the biggest, most important thing that we’ve discovered about this process is that there is no specific, tangible end goal to this practice, but instead a state of mind, a practice of constantly being aware of our physical selves in relation to our emotions and to our relationships and how we interact with each other. A constant practice of asking and listening.

Program from final performance-workshop, April 21 2018.

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