According to the Justice Department, one out of every four kids is abused by another youth each month, and every day as many as 160,000 U.S. children miss school because of bullying. Many programs are designed to cope with youth conflict issues, but one dancer/educator, Dr. Martha Eddy, believes that in order for a program to be effective, it must integrate movement into the curriculum. Since dance teachers work in an environment built around movement, the principles Eddy has developed are particularly suitable to them.
“Body language and movement are at the heart of human behavior,” explains Eddy. In addition to holding a doctorate in movement science and education, she is a registered somatic movement therapist, certified movement analyst, and founder and director of The Center for Kinesthetic Education in New York City.
Central to Eddy’s work is the premise that “any type of violence—physical, psychological, verbal—will have an impact on our bodies,” she says. “Sometimes it affects our whole body; sometimes we just get shoulder cramps or an increased heart rate. This has to be reconciled; the body has to come back to homeostasis. Unless we move, we carry that tension.”
Last February in New York, at the Dance Education Laboratory of the 92nd Street Y, she presented a course on conflict resolution and bullying prevention for teachers. Her curriculum for “Performing Peace: Including the Bully” uses a cooperative approach drawing from dance, theater, creative movement, somatic education, and reflective thinking processes. The workshop guides adults or children (K–12) in understanding and examining the nature of bullying and being bullied, and in the practical implementation of peaceful behavior in times of stress—teaching new responses through movement games, and choreographing positive responses to a wide range of feelings.
Including the bully might sound like a recipe for disaster, but according to Eddy, the opposite is true. “If you don’t include the bullies, they will still stand apart, be angry, and feel alienated,” she says. “They probably have their own history of trauma, of being bullied. Until we really help that bully, nothing is going to change at that school. Often bullies are leaders, but have been told they are bad or never do [things] right. We have to get them to buy into rules about human caring and set some rules with the group. Rule number one: no physical abuse.”
While working on her doctorate, “The Role of Physical Activity in Violence Prevention Programs for Youth,” at Teachers College at Columbia University, Eddy identified conflict resolution and non-violence programs around the country. They showcased an array of approaches: from martial arts to dance and theater, somatic awareness and relaxation, and even social studies taught by a dance therapist. “To the credit of all the existing programs,” she says, “they all used role play—but role play is just a beginning, not necessarily a context that conflict will come up in.
“For some programs,” Eddy continues, “the main issue is about focusing on the kids having self-control or being strong enough to defend themselves, or aware. So a lot of programs are just about becoming aware of violence, learning that some of what goes on at parties is psychological abuse, learning to be alert to that. It might not be learning how to stand up to violence, but about how to respond.”
Adapting some ideas from movement analysis and child psychiatry, Eddy identified four content themes related to progressive decision making:
Awareness of violence and the Surrounding Environment
Self-assertion and Self-determination in the Face of Violence
Each of these could be addressed by four movement activities or behaviors: body regulation, avoiding violence, finding strength, and readiness to act. Using these principles, students can learn to regulate tension and energy. Through movement phrases, gestures, or compositions, they can learn to focus on avoiding violence or perceiving peaceable options. Movement can help them find the strength to stand steady, to assert themselves, and also learn when it is appropriate to act or get involved.
Dance can be used to enhance self-control, self-assertion, and interpersonal awareness.
Dance expression through improvisation, choreography, and performance around concerns regarding conflict and violence provides an outlet for expressing feelings and building confidence and self-esteem.
Improvisation and composition teach problem-solving skills, creative brainstorming, and cooperation—all needed for conflict resolution and moral reasoning.
Choreography also encourages problem solving and team building, while performance expands the sphere of responsibility to the community at large, providing an opportunity to take action in the world, which helps develop confidence and pride.
Eddy’s research also uncovered the importance of teacher commitments to youth advocacy and the teacher empathy needed for these programs to succeed. Among the notable people identified during her research were Nancy Beardall at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Sarah Crowell at Destiny Arts in Oakland, California, pioneers who are still leading in the field.
Beardall, dance therapy coordinator in the Expressive Therapies Division at Lesley University, has a peace-education program and also heads a creative-arts program. “Her original ideas,” Eddy says, “came out of the [university] dance club, and the intimacy a teacher has preparing everything for performance. She developed the first program dealing with bullying in her company in the ’90s.”
Crowell has taught dance, theater, and violence prevention to youths in schools and community centers in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1990. In 1993 she co-founded Destiny Arts Youth Performance Company, a troupe for teens to co-create original movement/theater productions based on their own experiences.
“They have a dojo [a martial-arts training space] and a dance and theater program,” Eddy says. “All the kids get to do their own choreography and write their own scripts around issues of violence, and they are taught some conflict-resolution skills.”
Conflict-resolution skills come naturally when you work in a group, according to Eddy. “Even if [teachers] don’t know they are teaching conflict resolution, because they are modeling it, student issues will come to the fore. Teachers in classrooms, gyms, and studios draw upon body-awareness activities like breathing and stretching with equal ease. This technique, which is used to calm groups down, helps with self-regulation and focus.”
Eddy has been teaching courses for educators and therapists on conflict resolution through movement and dance for about 10 years. As part of her “Embodying Peace” classes, she offers workshops for adults or children in conflict resolution, violence prevention, body awareness and language, stress reduction, and the use of the arts for social and emotional education. Teachers learn to guide students to respond to conflict peacefully by using body language awareness and to manage anger by tuning in to bodily cues. Verbal and nonverbal behavior for resisting bullying and dealing with difficult situations are practiced. Students may be taught how to express moods through dance and then to use dance alone, with partners, and with groups to make positive choices in responding to their feelings.
Eddy recommends that teachers who are interested in conducting workshops “invite in experts who have an understanding of your population. First-graders have different needs than eighth-graders. Girls have different social dynamics than boys. Experts can help teachers learn about ‘Queen Bees’ (strong-willed, popular girls), that boys need to rely on play fighting for physical contact, etc.”
When hiring an expert, Eddy says, make sure he or she includes a body language and movement component. Alternately, work with The Center for Kinesthetic Education to develop a movement-filled workshop or take the Dance Education Lab workshop next time it is offered at the 92nd Street Y.
Embody Peace: embodypeace.org
The Center for Kinesthetic Education: wellnesscke.net
Lesley University Division of Expressive Therapies: lesley.edu/gsass/56etp.html
Destiny Arts: destinyarts.org