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Bytom Dance Festival - Festival Diary - Day 3

Visiting US-Based Movement Therapy Specialist Adrienne Katz writes about her experiences teaching at a disability "home" in Bytom, Poland

June 2005 -- Bytom, Poland

Am I really a movement therapy specialist? I've had no formal training and the best book I've read in the subject only came my way four days ago. But after dancing all my life, I've spent the last two years gaining knowledge of movement therapy from first-hand experience, as a volunteer, and I'll soon be appointed to a full-time post with my current organization. So, I leave it to you to decide.

My Bytom day starts with a quick breakfast coffee in the hotel bar and I enjoy my "kava biawa," to bastardize the Polish language. Most of the festival faculty are staying at the same hotel. As I have done the past three mornings, I listen to the other dancers, choreographers and writers discussing politics and theory at eight in the morning. Despite the fact it prevents preparation for my first class, which is a short walk away, I am content to be with the group though I often remain silent.

Then some of my class walk by and wave enthusiastically at me. I greet them with the few words of Polish I learned the day before. I think, "Quite a feat so early!" My co-worker, Molly, and I are putting in the longest hours of anyone teaching here -- five hours per day, but I wonder how many of them are greeted so enthusiastically at 8:30am. It's a 30-second walk to the classroom and I realise the students have come 30 minutes early.

Molly and I are part of an outreach group teaching therapists, psychology majors and adults with disabilities. The group "homes" and the system here for adults with disabilities are quite different from what I am used to but the students' enthusiasm makes me realise how lucky we are. Despite the lack of detailed briefing information before we arrived and the feeling we're flying by the seat of our pants, we get to work with people devoting themselves selflessly to the workshop. They will not acquire a better turnout, lose five pounds or be able to say they took class from a big name but the professionals are participating because they hope to leave with a bigger, better bag of tricks to take elsewhere. They have inspired me to learn to say "Good morning" in Polish.

Each day we teach two two-hour classes and then host a one-hour round-table discussion afterwards where we share snacks and talk about the day, about disability, about cultures and about past experiences. The morning class is the hardest, both logistically and emotionally. We work at a group home for adults with disabilities, but the "home" feels more medical and institutional than the name suggests and keeps -- and I really do mean "keeps" -- about 150 residents. We buzz to be let in and we must find the doorkeeper to be let out. The corridors are dingy, grey and have a stale smell. Everyone, staff and residents alike, seem worn down. Many of the resident participants greet us with kisses on the hand and catching their gaze provides a moment of beauty.

I find it intimidating when therapists and psychology students join us but then I remember they are doing their best to guide and instruct the residents, just like us. It becomes a bit frustrating at times when six voices are giving instructions in Polish simultaneously and I need a translator to first understand them and then to tell them to hush. As the class continues, it is my hope they will let go of their comfortable, professional roles for a while. On the whole, they are a good-hearted people and I keep trying to remind myself of the cultural differences between the Polish and American traditions in treating disabilities. It's sometimes difficult.

The afternoon class is easier; we have the same therapists and students from the morning but a different group of adults with developmental disabilities. They are participants at an arts day center, which has a much closer fit to our program in the States. Everyone is much livelier and our working space allows for greater creativity. The afternoon energizes me and I feel more liberated to teach what I know. Perhaps it is the larger space, my respect for the arts centre or the fact it's no longer 9am.

The afternoon class starts with a 30-minute physical warm-up, which has varied from yoga to African dance. We then move on to different theater and dance games, from walking around the room and creating different environments to weight-sharing exercises and improvisational games. The group reacts incredibly well to improvisation, and their creativity often runs away with the rest of the day's lesson plans. Our "performance" scheduled for the end of the Conference is the result of a project to which both classes have contributed. Our morning group spent the past two weeks creating a communal story, which we try out on our afternoon class first.

Participants act out all parts of the story, from scenery to characters and inanimate objects with people also taking on the role of the soundtrack and sound effects. It's incredible how much initiative the participants take in solidifying the piece, always adding a couple extra touches and fully using the tools from the exercises we have practiced in class. A couple fewer directors would be nice, but I have to appreciate their dedication to the project and I would rather have too many people trying to use their ideas than none at all. It makes for legitimate group work. The class ends with an activity with no purpose or desired results, rather just to be with the group. Then we are on our merry way to sit in an arts facility across the street that works with adults with disabilities, to discuss anything that comes to mind.

My teaching day ends with preparation for the next day at a bar close to the theatre, which forms the hub for the other activities in the festival. A small, good-natured man serves us and we attempt to communicate with our limited shared language. It's funny; we started the workshops terrified we would run out of material and afraid of dissappointment. In practice, I find I could stay a month and still have more to teach, and I've learned to accept failed lesson plans. This is my first teaching workshop abroad and I have so much more to learn before I leave.

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