Undoing Racism

Our monthly, hour-long conversations generally have very little plan or structure. Sometimes I suggest a reading or watching of a video, but not usually. At times, I like to start with a quiet centering, a 60-second “pause,” as my Alexander teacher and colleague Anne Johnson would call it – closing our eyes, feeling our feet on the ground, tuning into our breath, etc. But in January, after we started off with our usual greetings and chatter, we spontaneously dove into a conversation on disability, a topic that fits into the larger topic of diversity, equity and inclusion.

One of our participants shared that as a teenager she was in a car accident and sustained a serious brain injury. Her recovery was long, and eurhythmics classes were one of the things that helped. She remembered that, in particular, the actions required to inhibit her movement, in stopping or freezing, helped her regain control over her mobility.

That story inspired another participant to share about a recent opportunity where she was asked to give piano lessons to a child with attention deficit and hyperactivity. The child could not organize himself enough to sit at the piano, but thoroughly enjoyed moving and freezing to the sound and silence of music. This was a point of contact and engagement that the teacher was excited to build upon thereafter.

This led to a discussion about the wonderful presentations on Dalcroze with disabilities at the virtual International Conference of Dalcroze Studies (ICDS 5) last fall. There were several presentations on this topic, some of which we discussed:

  • a violinist who healed her body image through a combination of Dalcroze classes and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy)
  • a former cellist who operates in a wheelchair and earned her Dalcroze certificate
  • Dalcroze with children who are hearing impaired
  • …with children who are autistic and blind
  • …with children with ADHD
  • …with seniors with dementia
  • …with individuals with Parkinson’s disease

During and after our meeting I was moved to reflect on my first career as a creative arts therapist working with groups and individuals with various labels and needs. Looking at my work through a DEI lens, I remember the unease I felt within the hierarchy of the medical and psychiatric institutions – the severe “us vs. them” dichotomy, and the wish I had for finding ways to normalize difference and disability. I decided that I wanted to be part of a preventative approach to health, and I opened a dance studio. Over the next several years my work evolved out of therapy and into education.

In our February meeting, we took this discussion further. Selma Odom shared about a project she is doing with John Habron, researching the history of Dalcroze as a form of therapeutic intervention. They are discovering that many practitioners have offered eurhythmics classes for special populations since its inception.

One of our participants asked “Is Dalcroze a somatic practice?” This led to a stimulating conversation on the definition of somatics, which indirectly led to the topic of musician trauma. One of our participants spoke of the wound that friends suffered when their music teacher told them not to sing, but to pretend to sing, and others began thinking and sharing about various kinds of traumas experienced in conservatory music training.  For some of us, Dalcroze helped to heal this trauma and brought us back to playing music. This is a topic to discuss further at another meeting.

Dalcroze eurhythmics has many therapeutic elements: physical relaxation; mental concentration; joy and pleasure in moving to and creating beautiful music; playful and creative interaction with others; coordinating and integrating movement, breath, voice, instrument; mind-body integration and self-awareness. Yet, as one participant mentioned during our discussion, we should not call our work “therapy,” unless we are specifically trained to work as a therapist.

Spiraling back to personal disclosures about our own impairments and imperfections, I reflected on being a person with a hearing impairment, and how deeply grateful I feel when people speak up and enunciate. I reflected on the potential to shrink away in the shame of being old and losing my hearing rather than speaking up and rightfully asking for accommodation in order to remain included and equal.

In the spring of 2021 I assisted a fellow creative arts therapist in an online workshop that incorporated a lot of full body movement. One participant was in a wheelchair, and I decided to conduct the entire 3-hour session in my chair as a way to both support her and to understand the work from that perspective. This proved to be powerful and revealing to me, and the participant said that it was profound for her – that it allowed her to feel much more included than she might have felt otherwise.

It is heartening to witness how we are examining power structures and the evolving paradigm shift away from hierarchical thinking, or, to use bell hooks’ (1953-2021) well-worn mouth-ful, the move away from “white supremacist, imperialist, capitalist patriarchy,” or “imperialist, white supremacist heteropatriarchy.”

RIP bell hooks. Thanks for your great works. Here’s a nice tribute to her by Amy Goodman, at the “War and Peace Report.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkJKJZU7xXU

Our monthly discussions continue and are open to all. Come join us!


About Dawn Pratson

Dawn Pratson earned her Dalcroze license in 2004, and was the founding music specialist at the Folk Arts Cultural Treasures Charter School in Philadelphia from 2005-2015. She is a musician (flute, piano, voice) and modern/contemporary dancer and choreographer. She taught Dalcroze Eurhythmics at the University of the Arts and Temple University and teaches workshops around the U.S. and abroad.

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