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IBMT Diploma graduate Gaelin Little traces her journey with contemporary dance, authentic movement and somatic practice. Drawing on these disciplines to influence her work as an artist and educator, she shares some of her personal challenges, inquiries and research around the embodied anatomy of the membrane and the role of a loving witness as a support for the creative process.

Nurturing the Creative Process in an Uncertain Landscape

My interest in somatics began in my first year as a dance student in 2005 at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. I was introduced to Somatic Movement Education by Gill Clarke, a pioneer in the field of dance, somatics and education.

The traditional contemporary dance training I was immersed in was challenging me on many levels. During my education a pattern of self-doubt was established and internalised so that every creative process I entered became a hotbed for my own insecurities. Within that context Gill’s work was one of the few parts of my training that made sense to me, the only time when I felt the space for a dialogue between myself and my moving body. 

My exposure to somatics continued in my final year when I went to an Authentic Movement workshop led by Linda Hartley. This had a deep impact on me, the space for my body to simply be, with no judgement or expectation, felt so unfamiliar. Being with my experience in this way was a big unknown. Finally, I was home, a new relationship to dance and making where my whole being could be involved began.

The workshop inspired me to embark on a training with Linda in Integrative Bodywork and Movement Therapy (IBMT). IBMT weaves a unique thread between core practices of Body-Mind Centring ™, Authentic Movement & Somatic Psychology. The significance of these specific practices combined continues to reveal itself within my work. I’m interested in the knowledge that can be gained in both the connections and spaces between things.

Photo: Cat Westwood. Dancer: Gaelin Little, with Lucille Teppa & Tara Silverthorn

This year I began a part time Masters in Creative Practice at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in collaboration with Independent Dance.  14 years after that influential meeting with Gill, I’m grateful to be supported through The Gill Clarke Bursary, named in her memory. This is giving me the opportunity to delve into further research around how somatic practices can be used as a resource for creativity, in dance and as a broader creative practice.

I’m particularly interested by those moments of being ‘stuck’ that we experience within a creative process (creative process in this context refers to both the making of actual artistic works and the act of dancing itself). These places can be rich, full of creative potential, or immobilising and debilitating. I’m interested in the connection between a strong ‘inner critic’ and this feeling of debilitation. The critical methods that are common in institutional environments are crucial to deepening our understanding of practice, however I believe there are dangers to them when handled without care. When a living process is subject to scrutiny or judgement before it’s ready, what gets shut down? What from the personal becomes dissociated, pushed into the shadows of the work?

Not yet knowing can be terrifying. Bringing with it a sense of loneliness and isolation. But I believe this to be an integral part of the process, because it is here where there is acute potential for change, for something new to emerge. In my experience this moving between the known and unknown has its own sense of natural timing. I feel it is my job to remain open and receptive to this rhythm. There is innate vulnerability in this process. It is easy to panic, readily grasping for the things I already know; my safety nets.

Photo: Dominic Farlam. Dancers: Gaelin Little & Cat Westwood

What if in this space between the naming of things and their being known, we entered the unknown from a place of inherent safety? If feeling lost in a void was a place of familiarity and one where we had the tools to navigate, explore, dig deeper. My experience of Authentic Movement (AM) is one of returning to the unknown again and again, so many times that this place begins to feel familiar, it becomes a state I can welcome, soften into, draw out, stay longer.

The Loving Witness

The external witness in AM acts as a support for strengthening the internal witness consciousness. The witness feels so powerful because you are being seen and felt within a process that is still unfolding, that arrives from the sub-conscious. To be seen here without judgement is to give that place a voice, to bring it softly into consciousness. I’m interested in how the role of a compassionate witness can provide the confidence to stay longer in the unknown space and courage to stay with difficult experiences. This is not a sentimental witness, compassion isn’t without discernment, but she holds the space for the good, the bad and the messy to all be present.

After a period of moving in AM we spend a significant amount of time talking about our experience this serves as another layer of coaxing the unconscious into consciousness. This has influenced how I approach the creative process. I’ve found importance in naming the different parts of my experience, gently drawing things out into words even if they are ideas that eventually get moved on from. If I remember every part of the journey as significant in the first instance, I can then look back and decide what is important to explore further through reflection and a process of distillation. If I only remember the parts that I think are ‘good’, or that I already know, consequently the place I arrive at may be missing creative vitality. 

Embodying the Membrane

I’ve become interested in the membrane as an embodied example of a site for communication between two places, the known and the unknown, self and other. The cell membrane is container, but it is also a space. A resonating space. A movable space. Not one thing. Elements of both.  The membrane of the cell is porous, it lets in what it needs and lets go of the things that are no longer useful. If the cell membrane is holding on too tight with a high tone it will not have the ability to fully take things in or let them out. If there is low tone, then the gates are left open and the membrane is overwhelmed, losing the ability to actively choose what it lets in or out. When I move with cellular awareness, my presence becomes internally focused and at the same time I become more sensitive to my surroundings, moving towards a balanced tone that enables me to be with myself and be with others, equally. Here there is a dialogue between allowing myself to feel and sense but also to discern the information that filters in. The membrane can also represent our psychological boundaries, our yes and our no, influencing how and what we select and interpret. Being in the membrane helps me to remain in a healthy relationship between self, environment and other, rooting me deeper within the potential of the present moment, as oppose to dissociating from it. 

The Body as a Continual Process of Change

For me, one of the overarching intentions of Somatic Movement Therapy is around finding movement and safety in the places one feels stuck or dissociated, being with whatever is happening and highlighting the body’s availability for change, to find a new pathway. Supporting the ability to move between things, energies and states with ease. The act of bringing something into my conscious awareness causes me to change. Your awareness also causes me to change. Moment to moment, feeling my way into a new form that has not yet been imagined.

Within my research I aim to discover methods to support the unfolding of a creative process, in the pivotal and delicate moments of finding, defining and articulating the work. I’m interested in how somatic practices can inform a holistic person-centred approach. This has implications for my work, where I find myself sitting in the porous membrane between therapeutic, artistic, educational and spiritual contexts. My ongoing therapeutic and spiritual practice supports my creative life by keeping the channels open between the universal and the particular, the conditioned and the unconditioned. Through integrating this work, I hope to expose and further understand the intimate and personal nature of the creative process and how this sits alongside the relational aspect.

Photo: Dougie Evans

My artistic practice sits primarily within the context of dance quartet Eleven Farrer House of which I am a co-director. Eleven Farrer House provides its members a framework to take our own artistic freedoms and sense of empowerment within a supportive environment; generating the conditions for sustainable practice and mutual support of all kinds. We each take turns to initiate ideas and projects, which are all of equal value, regardless of the form they take. Hierarchy within the quartet constantly shifts, exercising democracy throughout the working process.

I’m committed to raising the profile of somatic practices by engaging different people and communities in acts of creativity and embodiment. This has found an expression in community arts projects as well as in working therapeutically with children who have physical & learning difficulties. I believe each of us has a rich inner creative landscape and I’m passionate about finding ways of supporting that to become an expression in the world.

Gaelin is based between London and Norfolk where she offers workshops and also one to one therapeutic sessions. If you’re interested in her work and/or being on her mailing list for news and information on future events, please get in touch – She would love to hear from you.