What does our dancer in residence do?

I find myself struggling to describe the magic and the miracles that our dancer in residence Louise Klarnett creates every time she comes to work with our mothers and minis.

To fully know the effect she has it is important to know how mums arrive with us, so far from being ready to risk a dance or an engagement that anybody could be.

Mums and children are traumatised.

Traumatised by the experiences that led them in to homelessness: Domestic abuse, family breakdown, domestic slavery, trafficking, having been hurt, used, cut.

They are often living within the trauma of being homeless. Insecure, unable to sleep, depressed, anxious, untrusting, in pain (emotional and physical).

For those who don’t know what Louise does it might seem incongruous to invite a dancer work with this group of women and children.

Surely we should concentrate on sorting out the practical problems. The housing, the income, the immigration, the need for safety, food, comfort.

Well, we do that too.

But our view is that babies do not stop being babies when they become homeless.

They do not stop developing –  and needing the inputs and stimulation that is necessary for them to develop – because they have larger issues. In fact, they need these things more. They need play, joy, belonging, movement, engagement and creativity. 

They need to be children, to move, roll, jump, hop, feel the joy and release of twirling, twisting, and turning.

It turns out that this is not just play:

It is development,

It is mood regulation,

It is building core strength both emotional and physical.

So. 

Being in the room with Louise is magic for these reasons.

We witness babies who are suspicious, stressed, silent begin to brave engagement. To come out of themselves and to move.

This is how Louise describes it.

Some bound over into my ‘space’ confident, open, tactile.

One little girl with long thick eyelashes and wide, wide eyes, silently notices me across the room through the noise, and people and toys.

She looks then looks away, looks

again.

I align my midline and widen my perceptual field to include her in my improvisation from across the space, through the noise and people and toys.

This relationship builds slowly over the duration of the whole session.

She takes / catches my eye and is somehow a little nearer to me, navigating and testing the safety and the possibilities.  

We look, blink, look away. 

I smile, gesture a sort of ‘wave’, reach without expectation.

I sway in my midline and spiral in improvised motion with many other children from the sky to the ground and find stillness as well as energy, in and out of contact as appropriate.

She is still there, across the space, through the noise and people and toys.  

Nearing the end of the session this little one initiates a movement conversation.

A wave for a word. A game, repeating but changing. Her wave, small, without eyes, bigger with eyes, bigger with eyes and in response to my gesture and eyes. A slight smile across her eyes, knowing she and I are playing the same game.

Closer but still distant in the room. I hope I might spark this dance again. 

 Meet Louise Klarnett, our Dance Artist in Residence

 Since January 2019 Louise Klarnett has been dance artist in residence one day per week for The Magpie Project in partnership with Dance Art Foundation, funded by Awards For All.

Here she explains her practice.

 “What do dancers do that other health workers don’t? They see pure movement as language and they reply in kind. They are happy to conduct conversations in movement so that it speaks for itself, without the need for any words of translation.”

Penny Greenland

“A significant benefit of this residency is the flexibility. There is no fixed timetable within my morning and I am able to move freely to work in various ways.

Sometimes a specific group session takes place between 1-2pm, this has been both with mums, their children and volunteers/staff, as well as specific workshops just for the mums.

My approach is broad and when working one-to-one with the babies and children includes, but is not limited to:

  • using improvisation,
  • intensive interaction and
  • movement conversation techniques.

I look for the connection and usually begin with an invitation, a prop, a movement or touch.

A movement, a sound, a way of playing or being with, can then gently be amplified and expanded upon, moving into an appropriate physical, playful, engaged experience with the individual.

This might be just working with – for example –  fingers, eyes or full bodies. Through these interactive and creative experiences, the work supports and develops communication, both verbal and non-verbal, and more significantly, physical development. It can work towards strengthening muscles, encouraging balance, coordination and spatial awareness among other things. With babies, this might be extending tummy time through creative ideas.

A dance can start, or be, anywhere, wherever it needs to be and for however long. This means the work can benefit the babies and young children when it is the best time for them and in response to them. This could be on a mum’s lap while she’s in conversation with a professional or member of staff, encouraging visual tracking and facial expression; or dancing a baby into peaceful sleep while a mum has a moment to get a cup of tea, or make an important phone call. It can be big and bold, directing boisterous energy by sliding a child around on fabric, or exploring pathways of colourful tape around the space. The one to one work is broad and in the moment.

Time to gently observe or see the children operating in the environment as well as speaking to staff and volunteers can be helpful but basically, ‘meeting them’ where they are, works.

Group sessions include specific movement experiences to support attachment and relationship, both between the mum and their own child/ren as well as building a shared, joyful experience among the whole group.

The families have choice around staying for these sessions, and once they have made that choice, they are warmly encouraged to immerse themselves, with all physical needs supported. Movement is a universal language and though often English language is limited for the mums, gesturing and demonstrating aids access and therefore experience.”

Magpie Project Founder Jane Williams  says of Louise’s work:

“The circumstances in which our mums and minis are living can make play, movement, freedom, and joy difficult to come by.

Mums are under pressure, there is no clean floor or space to play on at home, movement can sometimes seem chaotic or risky when a mum feels she is only just controlling her environment anyway. So our minis can end up spending alot of time in buggies, in sitters, or otherwise constrained – to keep them safe and out of harm’s way.

Louise encourages them  – gently, kindly and always respecting boundaries – to start to take notice of the world around them, and to roll around, to jump, to run, to twirl, to stop.

Knowing what some of these families have been through, seeing them relax and have fun with Louise often takes our breath away. It is nothing short of miraculous.”