Some things are easier to describe than others. At Luna, we engage in observation and reflection as daily practice. We charge ourselves to see what actually happens in a dance class, trying to separate out assumptions, judgement and interpretation in order to witness creativity, relationship, and growth, but, sometimes this is difficult; our MPACT (Moving Parents And Children Together) dance classes often happen at residential addiction recovery centers, where mothers are simultaneously learning tools to maintain independent, substance-free lives and to reconnect as they regain custody of their children. There is a lot to observe in these classes. During our opening circle we often see mothers and children participating together, moms tickling their kids to the tune of hickory dickory dock and rocking and rolling with their little ones as they exuberantly sing humpty dumpty. For some families this oneness of mother-child continues throughout the 60-minute class, but, for others, the strain of separation and loss shows through.
When we first met Mary and her child, we observed more separateness than togetherness in their interactions. Mary’s child did not want to sit on mom’s lap and usually danced away from her, toward other children and other mothers, or danced alone, not relating to anyone in class. Mary sometimes engaged her child, usually by giving instructions to listen to the teacher and behave. They rarely danced together and by the end of the six-week session were still two soloists, even when dancing as a duet.
When we returned some months later to start the new session we noticed the shift almost immediately. Mary’s child sat in her lap, smiling and singing nursery rhymes with her. Later in class as parents and children were dancing away from each other then back toward each other, Mary’s child galloped, jumped and turned across the room from her, then returned each time to receive a hug, high five, or “Good job!” from her. As the session progressed we witnessed the two of them making shapes, dancing over, under, around and through each other, giggling, grinning and inventing new ways of playing together through dance. At the end of each class, we as teachers reflected that both mom and child had moments of dancing as creative, expressive individuals and as a happily bonded pair. Through this transformation Mary also emerged as a leader: she confidently led sections of the warm-up and was a role model for how to connect with one’s child through dance.
While dance class is only one component of a busy week at residential centers, it’s a special time for moms and their children to be creative and play together. It was through this lens that we had the privilege of witnessing the remarkable relationship catharsis of Mary and her child.
At that moment, it was clear to me that Luna Dance had been a constant thread in this family’s life.