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Dance and the Alchemical Process
Keynote Presented at Alanus University on May 10, 2014 

by Daria Halprin


I have composed my work with movement/dance in terms of an alchemical process, turning the prima material of our old myths, shadows and crises into higher states of consciousness and expression.

Through dance we are able to give shape and expression to what wants and needs to emerge, and enact it.

Something mysterious - gripping - sometimes even something that seems like magic or miraculous happens in the encounter between the mover, her real life material, and the dance, and through this intimate embrace the dance changes and the dancer is changed.

Dance and the accompanying expressive arts become the medicine and the muse.

In this practice we are able to explore our past, present and what could be possible to cultivate in our future.


The Body 

The body contains our entire life experience.

We could say that it is our home. We begin to consider the complex and elegant ways in which the body, as much as it houses our physical anatomy - bones, muscles, blood stream, organs and body parts - correspondingly contains feelings, emotions, memories, thoughts, past/present imprints and future potentials. 

Our physical bodies are not separate from our feelings and emotions, images, thoughts - our physical anatomy reflects the anatomy of our psyche.



I think of movement as the body’s first and primary language. Movement is a way for us to engage deeply with our inner landscape, and give outward expression to the entire range of human feelings, images and narratives.

Through movement we tune our bodies as if they are instruments - so that there is body/mind connection – and as we tune we become attuned: increasing awareness, unlocking a wealth of information and material housed within the body, and we are ready to give it expression.

Movement reveals what we intend to and what we don’t - what we are aware of and what we are not.

Movement itself becomes a life/art metaphor.

Through movement we bring forth – reveal - work on things - work through things - confront – release - transform - celebrate our full humanity.


There are 5 pathways along which the work is able to move us - people may choose the pathway they most want or need to work on and at times the pathway chooses us.



Dance in particular and the process of art making in general has the capacity to express suffering in ways which are healing, life affirming.

Akin to a Homeopathic approach  - treating like with like - dance and art are like the tincture which echoes what lies within and brings it to the surface to be expressed and released.



In dance and art we can Mythologize and Enact  - rather than pathologize and analyze - our psyches are revealed in Poetic ways - our life experiences become dances, stories, poems, paintings to be made and to share - our  laments and joys become songs to sing to listen and to  dance to.


Creativity for it’s own sake

To be able to work productively with even the most difficult - expanding our ability to be and express ourselves creatively increases our life energy, our sense of passionate encounter with life and enlarges our sense of self - creativity is empowering!

Fritz Perls: “The healthiest form of projection is art.”



We ask, what are we learning about our bodies, our dances and the messages revealed in our art? We ask, how is this art experience and art work connected to or reflective of other things in our  lives?



The metaphor of Homeopathy meets Alchemy:  the healing tincture mirrors the illness so as to bring it to the surface - releases it - leaving space for balance to return, and in alchemy the application of intense heat through embodied creativity and the "fire" of the arts themselves changes baser material into gold. This allows change to begin.  We forgo notions of fixing in favor of this natural creative process - we presume that the body/mind seeks alignment and responds to outlets of expression which echo the needs it has to express, release and regenerate.


We ask and explore these questions:

Who am I - how am I - where have I come from - who am I becoming - what is my relationship to others and the world around me-  In 3 primary art mediums: movement/ dance, visual art, and spoken, written and vocalized narrative.

We explore old and current challenges and through dance and the art processes we use new questions, resources and models for change are generated and embodied. 


I began to use the phrase, "If your body could speak," as a poetic way of calling for a new imaginative and metaphorical way of thinking about the body - it is meant to remind us of the connection between movement, emotion and story.


The work draws upon the underlying connection between physical- emotional- mental realms of the person.


The Science of the body

We begin from the physical.  We build sensory and motional awareness and resources. We learn about the messages contained within our bodies and we become able to expand our range of expression. We study the connection between the anatomy of the body, the organic and kinesthetic function of each body system.


The feeling body

Movement evokes, channels and shifts feeling and emotion. It acts as a kind of medicine, messenger and muse.The body/mind develops an alive dialogue, so that what we feel, think and sense becomes the very material we explore and utilize for healing, psychologizing, creativity, learning and change.


Imagination and Story

The work seeks to emphasize, develop and strengthen a relationship between body and imagination; between life narratives and creative art expression.

We use movement and the related arts to facilitate awareness and bring the life story forward to be expressed, explored and performed. The art making experience generates new stories and models for change. 


Body Part mythology 

We have systematized a way to explore autobiographical material through body/movement, written, spoken, and vocalized narrative and visual arts.  We delve into explorations with each body part, through all these art mediums. We identify physiological and kinesthetic function - we relate it to the movement repertoire specific to each part of the body and find corresponding symbolic, or what I refer to as archetypal, themes to work with.

It is then from that interplay that each mover’s feelings, images and narratives emerge and are connected to various life experiences.

Before and after body part drawings  mark a change in a process which unfolds dynamically and organically as we engage this blended artistic and psychological process of traveling through each body part and its corresponding mythology.


A Transformative Process

The dance changes the dancer and the dancer changes the dance - utilizing the arts in our work we practice becoming choreographers of our lives.

We use a 5 Part Process which describes and guides a cycle of the following phases: Identifying, encountering and confronting, releasing, changing and growing. This cycle takes us across what we call a Life/Art bridge, applying what we have experienced in studio to everyday life.


Working together

What happens in group encounter and creativity is significant both to our artistic and psychological process. We learn more together than we do in isolation. Group becomes metaphor for family, interpersonal relations, community and the larger world.Group provides witnessing, feedback, the practice of our model for communication skills, working with and through challenges together, and the opportunity for performative acts and rituals.


Self Portraits

Another hallmark of our practice is a self portrait process, which we designed in parallel with the body part mythology work. Another way in which we track our transformative journey through the arts.


Performance as Ritual

Performance becomes another metaphor for self embodiment and for showing up in the world - to communicate what have we encountered, discovered and transformed.

The studio space acts as a kind of metaphoric stage upon which our lives are consciously and creatively played out.


By expanding our awareness and creativity in the art-making studio we expand our awareness and creativity outside of the studio and therapy room to affect all areas of our lives.

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