To trick or treat oneself: An approach to Authentic Movement |

To trick or treat oneself: An approach to Authentic Movement

Lisa Barker will hold Authentic Movement classes throughout the month of November at 9:30 a.m. Saturdays at the Center of Movement in Grass Valley.
Photo by Kai Barker |


WHAT: Authentic Movement at the Center of Movement Studio with Lisa Barker.

WHEN: Class meets on Saturdays from 9:30-11 a.m.

WHERE: Center of Movement Studio at 107 W. Main Street, Grass Valley.

COST: $15 a meeting.

INFO: Find out more about the international Authentic Movement Community online at or call Lisa Barker at 530-575-8588.

I knocked on the door of graduate school with a travelogue of dance studies and professional dance and teaching experiences under my belt. The UCLA program in Dance/Movement Therapy was home to where the founder of Authentic Movement, Mary Whitehouse, once worked and lent credence to the growing field.

Four mornings a week for two years, 12 of us graduate students met under the guidance of Dr. Irma Dosamantes and delved into the work of exposing the raw and unknown parts of ourselves to our own consciousness and noticing ourselves shifting.

This is what Authentic Movement is for me.

In Authentic Movement, there is no music to inspire you by; there is no movement generated from partner dancing. It is a daring form of self-exploration and witnessing.

The outer form of this work carries a structure which includes “Mover and Witness.”

The Mover moves with their eyes closed and in silence, following their own internal landscape. The Witness observes this dance and makes connections through their own sensory awareness. A relationship between Mover and Witness takes place.

After the session, the Mover and Witness usually speak together about their experience; sometimes creative writing is used too; thus bringing formerly unconscious material into consciousness.

We all wear costumes, to some extent, in order to handle the responsibilities in life as adults and to meet the public, or be our professional self: but in the Authentic Movement class, you shed them.

I am offering Authentic Movement introductory classes throughout the month of November at 9:30 a.m. Saturdays at the Center of Movement in Grass Valley. Come with a curious mind and give yourself an opportunity to see if it fits.

History of Authentic Movement

Authentic Movement was pioneered by Mary Stark Whitehouse in the 1950s. Whitehouse had studied dance from two of the greatest artists to ever explode onto the dance scene: Martha Graham, from the United States, and Mary Wigman, from Germany.

Having studied directly with these two masters of modern dance, Whitehouse took to professional dance and later to teaching.

Out of her quest to find a truer embodiment for dance improvisation, she investigated a type of movement by which the mover engages in spontaneous expressive movement directed by the body, and called it, “movement-in-depth.”

Whitehouse talks about her discovery as having to release all her previous training and go back to a place of not moving but rather waiting for the movement to happen to her.

Freedom to move from within can seem terrifying to those who do not know what they are supposed to do. This is a challenge, but, a worthwhile challenge because what we find in facing our fear is our strength. Knowing ourselves more dearly, and honestly, is a great gift: a treat.

Yet, it is easy to trick ourselves away from this in-depth experience even for those of us who find self-directed movement ease. Like Halloween, the process involves tricks and treats.

Whitehouse used the term “trick” to refer to the needs and demands that separate you from your genuine self. Then after you discover what this trick is and what prevents it, to get to authenticity a sacrifice is involved. It becomes a continuation of discovering and sacrificing tricks.

“The reality of impulse and movement come from such a different place in oneself that when it is experienced,” Whitehouse said, “the person comes to know when it is there and when it isn’t … ”

More than movement

It is important to note the psychotherapy aspect of the work. Whitehouse married her love of dance with her attraction of depth psychology and gave sanction to this connection when she called her approach, “movement-in-depth.”

Whitehouse studied at the C.G Jung Institute in Zurich, and later received analysis with a personal patient of C. G. Jung while living in Los Angeles. Whitehouse saw her work as paralleling what Jung called “active imagination” wherein images and their associations lead to understanding life events both inner and outer.

Movement-in-depth can be felt as “active imagination” in sensation terms, similar to how painting uses visual terms to describe the same experience.

It was Janet Adler, a disciple of Whitehouse, who later coined the term Authentic Movement and continued to develop the work after Whitehouse passed away, giving new perspective to the role of the witness.

There is a doorway to spiritual beckoning that can occur in Authentic Movement, much like a moving meditation, because the process gets us in touch with energy inside and around the body.

When this type of movement meditation is enhanced by personal material and the presence of the witness, a profound spiritual effect can take place in both the mover and witness.

One of my favorite quotes that I learned in graduate school is from Adler and it poignantly reflects this sentiment: “We long for a witness. To deeply be seen as we are by another; and, to experience a greater wholeness and love in ourselves through witnessing another.”

Over the years, Whitehouse’s work has contributed to the fields of Analytical Psychology, Dance-Movement Therapy, Somatic Epistemology, dance and meditative practices.

Now her work can be heralded into the new definition of health, which institutes such as UC-Irvine Medical School are identifying as an important part for “optimal health” to occur.

This trend towards optimal health, and Authentic Movement with its holistic approach, is what Whitehouse would call a real treat in that her lifetime of pioneer work is moving health into the future.

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