Reflections on Open Floor Conscious Dance Practice
and Peace Education
My name is Hanne Tjersland; and when I meet people to talk about my passions, there are two areas that frequently come up. Firstly, I consider myself a peace worker, peace researcher and peace educator (all three currently in training) and secondly, I am training to become a teacher of the conscious dance practice Open Floor. One of my core passions is therefore to understand, work with and experience the interrelations and connections between these two fields; Open Floor and peace. Yet, I think I need to start from a different place in this article. I need to start with the basics. Who am I? Where does my passion for peace and Open Floor come from? What exactly is Open Floor? How do I relate to the fabric of peace?
As I said, my name is Hanne and I am a twenty-eight year old Norwegian woman who, for different reasons, currently lives in Innsbruck, Austria. I am, from previous educations, a teacher of theatre, Spanish and yoga, and I am also a world traveller and a lover of forests and mountains. Importantly for this article, I have graduated from the MA Program for Peace Studies in Innsbruck, and I am taking part in the international teacher training of Open Floor International.
I came to the topic of peace through my life experiences. I grew up in a country considered one of the most peaceful countries in the world: Norway. How did I end up feeling called to work with peace? For me, the answer is simple. Within my so-called ‘peaceful’ surroundings, I experienced a lot of ‘unpeace’. I sensed how people around me were unable to embrace and connect with themselves. There was a lot of fear, judgment, blame and guilt; directed both toward oneself and toward one’s surroundings. I also myself took part in these hurtful dynamics. For many years I lived with huge amounts of fear, blame and judgment. I blamed myself for not being good enough, I judged my body and I doubted my capacity to live a meaningful life. Within my ‘peaceful’ surroundings, I was not at all at peace.
My way of transforming this harmful self-relationship was through re-connecting to my body and all what it contains. This included my feelings and emotions, thoughts, ideas, life stories, sensations and dreams (to name just a few). I started to find my way through a variety of embodied practices and began with this to re-discover a deep self trust I had forgotten existed. The path however was far from easy. I had to face a lot of my so-called ‘shadows’, which scared me quite a lot! Finally, I found my way to the Open (dance) Floor and, although I am by no way free from my shadows, I have found a way to move and play with them both on and off the dance floor. My current question is: How can I offer this healing space also to others? It drives my motivation to deeply understand the connections between Open Floor and peace (education).
“When we use the dance to be fully embodied – physically, emotionally, mindfully – it simply means to being home for the beautiful ride of being alive. It means we’re present for anything and everything: loving, losing, colliding, learning, creating, connecting, feeling”
Open Floor International
Open Floor is a conscious dance practice that was created out of the shared wisdom, experience and knowledge of several conscious movement teachers from around the world. It is, as the organization describes itself, “[…] a lively, sweaty, full-on dance inquiry […]” (openfloor.org) where different topics, dynamics and aspects of being human are explored through dance and movement. Hence, to quote one of the teachers of Open Floor, Sue Rickards, “we are not learning to dance; we are dancing to learn.” How does this relate to peace education?
To start, I need to ask the perennial question for anyone working with peace: What exactly is this peace I want to encourage and help unfold through Open Floor? My answer contains three core elements. I relate to, understand and experience peace as a dynamic (ever-changing, plural and never-finished), holistic (including all my dynamics, relations and aspects) and relational fabric. Hence, I prefer to explore the many small peaces that continuously emerge, re-shape and change themselves, rather than focusing on a One, universal, perfect and fixed peace. It is because of this that I see Open Floor as a powerful resource for peace education.
If peace education, as I understand it, includes amongst others the creation of spaces where new possibilities for, understandings of and relations to peace(s) can be discovered, explored, reflected upon, experienced and chosen, there are many aspects of Open Floor I find useful. To start, Open Floor works with an understanding of human beings as essentially relational and embodied. In the official Open Floor curriculum it is called the 4×4. Human beings are always in a dynamic interplay between four basic relationships of their lives, which they hunger for connecting to in just-the-right-amount within every moment of their lives. These hungers are Solitude (relations to oneself), Connection (relations to close/intimate others), Belonging (relations to a group) and Spirit (relations to a larger whole). Importantly, the way humans relate to these hungers are in a dynamic dance where each moment brings some hungers more to the foreground and others to the background. Therefore, there is never a fixed ‘identity’ that describes a person’s set ‘relational type’.
Similarly, Open Floor works with an understanding of humans as containing four dimensions of embodiment. This is again understood dynamically. Humans are a physical body, an emotional body, a mental body and a soul body (the part of an individual that connects to the larger whole). ‘Working through the body’ in Open Floor therefore implies to take all these layers into account within a dynamic exploration of whatever dimension(s) are put in the foreground of each session and/or moment. Hence, Open Floor does not seek to find a static peace for humans to be ‘eternally’ happy, but encourages navigations between and inquiries into the different dynamic, layers and relations that change with every moment of one’s life.
With this, I come to the most central point for how I see Open Floor as a resource for peace education. One of the core questions I ask myself as an Open Floor teacher, based on the official Open Floor curriculum, is: “How can I help myself and others go from fixed to fluid?” In my understanding, one of the key aspects for peace is our human ability to embrace change and continuous re-creation. Without this, we get stuck in one side only. This is in my view a recipe for violence, suffering, pain and ill health. I further believe that all humans carry an innate capacity to embrace the messiness, contradictions and ‘shadows’ they and others carry. This is what allows us to powerfully keep unfolding small peaces every day on this planet. My question is: How can I help encourage more embracement of change and help loosen more of the stuckness? This is for me a practice in moving with constant change through which one can learn to more fully embrace the wholeness of oneself, others and life. Personally, I cultivate this practice on the Open dance Floor and I hope that by sharing this space, I can offer possibilities also for others to explore, play and dance their way through their ever-changing lives. I believe it is deep and profound peace work on many levels.