Voice in movement as a potential space

Was written by Ruth Rabins-Dalumi

In this paper, I will offer a general observation focusing on the correlation between the methodology of voice in movement integration and the theory of psychoanalyst Donald Woods Winnicott.

Apart from Freud, Winnicott is considered the most influential psychoanalyst of our time. His writing has a unique tone of poetic, heart-rending attitude, which Winnicott expressed in his writings. Winnicott discusses, alongside other topics, the underlying conditions that are required to establish a creative life, which derived from the center of an authentic self. He also discusses the crucial role of the maternal environment, in the making of the individual.

Part A: Creativity, Authentic self and corporeal vitality

Winnicott’s theory

Winnicott views creativity as a broad concept, that is a natural impulse that may be expressed in the activities of daily life. It extends to the fields of play, artistic creativity, artistic appreciation, religious emotion, dreaming and cultural life in general. It involves symbolic thinking that incorporates external and internal dimensions.

The creative existence,  according to Winnicott, evolves out of the distinction between ‘self’ and ‘non-self,’ between inner and external worlds that develop fully with the appearance of  symbolic thought, that mediates between the outer and inner worlds. Winnicott writes with sensitivity and in detail about the distinction, which is not self-evident, between the external and internal as part of the field in which creative activity takes place.

Winnicott offers in his book Playing and Reality,” a different way of dealing with the concept of “creativity.” He suggests that his readers  accept the term as a general concept, free from a specific idea that eventually would restrain it. 

The concept of creativity is tied to the creative impulse that Winnicott finds crucial in humans’ life. The creative impulse can be expressed through art, but it also can be manifest in the behavior of a child, infant, teenager, adult or an old man. The creative impulse can be expressed in various ways: while the infant plays with his feces,  or at the moment when a child’s cry becomes a way for him to explore the range of his voice. 

Winnicott claims that the creative impulse is vital in the same manner, for the infant, architect or the performer. Eventually, they are all searching for  concrete materials that will ultimately embody the creative impulse in the world. Winnicott claims that the process of creating and playing has a fundamental role in the natural process of developing cultural experiences.

Winnicott, like many before him, claims that humans are born into a state of unity, and not a state of dichotomy that distinguishes between self and the non-self. Therefore, different impulses, emotions, and the environment are conceived as a continuity of various kind of irritations. 

As part of the healthy development of the baby, there is a state where the baby is considered a unity of its own. The baby has an inner (self) and outer (non-self) dimension, and a membrane situated between them.

The creative aspect expresses in the inner aspect of the self; by the corporeal, emotional and mental states. Winnicott calls this junction “The Potential Space.” It is a space that is accessible at any given moment, but especially while we are dreaming and playing. It also expresses in art and takes part in the regimes of religious life. 

In the book ” True Self and False Self,” Winnicott claims that the foundation to express the creative impulse is rooted in the practice of being in contact with the true self. The true self is connected to the liveliness of the body and the expression of its impulses.

Contrary to the true self, the false self prevents spontaneous and authentic expression from the body and soul. The true self derives from the vitality of the body’s tissues and activities that manifest in heart and breathing operations. The true self is elementary-its essence is not to react to something else but to be. Winnicott claims that only the true self can be creative and feel substantial. 

Winnicott explains that during the process of development, the connection to the true self is damaged due to environmental failure in early stages of life. As a result, the baby might lose his relationship with his own body and needs and therefore will take refuge in his mental function. His intelligence will develop as a separate being, uprooted from the corporeal and mental roots that are crucial to his existence. 

The false self prevents the possibility to develop a creative life that will give the baby eventually contentment and self-fulfillment.

Voice in Movement Integration

The literal thought opens a limitless land for abstract thinking. It offers an intellectual activity that might be detached from direct experience. This separation is conventional in the western culture that divides the psyche from the somatic experience. 

Attentiveness to the somatic experience is a primary condition in the methodology of voice in movement integration. The process of coming back into the body requires a specific exercise that the technique offers to participants. 

For most people to cure the divided state of mental and somatic experience, they must find the space that allows their cognition state to be suspended. 

In the voice in movement integration, we use specific movement structure as a “gate” to offer our students an experiential space. Those structures express the “pulsation principle.” It exposes the variety of corporal and mental experiences, that manifest in the impulse: expand, shrink, release, etc. as we became more sensitive, we are aware to the importance of the corporeal vitality. It allows us to be mindful of the variety of delicate creative impulses that express in a different movement variations: broken, angular, round, trembling, etc. 

The unique quality of the human voice is by being a tool for expression that is beyond literal. The voice has the power to reflect the unification of body and soul. The corporeal range reflects in the vocal range; in the quality of the voice, its rhythm and his strength. 

Vocal improvisation responds to the challenges of being in great awareness in the field of expression. The feelings and the sensations receive their expression through the development of voices and sounds. The experience reflects in the corporeal sensation, giving validity and strength to the student. The vocal-movement improvisation allows a continuous state of direct self-expression, independent upon conceptual content alone. This is the embodiment of the possibility to communicate without trying to solve or explain a thing. This is the language of a particular communication, which aims to express spontaneous expression of the experience of the here and now.

Part B: The Ability to Experience Creative Life Within a Relationship 

Winnicott’s theory

The ability to be alone: The chaos as a primer condition to the “ “creative outreach hand 

According to Winnicott the moment of a creative outreach hand, can evolve only when the individual is ready to experience a real state of tranquility. Winnicott determines that the state of relaxation emerges, while the internal life is becoming a unified continuum that is not organized around a specific purpose, logic or a necessity to react.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters”. (Genesis, Chapter 1 Verse A-B) 

The experience which has described, has an amorphous and ambiguous form that allows the appearance of creative impulses-motorized and sensual. 

“And God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light”. (Genesis, Chapter 1, Verse C).

While creative impulses are taking place, it becomes clear that their appearance becomes possible only from that specific state of amorphous tranquility. After they are experienced as part of the world, they are receiving a reflection from the environment. They are becoming a part of “the organized personality”. After a while, this experience becomes the ground for the establishment of the authentic self, of a mature life of satisfaction and meaning. 

“And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness”. (Genesis, Chapter 1, Verse D) 

The creative impulse (“let there be light”) was answered by the environmental transformation that reflects it (“and there was light”). In this manner it received a significant experience (“and God saw that the light was good”) that led to a distinction and organization within the self.

The seeking after a true self can evolve only from a shapeless function, that can be called the elementary play in a neutral space. Just in this non-unified state within the self-the creativity can emerge. But only if it reflecting the human, it can be a part of the organized personality of the individual, that allows the human being to sense itself as a whole presence in the world. 

Voice in movement integration can give an opportunity to the vague sense, the creative impulses and the energy of playing, in the daily life. On the base of playing the whole existence of the self is constructed. We experience life in the passageway – in the emotional weave of subjectivity and objective observation- between the internal reality of the self, and the collective reality of the external world. 

Winnicott describes in his book Play and Reality,” how the baby can be in a state of tranquility while he is alone. Winnicott likens this state of the baby to the adults’ state of restfulness. The baby can be in a state of confusion and disorientation and might not react to external stimuli. Over time a feeling, sensation or impulse arises that will be felt as real and personal to the baby.

Eugene T. Gendlin, the founder of the Focusing Method, emphasizes that it is essential to be in relation with the body especially while it is in a state of ambiguity.

The essence of the Focusing Method is to learn how to be attentive to the body’s sensations. This attentiveness allows the creation of a particular sensation whose main characteristics are ambiguity and unclarity. It is different than an organized and specific emotion and therefore is different in  cognitive organization as well. From an unclear state, suddenly a new meaning arrives that resembles a new sense. That is the creative outreach- that manifest in the relation of the human being to himself.

The environment as a reflective mirror: the importance of the environment as a reflective tool to the personal impulse  

A. According to Winnicott the establishment of the personal impulse, takes place when the baby is alone. The solitary experience frees the baby from the need to react to external stimuli. While the ground for the ability to be alone is  established, the baby is sharing the space with someone else and therefore feels the solitude while he is sharing the space. 

Eventually, the baby can concede the maternal presence. Winnicott calls this phase- the establishment of the internal environment. Winnicott claims that the human being that develops the ability to be alone can reveal his impulses anew. The impulse is not squandered while we alone, due to the reason that the state of being alone, includes paradoxically that someone else is also there beside us

B. The personal impulse emphasizes the central role of the support environment, as a reflector tool of what happens to humans while they are playing. Winnicott claims that while the baby looks at his mother eyes, he sees his reflection. Therefore the mother’s face is connected to the baby’s face. Winnicott explains what happens  when the mother is not reflecting the baby; the baby does not see itself, and according to Winnicott,  there is a clear outcome-firstly, the creative ability begins to atrophy.

Overlapping Fields of Play – Creative Life Within a Relationship

Winnicott claims that this phase in the baby’s development indicates that he is ready for the next stage; allowing both fields of play to overlap and to find it enjoyable. Sooner or later, the mother will realize that the babies are different from one another according to their ability to like or dislike the introduction of new ideas into the activity of playing that are not initially their own.e). 

This idea of overlapping is fundamental to the making of art. In this situation, the materials of an outer foreign world penetrate an inner world, while it is not abolishing it nor threatening his continuation. The encounter with the external world received acts as an element of inspiration that does not interrupt the creative flow. 

The state of general relaxation may serve as a platform for the development of creative impulses as the aim of the voice in movement integration practice. What are the circumstances for the individual to experience this unique state of general relaxation? The method of voice in movement integration invites a particular mental condition. This allows us to construct and sustain movement from the ability to be alone, to areas of overlapping play. It is manifest in two main forms of practice:1) practice that begins with entry to a framework of a cyclic movement. 2) A practice that starts with being in a neutral state, a method that begins in the form of cyclic movement.

The gateway to improvisation, in this practice, takes the form of cyclic movement that expresses the pulsation principle. The pulsation is expressed in a cyclical motion of expansion/contraction, rising from the cellular level to the entire body. In the entire body, the pulsation motion finds its expression in coordinated changes in muscle tone, in the sphincters, the cardiovascular system, and the skeletal muscle system. Thus, the pulsation motion shapes posture at any given time, as well as the body’s arrangement relative to gravity, and the sensation of connection to the Earth. To deepen the connection with the pulsation’s physiological-motor aspect, practice of the Voice in Motion Integration method explores the potential of the pulsation of the body as one unit, from head to toe, alongside practices focused on specific segments of the body such as the chest, pelvis, and nape, and even work on specific spinal vertebrae. While practicing the pulsation movement we bring our attention to the vertical axis, going from earth to heaven, and the horizontal axis going between the four directions of the earth. To this patterned movement we add the voice, usually beginning with a specific sound or note, and after a while, when the feeling of flow starts, we let go of the structure and give the voice the freedom to join the flow. When the feeling of flow starts, it means that some deep relaxation has begun to occur. This phenomenon of deep relaxation happens because of the circulating repetitive movement of the pulsation motion.        

A central question is- in what way is the formative practice of Winnicott connected to the abstract relaxation mode (that we mentioned earlier)?

The book The Relaxation Response” was written by Dr. Herbert Benson. Benson is a cardiologist and the founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). Benson describes in his book how the repetitive actions create a response of relaxation, that express in decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and muscular tension.

To achieve the response of relaxation, Belson recommends a length activity of 10-20 minutes, that  combines the repetition of a word, sound or prayer. 

After the achievement of relaxation, it will allow the development of the creative impulses to arrive. As the practice evolves, the structure of the movement remains permanent, but the voice moves freely, expressing the wealth of the inner vitality, with changes of tone, intensity, and musicality. 

The next stage includes guided practice. The practice encourages variations of movement, that express  inner vitality and its corporeal needs. The rhythm that emerges can be the expression of the internal rhythm. During the practice, the participant can lengthen the movement by extension, or just staying in a state of convergence. The convergence should be concerning other corporeal centers-as the center of the heart that compared with the convergence to the center of the navel. 

The importance of the pulsation is reflected by its ability to be used as a language, that carries a variety of different qualities of somatic and mental states. 

In the language of the pulsation practice, there is a motorized-sensory dimension, alongside a mental and symbolic aspect. For example, the impulse of contraction with the need to convergence exemplifies the early protected state of the baby. 

Voice in movement integration

The function of the environment in the practice of the impulse structure 

The practice takes place with the involvement of all the participants. The practicing happens with attentiveness to their inner world, without any specific reference to the others. Nevertheless, the members create a harmony of voices without intending to. Their voices influence one another subconsciously and create an environment of attentiveness to the individual’s voice. The harmonious relationships provide a meaningful expression, that recalls the mirroring process of Winnicott. 

At times the external voices of the group are experienced as an attack of exterior stimuli on the individual, that eventually does not allow him to come to a state of relaxation. 

As the practice advances the vocal journey of the participants develops and deepens. The participants are guided to be more alert to the exterior voices. They are practicing how to allow the voices to take part in their improvisation. 

This state allows and sustains simultaneously a sense of the quality of Winnicott’s being alone together alongside, the overlapping fields of play.

The participants are invited to explore their corporeal relationship with others in space, the encounters  and their hinted encounters in space, eventually returning to a private experience of improvisation. 

Overlapping fields of play is the peak of the voice in movement integration practice. The experience and the observation of other participants improvising together, in duos or a group reveal a lot about the complexity of the practice, and can resemble the possibility of collective dreaming.

 At times the participants lose the connection to their source of expression, from pressure to create an exterior relationship. The force shoves aside ambiguity and state of a void that is crucial to the appearance of the creative impulse. This situation obligates the participant to come back into the state of being alone. Especially in the presence of the same person, that they have lost the self in the effort to connect with him or her. 

The state of “dreaming together” is a very special space, it is not what we call everyday consciousness but it is the field of collective unconscious, the wide soul, which talks in the ancient language of music, images, and subtle sensations.      

Practice from neutral state

The participant is welcome to stand in a neutral state. It is a state of unclarity, unplanned, without a specific content or framework. The participant focuses on the corporeal experience and the mental state that is hidden in it. It is a phase in which the participant waits for the creative impulse to appear. In practice, it is a time for searching and experimenting with various sounds that are not entirely organized. e.  

The role of the environment: serial transfer from “the ability to bealone” to “overlapping fields of play”

The practice usually is executed with another supporting presence; pairs, trios or an individual that are supported by the group. The primary role of the silent partners is to create a supportive environment. They must be quiet and try to avoid giving exterior stimulus or giving reflections before a suitable time. 

With the mirroring of the environment, the unorganized expression becomes distinct. This is the element of vocal, movement, and mental wholeness that seeks and refers to the environment. Something that was projecting from inside out now will radiate on the contrary from the outside to the inside. 

During the collective improvisation, those who accompany the participant who is integrating play gradually, in an overlapping manner. It is reflected in the sound and the way the participants  accompany each other. 

There are formats of practice that expand and establish the ability to integrate exterior material that is external to the flow of the improvisation. These formats invite the accompanying partner to intervene in the flow of the participant via little intervention: a touch or a literal suggestion.  

The relationship between body/soul finds it whole expression, when we allow a diversity of mental impulses, sensory and motorized, inner figures, motorial images, musical and mental, archetype materials and biographical memories to emerge.      s. 

Part C: The creative position: Form meets the flow

The creative apperception causes a feeling of value and meaning in human life. Most people experience creative life as if they were trapped in another person’s creative life or in a mechanical way. 

The encounter between spontaneous expression, form, and structure is significant to the research of voice in movement integration. The practice includes a variety of formats that invite the participant to improvise in the framework, laws and restrains of the method. The training expands the boundaries  of potential space”. 

In our practice we open a big space for exploring the movement between flow and form. The participants  meet  the external structure with their bodies, and additionally, they are experience a time of ambiguity and search, until the dream slowly revives the forms that were inaccessible. For example:

Free Improvisation with predetermined text- the improvisation mixed with the structure of the language but keeping musical flow and the commitment to the expression of the inner experience. It is a live encounter with text that most of the times disassemble the exterior meaning, that was dictated in advance, and creating every time the corporeal dreamy improvisation. 

Work with a poem (text and melody) – free improvisation that encounters determined text and melody as well. The participant is invited to meet the structure of the text and melody out of his unique inner state. It allows to the internal quality to color the poem. It could be expressed in the nuance of the tone; it’s intensity, it’s height, rhythm, and beat. 

Free Vocal practice within composition or structural of movement – Examples to a structure of movement: short movement phrases that repeat themselves, transition between  familiar positions, or advancing in a predetermined space.    d.

These are, of course, only a few simple examples.   We practice and explore the principles of Voice in Movement integration with myriad  forms and structures in order to open the gates to our real selves, creative and authentic.    

As a final point – Winnicott claims that adults conceal their ability to play. Adults communicate in a literal manner, and therefore it is much harder to see the quality of playing that is very present with children. We can find the quality of playing in a specific word, fluctuation of the voice and most definitely in the sense of humor.  

Smadar Emor

Smadar Emor

Dancer, choreographer, vocal artist, a writer and voice-movement therapist.

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