Authentic Movement (AM) is a mystical-therapeutic process work created by Mary Starks Whitehouse (1911-79), a dancer turned Jungian therapist who studied with modern dance pioneers Mary Wigman and Martha Graham. Whitehouse’s work distills the archetypal theatrical roles of performer and audience to two bodies in a room, Mover and Witness, with the Mover following inner impulse, or “being moved”.
When the movement was simple and inevitable, not to be changed no matter how limited or partial, it became what I call ‘authentic‘ — it could be recognized as genuine, belonging to that person.
‘I am moved’… is a moment when the ego gives up control… allowing the Self to take over moving the physical body as it will. It is a moment of unpremeditated surrender that cannot be explained, repeated exactly. … The core of the movement experience is the sensation of moving and being moved.
(Mary Starks Whitehouse)
Authentic Movement offers participants a ritualized external structure consisting of the space and time established for movement and the core dyad of Mover and Witness as roles, but leaves the movement field completely open in the service of spontaneous arising. In practice, the Mover’s task is to follow impulse toward that which feels “inevitable,” while the Witness’s task is to observe not just the Mover’s visible actions, but the Witness’s own inner state and ever-fluctuating experience. Working within the safe refuge of the formal structure, the Mover may practice releasing the intention toward volitional movement for the “unpremeditated surrender” of being moved. For the Witness, the structure creates space for the practice of deep seeing of an Other, including confrontation with the habits of projection and identification that are the mainfestations of Suffering (dukkha) in the relational field. For Whitehouse, and her protégé Janet Adler who developed AM into an intentionally mystical practice, the consistent ritual score between Mover and Witness becomes a framing structure that supports healing and inner inquiry for both members of the archetypal relationship dyad.
I practiced AM intensively from 1996-2002 with Bill McCully Heron, a student of Janet Adler, and use the form as a support for intuitive yoga āsana, energetic cultivation, relational inquiry, embodiment practice in Organic Intelligence, and creative process. I have taught AM in Yoga Teacher Training programs, as a discipline unto itself, and in the context of individual sessions with students. The framing structure of Mover and Witness is also central to my work in live performance, and in Haṭha Yoga Laboratory classes, where it is a core practice form.
More speculatively, if spontaneous movement can be said to hinge on contact with an impersonal impulse or vibratory energy, Authentic Movement may be a contemporary way of cultivating awareness of the energy of life, which when it is felt strongly may be called pītī (in Theravāda Buddhism), prāna, śakti or kuṇḍalinī (in Śaiva Tantra and Hindu Yogas), or other terms for embodied energy. Taking this further, using the image of the Hindu tantric deity Śiva dancing the oscillation between Being and Non-being, called tandava, AM may be glossed as a form of mystical dance or spontaneous yoga āsana. Here is a short speculative exploration of Authentic Movement as tandava.