I was determined to get us moving.
It’s bit ironic, thinking up a plan that would get people bustling with energy while my hips sunk lower than my knees sitting in Louise’s comphy woven lounge chair. Her warm yellow table light and oblong floor lamp creative a space of calm that let my eye wander around to arranged student-made textiles, natural materials and curated items that have trickled inter her space. Letting my imagination wander helped us think up ideas for my next studio prompt.
“What if all danced in class,” she asked.
Her suggestion came from from a story my mother shared through her research in social participation for the elderly under the prism of cultural mediation.
(By the way, at 62, she’s completing her Ph.D in Gerontology at the University of Sherbrooke. No shame. I’ll brag about her.)
What if I organized a garden dance? Where I guided people got out of their heads and embodied a relationship with objects.
I elabored further this idea.
I also wanted to explore story vulnerability, storywriting and spacial design.
What if after the dance, participants would write a story, and then after feeling relaxed, loose and introspective, we can share stories that has us feel vulnerable with one another?
At this stage of my eploratory work, I’m interested in looking at the inherent benefits of playful behaviour. Specifically:
To discover the value in exploring whether participants can progressively approach a state of comfortable vulnerability and connection through playful behaviour and story-sharing.
Here we go!
I planned to explore this through a series of progressive exercises over the course of approximately 30 minutes.
1. Visualisation would ground participants and experience feelings and emotions in a space without being in it.
2. The interpretive dance encouraged playful connection with themselves and with their peers.
3. Free-form writing encouraged creativity and introspection.
4. A sharing circle would emulate a safe space for participants to get honest with one another by sharing an experience of personal vulnerability.
Afterwards, participants are invited to fill out a short survey to list their preferences.
Participants were my studio classmates (11 overall), our teacher Louise, and myself. The activity occurred at 1 PM in classroom C3235 at Emily Carr
It’s not a strech to say that movement + guided improvisation = more joy and playfulness. There are other factors that have to come into play of course, like a sense of security from participants: familiarity with classmates, a trust in their guide and insight on my exploration.
I think there is little doubt that chosen play helps with human development. I am curious to see whether it helps strengthen a space for vulnerability and honesty.
After verbally explaining the activities and their valid choice to not participate, they consented by not leaving the room.
Some were not comfortable having photos taken. We agreed that I would film from below the neck.
I forgot to do that. I got swept up in the dance. Using the power of presence and mindfulness, Louise remembered and took photos instead.
In a circle, I led students through a short guided visualization. I started by grounding the group by asking them to do three breaths cycles, and gently close our eyes:
Picture a garden. What do you see in your garden? What are your feet touching? Do you see any vegetables, any fruit trees? Is your garden wide, or do you see edges? What does the air feel like on your skin? What does it smell like? And what do you see in the sky, are there clouds, is it sunny? Do you hear any sounds?
I then asked to take three deeps breaths, and slowly return to our present space.
Participants shared their visualisations. Some were back to their childhood homes, some up in the sky, others guided by things they knew to be in a garden.
I announced to the group that we would dance for the next five minutes.
How would a mango roll? Is it low to the ground? A flower! Start from the seed and slowly sprout upward! A waterfall travels through the room rapidly! How light is our cloud? Wispy, or big and proud? How would a fence behave? Arms wide, stiff, protective? Platers playing badminton! Look into your sky! Where does the birdie go?
It’s a bird! It’s a cloud! It’s a plum tree! It’s a juicy mango! people were spread around the room, taking up space thanks to my prompts and sometimes looking for direction thanks to my leading.
This music playlist ran throughout the activity! From dancing, to writing, to the sharing circle, and lastly, the survey.
Pretty cool, right?
Free-form writing: justifying the juicy plum butt
Slowing things down, I gathered participants around a table. We each proceeded to write free-form stories based on a object we danced as. We wrote for up to seven minutes.
Free-form writing is when you write whatever comes to mind, uninterrupted. Examples are:
– people wrote playful stories
– Expressions of animism in stories
– associating human characteristics to objects in nature: feelings of joy, loneliness
– appreication for living things in the garden
– Seeing relationship between chosen thing and other living things
– some objects finding themselves in the environment that we danced in.
– a few cloud stories, maybe because it was one of the past objects we danced as.
I’m moved by people’s creativity!
I’m aware thought, that my prompts on paper was not written the way I said it. Se below for examples.
The first story is a lovely poem about plums. I personally enjoyed that one the most.
We all sat in a circle. The intention was to create a space for people to feel vulnerable but safe. I started by sharing am embarrassing stories of my own. I stipulated that you can share an embarrassing stories or share a story that inspires you based on something that was shared.
It was difficult for people to bring up embarrassing stories, either because these stories were soften over time, because it’s hard to recall, or because there are few moments where we do get embarrassed.
People weren’t necessarily expressing their empathy when others shared their stories. some looked visibly awkward, the class began more quiet, more tepidly than in the previous two activities.
After ten minutes or so, I ended the conversation early, before it was getting good, to move towards my last activity.
The survey had one open-ended question and one question asking to rank activities from most to least enjoyable. To keep things cute and light, a drawing was included (as well on the free-form writing page).
I looked over participant’s surveys answers and had a quick feedback after the activity finished.
The activity lasted for 45 minutes, 15-minutes longer than intended.
Thanks to the initial dancing they felt lighter and a sense of ease when free-form writing. Enjoying being in the space of their garden
Of note, some students expressed appreciation for how each activity worked in succession of the previous one.
Participants ranked dance as their favourite activity (visualization would have been part of this), Second, story writing. Third, sharing circle.
Without a detailed survey response, I can only stipulate from their active participation that participants felt comfortable and enjoyed aspects of the activity.
One classmate said they hadn’t danced in three years. I’m glad I got them to shake!
I enjoyed acting as a guide. Any for the most part. Participants enjoyed the playful aspect of the workshop. The end of the workshop needed more… workshopping.
I needed to organize more time for the end. Giving more time is better than less.
I also wasn’t able to write down my initial reflections, but I was keenly aware of disappointment. I depend a little too much on feedback to determine its worth.
A next step would be to do more readings to support the ideas and logic behind my design. Some of these activities stemmed from intuition and conversation with my peers.
My surveys will have to include questions around what participants preferred the most, a little, and the least.
I was moving students forward in the process rather than have to progress organically. More people would have shared with time.
Vulnerability, a game of time and open conversation
Anecdotally, professor Bonne Zabolotney mentioned off-hand that designers enjoy getting together to discuss their design failure moments, as an expression of vulnerability. Could participants feel more comfortable sharing professional failures over personal ones?
Some of my participants like the activity, while others the power of feeling embarrassment as a group, rather than by ourselves. While others expressed discomfort on my chosen topic on vulnerability.
I carried an idea of a talking circle in my design inquiry. I hadn’t considered this previous distinction, and whether people who haven’t done a typical talking circle (all my non-indigenous classmates) would prefer the former over the latter.
I would have like to facilitate the sharing circle exercise for longer. Perhaps, I’d also add questions that helped people progressively get to know each other more.
Importantly, I recognize that the more serious we get, the less playful it becomes. I’d rather keep attention to the activity of play.
Going forward, the question would be whether it’s necessary to talk about difficult things in a playful way? I don’t think I want to necessarily help people work through difficulties through play. I want to help people feel more playful in their lives.
I liked the Free-form writing the most because I got to continue with my flow of creativity without feeling self-conscious or worrying too much about quickly facilitating a dance for the people around me. Dancing was the third because it allowed me to feel silly in front of my classmates. Third was the visualization at the beginning, because it gave me an opportunity to centre. Fourth is the sharing circle, because I didn’t feel like I got participants to click quickly enough.
Without asking participants why, my guess is that it’s because people weren’t naturally sharing and being playful with one another yet. We didn’t spend enough time getting the ball rolling with the sharing circle activity because I cut it short, for the sake of time. It last for a duration of 10 minutes.
Defining what I specifically plan to do with my photos might convince more classmates to get their photos taken.
This was also an example of whether verbal consent and communication is necessary. In other words, why is it okay to take photos of people?
I didn’t spend enough time on thinking of the best survey questions to ask because the intention of the workshop want crystal clear to me. Going forward, a defined yet flexible intention will better act as a compass for the rest of my planning.
Looking up research on survey questions tips and tricks would be great, too.
Overall, I enjoyed the experience and see myself doing another version of the workshop in the future.