Photo courtesy of Shavon Norris.
As part of our effort to create resources for trauma-informed practice, the Bartol Foundation will be hosting two workshops this month that explore artistic expression as a path towards healing. On March 26, teaching artist Shavon Norris will lead a participatory workshop about incorporating movement into lesson plans in ways that meet the needs and abilities of participants.
Read our Q&A with Shavon to learn more about her teaching artist practice and how she views movement as a tool for self-expression and healing.
Can you tell us a bit about your teaching artist practice?
The sharing and exchange of the art with other people informs how I make art. As a teaching artist, I am offering an opportunity for people to have a better understanding or a new experience with themselves, which in turn offers me a lot of information about the type of art I am making and what type of educator I want to be. That teaching moment is an amazing experience for me, and that exchange goes into my art as well. It’s a cyclical relationship, which I really love. I think that I learn just as much from whoever’s in the room with me as I’m trying to offer learning for them.
At the root of my practice, I am interested in creating moments and opportunities of pleasure. I’m always interested in people trying things in ways that feel good for them. A lot of people worry about wanting to please others or do things in the “right” way, and I always counter that by asking them if something feels pleasurable versus uncomfortable.
How do you see movement as a path towards healing?
I love that question, because I believe that there’s a way that our experiences and identities—our history, heritage, and culture—exist on and in our bodies. For me, movement offers an opportunity for us to explore those things and reinvent, rewrite, rearrange, or celebrate them. There are ways that trauma definitely has an impact on our bodies, and offering people an opportunity to move with that gives way to healing.
We have a habit of thinking about ourselves and our bodies in certain ways, and movement allows us to see ourselves in new and different ways, which can then offer healing to past hurt, harm, or trauma. Because then we create a new narrative, and we’re able to experience our bodies in ways we didn’t know was an option for us. I think that moving can help us reprogram, address, or redefine new ways for us to see ourselves, and giving ourselves these new options can offer potential for healing. More options means that I can move towards the pain and/or have a conversation with the pain, and offer myself a new way of moving through it or experiencing it.
So many people are self-conscious about their body and moving. As a teaching artist, how do you create spaces where everyone feels comfortable with movement?
I don’t know if I create spaces where everybody feels comfortable with movement. I think I create invitations for people to participate with permission and freedom to have some agency over their bodies. I try to use language along the lines of “I welcome you, I invite you, I encourage you” so that people feel like they are making a choice to participate and not being forced. I celebrate being goofy or making mistakes so people know that this is okay. When the person in charge is demonstrating the things that are going to be practiced, that really helps put people at ease. I often say things like “trust me when you trust me” so that people know that my expectation is not for them to immediately love or enjoy what we’re doing, but to go on an adventure.
If people are not into moving at that moment, I also give permission for them to sit down and take a moment. Having this option allows people to feel that they have the power to step into the room in ways that feel good for them and take risks in a healthy way. That takes time, and maybe the 45 minutes that I have with a person doesn’t allow for them to feel completely comfortable, but if they have been in the space and stay in the space, then that feels like a win for me. I don’t have a lot of expectations for everyone to do exactly what I’m offering them, and I try to make that clear so that when they do participate, I’m celebrating each step forward. I acknowledge when things might feel uncomfortable or strange, as opposed to having people feel immediate shame or guilt about not liking it or wanting to participate. I welcome all of the feelings, all of the discomfort, all of the joy, all of the humanity.
Interview responses have been edited for length and clarity.