By Thania Acarón
As part of my PhD doctoral thesis, I am interviewing practitioners that have developed training methodologies and curricula that address conflict and peace using dance/movement, and the body as their major point of focus. Among these is Dr. Martha Eddy, RSMT whose research emphasis for many years has been violence prevention within K-12 education, curricular development and the assessment of best practices in this area. Martha Eddy has published numerous articles and has co-developed www.Embodypeace.org, which is a hub for information on peace-making and the arts. Embody Peace is how she prefers to address her work although her workshops have titles like “Conflict Resolution and Violence Prevention through Movement and Dance.” I've selected some short excerpts of this interview to briefly introduce aspects of her perspective on embodied approaches to peace.
When asked about whence her research interest stemmed from, Dr. Eddy described instances about her childhood and experiences as a woman in the 1970s as influencing her view on violence:
“[...] I think [it was] more from my feminism I got into anti-violence work, but later what surfaced was that yes, my childhood, although nothing really ostensibly traumatic happened living in East Harlem, the exposure to violence had deeply impacted me. And so, my own interest was and remains in helping children in particular have more peaceable experiences.”
Dr. Eddy has an integrated background as a Certified Movement Analyst in Laban/Bartenieff studies alongside her training and in the martial art Aikido and somatic work in Body-Mind Centering®, from which she has developed her own training program in somatic movement therapy called Dynamic Embodiment. After being trained as a staff developer with Educators for Social Responsibility, Dr. Eddy noticed that the body was an important missing component in violence prevention curricula. She replied to this that: “We as movers know that we want to give people information [...] but then at some point we want people to get up and move and feel their own intention around it and support their movement into some kind of action”. She reiterates the need to go beyond practicing what 'could be', to embodying nonviolence as an “in the moment” experience, which also requires attunement to the culture within which people interact. As a result, she's developed a body-based model for looking at the continuum from stress to trauma congruent with developmental and multicultural perspectives.
Additionally as part of our interview, we discussed her perspective on the somatic experience within violence, and how this impacts the body on several levels. Dr. Eddy states that:
“When one thinks of communication as purely verbal, one is actually dealing with maybe two to ten percent of the actual human sociological experience (we can look for newer data), but since the 1970s there has been data that says human interaction is actually somewhere between 70-90% the nonverbal experience. So that is true for any interaction when you're dealing with violence, whether its physical or […] psychological, as movement therapists we experience that people are holding physical imbalances. So, clearly if communication is largely physical, one can understand that if there's also some kind of bodily injury then there […] needs to be healing. When it's been more of a psychological abuse what we see and this came up earlier in our conversation is a kind of withdrawal of the body. […] This idea is that I cannot be totally present because I am at danger; I am needing to find my strength again. I need to protect myself. So the body responds to the psychological experience. And indeed that is the definition of somatic work in that 'soma' is the living body, the body that has its own self-protective, self-regulatory component and in response to any type of stimulus, the body will respond. […] Unfortunately a large portion of our human communication these days […] moves into the more abusive and violent ends of the spectrum. No matter whether we are dealing with - just average stress or very intense trauma, we need to address the physical component of that response. That is the somatic experience.”
This somatic experience, highlighting movement and dance is what Dr. Eddy focuses on through her training. She looks for providing a toolkit with which to understand the context under which violence is occurring in primarily in the institutional settings of schools, but also in all interpersonal interactions. From this arena of expertise she has also been sought out to speak to conflict and violence in wider intercultural contexts.
These are a few of the many highlights of my recent interview with Dr. Eddy. I am thankful to include Dr. Eddy's work within my thesis.
Thania Acarón, BC-DMT LCAT R-DMP
PhD Candidate - University of Aberdeen, Scotland, UK
Sociology - Interdisciplinary Approaches to Violence Program
Certified Dance/Movement Therapist, Lecturer & Supervisor (US & UK)
Certified Dance Educator (New York State)