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Bodyspeak: A New Look at the Art of Movement - Part 6

Part 6: Kinesthesia and the Mind/Body Split

According to psychologist Howard Gardner, (20) there are seven distinct types of intelligence: verbal, musical, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, and two types of personal intelligence - self-awareness and social skill. Gardner's scheme has been influential because it recognizes types of intelligence in addition to the verbal and logical, which have long held a privileged position in our culture.

Although there is value in making such distinctions, Gardner has acknowledged that in practice the types of intelligence cannot be precisely distinguished. They work in concert with one another to make possible such skills as hand/eye coordination. Intelligence as a whole depends on input from all the senses. Mind and body cannot really be separated from each other. The term "bodymind" has been used to point up the fact that, in effect, we think with our whole bodies.

Bodily intelligence - including full sensory awareness and attunement to body rhythms - underlies all the forms of intelligence Gardner distinguishes. Verbal and musical skill are to a great extent dependent upon a sense of rhythm, balance, and proper placement. Logical and mathematical ability also require a sense of balance and proportion. Spatial awareness and orientation are obviously kinesthetic.

Personal and social skills have an especially strong kines-thetic basis. A healthy person is described as "well-balanced." Being in harmony with others is being "in sync." Successful communication depends to a great extent on kinesthetic awareness, including a sense of speech and body rhythms and the ability to tune in to the presence of another human being. Avital recognized this principle when developing BodySpeak™. The purpose was to activate body awareness in service of communication and to expand the communicator's repertoire, not by a simplistic reading of body language - as if it were a magically revealing secret code - but through a deep investigation of how the body speaks.

The kinesthetic sense is thus not really separate or isolatable from the other senses. It is enhanced by input from all the senses and must coordinate their activities. We get a feel for the presence of another by visual cues, by auditory cues, by tactile cues, and so on. This is why participants in sensory deprivation studies report losing a sense of bodily contact or presence altogether and why astronauts outside the field of gravity in the weightless conditions of space retain their self-possession and kinesthetic sense (if somewhat awkwardly). (21)

By means of kinesthesia, each sense takes on tactile qualities. This is how a look can sometimes feel shockingly intimate, or words can seem to stroke - or strike. An old Chinese text has a lovely way of describing how the kinesthetic sense works: "It's like reaching for a pillow in the dark. . .Throughout the body are hands and eyes."(22)

The kinesthetic sense plays an important role in development of some of the subtler faculties. It seems to be a vital component of intuition, for example, which is often described as a "gut feeling." Explaining the source of a strong hunch, we say "I just feel it in my bones."

"Presence," sometimes mistakenly equated with charisma, is another elusive concept, but it, too, is marked by a high degree of kinesthesia. Individuals with "presence" seem to fill the space around themselves.

And in its fullest sense, kinesthesia expands our understanding of the faculty of imagination. With its root term "image," imagination centers on the visual sense. Clearly, though, when we fully "imagine" something we have a complete experience of all the senses and feel kinesthetically present within that experience. It's also true that guided visualization, which has become popular in sports training as a performance enhancement technique, is much more than visual. When successfully accomplished, as in the mask session, it is a fully coordinated kinesthetic experience.

In its coordinating function, the kinesthetic sense serves to fill in from our memory bank of sense impressions whatever sensory information is missing in a message. The need to get a complete picture on the basis of limited data is a strong survival need. The gap in information is sensed as disorienting and the active imagination jumps in to fill it.

Our kinesthetic sense is especially active in childhood, when survival is particularly perilous. Birth is the original experience of disorientation. The active imagination plays a vital orientational role as the child grows and tries to make sense of a confusing world, with the kinesthetic sense contributing to a feeling of participation - of really being absorbed by an activity - that is so characteristic of childhood. The world feels alive and every pore is open to experience. We learn spontaneously, at this stage, through mimicry.

As we grow, we come to a critical period of emerging self-awareness. Visual orientation develops. We see ourselves in mirrors. We begin to regard ourselves as having distinct boundaries, as separate individuals. A gap in awareness forms: I am here. . .You are there. Self/Other. Some can remember their first experience of this gap. It can be a poignant memory. Inhibitions arise as we see ourselves being seen. Spontaneous mimicry ceases.

The visual sense develops further. We learn to read; we watch things, we watch television. Eventually, visual orientation can come to dominate so completely that we become obsessed with how things look. Image becomes all. The other senses lose the edge they had when we were very young and were touching and tasting everything in sight. Visually dominated, we literally "lose touch." In our hypervisual culture, the kinesthetic sense atrophies like an unused muscle, and too much weight is given to visual cues. Sensory awareness must be reawakened across the full spectrum of perceptions.

This is why mime, in Avital's world, is not a spectator sport. And perhaps why Decroux was so suspicious of performance: the uncomprehending scrutiny of an uninitiated audience was of little value to him, and, as in the case of Marceau, the act of spectating could actually distance the audience from a true perception of the function of mime, certainly as Decroux understood it. Mime in its new realization was intended as nothing less than fully coordinative in its functioning and fully participative in its realization.


Continue to Part 7: The Return to the Body


"Samuel brings awareness to the soul of people and gives the artists who work under his direction the need, dedication, and love for the world of silence and the beautiful art of movement."


- Marcel Marceau, BIP 1961

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About LCDS

LCDS is an independent school for self-discovery through the human Arts.  The school offers seminars and workshops teaching the concepts of Theater, Mime, and Movement.