April 7, 2017

Alexandra Jordan

Alexandra Jordan, Northern Territory
2004 Certificate Graduate
Mums and bubs dance in Darwin

When people move to Darwin, after the crocodiles and jellyfish, one of the first things people generally remark upon is the large number of mums and bubs around, as well as pregnant mummas!

Generally, if all goes well, from birth for a good few years, babies’ lives are full of wonder; in their own bodies, in sounds, sensations, rhythm and motion…and of course in mums and dads…in short, babies and parents make a wonderful captive audience for any dance or movement activity… I figured beginning some sort of mother-child dance movement session would be a good first step for me as an independent dance movement practitioner.

I began Baby Bounce as a dance and movement session for all parents and kids aged 0-3. The main aim of these sessions was to assist parents to facilitate new and varied sensory and movement experiences for their babies and toddlers.

In developing these sessions I have drawn on my experience of working with Elizabeth Loughlin, a Dance Movement Therapist working with mothers with severe post-natal depression and their babies in Melbourne. For these couples, the mother’s post natal depression may disrupt the mother-child bonding and, and thus the infant’s emotional connection and later attachment to the mother. Dance movement therapy provided a perfect forum to work with these couples on developing a physical bond and connection, and finding comfortable ways of moving together. The program also encouraged mothers to play and communicate with their child in new ways. Relaxation and release for these depressed mothers was also an important part of these sessions.

The Baby Bounce sessions similarly focus on parent-child connections as well as trying to provide parents with a chance to relax and release into their own dance a little.

In structuring the sessions, I’ve also drawn heavily on the writings of Jane Guthrie (1988) who has worked mainly with older disabled children. Each week I choose a few main contrasting movement themes or moods, for example bouncing and swishing, or heavy and light. All activities are open to interpretation by parent-child couples, and are guided so that either a parent can move their child or with their child, or the older children can move alone or with the group.

We begin with a welcoming song where each child gets a big hug and clap, then move onto a stretching and massaging warm-up, to remind the babies and kids of their different body parts, and to show them different ways they can move them. We then start to explore our movement themes with parents providing tactile experiences for the children: for example, walking their hands in heavy steps over their baby’s body, then tickling scurrying ones. Gradually the movement themes are carried through into locomotion, individual and group dances and other movement activities throughout the space. The sessions generally end with relaxation or a gentle dance, then a goodbye circle and song, and claps for all the kids and mums.

Of course, the sessions are always planned loosely, and adapted according to the participants present on the day, the age ranges and energy levels present and other unanticipated moods and happenings. As the months have progressed my confidence in improvising based on attunement to the group has grown, and I have challenged myself to go into sessions with just a lose theme and structure and go with the flow.

The groups have been a great hit in Darwin and I have ended up running them in three different locations due to demand. There is a core group of able and energetic mums and bubs who come regularly to each session. It has been a joy for me to watch them grow and develop (some have attended for up to three months now). I’ve watched the kids, (and mothers!) make huge steps in physical and social confidence. Babies, who initially were on blankets at the side of the room, have come to join the circle, and now greet us with enormous smiles as soon as the circle is formed. Some of the older ones have started to hum along, and lead us in to new activities as we go. It has also been amazing to watch the parent-child dynamics of the different couples who come along, and to continue to learn about and work with the varied types of physical and emotional bonds that can develop.

I’ve met a few couples whose bond is not so easy… some young mothers whose bubs seem to mirror their mums restlessness and awkwardness, and children with special needs who definitely dance to a slightly different tune. In each of these cases, we’ve managed to find moments of peace or smooth movement between mother and child, and smiles.

Basically, I’m learning a great deal as I go; about children and parent’s varied styles and capacities, and varied ways of working with these. Perhaps a next step will be to narrow the age range I’m working with, or to focus on couples with certain needs or issues.

1988: Jane Guthrie with Jan Roydhouse: Come and Join the Dance; A creative approach to movement for children with special needs. Hyland House, Melbourne
March 2007