Janet Walker Expressive Arts Therapist

Why Do Art With Our Kids?

Written March 12, 2012, when my son was  6 months old and my daughter 3 years old.  We practiced and performed together for five years in a group called the Foolish Operations Ensemble,  led by  Julie Lebel  .

I am tied by an invisible umbilical cord to my children. At this stage of their lives, they determine my every move, my routine for the day…

In my most tired and worn-out parenting moments, a sense of resentment invades my life: not resentment towards or because of my very young children or my partner, but about never having any time for myself and for my own projects.

Since joining the Foolish Operations Ensemble in January, accompanied by my son of three months, I have been in touch with my old-self-before-children: independent, flexible, free, spontaneous, able to explore artistic training, creative projects, and decide on my own movements throughout the day.  This dance troupe is for us, it is not a dance class for babies or toddlers. At the same time, the group welcomes our children’s presence and participation – a rare thing in this society of ubiquitous divisions between generations for almost all activities.  Furthermore, participation in this group allows the Mom-as-Artist/Artist-as-Mom to overcome the barriers that could otherwise prevent us from continuing to practice and produce artwork, barriers including lack of time, energy and money. (How can I pay for a dance technique class and, on top of that, a babysitter, especially when I’m not working?) Being part of an ensemble where the artistic practice is for us, but  with   our children also begs the question: How do we really transmit art making to our children? By putting them in a kids’ art, dance, or music class? Or by doing inter-generational, serious art making with them?

A year and a half ago, I completed my Masters in Expressive Arts Therapy at the European Graduate School in Switzerland, and wrote my thesis on the effects (therapeutic and otherwise) that participating in interactive community art has on individuals. The field of Expressive Arts is multimodal and inter-modal in nature, exploring the work of the imagination through dance, theatre, music, poetry and visual artwork. I have so much enjoyed benefiting from Julie’s dance and Rachel’s musical facilitation and expertise over the last two months, and look forward to  the collaborative and participatory process next year.

       Dancing with this troupe is creating community. I felt an almost instant sense of connection with the members of the group. In the warm and sustained communication amongst members, support about parenting runs parallel to discussion of the artistic process. Dance brings us together, but what makes the process even stronger is that we all understand the dance of parenting – the ups and downs, the grind, the push, the elation, the questioning, the miserable days, the fatigue, the surprises, the immense sense of curiosity, and the capacity of kids (and ourselves) to rebound.

Parenting informs the dance, and the dance informs our parenting.  We learn from our babies. In all the schools I have attended, no one has been able to demonstrate Developmental Movement Patterns like a newborn can. I learn to pause, and look around. I take movement leads from my baby and my three-year-old daughter. My children give me playfulness, and make me ask, “What is dance anyway?” They have an unfiltered approach, without preconceptions. All movement is dance.

Dance informs parenting also. I rediscover my flexibility; get out of the rut of parenting. I roll, stretch, do handstands, and look at the studio and my baby upside down – no longer sitting in a rocking chair all day, going crazy, hamstrings growing tight. I experience expansive movement/expansive thoughts. Why do we have to follow the status quo of parenting? Improvise!

No matter how little I have slept (still breastfeeding through the night), I push myself to attend rehearsals with this band of dancers. It is the bright spot in my week. It is an energy-builder. This dancing we do together is soul food.