As we adapt and innovate to stay connected, Artistic Director Matt Guidry shares some of Upstream Arts’ best practices so that those who are sheltering at home, out of school, or isolated from usual activities can practice creativity and social connection. Welcome to In Small Moments, where Matt offers tools and tips for practicing Upstream Arts activities on your own and with your loved ones at home.
Communicating and being social can mean different things.
In the first installment of In Small Moments I wrote about how much we value the practice of Mirroring, and how it’s an acknowledgement that I see you, I hear you. (read it here). I wanted to take a moment to share what this looks like for Caleb and our family. I invite you to watch this video before continuing on. In this compilation you’ll see me doing full body mirroring (I am holding the camera), Caleb having a conversation with his sister (Lillian), and Caleb being really cheeky (notice the amusement on his face). There are real connections happening in these small moments.
Growing up, Caleb didn’t have a social life to speak of outside of school with peers his own age. He didn’t hang out with friends after school in the neighborhood. He didn’t have sleepovers. I can only remember him going to one birthday party. Like many people with disabilities, the opportunities to develop social skills as most of us do growing up, through conflicts and resolutions with our friends, through experimentation and exploration of interacting outside the confines and structures of school, away from your parents. It is in those times and places when we discover and learn the best practices of connecting with others.
Even when there is spoken verbal communication (with Caleb there is not) these social skills are hard to teach. They must be experienced to be understood.
These opportunities were all but non-existent for Caleb.
The one thing he did hold on to throughout his youth (and into his adulthood), was connecting with those around him through movement. When he was exposed to the practices of dance at a young age (through my performance work), he found a way of expression that he understood, that he knew had meaning and ideas wrapped up in the form, much the way that spoken language does.
Maybe the meanings are not as literal, but they are just as complex.
Caleb does not communicate in the way communication is usually considered. But he is social. Throughout his life Caleb has formed rich relationships with those around him through exchanges of movements. Back and forth. The essence of a conversation. Sometimes mirroring, sometimes reacting and responding in our own ways. It’s not that we’re dancing around the house (though sometimes we do!), often it’s just small movements of the leg or head or arms. But with each exchange, thought is put into what movement comes next.
These are my favorite moments, actually. Moment when I have said what I have to say, maybe by spreading my arms and reaching to the sky then stopping and looking at Caleb to signal the end of my turn in the conversation. And Caleb stops and considers, looking up and to the right as many of us do when we’re deep in thought trying to find what to say next. Then he wraps his arm around his back and shuffles to the left.
It’s an intentional statement.
I honestly can’t tell you exactly what these exchanges mean to Caleb. But I do know that they hold deep significance in all his relationships. It’s more than a game. It is how he connects and socializes. The language of movement and dance that Caleb uses to connect go beyond just a way for him to communicate his wants and needs. They are a way to find meaning in his relationships.
For Caleb, it’s movement that moves him. For others it might be rhythm and music, or painting, or sound. That’s why Upstream Arts uses a multidisciplinary curriculum, so that we have the most opportunities to find ways to connect in creative ways with those who are in our classes.
So keep looking, keep listening, keep moving, and keep finding those moments of connection. And keep practicing being creative.