A Physical Exploration of Memory

Stories in Motion is a senior citizen program which pairs the art of storytelling with expressive dance and choreography. Our program, created in 2016, started as a six-week workshop to allow senior citizens to share their own stories and memories and then translate them into poetry. During the creation of these poems our dancers develop movement phrases to accompany each piece. At the end of the workshop series, the poems are then spoken aloud with our dancers improvising to the rhythms, reflections and tones of the words. What we discovered during these workshops is how much the seniors wanted to express themselves through physical movement and to show our dancers how they felt while telling their stories.

The first inclination that our program was taking effect was during our formal showcase in August 2017. By the end of the showcase, a 101-year-old woman who is blind started to move in her chair and make arm gestures while listening to the spoken word. This individual had never participated in our workshops, but upon hearing the spoken word for the first time was inspired to move along with the others. Through the combination of spoken word, poetry and dance we create a unique interpretive and sensorial experience for our students. Each collaboration provides a catalyst for discussion, exploring language, imagery, emotional embodiment, and physical interpretation.

Pairing the art of storytelling with dance motivates our participants to think of their own stories and embody their feelings, and now to create their own movement to accompany their stories. With each session our students go deeper and pull back layers to reveal stories from their childhood with tremendous detail. While in their chairs, they work on gestures to express their feelings and enhance those memories. The goal of our research is to explore pathways that link dance and memory through spoken word. This allows the groups to reflect on their lives, draw out emotions, and share untold stories and memories with their peers.

ARTS By The People is currently offering Stories in Motion workshops at 16 senior facilities throughout New York City and New Jersey. After experiencing the difference it has made in people’s lives we want to expand the program to reach more groups throughout the region.