Writing From the Body: Words and Movement

May 16, 2017
Students use movement to practice mindfulness

By Adriana Ramirez, ’18

Dance professor Cheryl Pallant begins her class each semester by telling students they are in a space where they will move in ways that might be weird and out of their comfort zone. While that may seem like an unorthodox start, the idea of moving outside of the usual classroom routine sets the tone for her very personal course, Writing from the Body: Words and Movement.

In the busy and often stressful life of a college student, sometimes there’s need to slow down, to take a breath. Pallant’s course offers an opportunity for students to do that through a personalized experience of the body, with both physical and mental pliancy, as well as innovative thinking. “The more we connect with the personal body, the more we learn about what makes us tick,” Pallant says. The class encourages students to uncover their individuality and develop their own ways of learning, engaging, and reflecting.

Pallant, who is a writer and a dancer, discovered the unlikely marriage of the two disciplines as a graduate student. She found herself sitting at her desk, trying to write a paper, but facing writer’s block and a looming deadline. On a whim, she got up from her chair and started dancing around the room. As she felt the movement in her body, an idea for her paper come to her, and she rushed back to work. Since then, she has explored the connections between writing and dance in her own work as the author of several books and through classes and workshops like the one she teaches at UR.

The class is neither a typical writing nor dancing class; it combines both art forms, using one to unlock the other. It drives students to make deeper connections between their minds and bodies. Pallant’s students participate in different writing activities combining sounds, images, and sensations that aim to create meaning. Students engage in dance, movement, and self-expression exercises, as well as write journals. Pallant works with them, using movement to activate their bodies and minds, allowing them to write freely.

Her students feel the benefits. “As students, we seem to be buried in class work, extracurricular activities and day-to-day responsibilities,” says Summer Aggarwal, ’17. “Every time I'm in this class I seem to forget about this stress and devote my time to developing mindfulness; I feel calmer and more focused.”

“Listening to your body and interpreting its movements is a great skill set I acquired,” Aggarwal says. “We seem to get lost acquiring material things or experiences that make us happy in life but seem to neglect the most important asset, our own body.”