Student Implements Traditional Chinese Medicine and Dance

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Our students are more than just healers learning the art of natural health. They are also acrobats, jet-setters, and long-distance hikers and canoers, just to name a few.

Over the years, plenty of dancers also have walked the halls, including one who is implementing her clinical experience into a performance coming up July 7-9 at Northwest Film Forum in Seattle.

Lifelong dancer Paige Barnes, a Bastyr University student in her final year of the Master of Science in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine program in Kenmore, will combine her low-to-the-ground movement research and recent study of traditional Chinese medicine to investigate animal symbolism, transformation and interconnection at PALMS, which portrays the story of a wild animal turning into a woman within a three-story set.

To maintain a creative practice, she brought together poet Vanessa DeWolf and dancer Nadia Losonsky about a year ago, which evolved into a large-scale interdisciplinary production that combines dance, music, poetry and architectural design – dispersed with elements of snow, cake, lighthouses, confined spaces, pockets, shadows and pulse.

Before Thursday and Friday night’s performance, there will be a pre-show pulse reading. Barnes will listen to an audience member's pulse and respond with a three-minute improvised movement solo, which will be accompanied by improvised by Evan Flory Barnes.

In addition, Barnes will hold a pulse residency three weeks prior to the performance, in which she will conduct 10 pulse readings welcome to individuals of all ages and experiences at no cost. These dances will be filmed and projected during the run of the performance on the storefront screen at Northwest Film Forum.

Learn more about Barnes in the following Q-and-A:

What brought you to Bastyr University?

“I have been a Gyrotonic instructor since 2000. I began practicing this system to balance and train my body for dance and later became a practitioner. Over the years while working with people, I was interested in how to help them further. In my life, acupuncture helped me manage injuries and overall health. It seemed like a natural next step in my education and professional development — learning about an energetic medicine system and being able to provide another level of care to people.

How does your experience with dance influence you as a clinician?

“Dance trains a person to observe the poetry of the body as well as its mechanics. Also, dance is a language that expresses concepts and emotions through physical form. It can also express the body's technical physical potential and simply inspire what seems impossible. Through my dance training, I have spent years observing the body move through space and researching how it communicates; this helps me to interpret a patient's internal experience without words. How someone sits, walks, gestures informs me as to how they feel inside and how they see the world.

“Also dance trains a person to be their strongest while being their most vulnerable; it teaches you to be strong while completely exposed. I think this transfers well to a patient care setting where we are working with vulnerability and how to facilitate internal awareness and strength during a difficult and often volatile time.

“Also studying any art form requires discipline, to practice every day no matter what. How I approach learning a dance phrase is how I approach remembering Chinese herbal formulas — little by little and with an insane amount of repetition. I still have a long ways to go, though, with learning these formulas — like anything good and worthwhile, it takes years and years to cultivate.”

And vice versa, how does your experience with TCM influence your dance?

“TCM teaches moderation and how to walk a middle path — one that is not of excess nor deficiency. It teaches balance and respect for one's body and the environment. It gives insight on how to harmonize internal systems with external systems; how the health of a person is intrinsically linked to health of the environment. Often dancers tend to push through pain and simply overdo, which exhausts the body of what we would say in TCM your essence and kidney qi. Nourishment, replenishment and rest can be difficult. In the arts there can be a sense of deprivation because unfortunately through art alone, it is very difficult to economically sustain oneself and there is a ton of rejection. So artists push long and hard hours trying again and again. This medicine is teaching me how to be more gentle with myself and therefore the world around. It helps me to see the internal stress I create and how often it is unnecessary or how to take a different perspective to move through the situation with ease. Ultimately, it is teaching me to move toward where life flows. This though is easier said than done! It is a lifetime lesson. I think once I finish school, I hope to find this ease a little more!”

Explain what you mean by listen to the audience member’s pulse – how does that differ from listening to just one person’s pulse?

“Ah, let me clarify. They are the same. The idea is to sit with a person and listen to their pulse how I normally would do in a clinical setting. Yet in the context of this creative process, I would respond with a dance instead of a diagnostic process. I am interested in how by dancing someone's pulse attunes a person to their internal experience therefore creating a sense of connection. I also see it like a tarot card reading but with dance and no words.

“There are two opportunities to do this. Once at a creative residency on June 21-22 and then before the show July 7-8. They are very different experiences for a person to choose. During the creative residency, the pulse reading will happen in the set while it is under construction and acts as its own event. So a person will see a glimpse of the work in process behind the scenes. On the day of the show, the pulse reading is an introduction for the person to the performance. I am curious about how this will create a different viewing experience of the dance piece.”

You can buy tickets or learn more about the July 7-9 performance of PALMS and Paige Barnes’ June 21-22 creative residency via the Northwest Film Forum. Cost is $20 for general admission; $17 for students with valid photo ID, seniors, and children under 12; or $6 for Film Forum members.