Authentic Movement Guidelines for Ottawa/Gatineau

Ian! D. Allen – – – March 25 2024

PreambleIndexup to index

Authentic Movement Guidelines for Practice and the role of Coordinator for Ottawa’s Authentic Movement Group

Our collective group has existed for a number of years (decades, even). Gradually it has evolved its own set of guidelines to ensure an easy and natural flow to its authentic movement practice.

We thought it would be a good idea to put them down in writing for quick reference by both old-timers and new members.

These guidelines are not set in stone, and the finer points are not to be adhered to rigidly. They exist to provide us with points of common understanding. They could be questioned and changed at members’ will, or with changing circumstances. A new person will take time to integrate them all. Nothing bad will happen if you forget some of the finer points from time to time. Be safe and have fun!

Arrival / Opening Circle / BeginningIndexup to index

When people enter our practice space, they do so in silence and quiet to allow all to come into space at their own rhythm and in their own way.

For workshop events, this arrival period may last up to a half hour; weekly events start within a few minutes of the published start time, at the discretion of the collective and the coordinator.

The coordinator brings all participants to an Opening Circle. People are welcomed and introduced if needed.

Facilitated by the coordinator, the people present share how they want the Authentic Movement practice to be structured this time: for how long, what form it will take, how will they share, how many rings of the bell will tell them of the steps in the process, who will ring the bell, and how many people will hold the safe container/space as witnesses.

At some point during the Opening Circle, the container is closed, which usually means that the door is locked. Late arrivals are sometimes permitted under special circumstances and always with prior notice.

The group usually agrees that one bell ring will start the session and three bells will end it. Usually, the witness nearest the bells at the end of the session will ring the closing bells.

What the session looks like depends on what form has been chosen during Opening Circle.

Forms of Authentic MovementIndexup to index

Authentic Movement has many “forms”. Some examples of forms we might use:

The group decides on the form the session will take during the Opening Circle, after everyone is present and the container is closed.

Long Circle FormIndexup to index

This is the most common form of Authentic Movement in Ottawa/Gatineau.

With enough people present (perhaps six or more), we might agree to move in a “Long Circle” format, with an agreed minimum number of witnesses (approximately one third of the number of participants) holding the container.

To begin a Long Circle form, all participants start out as witnesses. The participants move to space themselves somewhat equidistantly around the outside walls of the room, perhaps standing or perhaps seated.

Everyone raises their arms, outstretched at their sides (something often called “sprouting”), and looks around to make eye contact with the other witnesses in the room to notice that everyone is alert and “this is our safe container”.

When all the participants feel that the safe container is established, arms are lowered and the witness closest to the bell starts the circle, usually with one bell ring.

During the time period of the Long Circle, participants may choose to alternate as many times as they wish between being an alert witness around the outside of the room or being an eyes-closed mover out on the floor, as long as the agreed minimum number of witnesses is maintained.

The minimum number of witnesses for a Long Circle is established in the Opening Circle, before the Long Circle begins. At least the agreed minimum number of eyes-open witnesses must always be maintained. If the minimum number of witnesses are currently holding the space, none of those witnesses may close eyes and become a mover until one of the current movers opens their eyes to become a witness.

The number of witnesses in a Long Circle is usually agreed to be about one third of the number of people present. The group decides the minimum number during Opening Circle.

Due to the need for a minimum number of eyes-open witnesses, movers must keep in mind that if they move for the entire time period and never witness, it may prevent the current witnesses from ever having a chance to move.

Similarly, if all the movers decide that they will move for most of the time and only become witnesses for a short time toward the very end of the session, there will be a surplus of witnesses at the end and the witnesses who have been holding the space for most of the time will only get a very short time to move at the end.

Things work best if most people witness at different times during the session and don’t save all their witnessing for the last few minutes.

“Tuesday Morning Form”Indexup to index

(This form was named after the Tuesday Morning group that originated it.)

With a small number of people present (perhaps five or fewer), we might have a rotating single witness in what we have come to call “Tuesday Morning” form.

We agree to each take turns being the single witness, dividing up the time equally among all participants. For example, with four people present and an hour of moving time, each person would witness for 15 minutes.

One bell starts each witnessing period; two bells will signal a change of witness. The new witness will ring the bell once to start the new witnessing period. The last witnessing period will end with three bells rung by the final witness.

The order of the witnesses might be chosen during Opening Circle, or it might be left undecided: When the bells ring twice to signal a change of witness, whomever feels called to witness becomes the next witness.

Witnessing and MovingIndexup to index

Authentic Movement has eyes open participants (witnesses) around the outside walls of the room, and eyes closed participants (movers) out on the floor of the room.

Becoming an eyes-closed moverIndexup to index

People stop being an eyes-open witness and start being an eyes-closed “mover” by moving away from the outside wall, making eye contact with at least one witness (“I see you”), and closing their eyes. They are now called “a mover”, even if they do not physically move. (Some movers have been known to take a nap.)

Movers keep their eyes closed, except when safety requires them to peek a little. Our agreement is to be seen by the witness(es), not by each other as movers.

The mover continues to be a mover as long as their eyes are closed.

When a witness becomes a mover, the remaining witnesses may quietly redistribute themselves around the outside walls of the room to preserve an approximate “circle” of a safe container.

In Authentic Movement, “moving” means anything: internal or external movement, stillness, sounding, singing, chanting, talking, big or small, prompted by physical, mental, historical, emotional, internal or external impulses. Moving may mean not moving at all. It might mean napping.

Moving always begins solo. Do not become a mover if your intent is to move directly toward and contact another mover or movers. This isn’t respectful of the other eyes-closed movers, who are unaware of your eyes-open intent. As a witness, your “eyes open” consciousness does not mix with the “eyes closed” consciousness of movers. Always enter the practice space with the intention of moving solo.

If, by chance, you encounter another mover on the floor, you both have “eyes closed” consciousness and the encounter is fair.

While moving with your eyes closed, you may at random (gently!) encounter another mover. If this happens, pause for a moment to acknowledge the touch, and then decide together whether to stay and explore the eyes-closed contact or to move away. Anyone who does not want to move with another mover can gently withdraw from any contact. Respect the wishes of others for solo practice; do not pursue a lost contact.

Since your eyes are closed, you may make your first contact with a sensitive or unconventional place on another mover’s body. Both people should remember that this first contact is completely unplanned and accidental; there are no “wrong” places to first encounter another mover. The person being touched may always decide to shift the touch to another part of his/her body, or to move away.

While the container is held safe by open-eye witnesses, each mover is primarily responsible for his/her own safety and to be his/her own witness while moving. Always reserve enough attention to witness your own movement; don’t fall into wild emotional discharge and forget where you are or what you are doing. Be mindful and aware of your movement. Be aware of your environment and the people who are near you while you are moving.

To ensure everyone’s safety and the safety of others, people should open their eyes slightly if they are making large or strong movements or sounds. One’s own safety is one’s own responsibility; however, nobody should engage in any activity that puts others at physical risk. Examples of safety issues:

If you are a witness and a mover is moving toward you, you have two options:

  1. The best option is to move away so that the mover does not come into contact with you.
  2. You may close your eyes and become a mover before the other mover reaches you. (This may not be possible if you are part of the minimum number of witnesses.) Be sensitive to the fact that while you as a witness know who the mover approaching you is, the mover does not know who you are or that you were just witnessing them.

Eyes-open witnesses should not interact with eyes-closed movers. “Eyes open” consciousness does not mix with “eyes closed” consciousness.

Becoming an eyes-open witnessIndexup to index

People start being witnesses (after having been a mover) by opening their eyes from wherever they are in the room at the end of their movement, making eye contact with at least one witness (“I see you”), and returning to the outside wall of the room. The witnesses may then quietly re-distribute themselves around the room walls to preserve an approximate “circle” of a safe container.

Witnessing means: having conscious attention and energy to see others. Except for slight redistribution around the circle, witnesses usually remain still in one location in the room; though, the group may vary this. (It may be unsettling for a mover to open his/her eyes and find that a witness isn’t in the same place.)

Witnessing is not the absence of movement; it is a conscious activity. If you don’t want to move any more, just stop moving and stay as an eyes-closed “mover” in the container, without moving. Only return to being an eyes-open witness when you actively choose to witness.

Leaning back against a wall, slouching, lying down, or watching the clock may indicate that your attention is waning as a witness and that you should be moving (or out on the floor but not moving), not witnessing. Only stay a witness when you have the full attention for it, though you have to respect the minimum number of witnesses and may need to hold your witness position to ensure the minimum is maintained.

Speaking CircleIndexup to index

After all the movement and witnessing is done (after the three closing bells), people gather quietly in a circle again for verbal sharing about the experience. When sharing verbally, people speak in the present of how they move or what they witness, objectively and/or subjectively. “I am the mover who…”. “I am the witness who…”.

No direct reference is made to others by name; people talk about seeing “a mover who” did some action, without names. People speak freely, without interruption or comments by anyone, until they touch one hand on the floor briefly to indicate this paragraph in their sharing is over. People may share several times, speaking of their experiences as both mover and witness.

In some circles, the recommendation is to first speak as a mover, and second as a witness.

This sharing period is not a dialogue or conversation. People are not witnessing each other while they are sharing; they are talking only about the experience of moving and witnessing. One does not normally make any references or comments on what others have said during sharing, except for a simple “I witnessed that” if you saw the movement described by the person who just finished sharing.

Another way to indicate “I witnessed that” is to touch your hand briefly to the floor when you hear someone say something that you also saw.

The group might agree during Opening Circle that the sharing circle might include things other than simply speaking. Sharing could be silent, verbal, written, drawn, painted or in motion. Details of special sharing will have been agreed upon in Opening Circle before the session begins.

You may share in the language you prefer; it is not necessary that the others in the circle understand perfectly what you are saying, and much will be conveyed by your tone and expression. Oui; ici, on parle français, Deutsch, Esperanto, etc.

In some practices, participants are urged to speak about the actual physical things that they witnessed, not about their interpretation of what they saw. Say “I saw someone with tears on their face”, not “I saw someone who was sad”. Say “I heard many voices sounding in musical harmony” not “there was a strong spiritual connection in the room”. By describing the exact movement you saw, you allow everyone in the speaking circle to experience the movement and make their own interpretations.

Ending the sessionIndexup to index

When all who wish to have had time to share, or when time is up, the group collectively extends all its arms forward together, fingers out, palms down, toward the middle of the circle, and then everyone slowly lowers their hands to the floor. This process is deliberately slow, to allow a chance for someone to interrupt the closing sequence and have one last word of sharing.

After the hands have touched the floor, the session is over. The group decides what to do next. Perhaps another session is scheduled.

Sessions are confidential and limited in time. (The safe container applies to time as well as space.) Once the session is over and the hands have touched the floor, everything that happened is “sealed” from all further discussion. You may not refer to what you witnessed, even to persons who were in the session. If you wish to talk to someone who was in the session about something from the session, ask permission first.

When all the sessions are over, the coordinator asks people to pay for the rent of the space, and tells the participants of the date for the next sessions. Any business can then be discussed, including business relating to the process, rules, and container itself. (The content of the session is not discussed.)

ConclusionIndexup to index

These are guidelines that help make the practice safe and interesting. A new person will take time to integrate them all. Nothing bad will happen if you forget some of the finer details from time to time. Be safe and have fun!

Prepared by: 
| Ian! D. Allen, BA-Psych, MMath-CompSci Ottawa CANADA
| Home:  Contact Improvisation Dance:
| Former college professor of Free/Libre GNU+Linux @
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