The Movement Educator’s Forum

Kelly Keenan


      The Movement Educator’s Forum (MEF) is an annual week long initiative I, Kelly, instigated 6 years ago. Over the course of one week, the MEF invites at least 5 teachers across fields of practice to lead a movement class followed by a facilitator and peer lead discussion and experiential lab. As a long time member of the Axis Syllabus (AS) community, the event was initially inspired by the AS teacher’s laboratory which assembles AS teachers together to exchange, reflect, advance and re-inspire their teaching practices. The MEF reaches out to movement educator’s from an expanded field of movement and teaching practices.  


Each year a theme is chosen as a fulcrum for practice-based exchange which  foregrounds and valorizes kinaesthetic interpretation, rather than solely linguistic. I have had the experience of speaking about contemporary dance technique on panel discussions amongst other dance teachers and while it often sounds that we are talking about similar things, the particularities and differences unfurl in practice. Each unique training enacts a new body, through ‘trying it on’ in practice, we may better articulate the differences from an experiential perspective.  


To date, the MEF has brought together 30+ teachers from different fields of practice including Contemporary Dance, Continuum, Argentinian Tango, Osteopathy, Body Mind Centering, Voice & Improvisation, The Franklin Method, Chiropractics, Gyrotonics, Occupational Therapy, Choreography, Feldenkrais, Contact Improvisation, Axis Syllabus among many others. The event routinely gathers movement educators who have never been in studio or conversation together. As a facilitator, this has been extremely heart warming because it gets right to the crux of the event.


Montreal’s contemporary dance community and training ecology is impressively diverse. Organizations like Studio 303, Danse à la Carte, le Regroupement Québécoise de la Danse, Circuit-Est, Nous Somme l'été, Par B.L.eux plus other initiatives and centers (eg/ yoga, martial arts, personal training etc…) are resources for continued practice for movement enthusiasts, dancing and performing artists. Studio 303 alone programs 40 weeks of workshops seasonally which only begins to illustrate the vaste palette of practices available to movement enthusiasts and performing artists in the city.


The MEF acknowledges and celebrates that local movement educators across fields of practice are collectively ‘forming’ Montreal’s moving, dancing and performing community. However, within the community it is not common practice for movement educators to regularly engage in each other’s practice. The MEF aspires to cultivate a space where we can learn from each others practices within the local network of movement educators. In doing so we might demystify what the teacher in the studio next door, upstairs or across town is practicing and teaching. I hold this valuable for plenty of reasons, namely by cultivating relationships, fostering community and building a stronger sense of purpose and meaningfulness in one’s own teaching work by gaining a broader understanding of how we are each participating in the greater movement training ecology. The MEF is not seeking to come to a consensus on how or what to teach, but moreover, to acknowledge and celebrate our differences and how they hang together and apart within the greater Montreal dance community.  


The MEF is committed to provide an affordable, practical and manageable (time-wise) platform for movement educators to gather and exchange and is dedicated to the inclusivity of diverse approaches. The event has been made possible with the co-operation of Studio 303 and a rotating peer team.


This year’s topic, Metaphor and Movement, has been greatly inspired by the artistic practice, research and teaching of my friend and colleague Kevin O’Connor, who co-facilitated the event with me. Kevin is a multi-disciplinary artist and currently finishing a Phd in performance studies at UC Davis. His research examines anatomies, body performance capacities, interventions and imaginations in relation to science studies.

THANK-YOU’S to Studio 303 & Peer Organizational Team of Laurel Koop, Ashlea Watkin, Kira Kirsch, Ruth Douthwright, Kerwin Barrington and Kevin O’Connor


Metaphor and Movement

Kelly Keenan and Kevin O’Connor


Thinking through training, this year’s topic Metaphor and Movement inquired into how different metaphors shape practice and produce different corpo-realities. The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another,” (Lakoff & Johnson 2003,19). This broad definition of metaphor includes imagery, models, similes, parables, analogies, and parallels. The word metaphor is attributed to be a metaphor in itself. It comes from the Greek ‘Amphora’ meaning ‘container’. With metaphor, we carry meaning from one kind of thing to another. Metaphors shape how we think, move with and imagine what a body can do.


The process of transforming idea and image into movement has been prevalent in movement training for a long time. In the early 20th century Mabel Todd, Barbara Clark, Lulu Sweigard and Irene Dowd (among others) were the early articulates, coining the term “ideokinesis” built on the insight where "how you think your body works influences how your body works" (Todd 1975). This year’s MEF aimed to track the use of images, models, metaphors and simile in each kind of movement training.  Cataloguing them became our practice.


Our Process


    The group of teachers we invited this year were Montreal based and came from a diverse pool of movement training. They included Eryn Dace Trudell (Skinner Releasing Technique), Katie Ward (Franklin Method), Sylvie Fortin (Feldenkrais), Marc Boivin (Contemporary Dance) and Charles Koroneho (Body Weather and Movement Culture exploration of the collision between Maori cosmology, New Zealand society and global cultures). During each 2-hour class lead by our invitees those present were invited to participate while attending to the use of metaphor. Each invitee helped us to think about and articulate the body in a new way.


    An introductory circle revealed that participants at this year’s MEF represented diverse contexts for teaching movement including contemporary dance, movement for actors, somatics, manual and movement therapy, meditation and yoga. Participants also revealed to be teaching a spectrum of populations including pre-professional and professional performers, youth, indigenous groups as well as people living with autism, Parkinson’s, eating disorder, trauma, addiction among other groups.


    For each session, as facilitator’s, Kevin O’Connor and Kelly Keenan proposed an attentional score, aimed to cultivate a Clean Language (CL) manner of listening attending to the metaphoric landscapes gifted to us by each invited teacher. CL is a multi-purpose toolkit of questions that works to delve into a person’s metaphors or everyday statements. ‘Clean’ or ‘being clean’ refers to the “practice of keeping your advice, opinions and assumptions to yourself, and listening and observing with your full attention on the other person words (and non-verbal signals)” (Sullivan and Rees 2008, 8). CL works by making people aware of how their own assumptions and intentions influence the systems in which they live and how they are situating themselves within metaphors. One way to do this is always ask “what kind” of center, or neutral, or way of thinking about movement is it that the practitioner is describing?  The attentional score we proposed was the following:


  • Attend to how much you don’t know about the practice

  • Stay curious

  • Resist the urge to use your own life experiences, trainings and expectations to fill in any gaps in the information you have been given (even though this is impossible)


    Charles Koroneho pointed out the impossibility of the last point of the score by encouraging each dancer to bring their own life experiences, trainings and expectations to the practice. This would make the practicing together a kind of collaboration. Perhaps his practice and training might then be made different by the metaphors and images we might bring to him. Thinking with Charles, metaphors could offer the potential for each participant to be made different by both the images used and the worlds from which they emerged.


    Throughout the week those present were invited to engage in a collective listing of metaphors in relation to each practice. This served as a word generator and launching pad for conversation and experimentation in a lab session facilitated by Kevin and Kelly. At the end of each class, those present gathered around an extra large format paper which was unrolled across the studio floor (approximately 1-meter x 12 meters) for a 15-minute documentation practice. With coloured markers in hand, the group was invited to collectively document the metaphoric landscape that we were invited into during the class. (See pictures).  The drawing as a kind of documentation also created new ways to think about the practice we had just done becoming a response to a kind of questioning: what if the training we just did was a kind of drawing?  It created partial connections amongst the group as we also thought of new memories or senses learned in the practice by watching others document what was meaningful to them. The drawing became a documentation of how each dancer experienced the practices, how they inspired new ways of moving, thinking, and describing bodily movement. The drawing also became a kind of questioning of the practice that each teacher then responded to in the discussion that followed.   




Metaphors becoming “Nature”


    Acknowledging that there is not a “universal body” and that different practices produce different kinds of bodies, thinking with metaphors allowed us to sense into the relationship between imagery and movement training. History and anthropology of science researchers highlight how metaphors are in general bodily based (Lakoff & Johnson 2003).  Movers, such as dance artists and teachers, tend to develop extensive vocabularies for describing bodily experience in motion whereby the use of metaphor becomes so naturalized they are no longer thought of as metaphor.


    In the opening class, Kevin recounted a story of telling one of his students who was not trained in a particular dance form at that time and was taking Kevin’s class for the first time to “swing his leg” as a way of playing with a movement phrase. His student (who happened to be one of his academic advisors) was confused. He never thought that a leg “could swing.”  It stopped Kevin, forcing him to think about how his own language and the metaphors he used for describing what a body could do were both cultural and habitual. Marc Boivin told a similar story. When Kelly had asked him to come to teach and told him the theme was Metaphor and Movement he described how his first response was uncertain because he did not consider to use metaphor in his dance teaching. Marc then elaborated that with the invitation he revisited a text he had written on dance technique some years ago. Marc was surprised at how present imagery and metaphor actually was.


    This apparent stability of a metaphor or concept is an effect of the bubble we live in and a normalizing world (Dumit 2019). It can be thought of as “history turned into nature,” (Bourdieu 1977) so that a metaphoric landscape that emerges from a training become sensible, reasonable or thought of as natural.  Within MEF we trained to attend to our own metaphorical habits which became a practice that allowed us to notice the metaphors we live and dance by. It also became a space to try on other ones. In doing so the MEF could be read as a training space for practicing not being habitual. In trying on other metaphors each movement practitioner reported experiencing changes, highlighting how as metaphors change real-life experience within and amongst bodies changed as well.


Metaphoric Worlding


    Dance and movement practice is a social and collaborative culture. In practice shared with others, our experiences become shared modes of a cultural experience which foster both individual and communal corporealities. Our teachers, peers and community help us to interpret our felt experience, as Sylvie Fortin, who teaches Feldenkrais expresses, “I recognize that the manner in which I speak to the students partially conditions the possibilities for their individual experiences.” (Fortin 2018). In this way, words matter and materialize. Images, models, metaphors and simile also matter and materialize. Similarly, Eryn Dace Trudell, explained how in Skinner Releasing Technique there is explicitly no conversation during class as words may influence the individual experience or interpretation of other participants. What became interesting was what emerged in the gap, for each participant, between the model of a body we were being trained in and our experience of relations that emerged in practice.


    Thinking with the concept of metaphoric landscapes, an individual’s composite of landscapes assembles in a unique ‘metaphoric world’. In the midst of Marc’s class at the MEF, he named some of the teachers, choreographers and movement mentors who have gifted him material that he connects, engages and dances with, “Angelique Wilkie, Peter Boneham, Irene Dowd, Risa Steinberg, Odile Roquet, Nora Reynolds, Louise Bédard- they are all here with me as I dance.” (2018) The offerings of these teachers and embodiments assemble in Marc’s unique metaphoric worlding. In this way, we are each becoming multiple with the metaphors we encounter and move with. Amongst the bounty of metaphors we were gifted by our invitees during the course of the MEF, we moved with ‘twisted plates’ and ‘melted butter’ (Katie), our ‘Grandmother’s back’ (Charles), ‘living sea sponge’ and ‘clusters of strings’ (Eryn), ‘triangles’ (Marc) and ‘child-like curiosity’ (Sylvie). Through this year’s MEF the body became multiple through the diverse and particular metaphoric landscapes we explored.




   In trying on each teacher’s metaphors attentively, we found ourselves moved by the concepts or metaphors that inhabit each kind of dance training.  As we moved differently and asked questions of the teacher sometimes the metaphors shifted. Dancing with and attending to metaphors became a kind of research practice that trained each of us differently, asking us to become aware of the metaphors that we habitually live and are moved by. When we experience change by trying on other metaphors for thinking about movement, both the metaphor and real-life experience of our bodies generally changed in tandem. Metaphors are not passive images or concepts lying dormant in the studio. They can potentially lure us into new ways of being moved and of being in relation. Trying on other metaphors different from our own trainings offered many of the participants new ways of becoming articulate in their own dance and teaching practices, further expanding what a moving body can do. People bring their lives to metaphors.  No  metaphor is ever dead and when we realize this all metaphors move us.





Bourdieu, P. (1977). Outline of a theory of practice. Cambridge University Press.


Dumit, J. (2019). Sensing  Oneself  Balancing: Dancing with Concepts as Research.  


Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (2003). Metaphors we live by. 2nd. Chicago: University of Chicago.


Sullivan, W., & Rees, J. (2008). Clean Language: Revealing metaphors and opening minds. Crown House Publishing.


Todd, M. E. (1975). The thinking body. New York: Dance horizons.

© 2019 Julien Blais & Alexis Trépanier