Reflection on Rachel Dean's "Let's Move"  – Monday 24th January 2022 

Chapeltown Nursery

A boy walks quickly over and lies down on his back on the floor next to me. As I turn my head to him (I am also lying down), he grins and sticks both legs up in the air at a right-angle, with the soles of his flashy velcro trainers parallel-flat to the ceiling. Ah yes. I do the same. He smiles. This time he lets his legs drop to the ground and shuffles his feet back and forth. I follow suite, and he smiles again, clearly approving of my decision. I begin to move my hands back and forth, drawing angles and lines in the space just above my torso. He watches closely, and then shoots both hands forwards and upwards towards the sky with his fingers close-stuck (his hands are flat ‘karate-chop’ planes). I continue with my previous trajectory, sweeping triangles and squares through my wrists about a foot off the floor. He stays watching, still shooting his hands forwards and upwards, still smiling. We’re in the same space, with similar hands, in different forms; keeping doing what I am doing doesn’t disrupt or challenge what he is doing. Again, his smiling seems to indicate my decision is approved.  

I say decision, but at the time it doesn’t feel like a decision is really being made. To me, it feels like simply joining in with what is happening now. There isn’t any pretence, not really even any questioning - How does this fit with the rest of our activity? What is he thinking? How will I interact with this child? What will happen after this? Should I be engaging with the other children? Will my clothes get dirty? How long have we been working? What kind of shapes are these? (These are wispy background seeds of thoughts which don’t have to be followed, they can just pass through). What happens is simple – he sticks his legs up at a right-angle, and I do the same. He shoots his hands up to the ceiling, and I make geometry.  

There’s something a bit more interesting, and more powerful, than mimicry happening here, at least from my perspective. We are in a state of improvising “free-play”, moving and sounding in the space with the children without an agenda and without a particular score. The ‘space’ (not exactly an easy thing to pin-down, but definitely something both physical and mental) has been opened up to emergent possibilities – to the rising and falling of structures, dynamics, narratives, group and solo actions, without a core or unifying purpose. Every individual – adult and child – is navigating their own path through the shifting constellations of bodies, sounds, and ideas. This ‘space’ is precious because it invites interactions like two differently sized, differently aged people lying down and sticking their legs up towards the ceiling at right angles together, and it frames them within something I can describe loosely (and somehow not completely) as acceptance – okay, this is what’s happening now.  

Twenty minutes earlier, we had been using a simple score which we refer to as “musical statues”. The prompt is simple: when music is sounding (when I play the recorder or sing, for example), the artists (including me) move around the space, interweaving with the children, some of whom are seated, some of whom join us, some of whom are engaged in their own world and play. When the music stops, we freeze-frame. Today, the children have been particularly engaged in this, stopping and starting with us, shaping their bodies into new positions and extensions, listening out (I feel) for the changes in timbre, dynamic, velocity, and intonation with which I often signal sonically that a change is coming (though they wouldn’t use these words). Sometimes the listening is off by a few seconds or more, and my colleague Tom prompts “Oh! Listen! Statue! Statue!”. All the while, we drift around the round-ish room which has been cleared for us to use.  

It was out of musical statues, on Inari’s suggestion, that we drifted into this state of free-play. Groups of children are fragmenting and coalescing, connecting with each other, and us, and disconnecting freely. We’ve opened this environment to the staff (following conversations and clarifications in past sessions), who also move in and out with us, around us, separate from us, without directing (though always, as with all the adults in the space, with a careful and nurturing eye). This little boy sticking his legs up in the air might well be a continuation of this score, but without musical accompaniment. Maybe he is remembering how we froze, and shifted, and stretched into long shapes, reaching down to the floor and up to the ceiling. Maybe he is copying someone I can’t see, borrowing another body’s movement and conveying it through his tiny frame. Maybe he enjoys the feeling of locking his knees and elbows. It’s not within my means to know, and in many ways it’s not within my jurisdiction.  whatever he’s experiencing and however he got there, it belongs to him; he likely can’t and won’t articulate it for me, not in words anyhow.  

But there is something which is conveyed – something quite simple, meaningful, and which I find impossible to name. It goes as follows: he lies down, and sticks his legs up to the ceiling, and I do the same. He goes whoosh with his hands, while I go swoosh swoop. And both times, he smiles.  

© Henry McPherson

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