Authentic Movement is an expressive improvisational movement practice that allows a group of participants a type of free association of the body. It was started by Mary Starks Whitehouse in the 1950s as "movement in depth".
Whitehouse (1911 – 1979) was a student of famed Martha Graham and Mary Wigman, who became a professional dancer and subsequent teacher.1 With an interest in Jungian thought, Whitehouse trained as a psychotherapist and upon incorporating dance and movement into her sessions with psychiatric clients began pioneering expressive movement as dance movement therapy (around the same time as Marion Chace in Washington DC).2 Intrigued by Jung's principles of 'active imagination' Whitehouse integrated her knowledge of dance and Jung into an experimental psychotherapy done in a group process where participants engage in spontaneous expressive movement exploration. This process later became known as Authentic Movement (AM).
When starting a basic AM session, participants start in a comfortable position, eyes closed to sense their inner body-mind processes. They then wait for stimuli to arise within them, and follow each impulse expressing movement or sound. Individuals move through the space entirely free from any direction or expectation. This allows people to explore psychological processes as they arise into kinesthetic responses of movement or sound.
As Whitehouse explains, "When the movement was simple and inevitable, not to be changed no matter how limited or partial, it became what I called 'authentic' – it could be recognized as genuine, belonging to that person."3 The movement becomes 'authentic' when the individual is able to allow their intuitive impulses to freely express themselves without intellectual directive, as opposed to movement initiated by conscious decision making – a distinction which may appear clear, but practically a challenge. Individuals simply pay attention to what they feel at a sensory level, since "the core of the movement experience is the sensation of moving and being moved."4
In the Authentic Movement aspect of Whitehouse's approach, the moving participants (movers) are passively observed by a witness, who 'contains' the experience of the mover by witnessing their movements without judgement, projection or interpretation. In this way the witness is also an active participant, as witnessing is a practice in observing one's own sensations and impulses while observing the mover's. It's important to note that Whitehouse created many individual, dyadic and group experiences to create a context for moving from inner sensation and whole-body experience. Authentic Movement is a term coined and developed by Janet Adler that has become identified with Whitehouse but which doesn't entirely encompass her contribution.
Authentic Movement, in a similar way to Elsa Gindler's 'Human Work' in concentration, has revealingly comparable elements to several forms of Eastern Buddhist philosophy. The close attention that is paid to sensation, which as Vedanā in most Buddhist practices is to be observed without judgment, suggests Whitehouse may have been influenced by this. Also, the term witness has been widely used in Buddhism referring to the aspect of the individual that is capable of observing other aspects of him/herself without judgement or discernment. Buddhism has a long history in United States, and gave rise in the 1950s in particular with the work of D. T. Suzuki through works such as Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism and An Introduction to Zen Buddhism. In this light, AM can also be seen as a type of moving meditation.
With many different approaches, exercises or practices (other than the basic practice above), AM is done not only in therapeutic sessions, but also as groups for personal expression of the unconscious mind. For many, it is a type of spiritual practice.
1. Adler xii.
2. Foster 358.
3. Adler xii.
4. Adler xii.
- Adler, Janet. Offering from the Conscious Body: The Discipline of Authentic Movement. Rochester: Inner Traditions, 2002.
- Foster, Mary Ann. Somatic Patterning: How to Improve Posture and Movement and Ease Pain. Colorado: EMS Press, 2004.