By Ginger McGilvray, a Volunteer Facilitator for Truth Be Told
I looked at the clock and we had twenty minutes left of class, which on this day was essentially a rehearsal for the two movement pieces we would be presenting the very next day at the Talk To Me graduation ceremony at Lockhart GEO Prison. We had one piece ready to go. It was a poignant collection of movements we each created through the process of telling our life stories, set to a worthy song called “Long Journey Home” by Sweet Honey in the Rock. But the second piece was another matter. It was falling apart.
This was my first go at facilitating one of the Talk To Me classes. The entire eight weeks with these 11 women in the Movement class was alive with me learning about myself as a facilitator and unlearning strategies that were not useful or relevant. All semester I was finding that I cared more and more for these 11 women and that I was responsible for this thing that is designed to bring out their vulnerabilities. We humans are so vulnerable already, and this is taken up a big notch by the fact that these women are incarcerated. Their lives are very controlled in there, their voices are limited, and still they were showing up, open to see what this class might offer them.
There were weeks that I felt the class went just great. There were no snags. We were building trust with one another, doing the nitty gritty work of telling our life stories and learning to really hear ourselves and one another. There were weeks when my lesson plan sort of fell apart and thankfully my improv skills came in very handy. One of those weeks, we had an impromptu dance party, and there was laughter and smiles on their faces like I’d never seen before. It felt like a huge relief, playfulness like there were no walls. Then there were weeks when I felt the pressure of my responsibility, and it was a bit much to handle. Group discussions were my biggest challenge as I tried to facilitate a balanced conversation among women who had very different levels of comfort with speaking their minds.
And so it went. Eight weeks of me, learning the ropes, finding my connection with these women, and basking in the support and friendship I was building with the other two facilitators.
But the second movement piece was still falling apart with 20 minutes to go on the day before the graduation ceremony. Although dance and movement have been important to me most of my life, this was my first time since high school to choreograph or direct a group piece. And I was losing them. My plan was too complicated, not translating well, and they were getting frustrated and so was I.
The women had been excited about the song for this piece, “Tell It Like It Is” by Tracy Chapman. This was to be our stepping stone to freedom piece. The sun peeking out after the storm. We were supposed to have fun with this. And it was going to be a breeze: I’d teach them the format I had made up at home and get them to plug in their personal movements, we’d collaborate on several parts, and then we’d be done. But, not so. I began to feel the trust we had been building the whole semester dissolving as I dug my heels in and so did they. One woman said “I just wanna move. This IS the ‘movement’ class.” Some panic started to grow in me, quickly overridden by the idea that I would just take charge and make this happen, like it or not. This was going to be great; they would see!
I started lecturing them about movement and the purpose of this class, and I could see on their faces that this was NOT working. I stopped, and we just stood there, quiet. I looked at the clock and it was 20 minutes till four. And I looked at the 11 women, who I genuinely loved at this point, each one of them. I realized, suddenly, that I was in charge and this thing was not going to happen if I gave up. And I realized that I had to bring them with me. I could not lose them like this. The class, the graduation, it was for them, and they had shown up and been brave and real and pushed their edges in a way that I cannot even imagine. And here they were being real with me. That is trust! I heard myself say something like “Ok, we’re just gonna make this real simple,” and I started directing something that was clear and they totally got it. Then we just started to collaborate again, and we created that piece together in 20 minutes! The song is called “Tell It Like It Is,” and that is what happened. We were honest and pushed one another to keep it real. It’s what we were there to do, after all. To find our truths and speak our voices.
The next day at graduation, our bodies spoke our truths in a whole new way.
As we presented our pieces, we had eye contact and we breathed together. We coordinated our movements and our telling of stories that were both painful and healing. During the first piece, our faces showed the emotions of the movements and it felt like the thing we were there to do was actually happening: we were moving for our own healing. And then, when it was time to celebrate and dance to our beloved Tracy Chapman’s voice singing ‘Say it, say it, say it. Tell it like it is, we were together.
Ginger McGilvray grew up in Central Texas and lives in Austin. She is a Licensed Massage Therapist and yoga/movement instructor and she is a Hakomi Practitioner-in-training (Hakomi is a mindfulness-based, body-centered form of psychotherapy). She is a lifelong dancer and writer and she has an affinity for working with people who are in healing process in their lives, such as related to trauma, cancer and addiction. She also works with end of life care. There is a popular quote by Howard Thurman that pretty much summarizes Ginger’s intention: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” www.gingermcgilvray.com