My Personal Journey: Lisa Bruno Barker

A road map of dance studies along with professional dance and teaching experiences, eventually led me to the door of the UCLA graduate program in Dance/Movement Therapy. Home to where the founder of Authentic Movement, Mary Whitehouse once worked and lent credence to the growing field. Four mornings a week for two years, 12 of us graduate students met under the guidance of Dr. Irma Dosamantes. We dove into the movement exploration of exposing the raw and unknown parts of ourselves to our own consciousness and likewise, to our own transformation. This is what Authentic Movement meant for me.

It’s hard to describe how this works. It needs to be experienced. It falls into a family of  holistic based movement forms, i.e.; Trance Dance, Ecstatic Dance, 5 Rhythms, Feldenkrais, Continuum and Contact Improvisation. I like to do them all. Each has its own rewards. An Authentic Movement experience offers a unique rich treat. In traditional Dance/Movement Therapy Authentic Movement there is no music to inspire you nor partner dancing to generate movement. It is a daring form of self-exploration and self-witnessing done in the presence of a facilitator.

Is There a Structure to Doing Authentic Movement with a Facilitator?

The outer form of this work carries a structure which includes Mover and Witness. The facilitator is always the Witness. The Mover moves with their eyes closed and in silence, following their own internal landscape. The Witness observes the dance and makes connections through their own sensory awareness experience of the Mover. An intrinsic relationship between Mover and Witness takes place. After the Mover senses their own completeness, or after a previously agreed amount of time has passed, the Mover and Witness come together and sit across from each other.The Mover always speaks first. The Witness always listens. The Mover speaks about their experience of what just occurred in the Authentic Movement period and they speak for as long as they like or until a previously agreed amount of time has passed. During the time when the Mover is speaking, the Witness actively listens and does not interrupt. Then what proceeds is for the Witness to ask the Mover if they would like Witnessing. The Mover may elect “yes” or “no” to this request and the Mover can specify the parameters, such as: only Witnessing to this one part that I spoke of. There is a whole skill level to Witnessing which a trained facilitator understands and therefore knows how to honor the material presented. The Witness gives voice to what was seen, heard and felt in a respectfully supportive role for  the Mover. Sometimes creative writing is used too; thus bringing formerly unconscious material into consciousness. The Authentic Movement form always concludes with a sacred silence or a form of gratitude mutually shared.
Dance/Movement Therapy Authentic Movement Historical Beginnings

Authentic Movement was pioneered by Mary Stark Whitehouse in the 1950’s. Whitehouse had studied dance from two of the greatest dance artists of her time: Martha Graham, from the United States, and Mary Wigman, from Germany. Having studied directly with these two masters of modern dance, Whitehouse took to professional dance and later to teaching dance. Out of her quest to find a truer embodiment for practicing dance improvisation, she investigated  a type of movement by which the mover engages in spontaneous expressive movement directed by the body. Whitehouse calls her discovery, ‘movement-in-depth’. Whitehouse talks about this movement exploration:

“What I began to understand during the beginning of my work in movement in depth was that in order to release a movement that is instinctive, I found that I had to go back toward not moving. In that way I found out where the movement actually started. It was then that I learned to see what was authentic about movement and what was not …”

This may sound simple, but in fact, it is complicated for some people who are intimidated by movement which they can not copy, has no pattern, nor a familiar exercise component to it. Freedom to move from withincan seem terrifying to those who do not know what they are supposed to do. This is a challenge, but a worthwhile challenge because what we find in facing our fear is our strength. Knowing ourselves more dearly and honestly is a great gift to ourselves. Yet, it is easy to trickourselves away from this in-depth experience even for those of us who find self-directed movement ease. Whitehouse reflects:

“To get to this authenticity a sacrifice is involved. At first it is a discovery of all of the tricks, needs and demands that separate you from what would be genuine in yourself. Then, after you have discovered what this trick is and what it prevents, it must be sacrificed, as must each subsequent one as it is discovered. The reality of impulse and movement come from such a different place in oneself that when it is experienced, the person comes to know when it is there and when it isn’t…”

It is important to note the psychotherapy aspect of the work. Whitehouse married her love of dance with her attraction of depth psychology and gave sanction to this connection when she called her approach, “movement-in-depth”. Whitehouse studied at the C.G Jung Institute in Zurich, and later received analysis with a personal patient of C. G. Jung while living in Los Angeles. Whitehouse saw her work as paralleling what Jung called active imagination wherein images and their associations lead to understanding life events both inner and outer. Here Whitehouse articulates: “I think that body movement is active imagination in sensory or sensation terms, just as a painting is active imagination in visual images.”

Janet Adler Plays a Role in the Successful Beginnings of Authentic Movement

It was Janet Adler, a disciple of Whitehouse, who later coined the term Authentic Movement and continued to develop the work after Whitehouse passed away, giving new perspective to the role of the Witness. Adler describes this relationship beautifully when she wrote about leading Authentic Movement groups;

“I sat in the corner of studios, in the presence of people descending towards themselves as we together learned about seeing and being seen.”

This doorway to awakening happens in Authentic Movement when we access our energy inside and around the body in a state of full attention. It is the experience of moving and being moved at the same instant which forms remarkable results. Furthermore, when this movement experience is enhanced by the presence of the Witness a profound effect can take place in both the Mover and Witness. Spiritual speaking, Adler illuminates:

“We want, deeply want, to be seen as we are by another. We want to be witnesses. Ultimately, we want to witness, to love, another.”

Over the years, Whitehouse’s work has contributed to the fields of Analytical Psychology, Dance-Movement Therapy, Somatics, and dance and meditative practices. Now her work can be heralded into the new definition of Holistic Healthcare with its focus on the whole person- mind, body and spirit – rather than just a particular illness, injury or symptom. Research is proving that Holistic Healthcare can provide a greater context to treating a patient’s ailments. The trend is towards optimal health and Authentic Movement with its holistic approach is one form of practice that can deliver a person towards their optimal health and longevity.

Where to find an Authentic Movement Facilitator?

If you live in the Santa Barbara area; I am looking to start a new Authentic Movement Group this current year, 2024. I can also offer privates. During the Pandemic, I began offering an exchange over the phone with my colleague, Juliet Lin. What we developed was a complete session over the phone using our intuitive, deeply present witnessing. It worked beautifully and profoundly. I now offer this to you. No previous experience of Authentic Movement necessary. All sessions are treated with the utmost confidentiality. I aim to support you in creating your most authentic self that celebrates your uniqueness and inherent joy! Contact me today: Lisa Barker (Somatic-Recovery) Text 530-575-8588 or Email, [email protected]


The following works have been cited in this article:

Whitehouse, M. ( 1972) “An Approach to the Center”.

Whitehouse, M. ( 1958) “The Tao of the Body”.

Adler, J. (1987) “Who is the Witness?”.