Mary Starks Whitehouse…and Her Teachers

October 4th is Mary’s Birthday. Join the International Authentic Movement Community in a Day of Practice.

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We no longer know it, but there was a time when movement was our language. We were undivided. – Mary Starks Whitehouse

Mary Starks Whitehouse (1911 -1979) is considered to be the foremother of the many streams of practice that comprise Authentic Movement. Mary was a modern dancer who studied with dance pioneers Mary Wigman and Martha Graham–both strong, innovative choreographers who created dances that accessed styles of movement that were outside the bounds of mainstream dance at the time. Their dances explored movement sourced from and evoking strong emotional expressions. They experimented with movements like trembling, falling, lying on the floor, dancing without music or only with a single drum beat. They dared to portray movements that were controversial, discordant, not considered pleasing or beautiful by western standards (even called “ugly” by some), and they accessed the natural, archetypal and mythological realms in the studio and on stage.

The powerful emotional experiences that Mary had in her own body as she danced with these women, and the equally powerful experiences she witnessed in her own students in the studio, piqued her curiosity. She felt she needed a deeper understanding of her powerful experiences in the studio, as well as those of her students. This lead her to pursue study and training in Carl Gustav Jung’s methods of analytical psychology at the CG Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland.

Like Graham and Wigman, Jung was a trailblazer, following his curiosity and delving into non-traditional realms in the field of psychology, propelled by his own dreams and waking visions. His direct experiences led him to develop the active imagination process, expand the way dreams were worked with at the time, discover and name personal and cultural complexes, almost single-handedly re-introduce the esoteric practice of alchemy to the west, and identify the powerful organizing energy of archetypes. Central to Jung’s work was the primacy of the analytic relationship, the importance of a personal individuation process in the context of that relationship, and finding the place of the individual in relationship to the world.

As Mary worked with these two streams, one sourced from the emotional/psychological/soul level and the other from the dance/embodiment level, a kind of alchemy happened…a way of working coalesced and evolved, both new and ancient, and was born in mid-twentieth century California! Through Mary’s study, her work on herself and with her students in the studio, she discovered a way of being, moving and relating to body and soul as one, as alive, as inseparable. This unity and inclusivity of body+soul was something that had been missing in the western versions of dance and psychology, but was beginning to re-emerge through Mary and others. And always, at the center for Mary, was the primacy of the relationship and authority of the individual mover.

Mary discovered and spent years developing her unique way of being+moving while in the presence of an other (teacher/witness) that was genuine, real and uncontrived. She called her way of moving/being/witnessing “authentic” and “movement-in-depth”.

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…[a] truth of a kind unlearned, but there to be seen. – Mary Starks Whitehouse

Lucky for us all, Mary’s work was shared, seeded and developed through her many students, passed on to us. We are the beneficiaries, the world-wide community of Movers and Witnesses holding in our bodies the living stream of this form, this way of moving and being in the world.

Yearly, on Mary’s birthday, October 4th, the international Authentic Movement Community comes together to mark and honor the contributions of this amazing pioneer! I hope you’ll join us.

If you are an AM practitioner/mover, you can post your dreams for Authentic Movement to the Authentic Movement Community Blog, or share some of your embodied writing or images. We invite you to join the online community gathering around this powerful, nourishing and transformative practice.  Find out more.