What is Creative Engagement? By Sandra Agustin

How do people interact with a curious spirit of play? How do people learn and stay open to multiple perspectives? How do we remember?

These are questions I've posed ever since being a solo professional dancer and choreographer. I knew creative play and movement had immense potential to get people out of their usual habits and to breathe deeper, and I had a theory that engaging mind AND body would help us remember better and perhaps longer. 

Trained in the Alwin Nikolais aesthetic of modern dance, a major theme was improvisation, taking ideas from the audience to inform the dances, on the spot. I appreciated these exercises so much more than just performing as it left people seemingly more engaged, remembering what happened and more likely to have enjoyed the experience of this thing called 'dance'. Performing for other people over time seemed less and less interesting or impactful. 

All of my produced events would from then on incorporate folks engaging with movement, their own ideas, and input in a group atmosphere.  I am often conscious not to call it dance nor to say how we're going to move. Typically, we walk (no real threat here), we greet each other in new ways and solve problems together, telling stories and shining our own "creativity" button. We do this in pairs and in groups, removing the fear of being yanked on stage to do a solo something and looking stupid.

Example; a room of strangers, grouped together for a common cause. They are there too, say, find out how to solve a problem. An artist who is facilitating might ask the group to first stand, walk around the room and meet someone they don't know by telling a quick story about how they are related to the issue, or a time when they helped make the issue move forward….something they are proud of.

They are then asked to find a handshake or way of greeting their new friend - something repeatable and something they'll remember if they see this person a year from now. The room starts to giggle, the partners look at each other and small gestures start, maybe even a few words. Success!

The group is instructed to repeat this with a new partner - a different greeting, something unique to just this person. And stories roll, laughter builds in the room and a palpable ease and playful climate is being created by and for the people in the room. Everyone is doing the same thing. The bar is relatively low. People aren't asked to speak in front of others, but to each other in small settings. 

Folks may later be asked to write a quick 3-minute story about the organization or the issues. They may make a group tableaux describing - non verbally - the state of the organization or an ideal vision of the organization. They may use found objects to create a shared vision, write a list poem or create a collage. All methods respect the maker, their opinion and there is no right or wrong. When and how often do we get to shine our creative "badge"?

What's happening? Group building, trust-building, creative problem-solving, a cellular thinking, and a process that acknowledges all of the individuals in the room who are currently holding the issue/organization and who have a stake in moving it forward.

This is just the tip of the idea we call creative engagement.

Question: How do you interact with a curious spirit of play? How do you learn and stay open to multiple perspectives? How do you remember?

About the Author: Sandy Agustin has an extensive history of arts, social and racial justice and leadership. She is a native Minnesotan, the youngest child of a Filipino immigrant and 5th generation Euro-Minnesotan. Since the age of 9, she has professionally performed and taught dance. 

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