Two of the young scientists, Julie Philpott and Nimrod Levin, were invited by Deutsch-Israelisches Zukunftsforum to present their experiences within Störung/הפרעה at the “Annual Board Meeting”. The following speech was hold on May 24th in Berlin.
Nimrod Levin: Julie and I are truly delighted to be here. We would like to begin by introducing ourselves and telling you more about our motivation to participate in Störung/הפרעה. I am a PhD student at the center for Brain Sciences of the Hebrew University. Ever since I can remember, I was both intimidated and fascinated with personal identities (i.e., personalities). My PhD project, under the joint supervision of Professor Gati from the Hebrew University and Professor Bourgeois-Gironde of the École Normale Supérieure, focuses on people’s preferences, their degree of stability, and some of the conditions that contribute to their change. Within the theoretical framework in which I situate myself, people’s preferences and decision behaviorally reflect their personalities.
My own involvement with the Future Forum, and firstly with the Störung/הפרעה project, begun in December 2014, when a call for application appeared in my inbox. At that time, I was immersed in informing myself about findings from the neurosciences and psychological sciences with the goal of better understanding mechanism of embodiment of personality. I was mostly preoccupied with findings from the emerging field of affective and social neuroscience, which offered a scientific framework to investigate emotions. But I was unsatisfied – the mind/body problem remained resolved in its reduction to a body, which relates actually mainly to the brain. Thus, the possibility to be part of an interdisciplinary think-tank highlighting the body (and not only the brain) was beyond the scope of my wildest imagination.
Julie Philpott: I am a medical PhD student in the departments of Neurosurgery and Neuroradiology at the University Hospital Freiburg where we are currently conducting a clinical study on the activation of cerebral pathways during movement to music in people with PD. This means we compare people’s brain images in the MRI while they are moving to music (so, in a sense, dancing) compared to while they are doing the same task without music. As portrayed in Maya Rothschild’s documentary, many studies exist backing the qualitative aspect of the benefits of dance on PD, e.g. on improved motor skills, such as steadier gait, decreased rigidity, better movement initiation and larger amplitude of movement. The neural mechanisms underlying these effects, however, remain to be elucidated, something we are trying to accomplish with this study.
I was asked to portray how this project affected me personally due to my background as a professional dancer as well as someone who now works in the field of science.
In order to illustrate how fitting Störung/הפרעה has been for me, I would like to tell you how I got into medicine- whilst working as a freelance dancer, I was peripherally involved in a choreography (by Aletta Collins) based on the book “Awakenings” by Oliver Sacks, a neurologist who describes his experience of the “awakening” of people with a type of PD after decades of immobility, i.e. being “frozen”. I knew my dancing career was coming to an end, and after reading this book I knew where I saw myself. I enrolled at the medical school of the University of Freiburg where- without my knowing- a substantial amount of research was and is being done in the field of dance and PD. To make it short, I was approached by Oliver Müller to participate in Störung/הפרעה (as it was obvious this was the perfect match), who then put me in contact with my wonderful supervisor Prof. Coenen who is very supportive of non-traditional approaches to PD.
However many other medical professionals discredit, or maybe better, do not understand the importance of this kind of approach to the alleviation of PD symptoms.
This is why it has been a very important experience for me to participate in this interdisciplinary project. Since the beginning of medical school, I have been trying to negotiate both my personalities, the dancer and the scientist, and bring them into my current profession. However, a dancer’s knowledge is often not appreciated in the scientific field, as we don’t publish articles, adhere to strict academic rules, attend conferences, etc. Performances are ethereal and not reproducible.
It was therefore important to the dancer-me (and I believe to all the dancers participating in Störung) to explore how our body knowledge from decades of training can be applied to settings other than the dance studio or the stage, and how it can be practically applied in a very tangible manner to teach others (be it PD dancers, scientists, members of the public) new aspects about their body and their movement, but also about physical vs. theoretical research. I believe for all us dancers this gave us a sense of validation and legitimisation of our inherent body knowledge.
Nimrod Levin: Indeed, one of most profound aspects of Störung/הפרעה was its radical political structure and climate. Under the truly incredible leadership and guidance of Monica Gillette, traditional power relations were replaced by attempts for equality. Senior faculty was kindly pushed a side, giving way for us junior scientists to develop and lead our own independent scientific investigations. Furthermore, the special political structure is best exemplified by the fact that the Parkinson’s dancers – who could had been labeled as patients, dance students, or the subjects of experiments – were from the very beginning positioned as equal partners. This manifested in the strong encouragement and expectation from the juniors scientists to ongoingly and actively interact with our “subjects”, the Parkinson’s dancers. This request seemed at first like a waste of my time or a major source for the contamination of my planned scientific study. But in reality, this necessity quickly deconstructed my perception of my “subjects”; I saw the Parkinson’s dancers as human beings.
Julie Philpott: Working in such an interdisciplinary setting, we often found ourselves being challenged in our dogmas.I often found myself in dance class during the project, understanding the arguments of both dancers and researchers, for example when it came to conducting measurements on the PD: Being torn between my need to adhere to scientific protocols but not wanting to give up on certain codes that exist within a dance class. I did and still do struggle with bringing these two aspects of my life – dance and science- together, as in modern-day society they are also such separate entities. Only through extraordinary projects like Störung/ Hafraah can we maybe one day reach a paradigm shift where both approaches to research will be valid in their own way and yet, compatible.
Nimrod Levin: Due to the project, my daily life dramatically changed. My new routine included a weekly dance class together with people with Parkinson’s, two research-related meetings, and a monthly dance class for junior scientists. The dance classes exposed me to different ways to think through my body and to interact with others. The immediate effects of Israeli folklore dance, for example, amazed me, giving rise to an immediate sensation of belonging to a community. As the coordinator of the Amirim program at the Hebrew University, its undergraduate honors program, I later on arranged a folklore dance workshop led by Shuli Enosh for the opening event of the program. Many students approached me later to say that they considered this event as one of highlights of their studies. In addition, by talking and dancing with the Parkinson’s dancers, I got to know them as individuals. I met their families. On a personal-emotional level, these encounters and the generous sharing of their wisdom and life experience contributed not only to my research but also to my own well-being, frankly speaking more than years of psychoanalysis.
Julie Philpott: The closest I got to combining dance with science on a personal level, was during so-called “danced interviews” which two of the dancers, Clint Lutes and Monica Gillette, conducted. In a studio and in a performance setting, they interviewed me about my research, whilst I was dancing and being physically manipulated by them. Speaking about my research whilst moving opened up a whole new universe of questions and pathways of thinking that had not occurred to me whilst sitting at a desk. So if you are stuck – I highly recommend trying this method!
Nimrod Levin: I was pushed outside of my comfort zone repeatedly. I was approached by Yasmeen Godder, a choreographer who served as the director of Storung/הפרעה on the Israeli side. Yasmeen and I identified early on in the project that we share interest in the understanding of emotions. We began a series of exchanges that resulted in her generous invitation to organize together a one-week workshop for her company that introduced and applied scientific theories and experiments on emotions using both academic and dance-based practices. In the spirit of Storung/הפרעה, I was among the subjects of this experiment.
Another major component of our involvement in the activities of the Future Forum was our participation in the LivingFuture conferences. The opportunity to meet, in a relatively early stage of the project, three German colleagues provided valuable opportunity to discuss the separate development of Störung/הפרעה in each country, and establish further cross-national collaborations among the junior scientists. The LivingFuture conference in Berlin offered workshops and activities that led me to reflect about my being in the world. A workshop on collaboration in which I participated, for example, completely transformed my conception of what it means to co-lead a project. In ways that I cannot yet explain, it allowed me to appreciate the beauty of the unique dynamics and unfolding of collaboration (not fear them). The central emphasis on civil society in the LivingFuture conferences also inspired me to adopt this theme for a conference that I am organizing for Amirim Alumni next month. This conference will focus on the role of civil society in Israeli democracy. By including both practical workshops and more theoretical discussions, I hope it will push its participants to assume responsibility of their society and take action.
Julie Philpott: After the end of Störung/הפרעה, it was unclear what we will do with all the knowledge we had accumulated throughout the project. In Germany at BrainLinks BrainTools at the University of Freiburg, we are trying to get dance classes accredited by health insurance companies to cover the costs, as this was one of the big wishes the Parkinson’s Dancers voiced.
On a more personal level, I am interested in the role dance and body knowledge can have from a salutogenetic perspective, i.e. in preventing disease, or in delaying disease progression. I believe we as a sedentary society have lost much of our inherent body knowledge which results in not being able to optimally deal with situations- be that a physical disease, be that psychological issues, be that merely daily annoyances.
Nimrod Levin: Yes, Störung/הפרעה is still alive and evolving in our lives. Together with Monica Gillette, Julie and I just participated last week in a conference at the Hebrew University that presented Störung/הפרעה as a model for a cultural lab. Monica and I also recently decided that we would like to develop together an academic course that will investigate the relationship between thought and body, using both traditional academic verbal-based teaching as well as dance-world-based instruction.
Julie Philpott: We would like to conclude that the project Störung/הפרעה has been life-changing for us. Not only am I doing my PhD in the field I have always strived to be in, I have made friends for life, one of them sitting here next to me. Furthermore, the introduction through Störung/הפרעה and the GIFF to Israel and its people inspired me to do a medical rotation at a large hospital in Tel Aviv. Nimrod generously invited me to live with him for a month. It has led me to decide that after graduating in October, I wish to pursue my current research in the department of Neurosurgery at this very same hospital.
Nimrod Levin: We feel honored to be here with you today. We sincerely wish to express our gratitude. All of these would have not been possible if it wasn’t for your decision to support Störung/הפרעה. You all deserve to enjoy the fruits of our labor. And while we did not get into the details of our scientific results, yet, know that our findings and insights have already been integrated into the planning of future studies and interventions.
Julie Philpott: Thank you for your support.