The Origins of Empatharian Movement for Peace

This Peace Movement is about a body movement language where a particular position of the arms and torso and legs, means a particular thing, something that Tammy Narena, an amazing innovator and dancer, created. It is not just for dancers, but is great fun to dance, and makes a choreography language that is interesting and meaningful. The Empatharian positions represent meaning- so for example the position for “peace” is the same as “harmony” except that it is in motion, arms making parallel waves, with a pushing motion of the hands. If you can imagine watching someone doing the motion, you might guess as to the meaning, that they are gesturing “peace”. So, peace is not static, but is a work in motion, moving toward harmony…

With the look and feel of Egyptian hieroglyphs with graceful flowing hands, the movements look and feel good to do. The movements are simple, easy, and don’t require a dancers flexibility or even an adult’s understanding. Children can do it, seniors can do it, and disabled people in wheelchairs can do it. At the same time, there is a discipline to the movements that asks for stretching into alignment, for movement that goes diagonally across a room aligning the body against that line, as if it were a wall you are hugging your body to. And with that simple discipline, repetition increases flexibility, muscles are taught to relax, shoulders are dropped, and spines are straightened.

Today there are many movement systems that have crossed cultural barriers to great benefit of the aficionados who use them: Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, Ballet (French, after all), etc. The most outstanding difference with Empatharian is that there is no particular personality or culture in the movement form itself; it is a pure movement form. While it is a great vehicle for individual self-expression, in fact, it does not pollute the self-expression with a national brand, or style.

Tammy Narena (maiden name Ressman) was my mother and innovated this project with its precursor, Telesymbols. She was an audacious courageous and utterly charming human being, born in Lithuania in 1924, her first language was Russian. Her family’s move to South Africa had her grow up witnessing intractable injustice, and speaking three more languages including English. After her father’s death, and her own near death experience, she became an award-winning prima ballerina, and specialist in character and national dancing, with students referred to her by other teachers to refine their emotional expression and technique.

Upon her marriage, the couple left South Africa for England, and then ten years later moved on to the USA. Tammy had ballet schools in three continents, numerous awards, and was presented to Queen Elizabeth II for her school’s charity concerts, as an outstanding South African in England.

While in England, Tammy discovered the seed which became Empatharian, when a mother marveled at her student’s transformation over several months. Tammy taught her students to imagine the dance vocabulary stringing sentences, and to dance to extemporaneous call outs of new amalgamations. With her emphasis on feeling the music, it was a small step from meaningless ballet vocabulary to meaningful movement creation.

Tammy designed Telesymbols to be a universal language: an international sign language that would be able to convey communication across cultural barriers, language barriers, and ideological barriers. This is because it was designed as a vehicle for making peace.

Not coincidentally, it is a movement meditation, and an exquisite dance form, primarily because it combines physical motion with the intellectual quickening that conversation creates, in meaningful sentences chosen by the participant. It combines body movement, thinking, and an emotional expression, which is a powerful and ideal formula for optimum brain development and improving brain functioning. Body, mind and spirit combine in Telesymbol Movement for Peace, refining and expanding our ability to understand and think about abstract ideas, increasing literacy, and training non-verbal communication into luminosity that communicates powerfully.

As you do Telesymbols, you are moving words and sentences of great meaning and value. And yet the beguiling verses that Tammy designed as her peace curriculums often have a level of obscurity and mystery… One sentence leads to an hour of clarifying discussions, and the eventual fact of no one right answer. All answers had something to contribute to the discussion, and we arrive at the end immensely richened, simply by the process.

So, why have you not heard of Telesymbols? Why did her project actually never get off the ground until after her death? If Telesymbols were actually so great, wouldn’t the world have been beating a path to her door? How on earth did this fabulous new dance form stay lost in obscurity, with no antecedents, no teachers trained, and no students to cheer it on to world debuts all over the globe?

This we will discuss in tomorrow’s blog post–