What I learnt from classes working with Circles

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Aborigines could still telepathically connect under sphere-shaped construction, yet inside square rooms and buildings (which most of us live in and work in), their ability to connect telepathically doesn’t work. I was intrigued when my teacher mentioned that.

Where the connection to ‘god’ is concerned, there seems to be no coincidence that cathedral domes and the onion-shaped Cupolas of mosques and Russian church buildings take on a circular shape.

Ovals, circles, and ellipses are common in nature. We don’t find angular squares or trapezoids. Imagine square eggs, or planets, or orbits – things probably won’t flow!

Over the years, I’ve had teachers run classes a bit differently – all working with circles.

Tennis ball and a Harkness table

Sat around a Harkness table at boarding, we discussed everything from the Enlightenment period to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Ms Robinson liked to start her class with a tennis ball. She, also sat with us around the table, would pose a topic or a question. She’d then roll the tennis ball to someone across the table and that student would add their two cents on the topic and roll the ball across the vast, wooden surface to another student until everyone had had a go. 

It was subtle, but the tennis ball exercise helped wake everyone up to engage, while priming us to be cooperative and inclusive

A picture of a dozen or so kids sat around a Harkness table with faculty during class. Copyright:
Harkness classroom in action. A dozen-odd students and faculty as facilitator. Listen, respect, contribute.

Classes without this tennis ball could sometimes end up being a discussion dominated by 3-4 students, while we don’t really feel the full engagement of everyone around the table.

Circle of singers and back rubs

I wondered if other choirs had the same. In highschool, concert choir was a class, and probably my favorite class. More than occasionally, our conductor Mr Kushner would get us to do backrubs. 

What backrubs?

Our choir of around 28 people stood around in a circle in a roomy music hall. Mr Kushner in the center with his piano. We stood in mixed parts – i.e. I may be alto and have a a tenor guy to my left and a soprano classmate to my right. 

So in a circle, we’ll all turn to the classmate say on our right side and massage their shoulders, upper back. In a bit, Mr Kushner would call out, “Switch!” And we’ll switch to the other side and give the other a back rub. Back rubs were always welcome. It was jovial and got us all in a different mood, ready to explore and co-create music. And like the tennis ball in Ms Robinson’s class, it subtly, yet effectively helped the choir to work more cohesively. 

To be honest, it was such a privilege to be in Mr Kushner’s choir. I felt we did magic as we learned to hear the different voice parts with our own, and learn to balance and work as a team to sing the melodies, to convey and touch. Standing in a circle, we heard the voices gel, and the magic. I wished we could have performed in circles with maybe the audience sitting inside – kind of like a ‘surround-sound’ choir!

Feldenkrais and a beach ball

Feldenkrais classes with Sean was awesome. We had classes at the academy of performing arts, in a classroom with ceilings high enough for male ballet dancers to lift their ballerina up over their heads.

Sean, with his background in theatre set up ‘mood lighting’. Studio lamps clamped to the ballet barre cocked at an angle so the light shines upwards, we thankfully didn’t have to bear the glaring fluorescent lights, especially as we wind down for the evening. 

I’ve learned a few things from Sean’s classes – like how with Feldenkrais, while movements are subtle and gentle, it effectively re-aligns and relaxes the body. Sean also made us aware of how people’s postures give us clues to how they are.

Sean liked to start his class with a beach ball. Although with Feldenkrais, we each had a yoga mat and the work was essentially individual, Sean made a point to gel the group. He had this big colourful beach ball and would direct: “Ok, Left arm only!” and the whole class of 12-15 people would be playing beach volley indoors taking turns to hit the ball with their left arm only. “Forehead!” And then we continue this time with foreheads until someone drops the ball. 

To the spectator, it must have been a funny sight. These grown-ups, some in business attire, running fervently after a beachball in a dance studio. It didn’t take us long to leave behind the worries and angst of the work day before Sean turns off the fluorescent lights and takes us through Feldenkrais movements.

Thank you to all the teachers.

Food for thought

  • How might you use circles to encourage inclusion and participation?

For your interest: Sean who taught us Feldenkrais and how to read the body – his Theatre group.