Jill Becker and Thicsotropy

Nov 1st, 2008

By Louise Smith, Crossroads — read the original blog posting here.

It’s Saturday morning on alumni weekend. This marks the end of festival week. There have been numerous events hosted by Nonstop here in the village. The Alumni Board is here meeting to make the decision about whether to fund Nonstop or not. I find it ironic that it is after the college closes, after all of the dreadful drawing out of the oppressive relationship with the university; the disappointing and vindictive behaviors of our captors, we are finally free in our spirit to teach and learn as we envision we could.

Later this day, the alumni board would agree to fundraise for the Nonstop effort for an additional term.

Before we knew this, I talked with Jill Becker. Jill has been the head of the Dance Department at the college for seven years. She is teaching at Nonstop and working two days a week at Ohio Wesleyan. She agrees to talk with me at the Emporium after her dance class in the morning. I attend the dance class and remember how wonderful it is to move in the ways that Jill’s classes ask of you. Her work is gentle and informed, playful and accessible, with its own kind of rigor.

LS: One of the things I was interested to talk with you about was the summer the college closed– when you made the decision to take a big leadership role in the faculty. I wanted to know a bit about what was going through your mind at that time.

JB: Well the funny thing is that I was there but I didn’t think I was very good at because I was convening meetings and not having a real agenda. Everybody just needed to vent.

LS: So you realized that everybody just needed to talk and you provided the opportunity to do that.

JB: Some people who are no longer with us in fact said: “Where’s the agenda? I am not coming to a meeting where I don’t know the agenda.” And it was pretty chaotic. But it was almost like stages of grief and anger. I felt like people were just saying what they needed to say, in the wake of being kind of traumatized because the decision was such a shock. I have such a clear memory of going into that meeting where Steve told us that we were not going to be happening anymore and nobody accepted that. You were there. It was like the whole world just sank. Sort of like when you hear a record winding itself out. And I think in the wake of that, before we got organized, people just needed to talk.

LS: So those meetings, I remember you were getting everybody together because you were on the Faculty Steering Committee. And that was, I think, the beginning of this movement in the faculty to try and impact the situation however we could. Out of those meetings what evolved was the lawsuit and the seeds of Nonstop in terms of: What is our response to this event as a faculty. You provided a forum for us to engage ourselves that was not being given to us by our administration or our administrators. Noone was advocating for us at that point.
How has your role evolved in this effort?

JB: Well, part of my job for Nonstop has been finding space for classes and that has actually turned out to be a very large undertaking. It is based on a lot of rapport. I have been, in a way, a little possessive about the spaces, some more than others. It took me all of this past summer to build relationships with everyone with the spaces. I want to make sure it is a well-lubricated relationship. I have put a lot of energy into having those relationships being clear and open and having a clear channel of communication and keep checking in. “ How is it going to have us here?” I think it has been important in giving people the feeling that they like hosting us. Someone said, one of our host places said “They are so professional.” That’s part of the rapport. You want them to feel that they are offering you something even if you are paying (where we do pay it is pretty minimal). You want people not to feel imposed upon or resentful. They need to feel that they are contributing and they are appreciated. I have found that I have really enjoyed that.

LS: Does it make you see town differently than when you were working on campus?

JB: Probably not. I have always had a fond appreciation for the culture of the town and I live right here. It’s not that I appreciate the town better but I think I have been interested to have these new relationships. It has been a breath of fresh air. I certainly appreciate the generosity of the town I also appreciate the fact that this town has needed money and we needed space. I think Nonstop has really contributed to the economy. We have spent a lot more money on coffee, for example. There is a lot of synergy. I feel it has been very symbiotic.

LS: So in terms of this past year, when the college closed, what crossroads did you find yourself at? What kinds of decisions did you have to make?

JB: The biggest thing for me was as you know was trying to open my possibilities in case, really , the end of the year was nothing. I felt a great loyalty to the college and appreciation for it and at the same time worrying about my survival. So I applied for many, many jobs. Trying to do two things at once full speed ahead plus still teaching. I think the crossroads was being in the present, being in the potential future and then trying to take care of my own survival.

LS: How has Nonstop been this semester for you?

JB: It’s been great. Even though the facilities are worse in terms of some things, the fact that the light is so much better.

LS: So you’ve been teaching in the Presbyterian Church great room where there is natural daylight and in the South Gym there was no natural daylight.

JB: And they both have bad floors! I love color and light and I feel like I get so much energy from light. Even though we did a lot of great things in the South Gym I’m not putting that down at all-but for me personally, I feel much more energetic. I also have really appreciated the multi-generational-ness of my Saturday class. There are 11-13 people in the class, depending on the day and five of them are over 70. And so it’s been interesting to see the mix and also challenging for me to teach people who are 20 and then almost 80 years old. They have the common ground of having bodies that could feel better. My class is all about feeling good in your body, and finding ways to help people you love feel good in their bodies. We do a lot of partner stuff. I have felt that the young people and the older people have really appreciated each other. There is a lot of synergy there. I have loved that. It was more challenging than I expected.

LS: So you have had to adapt some of your exercises so that people who are over 70 can feel that they can participate and find their edge without going overboard.

JB: Right. And it’s been an eye opener because all that body work I do I feel like anyone can do this at any age but there are some limitations. Like someone who is 75 does not go down on the floor and back up so in that class I try to go down once. We do an hour on the floor.

LS: That changes the structure whereas in a another class you might go up and down several times.

JB: And that is actually huge because I go up and down a lot. And it never occurred to me. At the same time I think the people of all ages are very appreciative of how they feel after they do an exercise. More and more—and this is from Feldenkrais- I have people take a walk and notice.

LS: You are building awareness that people have of their bodies.

JB: My theme over the years is about the liquidity of our bodies. I think part of the aging process is drying out. So when people move their thicsotrophy changes.

LS: Can you spell that?

JB: THICSOTROPY. When you take a piece of cold clay, it’s hard and as you work it with your hands it gets mushier. That is what we do when we move. That is what a body worker does when they give somebody a massage. They actually change the thickness of the tissue. And a lot of body work, and I know it happens in movement because you can literally feel things start to warm-up. They start to move. Some simple advice I would give to someone if they have trouble moving is to move before you get up, in bed. Jiggle and move and you can get rid of that stiffness that comes from all of your liquids pooling during the night. It is such a simple thing and it is really helpful.

LS: As you’re talking it strikes me as you are talking that what Nonstop is doing is a thicsotropic effort also. Keeping college lubricated and moving. It’s a stretch as a metaphor but it kind of works.

JB: No, no. It is actually the alternative between being dead and being alive. If you’re dead you get really stiff. And even bones. When you think of bones you think of dead bones but living bones have a lot of tensive strength and move-ability. We always think of bones as very brittle but that is because we never look at living bone and we don’t see what is going on. So I would say that this is very much the case. If we have to raise Antioch from the dead. It is going to be immovable. It is going to take so much. I think thicsotropia is part of it…keeping it alive and moving.