Seeing the World Through a New Lens

Lara Barclay – Student Story

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Lara Barclay has been passionate about dance since a very young age.  At 11, she left home to attend the National Ballet School in Toronto and, after graduating, spent over two decades working professionally as a contemporary dancer in Germany, Brazil, USA and Canada.

“I’m kind of old to be a dancer but it’s a hard habit to quit. I am fortunate to still tour and perform regularly but the reality is that my body is shifting and changing, so I have to adapt my approach” Lara said.

Now a mother of two, Lara started to explore some secondary passions after an arthritic injury resulted in her needing a risky surgery a year ago where there was a chance she may not perform again.

“All these ‘what if’ questions were flooding in,” Lara said. “So I started meditating on all the things that interested me. Important considerations for a new career were that it should be mindful, physical and something where I could draw on my experiences as a dancer and teacher.”

Thankfully, the surgery was a success but Lara’s brainstorming continued. She met with program director Heather Dawson for an interview, and days later enrolled in the Expressive Arts Therapy program. She successfully applied for a grant with the Dancer Transition Resource Centre, which currently allows her to study, teach and perform dance simultaneously.

“I had to do everything really quickly! Ironically, the first intensive class in the program was dance so I felt immediately at home. The teachers are wonderful mentors and I love that the training is experiential. It is a very embodied approach to learning,” Lara said.

Four weeks into the program, the students can begin their practicum placements where many of their questions about expressive arts work are answered through their experiences.

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“Each week before I teach my practicum, I look around my environment for inspiration, plucking different motivations for my sessions. You don’t need fancy materials to work with,” Lara said. “In expressive arts we work with the concept of low skill/high sensitivity, which encourages the art-maker to associate with everyday materials in a new way. Today I found some old clothespins that we’re going to make art with. I tend to like projects you can construct and deconstruct, as you don’t become so attached to them.”

Lara is currently working at The Indigenous Focus School Xpey' Elementary (formely Sir William Macdonald School) where she runs one-on-one expressive arts therapy sessions with children. She also teaches weekly group classes to advanced dance students at RNB Dance in North Vancouver.

“I set up stations for the kids and they guide me to where they would like to start out. In a session we might paint, dance, build clay sculptures, create songs, poems, collages or even wrap ourselves in scarves and do character exploration.  Mostly I like to take the cue from the child according to their mood, energy and interest on that particular day. The beauty of this kind of work is that you can work inter-modally with the imagination as your guide. And there are endless possibilities. It’s really helpful for children as their attention span often has an endpoint and their curiosity naturally shifts into another area. As a therapist, you have to be aware, attentive and move quickly to keep up with their impulses,” Lara said.

With years of experience working with children in groups as a dance teacher and choreographer, Lara said the experience of running one-on-one sessions is opening her eyes to a more intimate way of working.

“It is teaching me how to be with people in a different way, both inside the work but also outside in my personal relationships. Within a session there is a lot of listening and noticing that takes place with the client. It’s a wonderful way to learn about somebody and meet them where they’re at. In day to day life, we move at such a pace that this kind of sensitivity is often not realised.”

Lara looks forward to taking expressive arts into her dance community and hopes to encourage people to move toward everyday art-making, whether big or small.

“Dance has shown me the wealth of knowledge that lives in the body and now, through expressive arts ,I am learning how to shift and transform my tendencies, habits and see the world through a new lens.”