Today at the People Dancing International Conference, I will be sharing my current thinking about working with dancers with Parkinson’s. One of the main themes will be kinaesthetic empathy and mirror neurons. 

I would argue that empathy is my most valued skill and without it, I would not be able to effectively do my job as a dance artist. Empathy enables me to connect with others, understand what is needed in the moment, be flexible and responsive. Through kinaesthetic empathy I have been able to develop the skill to understand how to amend and adapt my approach physically by looking. This has developed through years of leading dance, and in particular, working with people with movement disorders such as Parkinson’s, whose symptoms can be worn physically, like an imprinted language on the body.

This TED Ideas Blog by Jeremy Rifkin explains how empathy as a cultural tool for relationality can enable us to overturn an egocentric society in favour of community cohesion and acceptance.

Rifkin explains that humans are soft wired with the capacity to empathise through mirror neurons, enabling us to feel and understand things that are happening to others, just as though we were having the experience ourselves. This naturally occurring capability is not for aggression, or self interest, it’s there to enable us to make attachments, for companionship and sociability.

The drive to belong is an empathic drive
— Jeremy Rifkin

Empathy is an incredible supportive system if we connect with it effectively. Our ability to understand our own path and struggles, can lead us to relate to others – respecting their drive to survive and the precious fragility of life. On a smaller scale, in dance, our ability to understand human responses and vulnerability enable us to respond appropriately and supportively in the moment. Through compassion, we can show solidarity with the people we dance with by acknowledging our equality with them and adapting our approach to enable their contributions.