This week’s Dance First Member Insight is from Leslie Merrill Schmidt, a student of Tamalpa!

A Year of Life and Art in the Tamalpa Level 1 Online Training Program

Whenever my daughter and I play hide and seek, I know I need to hide quickly because I’ll only have until the count of 3 before the seeking begins. In a random parenting article on toddlers, I read that even though some can “count” upwards of ten through rote memorization, their tangible mathematical understanding of these numbers typically doesn’t extend beyond three. So we’re playing hide and seek, and I frantically dart behind the nearest piece of furniture, nervously awaiting the moment that I will be discovered… “1, 2, 3. Ready or not, here I come!”


A couple of months into the pandemic, I was attempting to work and teach dance remotely as a relatively new mother. While I was grateful to be working, I found myself consistently gripped by fear and trying to process grief rather unskillfully. I experienced a crisis of confidence as seemingly simple tasks and skills I thought I had mastered felt nearly impossible to manage. Old wounds and patterns of behavior came rushing to the surface and felt more difficult to hide. In the midst of this chaos and desperately searching for something I hoped would provide a respite, I learned that the Tamalpa Institute would be offering their Level 1 Training Program online. So in September of 2020, feeling disconnected and immersed in a cycle of fear, I began the Level 1 Training Program as part of the very first online cohort.

Sliding along rough surfaces
Slipping between tight spaces
Stumbling along as next steps find their way to us
Pathward, starward, opened bright
She came through us
Pushed out into the open
A trauma forgotten and yet held in bones of heels, 
flesh of moons
Gently massaging her delicate feet,
from the outside in

I remember when I first said it out loud. Early in the training program, I was in a Zoom breakout room with another artist in my cohort. She witnessed me performing a bit of creative work, and we transitioned into a period of reflection. She asked me a question, and in response, I shared some thoughts about my relationship with my daughter. Then I heard myself saying, “I don’t feel worthy of her love and affection.” This seemed to surprise both of us, and I couldn’t really articulate why I felt this sense of unworthiness. Over many months, the roots of this feeling became known to me as I began to unearth the layers of shame and unprocessed trauma living in my body by engaging with the Tamalpa Life-Art process.

The process is a movement-based, expressive arts practice that combines dance, drawing, creative writing, song, and enactment. This intermodal approach of shifting between various art mediums, with the language and elements of each unique form in dialogue with the others, has opened up my creativity in unexpected ways. The process is grounded somatically in the body. It draws on the lived experiences held within it, connecting to the physical, mental, emotional, and imaginal realms. It offers a space to envision new possibilities and put them into practice through the creative process, making it a powerful force for healing, artistic expression, and individual and social change.

During the pandemic, it has been such a gift to be able to connect, learn, and create in community with my cohort, and guided by our incredible teachers, Daria Halprin, Rosario Sammartino, Joy Cosculluela, and Dohee Lee, and the work and legacy of Anna Halprin. The program has felt like coming home – to my body, my wholeness – which I had always longed for but never fully experienced.

Stepping into new lives
Singing out of old ones
as backs remember
long walks of heavy lunges
Prying open stories straddling generations
Heavy, crouching overcurves
and undercurrents streaming through the many palms
Reading trees 
threading roots upon roots upon roots
A woven, shifting, spiraling mess 
of effort, play, and chaos
Out of which she came
through the legs of mother


One of the many maps and methods we explored throughout the program was body part mapping. This allowed me to connect deeply with my personal mythology, engaging in an embodied and metaphorical encounter with each body part using different art mediums and levels of awareness. From these explorations, I developed a self-portrait drawing and performance connected to themes of wounding from my personal history and my current trials and joys as a mother. At the end of the program, we all shared our Self-Portrait Rituals and Performances with one another in May and June of 2021. Sadly, Anna Halprin passed during this time. Our teachers shared rich stories, celebrating her life and legacy, and we all became a part of the Tamalpa lineage by enacting our performances.

I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to work through my own personal material and create new narratives while being held in community by our amazing cohort, teachers, and the Tamalpa lineage. Our cohort is a group of artists, teachers, therapists, activists, and healers spread across the globe. Their creativity, courage, embodied presence, and witnessing has changed me. There is a closeness between us that defies physical distance. This has been profound, particularly at a moment when so much has felt unknown, scary, and heartbreaking. The Tamalpa Level 1 Online Training Program was a transformative experience for me as an artist, educator, and human and has connected me to countless resources in the interior and exterior worlds.

In truth, I am not sure if I ever would have been able to fit the program into my life if it hadn’t been offered online. Participating from our homes was a unique experience, as life and art truly sat side by side throughout the process. During the closing weekend of the program, my family and I celebrated my daughter’s 2nd birthday.

“1, 2, 3. Ready or not, here I come!” As I’m waiting for her to find me, I notice that I do feel ready and worthy of the connection and love available in this play and discovery. I can hear her little footsteps getting closer. She peers around the corner, and our eyes meet for 1…2…3… whole seconds of pure joy.

Push, to roll, to sit, to creep, to crawl, to stand
Walk upon the cool earth
rich with stories of the many
Baby steps call to next steps
call to last steps
She fell and I cried
I fell and she prayed
We all fell down
We all got up
Rolling together from back to front,
from knees to feet
Knowing that where we had been mattered
Wondering what sensation might pierce through the night
propelling us into action
We are so very tired
Heavy bones ache as the earth calls out to us to rest
And we do
And these dreams stir us to rise again
To stand and speak 
of truth and love and flight
One bird remained to tell
Singing our hearts’ wishes
Oh tenderest of songs

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