In 1988, Frank Zappa took his band on a world tour. His set included his version of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. When the band played in Barcelona, the trombonist, Bruce Fowler, broke into dance. (I think Fowler danced Flamenco, not Bolero. Not being a student of dance, I can’t be sure). Fowler was so involved in his dancing, he almost missed his moment to resume playing.
Whether Fowler danced Bolero or Flamenco, his dancing raises a psychotherapeutic question. What led to Bruce Fowler dancing?
One place to start our exploration is to acknowledge that Fowler would not have danced had he been part of the London Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Bolero (see Maurice Ravel Shows How it’s Done blog). More interestingly, he would not have danced if he was a member of Jeff Beck’s band (see Jeff Beck Breaks the Mould blog). Beck was more interested in creating an environment where we admired his guitar playing, than stirring us to dance. There was something about Zappa’s rendition of Bolero that inspired Fowler to dance.
That Zappa’s Bolero moved Fowler to dance, where Ravel’s and Beck’s renditions would not, leads us into an important psychotherapeutic issue. The psychotherapy patient enters an environment that is largely created by the therapist. The environment the therapist creates will be an expression of how the therapist views the world and mental health. For example, one therapist would be drawn to the spontaneity of Fowler’s dancing. Another, to the fact that Fowler was so busy dancing that he nearly missed his cue to resume playing. Obviously, the therapist could hold both these positions, and the focus would vary from patient to patient. However, it is not possible for the therapist not to bring their own beliefs to the therapy.
Further, each psychotherapeutic modality is built on particular values as to what constitutes mental health. These values will underpin how a therapy proceeds.
This subjectivity can place the patient in a difficult position. To address the issues that are causing emotional pain and limiting their lives, they have to give over to a particular environment created by a therapist who has a particular set of beliefs, within a modality that preferences a certain set of values. How does the patient know when this dependency is helping them or limiting them? How do they know when their resistance to the therapy stems from their own inner conflicts and when the therapy is simply not working? This is a struggle that most psychotherapy patients will face at some time.
On the other hand, there is a demand on the therapist to ongoingly be aware of their own subjectivity, to be increasingly aware of what they bring to the therapeutic environment. By definition, this task can never be completed. It is not unusual for a therapist’s work to change throughout their career as they become increasingly aware of who they are in the therapy. Some will even experiment with new psychotherapeutic modalities.
A few things about Zappa’s Bolero and what might have inspired Bruce Fowler’s dancing.
As I said in an earlier blog (see Maurice Ravel Shows How it is Done), Ravel’s Bolero could be seen as a metaphor for the creation of a safe nurturing space where an infant can grow. Zappa discards Ravel’s soft string and woodwind sections and hands the melody over to a boisterous brass section. Zappa’s Bolero feels more like a metaphor for when the parents excite the baby. They lift the child’s singlet and blow raspberries on the belly. They hide their faces behind their hands before suddenly revealing themselves and saying, “Boo.” The baby is often stimulated into laughter. It can also end in tears.
When Bruce Fowler dances, none of the other band members join in. In fact, they almost completely ignore him. He looks like he is having fun but also looks very alone. By the time the tour reached Barcelona, internal conflicts were splitting the band. Zappa cancelled the last part of the tour. There could more to Fowler’s dancing than meets the eye.