Interview with Anka Sedlačková
Gloria: First of all thank you very much, Anka, for this time… I’ve been wanting to interview you for years, and now it is finally happening, just right at the end of our first SPARKS meeting, here in Bratislava. I’ve been always curious about the history of Babyfit and even more now that we are partners in this European project. So, to begin with, how did it all start and when?
Anka: It has been actually 10 years since I offered the first baby class. Upon my return from the States, after a BMC® developmental movement course (BNP) in 2002, I really felt that I wanted to share this work with other mothers. This was way before attending the IDME Program, that I knew I was going to do in order to really follow my interests, but that I could complete only in 2006, in Germany.
G: Did you first graduate as an SME?
A: No, I actually did these two programs later, and at the same time. But when I began to work in Bratislava, I was neither an IDME nor an SME. The only thing I knew was that I really wanted to share that work somehow. I was very inspired also because I had two children.
G: And what did you do when you returned to Bratislava from the US?
A: It was a gradual process… First I offered a workshop to a group of adults: it was about the BNP [Basic Neurocellular Patterns] or, better to say, it was based on observing how babies move – that was the title of the workshop.
G: Whom did you invited?
A: Angelika, and there was another woman who worked right in this building [the interview is taking place in Elledanse theatre]. About only five people came, not so many. There were kids with us, so we started to watch the babies. Right there it was the beginning of everything. A year later I moved to a little studio nearby. I didn’t know the woman who run that space, but I went and told her that I would have liked to work with babies and mothers. She got really inspired and said “yes, I’m really curious, why don’t you put some words down about it..”. So, she opened the space for me, and there I offered the first baby and mother group.
G: And from that first group that you gathered ten years ago, you have arrived to serve 500 families throughout the city! How did you realize all of this? It’s amazing!
A: I think because Angelika stepped in. She has those incredible managerial skills. I think that the enormous growth was mostly due to her part of the story.
G: What venues did you find to spread your proposal? How could it reach so many people in such a short time?
A: First of all, I think that no other activities for mothers and babies were offered at that time. So the idea was a novelty for people. We were the only one centre in the whole city. But also, I think, we were creating a nice atmosphere of sharing and exchanging among people. We had done some advertisement somewhere around, but it was mainly by word of mouth that the activity became more popular.
G: There are now five centers, is that right?
A: Yes, but it took us some time. I started with that first group and then maybe ten more people signed up, with small babies, and another group was formed. At that time, in the beginning, there was only me interacting with the participants, with Angelika around all the time, present and curious about the work, encouraging me to expand the activity towards older kids, since her son was older than the other babies… Later she found a space in another part of the city, closer to her home, and so we added a new location. It was really nice because now people from different parts of the city could easily access our classes.
G: Did you have a specific format for a baby class in the beginning? How long was a session?
A: I wasn’t sure how to do, I just started but, yes, generally class was an hour long. A friend of mine from the States gave me five balls, so I brought the balls in, and it really turned into laboratory. Initially, I was interested in just sharing the developmental material, but when I looked at the situation I realized that people were interested also in other things.
G: So if you were not just teaching the patterns, what was the class about then, can you describe it?
A: We allowed a lot of time for observation. We also played on the balls, and I was trying to observe what the babies were doing. You know, I’m a dancer, so I started to play with the babies with different movement patterns in space. The vestibular system was something really interesting for me: the fact that It registers the movement of the body but also of the environment. In terms of giving a structure to the class, this is how I approached it: kids were moving freely, and we were looking at them, supporting them, and also moving to give them inputs.
G: From the point of view of the parents, which was their motivation to come? Did they want to experience movement in themselves, were they looking for support, or what?
A: I think that the strongest motivation was that somebody was appreciating their children, because the focus was a lot on the child, and actually still is. I don’t feel that people come to us for their personal growth, especially if they have children. I also think that there was a strong social component, because mothers had a way to connect and be together, share and move together. Probably they also wanted to feel their bodies, but then, I found out, it was not easy for me to shift the focus to that aspect.
G: You kept it on the child…
A: Yes. Also, you know, apart from sharing their experience with family and friends, mothers usually take their babies to doctors for a check. But here with us, there is a way of sharing knowledge, just by looking at the babies, at what their are doing.
G: So, you create a learning environment… Did you actually notice a learning process shared with the parents through time? Did you and the parents become more specific in your observations skills?
A: Eventually I became more aware of what parents generally expect from these classes, and I let go of focusing too much on body awareness. I kept giving some input but only a little bit, just for them to find an easier way to be in the experience. What actually influenced me in changing and developing the classes was my own training: the IDME and SME programs, and then later the Practitioner program. The more I trained the more I learned about “doing less” and how it is to “hold a space”. Through time, my way to see development became more rooted in structure: I could now hold on some form, and from there being freer to play while sharing information.
G: At some point you decided to train other people, so you could continue to develop Bebyfit. How did other people get involved?
A: That also happened in a quite natural way. At some point, Angelika stepped in to teach, I think after two years.
G: From what kind of training was she coming?
A: She is a dancer too, we had the same background. She was very much into Cunningham technique and very nicely introduced it in Slovakia. Her final thesis in college was about Cunningham’s dance work, and she went to the States, interviewed people…
G: And how did she get interested in becoming an educator?
A: You know, I think Angelika has the capacity of a multi-layered approach to things, which I also saw in the way she approached the Cunningham work. At the time, she was really curious because she had a son, and also, I trusted her, knowing her from the field of modern dance. She was brave, dealing with new things in a very brave way. I think I had deep trust in her.
G: So you asked her to join you.
A: She was actually already coming to most of my baby classes. Then, at some point, we talked: she had some ideas about helping me with management, and when her son was old enough to go to kindergarten she started to teach, and I was her mentor for that. But it was all very gradual, although we were constantly in touch with each other..
G: And how did it happen that other educators also joined?
A: As we were teaching baby classes, we had all kinds of different people coming and most of them became very interested in what we were doing. One, for example, was a physical therapist, a friend of ours who was doing baby massage. By the way, I forgot to say that our classes became an alternative to physical therapy. Before us, the only possibility for babies was to have a doctor who would prescribe physical therapy. But then, because we were observing baby movement, analyzing and discussing how to encourage development, we became an alternative to some forms of traditional rehabilitation. Eventually, we started an educational program in Babyfit, training people how to teach.
G: How was this program structured?
A: We were offering people the experiential learning of the developmental process, based on the material from the four developmental courses of the BMC® training. But our program also included lectures and discussions about how to work with children, small babies and kids after one year old. We were also teaching how to structure a class and communicate with parents. All of this was more based on our own experience.
G: Were you directing and coordinating this training activity? Were you integrating different competencies in your team?
A: I don’t know… maybe, that happened naturally. I was trying to advocate and to do a lot of embodiment work. The understanding was really coming through our own experience, and then maybe some expertises were also part of it.
G: Were there other mothers doing this training?
A: Yes, and most of them are still teaching or working with us.
G: It sounds like a self-generating activity: people who benefit from it then become tutor for offering the same activity to others… How did you manage it financially?
A: Well, in the beginning it was rather for free. I left It very open. But it was the place that was hosting us to be in charge of managing the finances. Then, when Angelika stepped in, we started to discuss a format and we came to the one we’re still using. We have three main periods of weekly activity: 8 – 9 weeks in the fall, same for winter and spring. We also offer one week in the summer, but that doesn’t really work so well. People are paying for each module. There is the possibility to take a single class, but it’s more expensive, while for the whole module is about €55.
G: It seems an affordable price..
A: Well, the market is very full now, there are many more places offering activities for babies and small children. But the quality is important and I believe that we are offering real quality, that’s why people keep coming.
G: How many educators are working for Babyfit at the moment?
A: Now we have twelve people working for us as independent professionals.
G: I wonder how much the culture and history of your country made it easier for your activity to easily spread and become established as a service equally offered to all kinds of people. In Italy, social disparity, sense of fragmentation and an individualistic way of living make it much more difficult to share common practices, in spite of their quality.
A: I know what you mean: when I was studying BMC in the USA, I could feel how the society there is based on a sense of individuality. When I came back here, I felt a sense of collectiveness, and it was very strong. Then I thought, ok, here we go, we are together. I felt that our proposal met a collective need of…
G: … good quality of life! Maybe people here are more incline to think that a good service can be offered at fair conditions, whether by public or private institutions.
A: It’s really interesting… I had a desire to bring BMC here in my country, and I took this long, deep tour, starting from the babies to open the channel. I was very inspired, and still am… Yet I didn’t know how to approach dissemination from a different side. Now I feel that also the adults are ready to open to the BMC ideas and ways of self exploration. So, it’s interesting, I did establish a ground, even though I was not strong enough in terms of education… I think the sense of collectiveness had a big part in this.
G: When you introduced the IDME program here, licensed by The School for Body-Mind Centering, how was to integrate this “official” training with the experience that Babyfit had developed through the years?
A: It was not easy. I had to rethink the format of my baby-mother groups: in the light of the IDME perspective, those classes were too structured. Also, the IDME was bringing more awareness on the baby and the complexity of their developmental progression.
G: You have organized almost two IDME cycles, directed by Walburga Glatz, and with faculty coming from different parts of the world. and have trained several IDME educators, many of them involved in the Babyfit activity. What do you envision now for you, for Babyfit?
A: The activity of the baby classes, and we have now so many kids and parents, is dealt more by Angelika. I stepped out a little bit, because I feel that it can be done without my input anymore. I would like to inspire people in the Babyfit community towards opening new channels. For instance, I would be interested in starting to collaborate with schools, I mean, bringing this work into the schools system, offering it to school teachers.. You know, our collaborators started when their children were only babies, and now their kids go to school. I would like to extend our support to the growing child, teaching the somatic approach throughout the whole childhood time.
G: Are you already doing something in this direction or is it still just an idea?
A: It’s just a thought… But Roman, one of our educators, has developed the work with kids up to 6 years, and that is a nice reach already. Other friends working in summer camps are beginning to apply our approach…
G: And what about your interest in working with people who have special needs, how much is it a personal interest or a natural development of Babyfit as an organization?
A: I think both: people with special needs come to groups and also for individual sessions. Quite a long time ago, I think in 2005, I had my first consultation for a child with special needs. Although I was wondering what to do with her, our work together became something very interesting.
G: So there are mixed abilities in your baby groups.
A: Yes, and I’ve learned a lot becoming aware of those differences: different timing, different ways of observing, of preparing myself in order to work with one child or another.
G: How would you consider your work with children with special needs, educational or therapeutic? Are you connected to some health professionals?
A: I think I have a more therapeutic approach with “special” children. But I have never really faced other health professionals very closely. For instance, take Zinka, this baby I’m working with. Talking with the mother, she told me about the work done by the Bobath therapist. I came to understand how she works and realized that her focus is quite very different from mine, although I’m really trying to find some basic points of connection. I also feel that there might be something valuable to the child, because I see Zinka getting stronger. I also know that this work was not so comfortable for her in the beginning. It’s interesting for me to observe the work of another professional, but from a certain distance, trying to understand it more and not to judge too quickly…
G: We are coming to an end with this interview. Is there something that you wish to communicate to our public, specifically those interested in applying BMC in the field of child development?
A: There’s one interesting thing that I discovered over time: we often notice that a baby is happy doing whatever he/she is doing. But when you open a new possibility for that baby and she/he finds out, for instance, that he can go from sitting to moving into space, then you see that baby glowing, amazingly happy! And he feels grateful to us for helping him to open those new pathways…
G: What would trigger that much happiness?
A: Getting in touch with one’s own strength and sense of self!
Thank you, Anka. I’m very happy that we of Leben nuova are partnering with you and Babyfit in the SPARKS project. We have much to share!
(Translation by Eleonora Parrello)
The Leben Network section is curated by Gloria Desideri
This post is also available in: Italian