How To Retrain Bodies Trained For War: A New Film About Roman Baca + Exit 12

How does dance help veterans, like you, live with post-traumatic stress from military service and war zones?

I remember thinking, when I was at Marine Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina — the place where Marines are made — that military training achieved changes in individuals in a very short time.

The initial training processes and methods include the following:  recruitment of the youth, isolation from society, endurance training, learning of the arts of war, development of unit cohesion, and exposure to extreme duress. Prospective soldiers, often called ‘recruits,’ are stripped of their name (only to be called by their rank or surname), their personal items are locked away (replaced by a uniform), and their hair is, in most cases, shaved completely.  From day one, a recruit is separated from civilian life, stripped of their individuality, and thrust into a continual process of military training. The interesting thing is that such military training exercises are not used to teach skills that will be used in combat, but rather, to develop an immediate unconscious obedience to orders, a killing instinct, and a military mindset.

This type of military training even goes so far as to manipulate the meaning-making that follows the seemingly meaningless exercises by flooding the brain with neuromodulators to loosen old synaptic structures and patterns of meaning making and then floods their environment with opportunities to make the “right” meanings. The military mindset — inclusive of killing-instinct, fellow-feeling, and ethos –- thereby influences the body through a psycho-somatic connection that is strengthened through ritualistic discipline.  The body develops a prohibition against its own feelings and sensibilities, and succumbs to the power exerted on it through discipline. Infantry soldiers in the field have better hearing, sight, and a sixth-sense for danger from the constant alertness the military requires.

Therefore, one of the biggest issues I had post-service was dealing with the constant alertness of my training.  Large crowds, like the ones at Waverly Station, make my muscles and organs physically react. I breathe faster, my heartbeat increases, and my muscles tense ready for the threat.  Because of that, I have trouble disconnecting from here and now, and the threats that could exist.

I started dancing and choreographing as a way to communicate the impact of war to audiences.  Noble, right? However, my close friends will tell you that dancing and choreographing healed me. I have learned how to calm my physical reaction to perceived threats, to big crowds, and uncomfortable situations.  And I have learned to look beyond the here and now, and through the performing arts, create my tomorrow.

words by Roman Baca | images courtesy of Square

Click here to learn more about Baca’s journey and the work of his company, Exit 12, in the form of a new documentary for Square’s award-winning “For Every Dream” series. The short film is an official selection for this year’s SXSW.

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