What Are Your Awesome Stories? Here’s one of mine…

It’s late fall here in Nova Scotia, and the weather (apart from some freakishly warm and much-appreciated days this week) is getting chilly. The other night I was getting dressed for a coffee date with a friend of mine, and I pulled out a scarf.

This scarf.

And it made me smile. Because the scarf has a great story behind it.

Over the summer between my first and second year, Skidmore College’s campus sprouted an art museum. The Tang museum opened its doors in October with an exhibit called S.O.S. Scenes of Sounds, and it featured all kinds of exhibits that made noise.

I don’t really remember being all that excited about the museum or the exhibition. At the time I’m pretty sure we all thought the museum was kind of funny looking. But then one day before the opening, this man came to watch our improvisation (dance) class. Our teacher told us that his name was Nick Cave and that he was looking for some dancers to wear his sound-making costumes during the museum opening.

So we danced. We danced our hearts out. And he watched. And at the end of class he picked 3 students to wear his costumes. I was one of them.

On the day of the opening, when the museum was packed, we got into costume and went outside. We started out on this big exterior staircase leading down to the main exhibit room. We walked down slowly, wearing our full-body soundsuits. Very slowly people began to notice our approach. And then we entered this narrow area enclosed between two walls (and doors) of glass, and we just went wild, improvising all kinds of movement in the giant, rustling costumes as the museum-goers watched. It was incredible.

 

Several weeks later, I got a package in the mail. It contained a note from Nick Cave thanking me for dancing for him and presenting this scarf (from his fashion line) as a token of gratitude. I’ve treasured it ever since.

When I went looking for video of these soundsuits, I found out that he went on to make many, many more of them. He’s had exhibits around the world. Hundreds of people have seen them and performed in them. And I danced in one of them 11 years ago, right near the beginning. That’s pretty effing cool.

I think we all have stories like this one…not necessarily about dancing, but about a really awesome experience and a memory we treasure. Sometimes I feel like we don’t like to talk about them because it feels too much like tooting our own horn.

But you know what? Forget that…I say let’s share our awesome stories proudly. Let’s tell the world. Because the world needs to know that cool things like this happen to “normal people” (whatever that means). And stories are important. Your story is important.

What’s your awesome story? And don’t tell me you don’t have one.

Dancing With the Past: It’s never too late to finish what you started

This is a piece of music from the soundtrack of the movie Pi. The year after I graduated from high school, I began to choreograph a solo to it. It was the most technically challenging and choreographically intricate piece I’d ever done. I worked on it for hours. And then I showed it to the wrong person.

And their comment was “Huh…it’s kind of sloppy, isn’t it?”

…I never worked on it again.

13 years later, I’m still sad about this. I’ve been through all the stages on this one: anger at the commenter, insecurity about my abilities, feigned indifference, anger at myself for giving up, and sadness at the entire situation.

Here’s what I know now: Of COURSE the piece was sloppy. I’d only just started…I only had the first third of it done. But it could have been great. I know it could have been great. I remember the very beginning, and it was amazing.

But I forgot all of this. I was so overwhelmed with pain and self-doubt that I gave up on it. I didn’t stand in my own power. And I have regretted it for more than a decade.

I am not alone in this experience.

Do you have a project you loved but stopped working on? Do you have a project you’re nursing tenderly and worried about sucking at?

Just do it. Trust your vision. Finish your project, no matter how many people tell you it sucks (or, alternatively, don’t show anyone until you’re done, that could work too). Trust me, “doing it anyway” sucks WAY less than regretting something for 13 years.

It’s NEVER too late.

I thought it was too late for me to finish this piece because I can’t physically do the dance steps any more. But there are always possibilities. I have a friend who can do the steps for me. It is never too late to finish what you started.

I’m going to do it.
You can do it too.

Please, just do it. Create that thing that calls out to you. Listen to it, bring it out into the world. The world needs your creations. Do it. Don’t let it hang over you forever.

Dancing With The Past: The One Thing I Would Erase If I Could…

Two weeks ago, Michelle Ward asked “What do you wanna erase?”

I’ve given this a lot of thought. And here’s my answer:

If I could erase one thing from my life, it would be the idea that my body needed to be a certain size or shape in order to “be a dancer.” It would be the feeling of shame, anger, and sorrow when the audition judges told me, “That was the best audition piece we’ve seen…but if you want to come to this school, you’ll have to lose some weight.” And I’d probably chuck out the years of fall-out from that experience for good measure.

Going through life without being told (essentially) “Your passion and talent are insignificant in the face of your inability to maintain a body weight which meets our standards” would have been pretty effing sweet.

And, regardless of whether I became a professional dancer or not, I would have had a lot more room for creativity and passion in my life if I hadn’t been constantly hating my own body and thinking things like “If I get up to a size 12, I may as well kill myself.” (Yes, I actually thought that. And that makes me sad.)

Officially “too fat” for dance school here…riiiiiiiiight.

My body was never meant to look like what our society as termed “a dancer’s body,” but it was strong and flexible, and my dancing has moved more than one person to tears. And it made my husband fall in love with me. For real. That’s what’s important.That’s what really counts.

What if you could be happy with your body right now, as is? What if you could be a dancer at any size? What if you could put on some music and move and just be happy in the skin you’re in? 

Pssst…you totally can. Because size is just a number, no matter what the ballet teachers say.

Falling Down

Up until the end of Grade Eleven, I had very little experience with modern dance. I’d taken one term of modern classes, and I’d found the technique interesting but slightly uncomfortable. And then I went to Walnut Hill…and everything changed.

This technique was completely different —it flowed. It was all about breath and weight and swinging the body like a pendulum. And it felt completely right on my body. I can’t express in words how much I adored (STILL adore) this style. I took every class I could get…and 13 years later, I still remember half the warmup exercises.

This is the only real example photo I have…but you can kind of see the swing and get a sense of the release, I think.

 

I have a great memory of a modern class where we were doing a difficult combination across the floor. I threw myself into the final turn…and fell on my butt. I got up, bright red, and looking at the teacher in desperate apology for “failing.” She smiled at me, turned to the class and said “See? Meg threw so much energy into the dance that she lost control. And that’s good. I want you all to attack this phrase with as much passion as Meg.” (OK, fine, I just paraphrased, but you get the idea). She gave me a suggestion about form and how to harness the energy more efficiently and told me to try again.

And suddenly I was on top of the world. I ran back to try the combination again, and this time I danced with all my might…and didn’t fall.

How often do we make mistakes and then beat ourselves over the head with them? How often do we avoid trying something for fear of making a mistake or failing (however we define that failure)?

What would it be like if we could approach our own dances —physical, mental, or emotional— the way that my modern teacher approached my dance? What would that look like to you?

To me it would look like trying 100%, really leaping in with all of my might. It would look like expressing myself with passion and flowing through the movements and not worrying so much about the “scary” parts…just…MOVING JOYFULLY.

It would look…a little scary at the start…but pretty darn awesome once I got going.

And if I fell…at least I’d know that I was dancing with all of my might.

Dancing With September

Happy September!

September is, without a doubt, my favourite month of the year. Part of this is because it’s GORGEOUS. The weather here in NS tends to be over-the-top awesome —summery, but with cool breezes, and chilly at night (perfect sleeping weather). There are asters and goldenrod everywhere, and the trees seem to be squeezing every last possible drop of joy out of life before winding down for the winter. Fresh apples appear at the farmers’ market, and I start dreaming of pie.

But it’s more than just the weather and the vegetation. I find that September is the month when Things Happen. September 2004 was the month I fell in love with Matthew. September 2005 was the month we got married.

In September 2008, Matthew’s birth mother came from Alberta to meet her son and grandson for the first time. In September 2010, we suddenly made the decision to move back into an apartment from our money-and-energy-sucking rented house. Even in the years when nothing spectacularly memorable happened, I remember feeling the shift in the energy.

I know this time of year is all about the harvest up here in the Northern Hemisphere, but the energy I feel once the calendar hits September tends to be more spring-like: sprouting, blossoming, blooming. There’s a vibrant feeling of aliveness and potential in the air. “Jump in and come for the ride of your life,” September whispers in my ear. And even though sometimes it’s scary, more often than not I jump.

It’s something I’d like to pay more attention to: the natural energy of the months. How does each one feel, how does it flow? How can I dance with it?

How can I dance with September?

September comes in with the promise of clear insight, big dreams, sudden epiphanies, and a vision of wide-open possibilities. It only asks that I surrender to the flow. September grabs me by the hand and whirls me onto the dance floor, and all I have to do is hold on and keep a good thought and an open mind.

I step forward and I grab September’s goldenrod-yellow hand. I close my eyes and take a deep breath as I am carried off into the magical unknown.

5Rhythms Friday: We have come to be danced

My favourite poem in the entire world begins with this stanza:

We have come to be danced
Not the pretty dance
Not the pretty pretty, pick me, pick me dance
But the claw our way back into the belly
Of the sacred, sensual animal dance
The unhinged, unplugged, cat is out of its box dance
The holding the precious moment in the palms
Of our hands and feet dance.

I’ve always loved the poem (the entirety of which you can find here), especially the first line, which is repeated throughout. The words “We have come to be danced” have always made me want to shout “YES!” with my voice, my body and my soul.

I thought I understood how it felt to “be danced,” to feel my thoughts melt away and let my body move on its own. But in hindsight…I see that I didn’t. Not really. Until now.

Two weeks ago, I posted about the 5Rhythms and why I had stopped dancing them, and I made a commitment to explore them in a new way.

I said that I would show up on the dance floor, tune into my body, and let it speak to me. Nothing more, nothing less.

There was a reason for this: I finally understood that this preliminary tuning-in process was the most important part of the entire practice. It was also the thing I had forgotten about in previous attempts. Somehow I never realized how vital it was.

I guess the whole “5Rhythms” part distracted me…I treated the bit that came before the Rhythms like just any old warm-up. But it’s so much more than that. Tuning-in is what separates dance steps from ecstatic release, what turns exercise into meditation. It’s the heart and soul of the entire practice. And I skipped it. And it showed.

Even in the 5Rhythms sessions where I totally kicked ass, I was going through the motions:

Warm up part by part, check. Flow, check, dance Staccato, check, Chaos-time, done, Lyrical, OK, Stillness -time to stretch.

I moved my body, but I never let my body move me. I couldn’t figure out how to let my body dance on its own. My head was always in there, telling me what to do, or evaluating how “flowing” or “staccato” my movement was, seeing patterns, or mentally writing blog posts about the movements as I was doing them.

I find it comforting that I’m not the only person who’s struggled with this. Gabrielle Roth herself writes,

It takes discipline to develop attention and awareness. For me, this discipline is part of my dance. One of the biggest challenges is to keep my awareness in my body, not in my head where it can distract me in a million ways.
(Sweat Your Prayers, 29)

I’ve read this passage several times over the years, but I never truly understood it. When she talks about keeping her awareness in her body, she doesn’t just mean paying attention to the body, she means inhabiting it with her consciousness. That’s a big difference. If you do the former, your head is still the puppet master, pulling the strings and orchestrating the dance. If you can manage the latter, then it’s as if your body has a life of its own, and the entire game changes.

Want to see what I mean? Give this a try:

Move your hand. Just do whatever you feel like. Wiggle your fingers or flex them or tap them or wave them slowly…whatever.

There. You just danced with your hand.

OK. Now close your eyes and mentally place your awareness into your palm. Imagine that you’re no longer thinking with your brain, but with your hand. If it helps, imagine looking out of your hand with your eyes, as if your entire consciousness has been transplanted there.

Now…let your hand move. It might take a couple of tries, but see if you can let go of the brain-work and fully inhabit your hand. Let it move. You’ll know when you’ve managed it —it feels different.

See? Your hand just danced you.

Try it with another body part: your head, shoulders, spine, elbows, hips, knees, or feet. See if you can feel the difference.

Ever since I wrote that 5Rhythms post, this has been the sum total of my practice: I show up, I close my eyes, and I mentally slide my awareness into each body part one after the other, starting with my head. I see how that part wants to move in that moment. I let myself be danced. You can do this too.

I’m starting to be able to tell when my body’s moving me, as opposed to the usual “me moving my body.” My movement patterns, my “home moves” are disturbingly absent. The movements change completely from day to day. It feels so foreign to allow my body to have control, to feel my awareness down inside instead of up in my head. I’m pretty sure this is the entire point of the practice.

One day last week I was tuning in, and I suddenly found myself folding down into a forward bend. I was genuinely surprised —I hadn’t consciously planned it! It was a revelation.

There are moments in every practice when I lose focus and feel my head kicking in. But that’s OK. I take a deep breath, I close my eyes again, and I consciously move my awareness back to the body part. I think that, with practice, I’ll be able to hold the awareness in my body for longer and longer periods of time. In fact, I’ve started practicing it when I’m not dancing at all.

I did get results from the Rhythms before this. But I also got frustrated and injured because I really wasn’t in my body. In spite of my best intentions and all my effort, I was still up in my head, and viewing the practice as an exercise or routine or choreography: analytically, judgmentally, and from an outside perspective. I can only imagine the effect that the 5Rhythms could have if I managed to actually go inside and let my body do its own dance through the entire wave of rhythms. That’s my goal…but I’m taking my time getting there. Tuning in is enough for now.

I can’t emphasize enough how much of a Big Deal this is. I feel like I’ve uncovered hidden treasure or discovered the key to a mystery. I’m jumping-up-and-down excited about it. The words of my favourite poem have new meaning for me. More than ever, they express my deepest desire:

We have come to be danced
Where the kingdoms collide
In the cathedral of flesh
To burn back into the light
To unravel, to play, to fly, to pray
To root in skin sanctuary
We have come to be danced
We have come.

…YES. This is how I want to move. And now I know how to get there

Whatever happened to 5Rhythms Fridays? (and what comes next)

If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ll know that I had a series called 5Rhythms Fridays where I undertook a regular 5Rhythms practice and blogged about it once a week. I did it for 3.5 months, give or take a leg injury. I started digging deep and healing myself with the dance. And then I stopped.

I didn’t just stop writing about the Rhythms, I stopped doing them.

And I’ve been feeling guilty ever since.

I know that a bunch of new readers have joined me since I last wrote a 5Rhythms post (Hi there!), so just in case you have no idea what the heck I’m talking about, my comrade-in-arms, Jennifer at Flowtation Devices has written a fantastic introduction to the Rhythms.

Jennifer is lucky. She lives within driving distance of a 5Rhythms class. I, on the other hand, would have to drive for about 19 hours (one way) to get to a teacher. I’ve never taken a Real Live 5Rhythms class. The only reason I know about the Rhythms at all is that one day, years ago, a Reiki Healing Dance teacher at a weekend workshop recommended a book called Sweat Your Prayers to me, and I bought a copy. Any kind of 5Rhythms practice I’ve ever had has been based on what I’ve read in the book and heard in the vocal prompts on Gabrielle Roth’s CDs.

Sweat Your Prayers changed my life. It opened my eyes to new ways of moving. It gave me inspiration and insight and confirmation that there was, indeed, another way of dancing. And my experiments with the 5Rhythms have also been life-changing…I just read through my 5Rhythms Friday posts, and they are full of insights and healings and Beginnings of Big Things.

So why did I stop?

My original draft of this post listed 4 reasons why I stopped. But I think that, really, it boils down to two:

1. I was totally effing terrified.

One day I found myself engulfed by misery and wracked by huge, animal sobs, and I got some idea of the sheer extent of the rage and pain my body was holding onto. And it terrified me. After that, 5Rhythms sessions were harder to do because I was afraid that it would happen again. It was harder to get out of my head. I was resisting and avoiding.

In the time since I stopped doing the Rhythms, I’ve still been dancing, but I haven’t moved with the intention of healing. I haven’t peeked below the surface. I haven’t had the same meaningful movement experiences I had when I was doing the Rhythms. And I’ve been creeping back into stasis (which is my term for not-moving-at-all). Yes, fear was definitely part of the problem.

2. I was doing it wrong.

Yes, yes, I know that you can’t do the Rhythms wrong, that there’s no such thing as a bad dancer or bad steps (that’s the backbone of my own philosophy, after all)…but as I look back at my practice, review Sweat Your Prayers, and start playing around with the Rhythms again, I realize that, actually, you can totally do the Rhythms wrong. In a manner of speaking.

In Sweat Your Prayers, Gabrielle Roth says,

“The only discipline it requires is for you to show up and be true to the part of yourself that is committed to moving. Although there are five rhythms, today you may only do one and tomorrow you may do three. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do it. You’ll soon learn to listen to your body and to do what’s appropriate for you in the moment.”

In spite of all of my breakthroughs, in spite of all the times I’ve written about dancing from the inside out and listening to your body…when it came down to it, I was still letting my head lead the dance. I obsessed about whether I was doing the rhythms “right,” and I got down on myself if I stopped before completing all five rhythms. My mind was a continual chatter of thoughts.

I was still, after all these years, doing the trained dancer’s trick of dancing from the outside in…and that meant I was “making” my body do steps instead of letting my true dance come out. I wasn’t listening, I wasn’t doing what was appropriate in the moment, I was going by the book and not by the body.

As far as a technique in which there is no “wrong” goes…that’s about as wrong as you can get. And even though I didn’t know exactly what the problem was, I had this sinking feeling that something was off.  Dancing the Rhythms was a struggle (far more so after the aforementioned fear kicked in).

But the thing is…this work is important. I want to heal. I am so close to deeper understanding and Knowing. And this is what I set out to achieve this year: Homecoming. So screw the fear. It’s time to take another leap (or at least a gentle step).

I’m coming back to the 5Rhythms. Very very slowly. But with a difference this time:

1. I will not commit to writing weekly 5Rhythms posts.

That puts too much pressure on the practice. If anything post-worthy comes up, I promise to share. And I may give occasional progress reports. But the weekly post thing was just not working for me, at least not as a hard-and-fast rule (if I find that every week gives me something 5Rhythms-y to write about, I will absolutely do so…but I don’t want the point of the practice to be finding something to write about, you know?).

2. The only thing I will commit to doing is showing up.

I’m starting right from the beginning. I’m not even going to try to do the Rhythms, I’m just going to commit to putting on some music and doing the tuning-in/warming-up “Body Jazz” part of the practice. If I feel like dancing more after that, I will, but I will stop if my body tells me to, with zero guilt and zero expectations. Just like I tell all of my students to do.

3. I’m returning to the source.

I skimmed through a bunch of Sweat Your Prayers before I started my practice last time. This time I’m going to really read it. Sentence by sentence, highlighting and note-taking all the way. It’s going to take me a long time…there’s not much time for reading in my day, but I’m going to inch my way through and really digest it as I go.

After all, the point of this is to focus on the journey, not the destination.

If you want to find me, I’ll be shut in the guest room with my eyes closed, listening to what my body has to say.