When considering my dance history, I forgot about somewhat related classes I did take. I did also experience some dance lessons throughout school, in gym, as most people probably have, though they were not very considered. However as a child, I briefly took ice skating and gymnastics. I don’t recall the ice skating at all, I only have a picture of myself posing in a glittery dress. Afterwards, I remember asking my mom to enroll me in ballet. She said it was too expensive - which was probably true, but it might have also been knowing that the cultural difference (I grew up poor, rural) and my own social differences may have made it difficult. I loved taking gymnastics, but even there I did not fit in so well. Around that time, I was held back from kindergarten due to, as my mom said 'not being socially ready'.
My mom did not know that at the time, I had learning disabilities which heavily impacted my ability to get along with others my age. I’ve grown up figuring out how to navigate my body, my mind, my abilities, learning with pain how many things come so simply to others which my difficulty with singled out my differences. I learned not to walk on the tips of my toes. Not to touch the walls as I walked, sing in public, how to restrain myself to be appropriate, years after my peers. Still my body felt like a brick. A symptom of my disabilities is known as ‘dyspraxia’ - a difficulty with kinesthetic awareness and with judging distances. Like dyslexia, but for your own self. I had trouble understanding where I was at any given time, what my body was doing. I would drop things I was sure I was holding, run into walls and people, knock things off counters.
Over the years, I’ve become more aware of my body than I think many people get to be. I taught myself awareness of myself and my actions, and when I move throughout the world, it is with a focus and intention that is very much active. Still I get frustrated – when I am distracted, I will forget, I will curl my body in on itself and tighten up, and when the day is done my back and shoulders will be sore and my mind will be tense as well.
The body naturally reflects it’s circumstances, and the mind takes cues from the body. I am tense because I have anxiety and chronic pain. When I am tense, my mind believe I am in danger. A snake eating it’s tail, the feedback loop of body and mind is hard to break. In a period of recovery, I was lent a book called ‘Waking the Tiger’, which starts with a description of how the author Peter Levine first encountered somatic therapy. He considered the fight or flight response in terms of trauma – the majority of abuse victims do neither – they freeze. A deer in the forest hears a predator and becomes still, as a person with PTSD freezes at a loud noise. However, in the forest, once the danger has passed the deer trembles throughout their body, freeing the trauma. Humans will let it sit, will lean in, will tense up, holding that trauma in their muscles. He would pair exposure therapy with having his patients shake off the resulting anxiety.
Years earlier I knew a massage therapist. Every time he worked on me, I would laugh, feel passionate, or break down in tears. He told me this was common. He also said that emotions are held in the body, that relaxing these muscles can bring out the burden they’ve carried.
So I enrolled in this class not only to learn the terminology and recent history of body movement in order to integrate it in my art, but for my own body, my own past and present. I am always continuing the journey of learning my own movements, of freeing myself, but also being aware of myself.
Isadora Duncan preferred to dance without shoes. Like my other difficulties with social norms, I had several periods of my life where I went about the world not wearing shoes as often as I could. When my mind was a cloud, when my body was foreign to me, my feet on the earth was my lifeline to the world. Feeling the earth (and sidewalk) beneath me, I could tether myself to this reality. I could exist. I appreciate Isadora’s esoteric take on the connection between body and world – there is a place where the lofty thought process of artists meets the nonfiction of this plane, where our mind guide our bodies and vice versa into a link of a chain which is constantly breaking. What else could she be but a revolutionary? When society, work, and trauma distances us from our bodies and our thoughts, it is a political thing to bring attention their importance.