Biting Your Own Teeth

According to Pinterest (I know, I know) Alan Watts said, “Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.”

I have written about defining and labeling at several points over the years on this blog as well as for Dance Advantage.

I am in the midst of change with my relationship to dance and the proportions of focus through which I see and do. I think I write that every summer.

In my graduate study, I explored a movement curriculum as a method to alleviate symptoms of PTSD. Over the years, my teaching has taken principles of that work and implemented it into the structure of my classes as I worked with at-risk youth and others. I am finding myself currently drawn back into that world as I embark on some projects this summer. More on that to come.

This year, Daria Halprin’s book The Expressive Body in Life, Art, and Therapy: Working with Movement, Metaphor, and Meaning has never been far out of reach.  It has been influential and it brought me to this (page 64) about dance therapy pioneer Mary Starks Whitehouse, “She first called her approach movement in-depth and later authentic movement. She remarked that a significant turning point was the day when she realized that rather than teaching dance, she was teaching people. More than theory or philosophy, the inner life of the mover was of primary interest to Whitehouse. For her, movement was a way of becoming conscious more than a way to “act out”.” And here I am.

I have many friends navigating the waters of change right now: people leaving classrooms, leaving traditions, leaving fields, leaving relationships, leaving countries.

Change equals movement.

Once upon a time, I wanted to use my teaching to produce dancers. Then it was to also produce thinkers. Now it is also to help guide people to the knowledge they already hold. Do you see it? It is and, and. Not either/or.

Movement changes what we think and how we think it. What we think changes how we move.

I am observing the consciousness surfacing through my own movements. I am curious about the consciousness of inner life for these friends of mine as they move. I am finding the more I drop the labels and definitions, defense and offense, I am able to honor more of who I am rather and what I offer. My inner life is more thoroughly realized. I wonder if they are feeling the same.

I have spent years, decades actually, defining.            I want to stop.

I think the challenge of change hasn’t been about the change itself- the tasks, the environment, the affiliations. It has been about the shift in definition. If I am this now, does it mean that I am no longer that? No. At least not in my situations. It is altering the proportions, gaining more dimension by accumulating “ands”.

How are you moving these days? What is surfacing? What are you accumulating?

When the Body Answers Back

We know our stories are trapped in our bodies. We know we use our bodies to express personal perspectives within our stories. But what about when the body needs to do the speaking?

When I was living in NYC, one of my favorite classes was that of Alexandra Beller. She started each class with us laying on our backs, talking us through our bodies, giving us permission to let go of whatever we had been trudging through prior to class and to simply be before she invited us to move.

It never failed, each and every time I would get a lump in my throat, tears would stream from my eyes, and it seemed to come from nowhere. As I described in my post about David Howard’s class, here I was accepted as a person and then supported as a dancer. It was empowering, complex, surprising, and thought-provoking. Over ten years later, I am still thinking about it.

Over the years, I have had students go through similar experiences in my own class. This summer, I have finally had that feeling again in my practice of Bikram yoga.

Interestingly, this topic keeps coming up as I communicate with people from all over the dance map.

It makes me think the conversation needs to be opened.

In grad school, one area of my research was how organized movement curricula can help alleviate symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This, for me, was a brief and shallow advance into the world of research but the topic keeps cropping up in everything else I research and in all facets of my teaching- embodied learning for at-risk students, learning styles and methods for delivering information in a dance classroom, and more.

Without going into too much personal detail, I have experienced many traumas (death of a parent, being in NYC on 9/11, several robberies,….) and I have been conscious of how my body has felt and how my dancing has been impacted as a result of events. Things have helped and hindered along the way but nothing has had the profound effect for me as I have encountered this summer.

Through movement and possibly related to certain environmental conditions, I have felt the ‘baggage’ I have been carrying for years shift and eventually be left behind. Not all of it, but a substantial amount.

I have acknowledged the unevenness of sides of my body- in feeling like I am laying on an incline while in reality laying on flat ground, in sensing complete relaxation on the left side of my body while the right side is tense literally from the top of my head to the toes, even in wanting to cry but only on the right side of my face.

My head has flooded with thoughts that I have not allowed myself to entertain and in the next posture those thoughts flooded out.

I have felt the front of my body roar like a lion and I have cried, and cried, and cried- not in sadness but in release.

My body, mind, and spirit feel stronger than…..well, maybe ever.

In the reading I have done in recent weeks, I am suspecting that this breakthrough is, naturally, because I am ready. However, the environmental conditions of the yoga experience might also be important in my case. Namely, the heat.

Bikram as I understand, is the original hot yoga and all of this- the heat, the focus on my own practice and not that of my students, and the dedicated time to myself-  has returned me to when I was dancing intensely, in hot studios, sweating immensely, and so on. For me, living in NYC and dancing my way through the summer, all of this is relevant to conditions not directly relating to trauma but surrounding the trauma. It has taken me back to the time and not the event. And dance, the technical practice and focus on my progress and process, has been consistent in the time of all other traumas.

None of this has been easy, but it has been necessary. Due to the conversations I have had with others over the last few weeks, I feel prompted to share this in the spirit of “you are not alone”.

My experiences have been dependent upon my interactions with Alexandra Beller, Trent McEntire, and the instructors of Bikram Yoga Capital Area, as well as everyone else that has shaped my life’s path in movement and stillness.

For all those that have had similar experiences or may in the future- keep moving. May you find your own guides, maybe even in the most unexpected of people or situations. At any rate, I hope you find your release.