Dance as Safe Space

The whole idea behind the blog aspect of Movement Symposium is to give Alicia and me a platform through which to share our ruminations, whatever we want to write, wether it be academic analysis, critical review, beginning stages of research for a new work, or just personal thoughts and feelings.

This post is definitely more of the latter.

As someone who began dancing at a young age, the studio has always been a sacred space, as much as any space can possibly be. I grew up using movement to get at my feelings about things. I workshopped my life through moving experiments, jamming, improvising, returning to movement and dances I know well and feel safe within. In my free time as a kid, I would sit down with old performance videos and learn every part (this was mostly of the story ballet persuasion, something I’ve found less self-expression within as I’ve gotten older, but still feel the magic of when I can turn of the post-colonial-critical-feminist-theory part of my brain and just appreciate the history and aesthetic values involved).

Dancing always made sense to me. Being in class, making dances, watching smart and physically engaging dance, improvising by myself or alongside other bodies; these were things that I never questioned, always knew to be the best way of figuring out the difficulties in my life.

When I moved to Chicago, I fell in love with the dance community here. There are so many smart dancers and dancemakers tackling intense issues in new, thought-provoking and challenging ways. I’ve seen so many successfully probing works, and plenty of failures, but its always accomplished with such enthusiasm that you have to see the value in that. I love that questions are being asked, and that we as dancers and audience members are being asked to think.

From the time I moved here over 5 years ago, I felt safe in this community, and within the smaller community of Columbia’s Dance Center. I was consistently challenged in ways that helped me grow as an artist, but also, and more importantly, as a person. I got involved in everything that I could, saw every performance I could possibly get to, and tried to pick as many people’s brains as possible. I networked like a champ, and met and worked with a lot of really inspiring and brilliant people.

As I developed within these communities, established my artistic voice, got to know the people and voices involved, I found a new level of safety, in which I felt comfortable challenging others, pushing my own boundaries, and taking more risks. I became less afraid of making a dance that may or may not fail. I worried less about the success of a “final product” and more about the experience of getting there, the process. Within this fascination, I gained some strength, and found a new voice.

In my non-dance (but intrinsically linked to dance) life, I developed a new sense of confidence, an optimism, an ability to see the good in people, show affection, give strength, and communicate honestly; all qualities that i value in myself. All qualities that were seriously challenged a year and a half ago.

My personal, professional, and academic lives were all shaken following events that occurred during and after the “snowpocalypse” of 2011. Its not something I’ve really discussed publicly, nor will I divulge details here. Some really horrible, confusing and heartbreaking things happened, and I was left, at the risk of sounding melodramatic, broken. Friendships were ended, jobs were lost, and I lost a lot of what I valued so much in myself. I no longer hold as much optimism about the good in people. I hesitate to show affection or admiration to people. I have always prided myself on being responsible and accountable, honoring commitments, and I was unable to do a lot of that in the year following these events.

To those who I worked with or who knew me professionally, I became less reliable, less focused, and was always preoccupied. To me, leaving the house was a daily struggle, one that involved severe anxiety attacks and constant fear. I was unable to participate in things that had once been my respite from the storm that was my non-dance life. The safe spaces that had been my sanctuary, became unsafe, my own home housed memories and feelings that debilitated me. Every place became unsafe, including the entire community I was once so in love with.

I stopped working on dance shows, something that I loved, and at which I was starting to feel accomplished. I stopped trusting old friends who had associations to these events. Those friendships still suffer to this day. I still grapple with how to actively talk or not talk about why these changes occurred in me, and how much information I want or need to share with anyone. I allowed myself to become a victim, and I focused my energy on participating fully in things totally unrelated to dance, the dance community, and the people who brought up these awful memories. It made me a perfect employee at my new job.

Over the course of the past year, I’ve done some important healing, gained distance from these events and moved on in a lot of ways. Recently though, its become apparent how much more healing I still have to do, and how much of my life is still defined by what happened. I’ve done a lot of the passive healing that just comes with time and space, but that doesn’t lead to resolutions. Its time for the active healing process, in which I stop being a victim.

I’ve started dancing again. In the next 2 months, I’m performing in 3 shows, one of which I will be dancing in 3 different works. My schedule has gotten back to the diversity of going from Job 1 to rehearsal to Job 2 to rehearsal. I’ve gotten back into working on other peoples’ shows, and gotten past the initial discomfort of being in spaces that house memories that I might rather forget. I’ve got ideas for large and ambitious works of my own and the idea of self-producing again doesn’t seem unrealistic or unmanageable.

Dance is starting to feel safe and challenging again, in ways that make me grow and ask questions, and engage with life on a level that is risky and exciting and real. I’m falling back in love with it. I’m hoping to continue deepening this relationship and be able to better field any future events that may shake that devotion, and challenge me to my core.

I guess only time will tell…



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