Defeat is a strong word. For a long time, it felt like I was defeated. It felt like I had no more fight. It felt like everything I had been fighting for had been stripped from my life. I still felt like a shell at the end of the day. I admit, I didn’t feel depressed during all this. Even during the days I describe as darkness. It was more a shock and awe that had caught me by surprise.
The feeling of defeat was exhausting. One day it just left and I had this sense of surrender I had never felt in my life. I had spent my life fighting for what I believed in. Fighting for what I wanted out of my life. Fighting for what? At this point, it seemed like a wasted effort and energy. I was realizing at all this fighting had left me vulnerable. If I hadn’t fought through the pain in the first place, I may not have ended up hear. This echoed as a daily theme. I had messed up and put myself here. I was the master of my demise. I was the one who broke me because I didn’t listen.
The diagnosticians told me otherwise. That this would have happened regardless, maybe not on the exact timeline, but it was going to happen. This was the hand that I was dealt and I needed to start accepting this otherwise I was going to do my esteem damage.
That was a hard thing to accept. That something in my life was not fully in my control. I had always felt responsible for everything that happened in my life – good and bad. There were some turns of luck in either direction, but I had a hand in all of it. According to them, I did not have a hand in this and I would not have a hand in it in future. It was done. My fate was sealed. I needed to get on with my life.
Letting go of that life I had been fighting so hard for was a daily battle. There were days that I couldn’t. I could feel my roots so tightly wound around that life and I didn’t want to break those. After all, this was what I wanted since I was little. How was I supposed to unwind myself from that long and big of a dream?
Mondays were the worst. They were the days that I woke up excited to live in that life which would crumble quickly as the memory of what was happening to my body crept in and I could feel those roots tighten to hold onto what I wanted so badly.
Eventually, I got tired of the roots pulling so hard at my past. I was tired of avoiding my present let alone my future. I remember sitting by the river and making a decision that this was the fate I had been handed. I could tie my roots around it and integrate myself. I could find a new path which was unknown in every sense to me. I would be flying blind as I no longer knew what I wanted. I no longer knew where I was going. I could give in and let the new adventure begin. That night, I decided to do just that.
Finding a partner that I can dance with is one of the beautiful parts of my world. Finding a good match is not an easy task, but, when it happens, it changes my life. There is a sense of belonging. There is a sense of excitement. There is a high that happens so intensely, little else in my life can compare.
Being able to be synchronized and dance with another body gives a sense of connection. Being able to create with another body is another task all together. There are many things that can prevent this from coming to fruition. Difference in physical capacity can seem like a barrier, but it often can be overcome. Depending on the nature of the work, emotional capacity can be a bigger barrier. Not being able to set aside the ego is another.
If two dancers are brought together with different knowledge – this happens often with those who have trained in different fields – the physical capacity can be an issue. This is especially true if you have two dancers who have different singular backgrounds – say partner dancing vs. contemporary dancing. Ballroom dancers are used to creating movement from the upper torso connected to another’s torso and arms. Trying to create a lead by moving a person with any other type of lead can be uncomfortable for a partner who has not done this. Same goes for a contemporary dancer who is used to freedom in movement with or without a partner. Transitioning from that into a type of dance where you remain upright and are lead with stricter rules can be a culture shock. There will be moments of great discomfort for each of these dancers. The difference in the way they express themselves physically can make for interesting work to witness.
How a person moves and deals with psychological discomfort can predict the outcome of the partnership. If the discomfort comes out as hostility which it often does, that is a deal breaker. This hostility can manifest as anger toward the partner, name calling, putting the other partner down to make up for the bruised ego, or simply frustration and shutting down. Learning a new dance form in front of another dancer, especially one you respect, can be tremendously stressful even for the most accomplished dancer.
Putting the ego aside is essential when learning. There is going to be discomfort, especially if working with someone who is an expert in what you know nothing about. This is compounded further when you are an expert yourself in a dance form and then feel awkward in your usually kinesthetically superior body. The ego destroys many potentially synergistic partnerships. I have had it destroy my own in the past when I was younger and more stubborn. Age has granted me patience with my partners and myself and I can better identify when my ego is being destructive in a rehearsal setting.
If two people from different dance worlds can learn to take the best of each other’s worlds and share knowledge without judgement, it can make for beautiful work. It can also make for a beautiful learning experience. We can’t all know everything. We also can’t grow in our dancing if we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to be exposed to experiences outside of our comfort zone.
It took months from the diagnosis to feel like I could ever feel again. During the period up to that, I had shut down parts of me. I shut down the physical parts that hurt so much. I imagined that they weren’t there to try to help my brain shut up about the signals it was receiving. I had shut down my heart. How could anyone love me when I felt so empty and deformed? I couldn’t even find it in myself to love me.
Anyone who happened upon me and wanted to show me kindness I regarded with skepticism. I didn’t need to be rescued in my past, now or ever. I needed to rescue myself and that was difficult to explain. I was reaching for desperate treatments, hoping someone would be able to do something to help me without invading my body. I looked to everyone outside the realm of medicine. For a good 6 months, I felt like a researcher and a research experiment.
I felt like I was also a submissions department. Everyone who had found out what was happening with me had their own version of a cure that I just had to try. And I did for a while. Then I got tired of the submissions and put up a barrier to that help as well. I knew it was with good intention that it was conveyed, it was just time for me to have a break from chasing. The chasing was tiring. It was also harmful as it seemed to keep giving a false sense of hope that landed me flat on my face when it ran out.
I put up a wall to myself. If I didn’t admit how tortured I felt being in this body, maybe my body would stop torturing me. It was like my mind and my body were trapped in a room together and it was a fight to the death. The mind was losing to the body. So the mind tried to not give into the body after a time. Maybe if I stopped acknowledging my body through verbal confirmation of the situation to others, maybe the body would stop misbehaving and return to its normal self. When those who knew would ask, sometimes I would not even answer or just change the subject. It was hard to deal with the pity on their face. I tried not to pity others as it felt like I was shaming them. Seeing the pity in other’s faces, definitely made me feel shame for having this weakness.
Living in denial, believing that everything that was happening was nothing but a dream, helped cope with the day to day. The devastation seemed all too unreal to fathom that it could be anything but. I was waiting, putting on hold, truly waiting to wake up.
The day that reality set in was the day that I was diagnosed. It felt like the messenger had taken a sword through me and let me walk away punctured. It felt like a slow bleed. My mind was in shock. I didn’t believe what I had just been told. I was leaving the messenger, on my way back to home and I couldn’t breathe. I could feel the crumble of the past months piling on top of me. Choking me with the weight of it all. It took a while before I could even really cry about it. There had been so many tears in the beginning because I didn’t understand what was happening. Now that I had a glimpse of understanding, it should have felt better, shouldn’t it?
Was the truth worse than waiting for the wake up? For a time, it felt like it. The holding pattern I had been in seemed to continue no matter how I plotted to end it. There had been uncertainty before as to where my life could take me. Now there was uncertainty about what this all really meant. It wasn’t going to be an imminent death sentence, but it almost felt like that would have been better. Then I would have an end in site. This just felt like an abrupt end with no light to guide me to the next chapter.
What was I going to do in the next chapter? I had no idea. I was still a shell. I had no life essence. I had no meaning. I had no direction. How was I supposed to grow from nothing? I had lost everything by this point, but a few basic possessions. What was I going to do? Being a shell, I felt that I had nothing to build on. Like building a home made of straw. I wasn’t even enough to be considered flimsy straw.
Creating original choreography is thrilling. Discovering a song that just makes my brain keep going until I stop seeing the dance that goes with it. Reading a poem and visualizing bodies expressing it on the stage. An idea that comes out of nowhere that can only be expressed physically. The process can take many forms and be inspired in many ways.
Building original choreography can be a challenge – even if there are many minds at work helping create it. It is being within the body rather than outside. It has been a while since I have been choreographed and I admit that I am enjoying it. In years past, I didn’t believe in myself. I did not believe I could create original works that others would like to see. That doubt still creeps in, but the response to performances have been such that I am believing I have a creative voice in this community and something to contribute. Something that can touch people at a level that they may not be able to express which I have seen throughout the summer. It is amazing to be able to move people.
That being said, there is something amazing about being someone’s instrument – being choreographed. Knowing what it is like being the choreographer – being responsible, exposed, and vulnerable – then giving that over to another person is an exercise in trust. I am handing my reputation, body, and control over to another person. I am giving them carte blanche to do with me as they please. It can go both ways. I can end up being part of something that has the influence of my own work. I can end up being part of something that is fluff.
The process of being choreographed is like being on So You Think You Can Dance – some pieces are epic, some pieces are flops. Regardless of the success in either direction, there is something to be learned from every piece. Even as far back as my childhood, I can recall lessons I learned from that period. If you are being choreographed rather than choreographing, be present. Be aware of your choreographer’s process. Become the instrument they want. Let yourself morph from what you are comfortable being, into something so different that you didn’t know you had in you. Every work is an opportunity to grow and learn if you can let yourself go. Surrender.