While Tamar and I were down in Sarasota, Florida for the premier of Enter The Faun at the Sarasota Film Festival this past April, we conducted several workshops with the Dance and Disability communities. This resulted in the formation of a new Posse, led by my friend, Katie Calahan and Lynn Hocker, a dancer based in Sarasota.
Katie was a few years below me at Boston University’s School of Fine Arts. We have kept in loose touch over the years, but the film, and the work around it, has brought us back together. I was thrilled to see Katie at the Sarasota Film Festival, and was even more excited when I heard Katie had begun meeting with Lynn Hocker, who in addition to teaching weekly dance classes at UCP Sarasota/Mantee, has begun to work with Katie on a one-on-one basis.
Two weeks ago Katie called me after her first session with Lynn. Not surprisingly, she had had a pretty intense experience. We probably could have talked for hours but as we were both in between appointments, we only got a good thirty minutes in. Before we got off the phone, I urged Katie to write about her experience. I thought sharing her observations at these early stages of “Jedi Training,” as Katie refers to it, would be illuminating and possibly be a help to others. Also, hearing from others who are doing this work- people who are not Tamar and I- is important. It’s also pretty cool.
Thank you Katie and Lynn. You’ve taken your first steps into a larger world.
Starting The Process
I was born, entered the world, with this physical challenge, a steady stream of other challenges flowing from there. I’m not complaining (much) either, it has been one hell of a ride. My point is I’m no stranger to ‘different’ or difficult. Not that I seek out the strange and unusual or difficult for that matter, it finds me and I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge.
I estimate there are only two major groups in terms of how humans pilot their bodies. There is functional movement and there is something quite beautiful. I had always been grateful on some level that as ugly, weird and clunky as my gait ever was on some level at least it was functional.
I watched people who could move with beauty and thought, “that would be amazing.” Not to be all Little Mermaid about it, but exactly. Would I call it a wish? Maybe. Not to be someone else just to be capable of that kind of beauty.
As it turns out all that movement: ugly, pretty, functional, clunky, odd; it’s all in there, in me. My nervous system is crotchety and set in its ways, but my body is not broken, just confused.
So, I began my “Jedi Training” and attempted to harness the mythical force. I was for the most part very excited, I was a bit nervous, but it helped to be following in familiar foot steps. (Hi Gregg!) I wasn’t under the delusion that the process would be short or easy, I was just thrilled to begin knowing this would change my life.
My theater training served me well and I was more than a little surprised to find my surgically fused spine never threw a wrench in things. We started with a movement improv, I just moved whichever way I felt like moving until I was done. Noticing, observing, but not judging my body’s movements. When the improv was done I reported that the experience made me feel like a cat on a warm window sill. I felt beautiful and big, like I could fill the room by myself. It was a nice surprise. Lynn (aka my Jedi Master) reported gleefully that I had a wonderful range of movement.
Next she lead me through some simple movements: bending my knees, raising my arms, turning my body from one side to the other, in as many different ways as I could find. That was when things got real. I learned how often I force my body to comply. I’m totally the Borg, “We’re going this way – resistance is futile!” Seriously, I’m surpised how often and how hard I push.
I had no trouble moving my legs in a variety of new and different ways, which is odd in hindsight because I’d always believed they were the troublemakers. My legs were fluid and receptive to all the experimental movement, but my upper body, which I’d always believed was my good half, was like lead. I forced movement, realized I was forcing and tried to listen. None of what my arms had to say was very nice, though, go figure. I always thought my arms and I were total BFFs! Turned out they’re not that into me. I never got those stubborn bastards raised up over my head as I was directed because I couldn’t have done it without forcing. Not judging my body’s defiance in any context is HARD.
I learned other fun stuff like that I have “body amnesia” and have simply forgotten my right hip (though I’m not entirely convinced the back of my pelvis is actually still there) I just can’t feel it. I also learned that rolling onto my left side was horrible that day. Again, totally weird, because that’s my go-to sleep position most nights.
Then we moved to sitting, and I was grounded. I felt balanced sitting on a STOOL?!? Mom, break out the baby book because I’m pretty sure that was a first. Not tense, but grounded, like a freaking oak tree. Huge deal.
There was a moment on the stool with my eyes closed when I felt like I was going to fall. I knew it was an irrational fear and I was pissed. I told myself I was fine, to banish the fear, and when that fucker refused to dissipate I switched tactics. Still angry, I imagined hands supporting my upper back. I could feel the warmth of two hands there, but still no dice! I opened my eyes, the fear disappeared, and I reported how pissed off I was about its intrusion. When I was told to really feel my fear (um, ewww! No thanks.) I started crying?!? It was supremely weird.
We discussed my “bad relationship” with my body and how it’s time to rebuild trust. It’s hard to even imagine trusting something that has let me down so often. You heard me, you piece of junk! Sigh, let’s work together please.
Lynn says that I am fascinating. I completely agree. I want to hold onto that while I am trying not to judge myself, and let this process be fascinating.