Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Joy of Movement

I recently completed a White Belt Intensive, the first stage of training in the dance/movement technique called Nia. This seven-day experience was astonishing and continues to unfold learning that is really quite profound and made me want to dedicate myself to reflecting deeply, so I will be sharing what comes up both to chronicle it for myself and to deepen my learning as a potential teacher. Go on the Nia website to learn more about the technique, classes in your area and trainings.
So far I have been concentrating on free dance, giving myself permission to move my body and experiment with intensity, ease and most of all, the #1 Nia principle: Joy of Movement. Every time I’ve put on a CD and danced to the music I get a great workout and end up feeling balanced, relaxed and centered. Yesterday, I planned to step it up a bit, and dance along with the instructional DVD where Debbie Rosas, Nia co-founder, leads a class in the routine she choreographed to the CD Sanjana. I have danced to this routine in classes and in the training but this was my first major effort to actually learn the choreographed moves. I knew I would be sacrificing the ease and pleasure of moving freely however I wanted for the challenge of learning a routine. I stumbled through trying to watch Debbie on the screen, stay in touch with my own body and remember to breathe. As usual, the actual steps, though simple, proved daunting. When taking movement direction I can usually either move my upper body with ease with a stationery base or do a step awkwardly and flail around with my arms. During the training I found that by imprinting on the instructors (the fabulous Winalee Zeeb and Caroline Kohles) and shutting off my thinking mind I did a little better. The support of the movement of my fellow students also allowed me to take a ride on that energy which enhanced my performance a bit. I should mention that the atmosphere of love and non-judgment prevails in Nia and that is crucial to the work.
I was doing poorly with the steps but able to stay in a no-judging state, after all, this was the first time I concentrated on dancing using the DVD. Following the class on the DVD, Debbie teaches a break down of all the moves for each song in the routine, giving the reason for each move while demonstrating. I did okay following the first few songs, even getting some insight into why I trip myself on the jazz square arggh! Then she says: “The next song deals with rhythm,” and before I knew what hit me, I was in tears. I was back in Our Lady of Lourdes Grammar School in West Orange, N.J. in a gym class in maybe the 4th or 5th grade. By that time I had become adept at leaving my body for long forays into my imagination. School was pretty boring but more than that, my mom was sick with cancer and I had lost faith not only in God; but in the corporeal world as well. That left the imagination as my daily destination of choice.
While I was great at leaving the body, I wasn’t always great at returning to it, especially in situations that aroused anxiety. Gym class was never a favorite of mine but by this time, terror about sweating, becoming smelly, wearing a bra, and being looked at by others, was magnified by the gym teacher, a towering ex-marine. Now, why the hell is an ex-marine teaching phys ed in a Catholic Grammar school, you might ask? I can only guess things hadn’t worked out too well for him in his life and that, plus basic training in the post WWII era Marines didn’t exactly teach him love, tolerance, non-judgment or insight into the emotions of a girl on the verge of puberty. He bellowed and yelled, sarcastically accused me of not competing and finally made me run alone in a relay race so as not to penalize my team for such an out of it runner. My memory is that I was awkward and slow and probably seemed to be willfully so since I was tall and thin and had no visible defects to give me an excuse. I hated this guy with a passion but using my trusty imagination, I could exit the premises leaving behind my body to fend for itself, pretty much bereft of mind and spirit. I know from other experiences with more compassionate teachers that my behavior mystified them; I seemed to be physically present and seemed calm as could be but the essential part of my being, that part with feelings, the part that could be hurt, was literally in another dimension.
So yesterday, forty-six years later, I stumbled on the emotions and the tears that were never felt or shed. In the safety of my living room, with only the video witness of Debbie Rosas, I am reminded that the body holds all and for as long as necessary. In college when I began therapy for the first time I brought a drawing to my therapist that expressed my felt reality: I roughly outlined a figure and inside it were a number of corked glass bottles that held feelings like the ones from gym class. By that time, there were hundreds of bottles, carefully corked and sorted by my soul, or my guardian angel or whatever higher part of self is charged with such duties. As therapy progressed, I drew those bottles breaking and the figure unable to walk or move for fear of being cut up alive from the inside by the shards of broken glass, IF I MOVED. I spent countless therapy sessions simply sitting and crying, never able to utter a word as the waves of the past simply washed over me on their way out of body to join, finally, the ocean of all human grief. Later, as the sharp edges wore away, the fragments became like sand in an oyster and gave birth to paintings, poems and books and afforded me the dignity of transformation through art and expression.
Why was this memory triggered by hearing the words: “this next song deals with rhythm?” More on that in the next post.


Danuta said...

Pat, I'm so glad I stumbled upon this blog entry. Coming in through this open door I got to see up close a beautifully human piece of divine art. The sort of art that breaks the heart and opens it to joy at the same time. Thank you.

whitedogwoman said...

Hello from Austin, Texas!!!!
Hi Pat, I am so happy to see a posting on your blog! Especially a Tree of Life! I just finished an aluminum foil/tape sculpture (a method of art making I learned from you at Studio Pardes in Oak Park many a moon ago) of the Tree of Life!! It is in response to a Big Dream I had a few months ago. I love NIA, too. Writing, Art, Dance are all conduits to and from the Great Mystery. Ha Ha!! I hear the Cosmic Laugh! Great to be in touch with you!
Ann Walters