In a piece entitled A Way of Life: An Interview with Anna Halprin, Anna was asked a question about how she defines success. She answered that she wouldn’t use the word “success.” She would use the word “recycle.” If something doesn’t work, she recycles it. Anna had a period in her creative exploration where she was fascinated by the nude body because we cover it up. In a performance in New York in 1965, she removed her clothes until she was nude. It was a scandal. She was arrested. She was blacklisted for 10 years; no one invited her to perform. By contrast, in Sweden, the performance was televised. In spite of differing opinions of how successful the piece was, Anna recycled it. It informed her journey and she continued in a new, but related, direction. Then came what completed a healing process I have been on for most of my life. She said, “The scandal in New York released me. It led me to a period when I had the most growth in understanding the power of dance to heal, educate and unify community.”
This statement released me. At first, into tears. In my line of work, we call this a reframe. A reframe is a new perspective on something that often changes one’s entire experience of it. And if the reframe is experienced at the right time, and becomes a whole body knowing rather than just an intellectual concept, it is life changing. I knew that this was the latter, and the final layer of rewriting an old story.
Image by Christian Schloe.
I was 13 when I “quit dancing”, after ten formative years of dance being my world. I was going to Juilliard. I was going to be a DANCER. For the last thirty years I have grieved this decision. I blamed myself for being a “quitter.” I judged my parents for not encouraging me to continue, for letting me let it go. I’ve told the story over and over to different allies who’ve asked or who were willing to listen. I’ve gotten to know the story intimately.
Not only did I tell the story in the years that followed that decision, but I lived it, making choices in circumstances that mirrored the “quitter” story to make up for what I’d done wrong when I was 13. Acting from hurts of the past feels exaggerated and desperate in a way that present day reactions, free of baggage, do not. I was hard on myself in any situation that I did not complete. This woman SAW THINGS THROUGH and when she didn’t, she was succumbing to the almost magnetic pull of old story and feeling terribly about it. As a parent, I became deeply upset anytime either of my girls didn’t want to continue something they’d started. I tried to talk them out of it so I could protect them from the guilt of quitting. YES, learning to see things through and complete is an important life lesson, but this was an extreme feeling for me. It was a cause rather than a knowing or a truth. When I exposed dancers at dance conferences to our blend of community building and personal experience as performance, I was more nervous and questioned my ability than in any other teaching situation. These were dancers. What could I teach them? They were the ones who didn’t quit. I had stepped into the story and stigma of “quitter” and it was directing me.
Image by Amanda Rodriguez
I was recently in the performance, "Stardust and Water" with the Turning the Wheel troupe. TTW's work and performance explores dance to heal, educate and unify community, the very path Anna Halprin discovered and TTW Founder Alana Shaw embodies. I realized during the journey of the performance that I had never really quit dancing. I have always been a dancer. I AM very much a dancer.
The 13 year old me made an intuitive decision, not a rash one, that the competitive community of the dance world and rigid nature of dance practice wasn’t for her. I am no longer feeling frustrated with that little girl who made a clear decision to change the course of her days and turn toward something other than classical dance training. She asked, What else does life have to offer? It was a courageous question because she didn’t know the answer. I honor her intuition. And I thank her for releasing me to a life of dance that nourishes me and gives back to my community.
Today, I dance from life experience and yet hold the memory of the aesthetic awareness of a technically trained performer and dance maker. I am a dancer without injuries because I didn’t tax my body dancing professionally in my 20’s and early 30’s. But most importantly, peeling back the layers of a binding story has released me, and that little girl, into the intuitive continuum that is life. No quitting. No stopping. Just recycling, shifting, evolving and trusting that, armed with feedback from the external world and our own blend of wisdom and experience, we know when the time is right to forge a path in a new direction .
I shared my story because I believe it gives rise to the kind of metamorphosis and joy that is available through the work of Turning the Wheel. This experience of rewriting old stories, unwinding the past from the present and basking in the river of our personal journey is available to each one us.
Turning the Wheel is offering an entire week of movement, play and creative expression just for you to play in this butterfly field. The Body Now workshop. I'll be there too, creating and unfolding right along with you.
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