A year and a half a go I started to have a sharp pain in my right hip. A pain that would stop me in my movement, would it be walking or dancing. An even worst pain at night: throbbing so deep, it would pound from my ribcage to my foot.
Because I am a dance artist, physio, chiro, massage therapists were thinking I suffered all sort of injuries. But…
A simple x-ray showed (the very common but irreversible) severe osteoarthritis.
Which means my cartilage, the little cushion between the thigh bone and the socket, the one that allows fluid and painless movement, is gone.
I am 47 years old.
What Does Injury/Surgery Mean for a Movement Artist?
My head was spinning:
Why me? Why such a small piece of my body cannot be easily replaced? Is it surgery time? What about future projects? Why do they say I am too young for surgery? How long will I have to wait after surgery to dance again? Will I regain all my range of motion?
Does it mean the end of my dance career?
The Feeling of the Failing Body
I always had the sense of living with a strong able body that would go through life without any problem. I know, every young people feel invincible. But even if we know we are going to get old, a part of us don’t really believe it.
When my degenerative hip hit me, I was stunted and went to the dark side: “My body is betraying me. I have a failing body. I am not going to dance forever. Anyway, dance is just for the young body…”
Was it it? Was it time to stop and sit? (even if sitting is also painful)
No. I decided that this would not mean the end of my dance career. But it meant I needed a shift. A shift in dance and body paradigms.
Where do I go from here?
A Western Way of Thinking the Human Body
In western worlds, we often conceptualize our body as an entity separated from our mind, our soul, our essence. French philosopher Descartes had this idea to put the body on one side and the mind on the other. Dividing human being in two: the much more valued mind would mold the mechanical body in ever which way it would like. And with this mind, humans put themselves above nature.
When I was younger, I really thought I could do anything with my body. As long as I wanted it in my mind I could train my body to do it… even if I had to break it…
My artistry is not only the mechanic of my body.
Something needs to change. Life is change and change is movement. This physical change is pulling me towards new ways of creating, performing and sharing movement.
Changing My Mindset
This frustration with my body mechanic brought me back to the roots of my movement passion, to Japan, during my training in Butoh. This contemporary movement practice is deeply rooted in Shinto tradition.
Shinto is an ancient philosophy that believes that everything in the universe is connected and porous.
Humans and all the universe, animate and inanimate objects, are made of the same fabric and influence each other at all time.
In most eastern and native traditions, body and mind are a whole. Not only this, but body, mind and nature are one unit. We are who we are as one with what surrounds us: we pass through the world and the world passes through us. Imprinting on each other.
I am all that surrounds me: nature and every other being. And in Butoh that is what we dance: the “becoming-other” through embodying images of the world.
Butoh and Shinto are also very interested in the “unusual” things. The imperfect things – the wabi-sabi. The imperfect is believed to have sacred qualities. In Butoh, the different is welcome: the crooked, flawed, broken, ugly…
The injured is invited to dance from this place of vulnerability, this place of the flawed.
How Can I Create from My Restrictions?
I decided to start from there. From this new place of vulnerable imperfection and connection. It was not time to stop and sit, but to find a new entrance, a new door to my movement art.
I started to create a new solo inspired by my limitations… the vulnerability of my injury and its nourishing qualities towards a new way of moving, creating, living my “to-be-rethink” embodied self.
What if my new physical restrictions could actually become a springboard to new discoveries, unexplored movement territories?
Being just out of the first wave of Covid-19 and its three months long isolation got me thinking about other types of restrictions: social, moral, mental… not only physical.
I started investigating: What was this new me – injured and isolated – in need for?
SUPPORT and SPACE, literally and figuratively…
- outdoor space: dancing and exploring movement outside in beautiful landscapes and changing weathers; embodying my surrounding in the shape of new images connecting me with nature
- support from objects: leaning and pushing into all sort of objects that can give me support – stick, stomp, branch, stool, chair, rock, tree, roots, sculpture, wall, fence…
- connection with people: presenting my work, sharing through teaching, taking classes some with distance but most importantly through new outputs online, on film and videos, through this new blog…
Thanks to Holly Bright who was looking for new ideas for her Infringing Festival 2020, I found a beautiful field on East Wellington road (offered by my boss at Fine Balance Pilates in Nanaimo) and went out to create Nested: Lean and Rise.
Opening a Range of New Possibilities
Instead of stopping me, the physical and Covid-19 related restrictions opened me up to unexplored and forgotten territories:
- rediscovering the freedom of dancing outdoor,
- reconnecting with nature,
- using my body and the space differently – finding support from props, floor work, elements of nature…
- creating a more somatic approach to training – no more about exhausting and pushing the body to extreme limits but listening to my whole being…
- opening a path to different media, visual and digital arts – recreating myself in short screendance, performance installation, minimalistic movement work…
- creating a profound social connection with the audience through different media
The long isolation leading to this outdoor sharing of dance highlighted the connection with my community and family. It put forth the social connection that dance can create between individuals, linking them all together through a common moving experience.
Dance performance also allows changes to happen in the audience that witnesses it.
Nested: Lean & Rise • Excerpts video: Stefan Johnson
This creation and presentation helped me go through Covid-19 and physical challenges. Could it mean that dance performance can help to go through or create awareness around social issues? For both the performer and the audience…
(I will tackle this subject in my next blog.)
Our restrictions are doors opening – not closing – on new possibilities. We just have to let ourselves enter.
Poetry in Movement Exercise
I will conclude today’s blog with a poetry in movement exercise to connect with and find support within yourself and nature. It is inspired by a category of Butoh exercise called Bizoku in which you move extremely slow, imagining that every fiber of your body is expanding in space.
Connecting with Self and Nature
- Find a tree you can move around
- Lay beside it for a moment
- Then start pushing the space around you with every cells in your body:
- in the slowest way possible
- from ground position grow to standing
- imagine developing from curled up baby to standing adult
- As you grow beside the tree, connect with it:
- receive support from the tree…
- how can you give it support…
- explore leaning, holding, hugging, reaching, pulling, pushing, parting, becoming one…
- without loosing connection with the image of slowly growing up
- Take the hardest or most distorted path to get to standing – imagine an imperfect way to get up
- Pre-set a length of time for the journey (5, 10, 30 minutes) and follow your inner clock
(You can watch the short example in the following video. Take your time and use music if it helps supporting your exploration.)
Camera and edit: Geneviève Johnson
Send us a Message
Did you ever encounter any physical or social restrictions that changed your relationship to your art, opened new territories to explore? How did they affect your practice? Which doors did they allow you to open?
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