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Dance Therapy

 

Something made me look into Dance Movement Therapy again. I follow a blog that often shares videos on this topic, but during the school year I was too busy to follow up on it, thinking, longingly, that it would be a great thing to be able to offer to the clients at my internship, and then when the internship ended, I thought, hey, what about me?

I loved to dance as a kid. I loved music and movement. I hated the wall of mirrors in my dance classes, and having to wear leotards and tights, but you can’t have everything. The problem was that, pretty quickly, I became self-conscious of my body and unwilling to move, and then unable to even imagine moving. The thing I could do least was to express myself with my body. I could follow instructions and do the steps as prescribed, but I couldn’t move as a way of speaking, because I was too afraid of what I would say and how other people would respond.

beatiful animated dancer

I’ve always dreamed of having a dance movement therapist to help me with this. I love talk therapy, and it has worked well for me, but I’ve always wanted a chance to work in other areas, like music or dance or art, because that’s where a lot of my unfinished stuff is hiding. I am afraid of being seen as I am, and being judged as unworthy, untalented, disgusting, ugly, annoying, inarticulate, stupid. The list of epithets gets worse and worse, if I let it.

But even the snippets of Dance therapy I’ve been able to find online make me feel nervous, and alienated, and bring up my insecurities. I watch So You Think You Can Dance and I keep hoping that the language they create with their bodies will help make me more articulate by proxy, that watching them will help me learn how to express things I can’t express with words, but somehow what they do on the TV doesn’t translate into my body. It doesn’t say what I need to say.

sytycd

Cricket has tried to help me with this. She is all body language all the time. She has hundreds of specific facial expressions, and her dance vocabulary is intricate and exhaustive. But I can’t seem to learn these skills from her either. I’m sure part of the problem is that her particular body type and mine do not have much in common, but still.

doing the twist

This is Cricket’s version of the twist

13 - puddle licking

This one is both a tongue stretch and a paw lift, a complex maneuver

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This move cannot be captured in words

 

I can’t even make a plan for what I’d want to work on with a dance therapist. When I try to imagine finally making an appointment and showing up, I feel like I’m going to jump out of a window, just to escape the horror. I don’t know what the horror is, though. I just know that it will be there, somewhere in the air, this miasma of pain and anxiety and self-loathing that I don’t know how to confront without having to feel it all at once, which will kill me.

My magical and unrealistic dream is that dance therapy will make me so free that I will be able to fly. Not for long distances, just for a second, the way Butterfly used to do out in the backyard.

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Cricket is always free. She stretches as a matter of course and goes outside without her clothes on every day. But, I don’t need to progress quite that far.

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Dancing Girls

 

One night at synagogue, a little girl sat by herself, because her mom had to leave the sanctuary to make sure her hyperactive older brother isn’t getting into trouble. Her father was nearby, but she sat alone, with a whole row of seats to herself. She did back bends and leg circles and all kinds of dance steps, holding onto the back of the chair in front of her like a ballet bar. Did she realize we could see her? It didn’t seem like a performance, but it did seem like a kind of talking, though talking mostly to herself.

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Butterfly often talks to herself.

I was torn between two responses, both of which were more about me than about her. Do I feel bad for her because she’s alone? Or do I admire her for being so un-self-conscious with her body that she’s just moving without thinking of how it impacts anyone else?

When I watch dance on TV it is always a performance, even when a ballet class is filmed, it is a performance of a class. Are there people who don’t think about what they look like when they are dancing? There is rarely a time, when I’m writing, that I don’t imagine someone reading over my shoulder as I put words down on the page, even when I’m writing for myself, in a journal, in a first draft, in a shopping list. Is there such a thing, after a certain point in our lives, as un-self-conscious behavior? And does it make a difference? Would my behavior be more interesting or profound or beautiful if I were not editing myself at every step?

I used to hum in the hallways at school – elementary school – and forget where I was, and skip along every once in a while, or hear a rhythm in my head and dance to it, until people told me that I was really weird and I should stop. Pretty much everything I did as a child was criticized, by classmates, teachers, parents, friends and brother (of course) so most of those automatic behaviors, once I became conscious of them, went away. Until there was nothing.

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“Oh Mommy, that’s a terrible story.”

I went to Friday night services as a little girl too, but I was always self-conscious about how I looked, or how I was dressed, or how I sounded. I felt like there was a video camera watching me all the time. Don’t pick your nose! Don’t do silly dance steps! Don’t skip along the road! They’ll laugh at you!

Children express so much of themselves physically. Rage is a tantrum, with kicking feet and red faces and screaming at the highest possible decibel level. Joy is dancing or running or bouncing from foot to foot. What they feel becomes movement, instead of just thoughts or words. Once we have enough words, we think we should use them and keep our bodies silent and motionless. But why?

Dogs are like children forever, because they never develop words and continue to use movement to get their feelings out. Butterfly runs full out, flying across the lawn. Cricket hops like a bunny rabbit and twists and turns in the air. They both bark, and use their feet to stomp and use their eyes to plead for mercy. Watching dogs express their emotions through movement is such a relief, for us. We feel something in our own bodies in response. Oh, that’s what happiness looks like! I can feel it!

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“I’m a bunny rabbit!”

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Joy!

 

The Dance Recital

The Dance Recital

I didn’t even know that my niece was taking dance classes. All year I’d been hearing about a final show at her gym, where we’d finally be allowed to see her doing gymnastics full out instead of jumping off couches and risking life and limb doing back tucks in the living room. We asked every few weeks, when would it be, where would it be, but no answer. Finally, on a Friday afternoon, we were told she had her dance recital on Sunday.

Dance? Not gymnastics?

Gymnastics would be later, on another unknown day, at an unknown time, and place, that we’d be told about at the last possible second.

The dance recital was held on the huge campus of a public high school in her neighborhood, in a stand-alone auditorium building, with a lobby filled with little girls in adorable dresses and pictures to order and very expensive tickets. The program for the show was huge, with thirty two dances overall, and my niece was in one at the beginning and one towards the end, so we were in for a long haul.

Most of the performances were by the girls from the school who were on the various dance teams, and I was afraid they would be intimidating, or upsettingly sexy for young girls, or too fake, but the feeling that came from the stage, for the most part, was that these girls had become family to each other. They loved dancing together. And they didn’t all come from the same backgrounds. There were a few other Jewish girls like my niece, a handful of black girls, Asian girls, Latinas, multiracial combinations, and girls of different sizes and shapes. There was a girl with Down syndrome in one of the younger groups and she looked like she was having a blast.

I loved the little girls who couldn’t remember the steps and kept looking to the side of the stage where their teachers were demonstrating the steps for them. Four little girls. All looking to the right or the left, doing maybe one out of every six steps in the dance. One of the littlest ones had to leave the stage because she was so overwhelmed. I felt her pain.

One of my niece’s routines was called “The Bling Bling” dance and there was a lot of jumping around involved. When we got back to her house afterwards I suggested that she teach Lilah, their black lab, how to do the dance, but she didn’t take me up on it. Lilah would have loved to wear some bling around her neck and jump around the living room with her human sister. I guess that’s kind of her daily life, though, now that I think about it.

Lilah and her bling!

Lilah and her bling!

Butterfly would like to go to ballet class. They’d have to lower the bar a bit for her, and adapt some of the positions to her unique body type, but she would love to twirl and spin and jump with the other little girls. She does a very impressive Russian split when I hold her up in the air. Or maybe she could take tap! Can you imagine the noise four tiny tap shoes could make on Butterfly’s feet? Or eight, if Cricket joined in?

Butterfly doing her ballet stretches.

Butterfly doing her ballet stretches.

Cricket practices ballet, with a prop.

Cricket practices ballet, with a prop.

I think they’d both enjoy going to dance classes, actually. Moving to the music, following the teacher, running across the dance floor with their friends. I wonder if anyone runs a ballet school for dogs. I’ll have to look into that.

Cricket loves to run!

Cricket loves to run!

Butterfly thinks grass and leaves would make a wonderful ballet surface!

Butterfly thinks grass and leaves would make a wonderful ballet surface!

I kind of like the idea of dance classes over obedience training for dogs. They could build up their core muscles and have fun and make friends. I never really saw the point of teaching my dogs how to walk at my heel. I’d rather they got to listen to music than listen to clickers. And the tutus would be adorable!

Wouldn't Butterfly look cute in this outfit? (not my picture)

Wouldn’t Butterfly look cute in this outfit? (not my picture)

Looking For My Song

 

I used to write songs. This was a long time ago. I bought a Casio keyboard with my leaf-raking money when I was eleven or twelve, and tried to remember my years of piano lessons to pick out a melody. But I never felt like I could catch the song I was looking for.

I feel like being a musician, for me, is as impossible as being a dog. I don’t have the right internal organs to get there, no matter how much I might want to. I don’t have the right brain, the right ears, and the right fingers. I’m just not that person and I feel the loss acutely. Cricket and Butterfly have their own unique songs. They have particular patterns and rhythms and pitches that really get their message across, but I feel muted. I can write and speak my story, but I can’t sing it, and that leaves something essential unexpressed.

Cricket likes the sound of her own voice and uses it very specifically to express different emotions and needs. She rasps and squeaks, and cries and screams, she barks from her gut and shrills through her nose. She is a diva. She sings variations of the same song, using the same instrument, all day long.

Cricket, mid-Aria.

Cricket, mid-Aria.

Butterfly listens very closely when we’re outside. She collects sounds: like an airplane flying overhead, leaves rustling, a garbage truck rolling down the hill, geese chattering to each other, birds whooshing through the trees. I wonder if she’s looking for her song too, and sampling all of these sounds to see what resonates for her.

Butterfly, listening.

Butterfly, listening.

In college, in one of my early attempts at jumping around the curriculum, I took a class in music composition. I’d taken voice lessons and piano and felt like there was a whole segment of the musical world that I was missing, huge parts of the language that I could not understand. I did well in the class, because it was basically math with musical notes, but I felt like I was being starved for the real stuff, the “aha” stuff, because I couldn’t connect the math to the music. Maybe if I’d tried to stick it out and become a music major I’d have eventually found what I was missing, but most schools require proficiency in a musical instrument and a willingness to perform and I didn’t have either one.

I have a cousin who plays the cello professionally. She plays a regular cello and a baroque cello (don’t ask me what makes them different). She has spent her whole life becoming the cello and limiting the space between her body and the music until the music really does come through her and the cello at once. She inspired me, and I spent a year and a half trying to teach myself how to play the guitar, but I couldn’t make my fingers tolerate the work. My knuckles kept clicking and jamming, because, as one doctor told me forever ago, my ligaments are too loose to hold my bones together. And you would not believe how painful it is to press your soft fingertips against heavy guitar strings.

The most electric experience I’ve ever had with music is when ice skaters have been able to skate as if the music is coming through their bodies, Michelle Kwan could do this, and Kurt Browning and Torvill and Dean. I remember watching Julie Kent at American Ballet Theater, just watching her arms as if the music was living in her body and she was setting it free.

Julie Kent

Julie Kent

Michelle Kwan

Michelle Kwan

Music just seems so forlorn and naked without visual accompaniment. I feel lost, like I’m swimming in too-deep water, when I listen to music sometimes, as if the ground has fallen out from under me. I feel like I will be trapped in an emotional state I can’t identify, can’t tolerate, and can’t get out of. How is the music doing this?

Music is one of the most powerful things I know, and I feel this great need to create it, and control it, and I can’t do either one. I can just sample it, like Butterfly, and pick a sound from here and there to add to my collection. I think this might be enough, for now.

The girls are thinking about it.

The girls are thinking about it.

Floracide, or Killing Your Dahlias

 

My mom takes her gardening so seriously that when the dahlia specialist in the next plot over from her at the community garden started killing off his less than perfect dahlias, she felt like he was killing living things, like small animals, maybe fish. She didn’t fall on the floor crying, or run at him with a gardening fork, which she would have done if he was slicing off the heads of small puppies instead of flowers, but she did feel the flower deaths in her gut, like a punch.

An imperfect Dahlia, on the chopping block.

An imperfect Dahlia, on the chopping block.

A bucket of imperfect Dahlias, saved, for the moment.

A bucket of imperfect Dahlias, saved from the compost pile.

This dahlia man clearly believes in killing off anything that is not competition worthy or perfect, even if it is beautiful. And my mom would prefer to keep everything, no matter how imperfect, even if the whole becomes chaotic as a result. I don’t know where I fall on this spectrum.

I’ve recently discovered dead heading. When the marigolds in our home garden were still flourishing, Mom told me to pluck off the dead and dying flowers, to make it possible for more to grow. There’s a satisfying snap to the decapitation of these flowers – like snapping off the end of a piece of asparagus. I was in danger of snapping off the heads of healthy flowers, just to feel the satisfaction of it, when there were no more dead ones left. I can get a little bit carried away. I was saved from becoming a flower killer by the overnight frost that knocked all of the flowers out in one shot.

The Marigolds, before the frost.

The Marigolds, before the frost.

Snapping the head off of this one would be bad, right?

Snapping the head off of this one would be bad, right?

There’s a piece of writing advice that’s often quoted, that you have to be willing to “kill your darlings” in order to make the whole piece of writing work. You shouldn’t hold on so tightly to the perfect sentence, or the scene you love, or the character who inspired you to write the book, if the book would work better without it. But I’m not sure. Sometimes, if you remove the thing you love most, the whole thing falls apart. I’ve been known to keep the one line I love in a piece, and trash the rest, because the heart of the thing is the most important part.

Cricket has been known to kill flowers. She doesn’t mean to, any more than she means to harm a cat or squirrel who runs past her. She wants to catch it and subdue it and then play with it. With plants, she wants to dig them up, and chew on them, and toss them in the air, and run after them. She likes their taste of green and dirt and bugs. She likes their crunch, and the different textures on her tongue. She plays with cherry tomatoes the way I used to play with a tiny bouncing ball from the treasure chest in the dentist’s office.

"Play with me, green thing!"

“Play with me, green thing!”

"Mine!"

“Leaf is mine!”

There’s something to be said for letting nature decide which plants to support and which ones to kill off, if only because the feeling of responsibility, and guilt, is too much for me. Winter is the natural death of the growing season. We grieve the loss, but we don’t feel guilty or responsible. The leaf storms at the end of the growing season are like a celebration, a wake for the leaves and flowers, with the dead and dying coming out to dance one last time.

The leaves are dancing!

The leaves are dancing!

 

The Dance of the Leashes

The knotted Leashes

          When Butterfly came home from the shelter in November, she didn’t know how to walk on a leash. She learned by watching Cricket, following her tail wherever it went. She sniffed whatever Cricket sniffed and peed wherever Cricket peed.

            Seven months later, Butterfly has her own ideas about what to a sniff, and where to pee, and who to greet, and when to stop randomly in the middle of the sidewalk and refuse to go forward.

            For their first pee in the morning, Cricket yawns and stretches, and waits patiently for her leash to be attached. Butterfly, on the other hand, does her flibbertigibbet twirls, and runs to drink some water and load up on dog kibble, fitting it into her cheeks like a chipmunk, or gulping it straight down.

            Within seconds, Butterfly’s leash is wrapped around her torso and through her legs. Then Cricket’s leash tangles around Butterfly too, threatening to pull off Butterfly’s paw, or her head.

A Tangled Butterfly

A Tangled Butterfly

            When Butterfly has hopped and twisted herself free, the girls pull me outside, often in opposite directions. I am yanked like a wishbone at the breaking point, one arm forward and one behind. We look like a stretched out version of kindergarten children in museums, where everyone holds hands single file so no one will get lost. And then the dogs turn me around until my arms are wrapped behind my back and I have to switch the leashes from hand to hand and do a twirl to find forward again.

I wonder what this would look like if done by rhythmic gymnasts.

            The dance of the leashes becomes even more complicated when a third dog is introduced. The third dog will inevitably have one of those skinny retractable leashes that could slice your leg off if it wraps around you. Then there is the moment when the dogs line up in a sniff train that either transmutes into a sniffing circle or a free for all where each dog is trying to protect her hind end while simultaneously attempting to sniff another dog’s butt.

The Three Dog Dance

The Three Dog Dance

And add a pole

And add a pole

The highlight of the dance is when the dogs sniff eachother’s tushies for inspiration and then do a simultaneous pee routine, like a synchronized swim team. This does not happen every day, and must be cherished.

            When Mom and I take the dogs out together we each take a leash. This, theoretically, should iron out the problems, but then it’s me and Mom square dancing, as the dogs weave in and out, and we pass the leashes back and forth.

            Cricket likes to use her leash to shepherd Grandma. She will quietly walk around to Grandma’s other side and then pull the leash forward, corralling Grandma. Clearly this would all be easier for Cricket if Grandma would agree to wear a leash.

            Back in the apartment, with their leashes removed, it’s as if the dogs are back in their pajamas, and I start singing my wistful version of a song from Annie, “You’re never fully dressed, without a leash.”