Friday, May 11, 2012

Being a former dancer

Me belly dancing and doing a layback
CONvergence 2009- Yes, post-fracture
I used to be a dancer.  I used to be a belly dancer actually, and I've actually been paid to dance.  I used to be in a troupe.  I was invited to open a show with other dancers.  I've taught people to belly dance.  Used to.

I stopped belly dancing because of my spine.

It was really one of the hardest decisions I've had to make in my life.  Belly dance is my passion (and it doesn't hurt that I was pretty darn good at it).  I'm also pretty damn flexible, as demonstrated by the photo I have posted.  My friend Dave Stagner took this photo in 2009 at CONvergence.  While I managed to dance consistently for a little over a year post-fracture, it became more and more difficult between pain and nerve issues (even when I wasn't being hard-headed and still doing wicked laybacks).

I know folks with other pain issues, like fibromyalgia, manage to continue belly dancing.  Heck, Princess Farhana just wrote a blog about dancing with fibro.  I would love to say if it was "just" pain I would be able to keep dancing, but I have a very vivid memory of a dance class that I went to last summer when I was doing a bit better on the pain front (which still means daily or twice a day pain meds).  I knew better than to actually do the hopping that was in the awesome raks assaya piece that Xavier was teaching.  I did a modified bounce instead, but when I stepped into a movement, a sharp pain raced from my spine to my leg and I was done for the night.  I think that was the last dance class I took actually and that makes me sad

I'm jealous of the folks that can keep dancing despite pain.  Heck, if it was "just" pain, I would probably still be dancing recreationally and possibly doing some local performances.  Part of the problem lies in that the nerves get irritated with the movement of the pelvis and lower spine, and at best I lose feeling in my legs.  The other part is that belly dance is one of the activities that guarantees me problems no matter how I'm feeling that day.  My ITunes library set to random might hit a song that I've danced to before or just has a beat that gets my hips moving...and then my spine is fried for the rest of the day.  It's a hard place to be, feeling stuck in a body that can no longer do something I enjoy and excel at. 

I'm not really sure where this leaves me, in all honesty.  While I've thought about trying to make space for myself as a disabled belly dancer, the nature of my injury/disability really leaves me to upper body movement.  I'm not really sure if I could pull together an entire choreography with that limitation, and if I could, would it be interesting enough to watch?  Would it be more interesting if it was a mixed-ability group choreo (something akin to what AXIS Dance does)?  What does it mean for me as a white cisgendered woman to modify a cultural dance form that is not my own by heritage to fit my dis/ability?

I feel like I'm really left with four options (in no particular order of preference).  One is to do what I've been doing and just not dance.  I have to admit, this option is not a happy option.  I am not content to be only an audience member at a belly dance performance.  The second option is to learn to play the doumbek drum and see if there are local dancers that would be up for some live improv.  The third is to try to adapt belly dance to my body reality.  The fourth is to find a different dance form that has more established mixed-ability options (a la AXIS).  This one is difficult as there aren't any explicitly mixed-ability classes in my area....they're pretty rare.  Since I'm a graduate student, I might be able to find an adventurous dance professor that would let me audit technique courses to try to find my/our own way into integrated dance.

With the accessible dance options, I'm left wondering what to do about rehearsal, choreography and performing.  Do I choreograph for wheelchair use?  Do I essentially do multiple choreography options depending on the level of impairment (something that would be really difficult for a group number)?  What do other dancers with fluctuating impairments do?

As usual, I'm left with more questions than answers...but I'll leave you all with the YouTube video of my first belly dance solo, performed in 2006 :-)

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