Day 17: Knocking the rust off

Yesterday I worked out in my living room. That means I:

  • Danced for 5 minutes to a workout playlist on Spotify,
  • Did three sets of pushups/squats/planks/jumping jacks, and
  • Stretched for 10 minutes.

Something happened yesterday that hasn't happened in years.

I was improvising and I bent my knees deeply. Like a deep squat. Just once.

It didn't hurt. I didn't have to take a break. I just got out of it and kept dancing.




I've had this ongoing knee pain bullshit for seven years; I'll endeavor to keep the most boring parts to myself. Nothing is as awful as realizing exactly how MUCH time you let elapse while you were busy treating yourself like crap. I tried a few things to fix it --- physical therapy, taping, stretching, but nothing made much of a difference except for scuba diving, and alas, my life is not such that I get to go scuba diving all the time.

Anytime I watched anybody dancing, I was basically glued to their lower half, enviously watching them drop down and pop back up, feeling sympathetic pains but mostly feeling: GODDAMMIT I'm too young to not be able to do that.

I decided last fall that I would rehab myself. I decided it was possible and that I would achieve it. I am proud to say I am making obvious, notable real progress. Yes, my knees still hurt because that's how knees are. I'm not SO young to expect a totally pain free knee existence. I just adjusted my squat position and kept trying until I could squat without pain. And then, slowly, gingerly, I started bending my knees again.

Over the last nine months I've gone from being unable to take stairs without bad grinding pain to doing deep squats. What I realized yesterday is that after seven years of NOT bending my knees, my body doesn't even have that activity in its memory. I am tall, and not terribly flexible--so getting up and down has never been my strong point. Even with all the practice I've been doing, my mind is still afraid of bending my knees. My memory of that movement is ginger, always in the same position (legs wide, feet slightly turned out, head looking forward and down, hands clasped in front of me). Certainly not anything reckless.

Anyway I am excited about this for a lot of reasons, but the biggest one is that I am going to be spending 12 days dancing at a farm house in rural Spain in September.

The last time I did a workshop like this, my knees were still messed up. It's a special kind of danger to be someone who used to be able to do something but no longer can--sometimes enthusiasm takes over and you do a very regrettable move and then you can't walk.

The workshop I'm taking is taught by Julyen Hamilton, who I studied under in November 2012 in Minneapolis. I have zero idea who he was except that Monica suggested I take it. Like, the kind of suggestion where they are reaching out of their eyes into your eyes and trying to shake sense into you. Like, 'I'm seriously not fucking around, and I know you don't take kindly to instruction, but please for the love of your own practice, please please take this workshop". So I went.

Do you get nervous around people who have their Teachers? I do. I am suspicious of that kind of relationship, perhaps unfairly so, but I have had a couple times in my life where a teacher was so good they became my Teacher and then I sound like a weird groupie. So I will endeavor to avoid that creepiness here, though you have to understand. When a teacher is so good, their name becomes a sort of shorthand for the material they convey, and the best teachers convey material that touches your whole life.

Julyen gave me a whole set of keys to approaching dance from lenses that I find useful in the rest of my life, ways of bridging my past with my present, ways that gave me a way to appreciate dance again without the many layers of cynicism one accumulates after a time in any artistic endeavor.

Dancing is more than long legs and obedience (Thanks to Pioneer Winter for that line). Dancing is more than partying at a wedding or a club. Dancing is more than orgiastic scenes in movies like the Matrix. It's more than looking cool, being skinny, or surprising people with what your body can do. Dancing is more than touch-down celebrations, more than high kicks, more than pomo faces and gestural movements, more than all this.

Dancing is about human flaws; it becomes real in the cracks where the dance falls apart.

Dancing is about experiencing a specific moment in space and time, but it's also about creating that moment.

Dance practice is about making your body capable, not about matching a line.

Dance will always express and reveal who you are; dance is sold short when we insist on young, trained, homogenized bodies. Our bodies are sold short when we insist on traditional, homogenized, thoughtless moves.

Dancing has as much to do with sensitivity, meditation and thought as it does with flexibility, strength and coordination.

Dance is work we do with gravity.

Our bodies are continuous, our thoughts are not.

I seek to move more fluidly, to remove the excess, to get out of my own way, to flay, to winnow, to bring my focus in tight and only expand it as much as I'm able to hold all the pieces together.

After the last workshop, part of me wanted to just drop out of life and spend all my time in the studio, dancing and writing, all the time, forever. I am trying instead to find those moments where I can bring all that to what I'm doing already. You know, the small change instead of the big. Turn the ship one degree and the next thing you know you've arrived somewhere completely unexpected.

What I want from myself now that I know even the most magnificent people die before they are done, and before we are done with them:

Clear vision
Strong action
No compromise
Structure and wildness
Loud voices
Beauty and meaning

I'll get there. I have already turned the ship one degree.

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