“We barely remember what came before this precious moment. Choosing to be here, right now, in this body…This body makes me feel eternal. All this pain is an illusion.”
-Maynard James Keenan
I’ve begun teaching a beginning dance class, and in my quest to teach my students, slowly but surely I’m learning to dance again myself. I have many limitations, many new aches and pains, sometimes a lengthy and debilitating recovery period keeping me bedridden for days after each lesson, but still…it feels so good! I feel like I’m contributing in some way, and it’s bizarre how important that contribution to the world becomes when you’re no longer able to provide it. I’m teaching people to feel as good about themselves as I did when I was discovering dance, and just maybe some of those dancers will surpass me and go on to learn from others and become great dancers and I can feel honored to be a part of that. However, even if all I get out of this is the opportunity to force myself out of bed once a week, to make myself stand in front of others and hide how weak I’ve become, how much my muscles and joints protest, how reduced my stamina, and hopefully with time regain some of these things even if to a lesser extent than what I ever had when I was healthy, and in the process teach my students that they can feel graceful, beautiful, happy, and express themselves in a form that they never knew of before, I will consider it a job well done.
I’ve always loved teaching others to dance. More than inspiring them through performance, I love showing others that they, too, can learn to do the things that left me so awestruck the first time I saw others do them. I wanted to know all there was to know about it, and I see the light in my students’ eyes when they have mastered new moves, the pride and joy they feel when they’re finally knowledgeable enough to just cut loose and put those moves to use and just dance!
Of all the things I’ve lost from becoming ill, dancing has been my greatest regret. I’ve lost my independence, my livelihood, my ability to maintain my household in a manner of which I may feel proud and comfortable. I’ve lost lifelong friends, and that certainly hurts a great deal, but deep down I believe that if those friends were true they would not have abandoned me in my greatest time of need. I no longer enjoy the lifestyle to which I was formerly accustomed, I am destitute, poor beyond my greatest imaging, however I was poor growing up and while I worked very hard to secure myself the proper education to acquire gainful employment and, for a time, enjoyed a much more lavish lifestyle, I’m no stranger to being poor. My body, mind, and soul are unwell in ways that I never expected at such a young age, but these are all things that I did expect to experience at some point in my life, granted perhaps 30-40 years from now, but I can eventually make peace with the cards life has dealt me. But to not be able to dance was akin to losing my ability to see colors or hear music, to smell, or to feel textures. My life suddenly became very drab and without a great and wonderful joy, and on many occasions I almost wished to have never known that joy and so never experience its heartbreaking loss.
Tonight I gave my students an opportunity to use the skills they’ve learned thus far to just listen to the music and dance to it. No more tedious drills, no more practice, just feel the music and dance, and I danced with them, and yes my skills are much reduced, and my body screams in agony at many movements and likely will continue to do so for as long as I’m able to continue, but I still feel more alive dancing in pain than I do lying in bed in pain, so I will continue to push myself to try harder, work harder, relearn what I’ve lost, accommodate my disabilities, make myself stronger.
Dancing has never been easy for me. I’ve always had issues with my back that would hinder my abilities to do certain movements, or that would cause me to have to take months long hiatus while recovering from ruptured disks and excruciating pain, but I always continued practicing anything that I was able while on hiatus. I would do muscle isolations, arm and hand movements, anything to keep me practicing.
I think now that I told myself I couldn’t dance because I had given up too soon. I’d thrown in the towel. I was so deeply in mourning over all that I’d lost and any efforts I made to attempt to dance ended in me being in so much pain, feeling so weak, being dizzy, delirious, and bedridden for days that I had eventually put it on the list of things that I could not do, rather than the list of things that I could not do as well as before. I know it’s possible that some day I may truly be unable to dance at all. I may permanently lose fine and gross motor skills, be wheelchair bound, or have such debilitation in my back that I may finally have to succumb to the vertebral fusions that I’ve so long been unwilling to do as it will severely decrease my range of motion and make dancing virtually impossible. I know that I may lose dancing for good, which is why it’s so important to me that I continue to force myself to do it now while I still can.
And I plan to do just that.
“To dance is to live.”