Liz Fullen, one of my beloved friends and mentors, almost always begins letters to her students by asking, “How are you? How is your heart?” I have to say, I don’t think we get asked this question enough. It almost catches me off guard to know someone may be genuinely interested in how my heart is, even if the answer is less than ok.
It’s the way I want to start off, too. Tell me, how are you really? And how is your heart right now?
I can only speak for myself, of course, that the increased weight of this year is finally reaching what feels like a boiling or a breaking point. I have a feeling from several conversations with peers that others are experiencing this as well. To say we’re living in a complicated, dark, heavy moment… is an understatement. After months of heightened tension surrounding the pandemic and the US election, it seems like every time I check in with one of my friends –dancing friends, in particular –more often than not, someone admits to feeling like they’re one gentle breeze away from completely toppling over.
As dancers, it’s no secret that we constantly feel the heavy burden of being undervalued, under supported, and swept aside. Our profession demands that we are constantly in defense of what we do. I can’t even begin to count the number the times I’ve had to explain why I chose dance as a career, or argue that I should be paid fairly (or at all) for it, defending both the personal choice to work in the field as well as the value of dance and art in the world as a whole. On a good day it is exhausting. On a normal day, it’s enough to send me into existential crisis.
I dream of a reality where the constant self-advocacy is replaced by external support, and where dance is recognized for its radically transformative abilities. But while artists are still in this fight for appreciation, I feel it’s important to point out the sheer amount of resilience it has created in us. We can see through history how those who face the most adversity often build and persist with the most strength. And while I don’t wish these modes of being on anyone, I do want to acknowledge the fucking strength it takes to be a dancer, artist, mover, and maker in 2020.
Sometimes what is needed most is a reminder to check in with yourself, to connect with the communities that nourish you, and to allow others to hold you when you need to be held. To be gentle and kind to yourself in the midst of chaos, even when it feels like you’re blanketed by the murkiness of fears, anxieties, and exhaustion. “Softly letting go and beginning again is an exercise in compassion towards ourselves. We want to be able to begin again more gracefully… [and] be kinder to ourselves” (Sharon Salzburg).
An excerpt from my free-writing:
The rooted rose: blooming and flourishing at the top, trace down the dark thorned stem and finally you see all of its hidden roots, reaching and entrenched in the dark. They seek their path blindly but trust they are supporting something up above. They don't even have to trust, they just know their purpose. Even though they themselves are not beautiful, they are part of something beautiful and alive. Depths of darkness and reaching for light are just two ends of the same continuum.
Spiritual teacher Ram Dass says, “Never are we nearest the light than when darkness is deepest.” I don’t wish to over-simplify the many layers of distress and oppression we each face in varying degrees and in different ways. However, I know the feeling of grasping at seeming nothingness in the dark all too well. The fact that we keep doing it anyways speaks volumes about perseverance, belief, and hope. It turns out the shadows are also purposeful on this path, maybe even transformative; that even in the thick of darkness, there is still movement towards potential for growth. Let us remember these steps towards defiant joy in tending to that stubborn heart.