In considering healing as a core component of my wellness, I set out to connect with dancers across the globe who were interested in these topics. I wanted to know if anyone was using healing modalities parallel to dance practices, or specifically making efforts to mix the two. I was met with an incredible number of responses and willingness to collaborate, so much so that this will be shared as a three-part interview series over the coming months.
Each of the individuals I spoke to has worked in some capacity as a professional dancer, with experiences in company settings, as freelancers, making their own work, teaching – the list goes on. Each of them also actively engages with healing practices, through somatic techniques, meditation, yoga, shadow work, therapy, ritual, Reiki, and/or other creative activities. Our first spotlight is on conversations with A. Raheim White and Marcella Lewis, two dancers whom I have never met in person but had the pleasure of speaking with over Zoom. (Increased virtual connectivity is certainly a small silver lining of these times). Both Raheim and Marcella generously shared their points of view and lived experiences on questions I had pertaining to their engagement with dance, healing modalities, and blending the two. I’ve set up each of their responses in an interview style, to allow for reflection of their answers side by side.
What Comes to Mind When You Hear "Wellness?"
When I hear wellness, I think of the whole being. Mind/body/spirit. Energy. Wellness is a way of life for me. It’s bringing in all the seemingly disparate parts together to create a dynamic whole.
The first thing I think of is self-care. Most of my feelings about wellness come from my own experiences of self-care and healing. True wellness is knowing exactly what you need.
Marcella Lewis, a native of Los Angeles, California, has recently moved back there from the east coast. Having spent years in New York, Marcella studied at SUNY Purchase College and worked with Kyle Abraham. She describes her dance background as having begun “out of the womb.” Currently, she is in the process of finding her own artistic voice as a dancer, choreographer, mover, and creative, as well as integrating her homecoming by sharing her east coast experiences with her community in LA.
A. Raheim White is based in Atlanta, Georgia. They received their BFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and their MFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts. Raheim spent time working with Seán Curran Company, Lucky Plush Productions, and Cabin Fever Live Art, among many other dance companies and creating their own work. As it currently stands, as they shared with me, they are in “a renegotiation” of their relationship with dance to integrate the many modalities they practice.
What comes to mind when you hear “healing?”
Self-love, self-care, work. Healing requires us to put in effort, and the rewards are incredibly worth it. You can also find enjoyment in the work, especially if, as you’re doing it, you’re focusing on the self-love. I also think journey and process. There are ebbs and flows, as with everything. On the surface it can seem like something that feels nice, like taking a bath or going to the spa, but the work is deep. There’s deep unpacking, un-layering, peeling off what isn’t you. It has to do with addressing yourself, traumas, talking to your inner child, if you truly want to tap into transformative healing. Progress is also incremental – it’s not necessarily about fully healing something, but about noticing the small shifts in your reactivity (for example); there are layers.
My relationship to healing is wholeness; The return to wholeness.
What kinds of healing practices do you engage with?
Shadow work, meditation, prayer, creativity. In writing, free drawing, anything using my hands like making dream talisman. Those things are levels and layers to what I do for healing.
I am a Reiki master teacher. Reiki is an energetic healing modality that balances the mental, emotional, energetic, physical, and spiritual bodies. I’m also a certified yoga teacher, I facilitate meditations, and I engage with somatic healing practices, not necessarily any specifically codified ones but a combination of my own embodied knowledge and wisdom. I am also an Akashic record reader. The Akasha is the “All That Is,” the vibrational library of all past experiences, current happenings, and future possibilities. And I also make crystal healing adornments with copper, brass, silver, gold, and stones!
Do you make any specific efforts to combine these with dance, or specifically movement-oriented practices, as a professional dancer?
When going into the studio by myself, I start with an intention. I ask, what is it that I want to discover, peel away, or dive deeper into? Whatever comes, I allow it to be. In my Movement Alchemy classes, I offer a space to take what resonates and leave what doesn’t. There are certain tools, like guided movement practices, that can be used for an intention, manifestation, or as a healing modality. One of the ideas is peeling away what has been placed on us as movers (by the world but also within ourselves), to get back to the core essence of the mover. It’s to be able to tap into that natural state anytime, without erasing all of our history. In that space is where you can do the most magic, where you have your true power.
Especially when teaching dance, these practices help me to navigate and hold space. I use them to help people be more authentically embodied. Because I am sensitive to energies, when someone is moving in my class I can see (by looking at their body and processing their energy) where they are holding stagnation. It isn’t necessarily rooted physicality, it could be rooted in emotionality, or within their mental state, and it shows up in the body. At the end of class I also typically lead a guided meditation for grounding and releasing. Many believe they can’t meditate, so my intention is to make it accessible. It’s not separate from you, it is you. There are many ways you can meditate: by sitting and noticing your breath, practicing yoga, walking… whatever you put focus into. You can meditate while washing the dishes. It’s not outside of us, it’s only about bringing awareness to a single point of focus so we can have agency over our mind.
Is dance physically healing for you, or is the physical act of dancing healing for you?
It depends on what I’m doing, or who I’m dancing for. Dance can be multiple things; It can also be a distraction away from healing because you have a place to escape. There’s beauty in that experience, too, of finding peace, joy, whatever it is. But dance can also be a place of release, of letting go of something. Just the same way that crying is part of healing, you’re allowing the emotions to flow. If I’m improvising, sometimes I experience a healing that doesn’t happen consciously. Something is integrating on its own, and there’s definitely a shift. Physical movement itself isn’t necessarily healing to me, it’s more the intention and relationship. I had a moment of reflection during quarantine when I wasn’t dancing, when I felt like, whoa, there’s a lot going on here without dance that I need to address.
I process emotions, thoughts, and information through my body. Dance helps me to move that stuff around, integrate my wisdom, to comb through ideas. Sometimes I have no words for what I’m feeling, so I have to move it. I have to move the energy and my body so that it can be revealed. Dance is a sacred practice for me, it’s medicine, it’s nourishment. When I’m not doing it, I typically suffer. It can be an internal process, but it also depends on what kind of dance I’m doing. If I’m doing African Dance, I’m stomping on the ground and clapping my hands, shouting, jumping, kicking: wild abandon. When I’m in more of a subtle mood I might move slowly, butoh-like, intricately, and attuned to the small minute shifts of each cell. More of me versus outside of me.
How would you say your healing practices influence your wellness?
Drastically. With healing there is a definite transmutation, a mind shift on a molecular level, how you engage and interact with the world. You really do see through different eyes. If we’re talking about wellness as self-care, healing is the deepest form, it’s so intimate. For me they are so deeply connected. When you get to that place of loving yourself and taking care of yourself so much that you want to heal no matter how difficult it is, you experience care, joy, a shift inside, and a sense of peace.
I use my practices on myself every day: I meditate every day for 1.5 hours (1 hour in the morning and 30 minutes at night), just so I can meet the world. I do Reiki on myself and send Reiki to the planet. My practices help me not only nourish myself, but be in reflection of well-being in all aspects of my life, in every way that I am. So, when I am outside in the world, I am also healing just by being in those spaces. Healing myself and healing others through my presence.
If there was something from your own experiences that you could share with others in terms of what has facilitated healing or wellness, what would it be?
I would say it’s ok to be afraid, just do it anyway! We can’t turn that fear off, so the true bravery is that you do it even though you’re scared. There’s also an experience of joy and pride afterwards. Through healing, the most important thing is loving yourself through it. You are going to go through a lot of things that come up, but if you’re loving yourself through it all, there’s a warmth that surrounds you. When doing shadow work you can write a love letter to yourself, so that in the middle of it you can go back and read it. You can make sure you’re in a cozy place, maybe with some tea, a snack and your favorite music, anything to feel loved and give yourself that warmth. The only way to truly heal and transform something is to love it deeply
Listening, deep listening. Whenever I feel like I know something, and someone tries to tell me something else and I don’t listen, I miss the lesson. There is magic and wisdom in their different perspective. I feel like I can learn anything from anyone. Also, love and forgiveness; At some point, we will make a mistake or have one made against us. The only way we can transmute that energy and allow healing in is to forgive. To remove the block, and not withhold love from them or from ourselves. Once we’re withholding, energy isn’t flowing, and we’re not allowing the universal flow of divine into our vessel. That’s what Divine is, isn’t it? Love!
I once had a teacher tell me that every aspect of our lives are ingredients to our creative being. This has stuck with me since that day in 2012, and constantly has me asking, what ingredients am I putting into this moment? How can I broaden the scope of my life so that it allows all aspects of it to be creative research, to be valid and valued? Healing modalities such as yoga and meditation have become a huge part of the ingredients for me, in my life but also in my identity as a dancer. Community is part of the ingredients, too. Just asking these questions and speaking with Raheim and Marcella, I see these engagements as spaces for healing in and of themselves. The sharing of stories, shared experiences and contemplations…there is so much value in the willingness of vulnerability to be seen in Who and How we are.