landing with less fear on my feet

1,001+ days of walking practice and a slow return to dance


“Depending on which way one turns, different worlds might even come into view. If such turns are repeated over time, then bodies acquire the very shape of such direction. It is not, then, that bodies simply have a direction, or that they follow directions, in moving this way or that. Rather, in moving this way, rather than that, and moving in this way again and again, the surfaces of bodies in turn acquire their shape. Bodies are ‘directed’ and they take the shape of this direction…” ~ Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others

9/12/18 First dance class, Intro to Modern adult beginners at Mark Morris Dance Center in Brooklyn after more than a decade since I’d last tried a regular dance class; I took a short cycle of classes in DC when I first started my MFA as part of my Goddard packet work, but that was also before I’d broken my ankle in 2015. The basic stretching of leg and foot through repeated tendu motions were exactly the kind of PT exercise I should have been doing all along, but yowza my poor left foot and ankle had a shock! I was, not surprisingly, the oldest (and heaviest) dancer in the class. I’m trying to just be myself, as I am, and let my body remember it used to love to dance. It was humbling, the lack of flexibility and the stuckness, the inability to express rhythm when too many layers of movement from too many body areas are supposed to be doing too many things at once… It was an intense work day, and for me, a challenging drive to get here on my own and home again, and then there was resistance to just staying put when I wanted to leave. And, though I can’t say it was fun, I did try to maintain my sense of humor and perspective. When I broke my ankle it was months and months before I could even jump a little, and tonight’s class end with series of jumping, not difficult, but for me, a bit emotionally and physically tough. Maybe as this weekly class progresses, this dancing bear will be less afraid and be more present in the movement, But I am tonight at least grateful for its resilience. 🌈🐻❤️🙏

“We can be shattered by the force of what we come up against, when our bodies are little objects thrown against the hard walls of history… We can damage relationships that matter. And that is one of the hardest things about coming up against walls: it can threaten some of our most fragile and precious, our best, our warmest connections. As I write this, I feel sad, so very sad. And this too is one of the risks of anger. There is so much to be against; we know this. But how easily anger can spill, can spill at those who happen to be near by, who are closest to us…” ~ Sara Ahmed, Living a Feminist Life

9/19/18 Last night, as the sun set over the river, flooding with light the cavernous center filled with thousands of people in prayer and reflection, I remembered how different my life was last year at this same time. So grateful for where I have found myself here, this present and its return to living in Brooklyn, though it was really unimaginable then when last year’s struggles were evident; the outcome of steps we took to reach this new life together could not be predicted. In those cycles of struggle, of course, there were actions and behaviors that I could have done with better skill and care, and in which others could also have been more present and loving, but these are challenging times we find ourselves, and in this new year ahead for which I truly feel so blessed, may the tangled resentments and old grief and wounds be healed, mended, eased. 🙏❤️

Dance class 2: Better. Took the subway from Bushwick which was less stressful than driving + parking. Wore my best Ganesha shirt so instead of catching sight of my belly in the mirror w/judgment I’d see his Beauty in the reflection. Body remembered more of the combination from week before than I expected, and I had almost no ankle/foot trauma fear AND when we did a new up-up up-up down-down down-down foot combination across the floor without a chance to practice it (exactly the repeated motion that my healed ankle needs stretched) the teacher pulled me from the herd (I think there are 30 + in class) and asked me to go across the floor ALONE and I didn’t freak out; I did the combination alone across the floor, and the class applauded afterwards and it was all okay. I can’t say I had “fun,” yet, but I can feel disappointment that I won’t be able to attend next week because of a work obligation. 🙏❤️

“When I think about my personal experiences with leading over the past few years… I completely underestimated the pull on my emotional bandwidth, the sheer determination it takes to stay calm under pressure, and the weight of continuous problem solving and decision making… we desperately need more leaders who are committed to courageous, wholehearted leadership and who are self-aware enough to lead from their hearts, rather than unevolved leaders who lead from hurt and fear.” ~ Brené Brown, Dare to Lead


View from Here: my office table with flowers and lavender from our urban garden and current reading

9/30 Day 1,001 daily walking practice (consecutive with one sick day “off” in the middle). I walk, mostly by myself, a time of reflection or releasing and sometimes prayerful silence or “dialogue.” Listening. Observing the change of seasons, the quality of light and shadow, night or day. Initially I walked through a period of loss and recovery from a broken ankle, I walked because I needed to be present in the midst of it all, and change occurred sometimes slowly and sometimes suddenly in shocking conflicted occurrences, and I walked to discern and discover my truth and pathways forward with mindful steps deepening into miles. Love was lost and Love was found.

Within these 1,000+ days and 3,000 + miles my life changed so much that today looks nothing like those first days: a new job and return to living in Brooklyn after 18 years in Baltimore, a commitment to life together that matured into living together. There were trips as a couple in which my walking time was spent together on the shores of Provincetown or hiking in the Columbia River Gorge seeking waterfalls. Lately, like today, my Bushwick neighborhood walks delight with street art sightings and local artists. I am grateful for this middle-aged queer body that carries me on my journeys, and I am learning how important this self-care practice is to my well-being and work in the world. I remember once a dance teacher in college described my early choreography efforts saying, “there’s nothing needed but the act of making a thousand dances to learn what is yours to express,” and I am reminded, back in dance class again for the first time in many many years, how the importance of being present, awareness of my body and the ground below in its embrace of gravity; I move forward in greater clarity in my voice as the work-in-progress of my life continues, one day of walking practice after the next, seeking the freedoms and facing the challenges of spiritual practice.

Update: 11/7/18 Day 495 (1,039 days and 3,111 miles so far)

“A lifeline can also be something that expresses our identity, such as the lines carved on the skin that are created as an effect of the repetition of certain expressions: the laugh line, the furrow created by the frown, and so on. Lines become the external trace of an interior world, as signs of who we are on the flesh that folds and unfolds before others. What we follow, what we do, becomes ‘shown’ through the lines that gather on our faces, as the accumulation of gestures on the skin surface over time. If we are asked to reproduce what we inherit, then the lines that gather on our skin become signs of the past, as well as orientations toward the future, a way of facing and being faced by others. Some lines might be marks of the refusal to reproduce: the lines of rebellion and resistance that gather over time to create new impressions on the skin surface or on the skin of the social.” ~ Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others

10/3/18 Dance class #3 (after a missed week for a work annual fund event) guest teacher, more traditional which was great and harder with lots of foot work and then a combination of tilting and curved shapes on top of rhythmic moving legs. My repaired ankle (note the new emphasis rather than “broken”) has significantly reduced movement (all add “currently”) making all my attempts at demi-plié positions moving from some wonky core compensation efforts to “protect”. Younger Me remembered how fluid my moving body was, but the midlife me feels very solid and stiff, so I could “see” the shapes but not bend into them, and the tilting was better at the edges of the arms rather than any arc or curve in the torso. But I could hear the floor combinations better in the accompaniment from the musician, and so I tried not to Think Think so much and Listen to the rhythm in the music. It was a dance day, as I visited a 2nd grade dance class at the Lower School in a gorgeous dance studio that is part of the contemporary addition to the castle-like Victorian mansion where I first taught drama in 1990 on a postage-stamp sized stage that is no longer there in the highly renovated campus, so despite my self-criticisms dance IS really returning to my life and for my own body as well 🙏❤️

10/17 Dance Class # 4: I didn’t want to go after a bizarre week in which I got a lot of my important action items done amidst a comedy of errors landscape. I missed last week’s class because I was sick, and the guest teacher was finishing up her coverage with tonight’s class. My right knee has been giving me some trouble for the last couple of days, especially on the stairs, and the left repaired ankle doesn’t really plié which makes 4th and 5th positions particularly challenging.

At the start of this class I could not stop looking at my belly, despite having slimmed since moving to back to NYC, but perhaps my slightly smaller size in some ways making me all the more aware of the prominence of the middle. Once, at Bennington in a dance class a teacher put her hand flat on my belly (20 years old, 150lbs at 5’10”) and said, “that’s quite a belly for a skinny boy.” I’ve felt gay-guy pressured some years and achieved more gym-toned or yoga fit-ish cycles; I’ve also been significantly heavier than I am now at 51, but tonight I could not shake the lack of love for my protruding belly. Intellectually, politically, I know that I am rocking my medium-sized Bearness when I feel good about myself, but that embodied me was not feeling it tonight, and eventually, I just moved to where the piano cut off my view below the chest in my mirrored reflection because I was just so distracted.

After that, I eased up, noticed my foot combinations were a little better, my balance improved even with mindfulness to not overcompensate for the stiff left ankle and to try and shift between the singular weight bearing legs with less wobble. Eventually, still in my obstructed mirror view zone, I managed to move to the front row of tonight’s smaller class, the first time with others behind me. I’d forgotten my glasses and could see better up front, but also found it less distracting. When we lined up for the floor combinations, I took one of the four first row spots and just kept trying to hear the counts and listen to the musician’s cues to remember the phrase without someone to follow.

I wasn’t very good, but when it came time to leap and leap again, I was up in the air with greater ease, landing with less fear on my feet.