Dancing Fixes It All

“Sometimes I hurt because I dance.

Other times I dance because I’m hurt.

Either way, dancing fixes it all.”

I have come across this quote in social media quite a few times. Perhaps only dancers would really understand the pain behind such a statement.

The first line is easy enough to understand. Dancing, especially professional dancing, brings with it certain perils. Bodily injury is a common occurrence. The second line gives a more complicated picture of the psychology of dancers. Dancing expresses our joy; it also expresses our sorrow. It helps us channelize feelings that are not easy to express through words or any other forms. On both the artistic and psychological levels, dancing provides such an outlet for expression. Dancing is emotional therapy. I wouldn’t say it “fixes all.” But it does fix quite a few things, especially when you are stuck in a funk.

My earliest memory of dance as a therapy was more physical than emotional. At the age of 14, I suffered from muscular pain similar to arthritis. It was so bad that I limped along as I walked. But somehow I got the idea of joining the aerobics class in a dance studio in my building. After taking the class for some months, my pain was completely gone. It was then that I realized the power of physical activity—and more specifically, dance—in healing.

The other time when dance came to my rescue was when I was living in New York in my late 20s. I became terribly depressed after a relationship breakup. I searched and searched for something that would lift my mood and take my mind off from the pain of separation. It so happened that the gym that I worked out at, right in the same building as my office, started to offer a ballet workout class by New York City Ballet. I remembered how dance made me happy in my youth, so I immediately enrolled.  Despite the physical strain I felt in my stiff body, the joy I obtained through the challenging moves and the beautiful music played in class helped me go through one of the toughest times of my life. The instructor talked in such an encouraging and uplifting way, that just being in her presence made me happy—if only for that one hour in class.

Another critical juncture in my life where I needed a fixing was when I suffered from a frozen back at the age of 35. I mentioned in my first post “Diary of an Adult Ballet Student” how going back to ballet class has helped me heal that back pain.

Then, one day when I was 39, my dad was diagnosed with acute leukemia. I flew to New York to visit and care for him. During this time, I became emotionally downtrodden and stressed, which later turned into depression. My only light of the day was those evenings and weekends when I sneaked an hour or two into ballet lessons at Alvin Ailey’s Annex, joining a big group of adult students just like me, in Finis Jhung’s adult beginners’ class and workshops. Being able to get “lost” in the moment and focus my attention on all the details of executing a movement while enjoying the pure pleasure of dancing had allowed me to forget about the grim reality outside the studio. It had meant the world to me.

And today, eight years after I restarted ballet, I’m still going to class and going through the process of healing—this time from a major abdominal surgery. The journey goes on. Ballet may not be able to fix it all, but it is my faithful friend through thick and thin.

Moldy Pointe Shoe Ribbons

Photo by Michael Sheehan (HighTechDad@Flickr) Creative Common License

“Sewing the Ribbons” – Photo by Michael Sheehan (HighTechDad@Flickr) Creative Common License

The constant tug of war between my desire to dance more and the inability to do so in real life has led to a overflow of my subconscious frustrations and regrets with ballet. A few days ago I had a short dream after drifting back to sleep in the early morning. In that dream I saw two ballet classmates, one of whom asked me for spare ribbons for her pointe shoes. I went and looked into my drawers and found a pair of old ribbons. “Ewe, they’re moldy!” I told my friend while taking them out for her. The dream ended just like that. Perhaps it reflects my desire to go back to those good old days when I was enjoying pointework and all the rituals related to it–and the current regret and uncertainty of when I will be able to get back en pointe. Worse still, the classmate who asked for the ribbons in my dream is someone I have unfriended. So much for an unpleasant dream. Hope my next one would be more delightful. Actually, I remember having an extremely pleasurable ballet dream around Christmas time last year. I’ll recount that a bit later, when I have more time. Hope your adult ballet life is off to a better start than mine in 2015!