Dancing Fixes It All

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.

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Musings on Father’s Day

Louisa_dancing

On this Father’s Day, I am going to write about a special person who played the role of a father figure when my own father was drifting away from my life exactly five years ago.

It was 2009, and I was visiting New York to care for my father, who was diagnosed with a very severe cancer, acute lukemia. I made daily runs to the hospital, taking almost two hours each way on the subway. The period was marked by initial optimism, which turned into frustration, angst, despair and then a gradual loss of hope. Some days, not only did my dad have to fight for his life, but I also had to fight the hospital staff for proper treatment. At several junctions my father almost lost his life to incompetent medical doctors and students.

Needless to say, being the primary caretaker, my stress level went off the roof! Luckily I was able to sneak some time to attend ballet classes with the famous master teacher Finis Jhung at Alvin Ailey’s. Every time I went to class, it was like a refuge. A sacred time to empty my mind off the thoughts of the daily chores at the hospital. A time to enjoy music and movement and to learn something new.

Yours truly and Finis after a private class. In those days Finis still gave private coaching and I was so fortunate to have had the chance to enjoy a private class with him.

Yours truly and Finis Jhung after a private class in New York, 2009. In those days Finis still gave private coaching and I was so fortunate to have had the chance to enjoy a private class with him.

 

Unknowingly, I became dependent on Finis’ classes to take me off the drudgery—not only of caretaking but the inevitable fate of my father’s passing. It was like a drug for me, literally, but a good drug! And Finis, being a few years younger than my dad, was like a father figure to me. I marveled at his flexibility, his energy and his passion for teaching. He represented everything that was the opposite of my dying father.

So on this Father’s Day, which marks the 5th anniversary of my dad’s return to the Realm of Bliss, I want to remember not just my own father but to give a special thanks to Finis Jhung, who provided a refuge for me during one of the toughest periods of my life.

Thank you, Finis!