‘ To draw back in order to make a better jump’
What does being an artist really mean? Is it having a wild imagination that creates prize winning stories? Or playing in finger paint and creating a masterpiece? Is it having an affinity for movement, or passion for music? Maybe it comes down to environment, constantly being told to keep exploring, keep investigating, we all have something special to share.
For me, being an artist was never a choice. Dancing was a part of my skin. Of every breath, and of every step that I took. The only future I could see, was one where I got to be my biggest, and most honest self on stage. I was fortunate enough to have natural talent, but it was the drive to achieve perfection that kept me rehearsing late into the night. I loved the constant exploration and attention that was being asked of my mind, body, and soul;
‘Can you melt your entire body into the floor?’
‘Close your eyes and listen to your blood pump. What is it saying to you?’
When I was 21 years old, 2 months before my final year at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre, I fell 20ft onto concrete steps. The railing of a balcony I had been leaning on gave away, and I tumbled to the ground below with it. I have said those two lines a countless number of times, but I still seem to get stuck on what to say next. The first few months out I didn’t really need to say anything else- by looking at me the results of this experience were quite clear. My forehead had completely split open, exposing the bone of my skull, and engulfing my brain in a bubble of constant throbbing. My nose was broken- this was clear from the black rings around my eyes. I had a rope of pain that radiated down the right side of my spine, across the back of my right hip. But what felt the most traumatising of all, were the multiple bones that had shattered in my left foot.
I was continuously being told how lucky I was- no aggressive brain damage, no internal bleeding, my spine was perfectly intact. I absolutely was grateful, I cannot even imagine what my life would have been like had any of those occured. But you see, my foot was broken. I could handle the damage to my esthetic, I could handle the pain in my back, but my feet? They were my movers, my expressers. My independence, my confidence. My identity. My everything.
For the first few months every day started with the belief that recovery was in sight. As if somehow, magic dust had been sprinkled over me through the night, excellerating the rehab process. I didn’t have the capacity to really process the experience of my lived trauma. I would make ‘plans’ for my day, and considered my injuries to be an annoyance, instead of my new reality. Every night was clouded with a weighted sadness. I was already doing everything within my perceived power to heal, and I would just have to accept it would all be a matter of time.
At some point, I began to accept the truth- I was in agony. I was tired, frustrated, and heart broken. The life I had worked so hard for, was so excited about, had been pulled out from underneath me. Yet here I was, attempting to carry on as if being completely reliant on other people was normal. As if the screaming inside my brain, and the heaviness in my heart had always been there.
Propped up in my bed one day, I noticed by yoga mat sitting against a wall fairly close to me. I had no idea how it got there, as I was certain I hadn’t seen it there before. My mat had always been very special to me. I had taken the leap and splurged on something high end a couple months previously, and had used it almost everyday since. Whether I was practicing in my room, or in a studio, I always felt a sense of divine power when I was on it. A bold statement I know- but it truly felt like the 26″ X 71″ space, was my divine stage.
I crawled out of bed, rolled out my mat, and layed down. I closed my eyes, placed my hand on my heart, and tuned in to my breath. I stayed quiet, and I listened. I listened to the story my body had been screaming to tell me, the truth I had been ignoring. I took deep, intentional breaths, and I cried. Not the hysterical sobbing I had become so accustomed to, or the desperate hyperventilation. A slow cry, a sad cry. Tears for the life I had lost, the pain I was in, and the hardship I knew I still faced on this journey. As the tears quietly streamed down my face, I continued breathing, embracing the safety I felt on the sacred space underneath me. At some point, I started moving. Very subtle, and very calm, I allowed my intuition to guide me.
When I was cleared from my second foot surgery, I was desperate to move more than was available on my bedroom floor. I was connected to a pilates studio in the town next to mine, who were more than happy to accomodate my needs. I was able to integrate some strength building into the mobility work I had been doing on my own. I began to get stronger, and move forward in my physical rehab process. I was ecstatic, once again creating a fantasy reality where I was able to go back to school, and continue being the ‘artist’ I had always been. As soon as I was strong enough to stand, I signed up for a yoga class.
As we were guided through the flows I felt like I was doing a really honest job of accessing modifications. It felt nothing at all like my practise had been before, but I was just happy to be there. It wasn’t until our end savasana that I truly began to understand how deep the power of movement really is. My years of studying dance, of investigating intuitive questions, and of flowing on my mat suddenly made sense.
Here I was again, lying on my sacred space, hand over my heart, listening. The tears came in the same quiet way they had in my bedroom. The words ‘forgiveness’ and ‘patience’ washed over me, from a place I didn’t even know existed. I thought my years of training had taught me what ‘listening’ really was, what ‘experiencing my body’ and its emotions really were. But here I was, literally being given words from somewhere deep inside myself. This had never happened to me before, and it gave me a sense of permission I didn’t realise I was missing. These words- patience and forgiveness continually come back to me, even 4 years later as something I always need to check in on.
That day was the day I learned how vital movement is to our bodies. It is not just art, and it is not just about looking a certain way. It has been proposed that ‘the issues are in our tissues’- which is referring to so much more than just the physical. Chronic pain can be caused through an unacknowledged emotional wound, and if we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to listen, we might never learn the intelligence that resides within us, to heal.
I astounded my medical team with how quickly I worked through their list of recovery achievements. I was not only moving, but thriving through my physical rehabilitation. I may have been living in a dream world through survival mode, but my desire to keep moving literally kept me alive. It is incredibly common for athletes, artists, or anyone who has lost their sense of identity to slip into a deep depression. I won’t pretend the dark days weren’t there- because they were, and they were hard. But there was always a bright day to follow. A day where I got to move, to listen, and to learn more about the strength I had within myself- a strength we ALL have.
I have learned that recovery never really ends. It’s a day at a time, for the rest of my life. I have also learned, that I am still an artist. I may not have finished my degree nor do I take class regularly. But every day I get to wake up, and ask my body how it feels. I get to walk to work, and I get to move on my mat. Most importantly, I get to teach others that artistry is objective. It may not be traditional, and it may not be graceful, but any body moving from the soul in space is art, and you my friend, the artist.