Seven and a half years ago I checked myself into treatment. I struggled with my addiction and knew the only way I could help myself and my family was to become fully immersed in a recovery program. I thought I was going to be there for five weeks. It turned into thirteen.
The post I’m sharing today, titled Why Scientists Agree That Dancing is the Best Way to Get Fit and Live Longer, reminded me of my eighth week there.
There was an art therapist I saw a few times. She was tiny, extremely calm, and very sweet, yet highly intimidating. After being immersed in an art project she would then interpret what we made to the entire group. Her interpretations were eerily accurate, opening up windows into our thoughts and our souls.
For example, she once gave us a handful of molding clay. She asked us to go outside and throw it against the wall. You know, to get it malleable and easier to work with.
Looking back, I wonder if she was also watching our body language. I was pitching this muddy mass of dirt hard into the wall. In my head, I wanted it to stick. I believed that the harder I threw it, eventually it would adhere to the surface. It never did, always bouncing off. I pretended I was the baseball pitcher I never had the skills to be.
I wonder, if by watching me, she already had diagnosed my project?
We went back inside and she asked us to make anything we wanted. I had no idea what to do. I’m not artistic. I mean, I do cross-stitch. But I cheat. I follow a pattern that tells me exactly which stitch to put where. I don’t do well coming up with something on my own.
I roll the clay around and around in my hand until it forms a ball. I then start smoothing all the edges. I mean, it has to be perfect right? I take some water and smooth out the cracks. Around and around I go. And yet, every time the clay starts to dry, it cracks again. More water. More smoothing. Drying. Cracking. More water. More smoothing. This continues for 45 minutes.
I once again think back and wonder what my body language looked like. Inside I know I was getting frustrated. I wanted this thing to be as smooth as a baby’s behind. I was concentrating hard on making this perfect sphere, and yet, no matter what I did, I couldn’t get it right. I was determined that I was going to succeed, but I kept failing at every turn.
And then she told us, “Stop.” No warning.
I sighed and placed the ball in front of me. The art therapist walked around the room, one by one examining our pieces and telling us what they meant. I watched as my clay dried and looked like an earthquake in action as the cracks got wider and wider. My anxiety was at an all time high.
The art therapist stopped at mine and hesitated. She looked at me not saying a word. After a while she said, “This ball is your anger.”
What??? Anger? I don’t have anger. What is she talking about?
“See how big your anger is?”
Angry? I’ve always been happy go lucky, spreading joy where I go. Where the heck did she get her psychology degree anyway?
“I want you to put a hole in your ball.”
A hole? Ruin my masterpiece? Lady, do you know how long I worked at making this thing perfect and now you want me to destroy it? Even though I didn’t say this out loud, I’m sure the death stare in my eyes was screaming it for me.
“Take this string, place it through the hole, and wear this ball for the next 24 hours. I want you to experience what it feels when you carry your anger around with you.”
See what I mean. Intimidating. Scary. Like she can read minds or something. How did she know?
What does that have to do with dancing? Patience my Fledgling.
A couple of weeks later our art therapist gave us another project. We were to lie down on a large piece of paper, have someone trace our body, cut it out, and then we were told to paint it.
Once again, non-creative me had no idea how to paint my self portrait. Do I paint it with pants or shorts? Bare feet or with shoes? Short sleeve shirt or a collared long sleeve? How about just a bunch of multiple colors, like some abstract modern art? I chose the latter.
Looking back, I can’t remember if I had already won my proposal to have my iPod removed from the safe (they took all our electronics) so I could hook it up to the speakers on the computer so we could have music in the house. I’m not sure if I was humming to myself while I was painting. I do know that I was in a different space this time, more relaxed, more free, and once again deep in my work.
A bit of blue here. A splash of pink there. Purple dots. Red blotches. After a while, my self portrait was a conglomerate of various colors. Other than the simple looking eyes, nose, and mouth, and the shape of a body, there was no other way to tell that my piece of art was a human portrait.
When it dried, the art therapist looked at it and asked me to take it by the hands. What a strange request.
“I want you to dance with yourself.”
Really? In front of all these people?
“Don’t be afraid. Just let go and be free. Dance.”
What do I have to lose? I mean these people already know my deepest fears and secrets. In that brief moment, I shut off the outside world and the pairs of eyes staring at me.
I took the hands of myself and started swaying back and forth. Then I break into a Polka-ish Waltz. You know, Shall We Dance from the musical King and I.
I switch to Swing, trying to spin a paper version of me (without ripping my arm off). I slide myself under my legs and pull me back out. Then I lift me over my head, like Baby in Dirty Dancing. Wow! Very easy when Baby’s as light as a piece of paper.
I’m transported into a world of music inside my head. I feel free. I feel joy. I feel love. I feel life. I dance.
“Phoenix, you see?” The art therapist’s voice brings me back to present. “You must never stop dancing. Music is in your soul. You come alive. Dance with yourself daily.”
Less than a year later I DJ’d a dual birthday party for my two daughters, which later morphed into DJing at the elementary school. Charity events, birthday parties, weddings, school dances, and next month I’ll be DJing for the fourth year in a row at my annual 12-step retreat. Music goes with me wherever I go.
Flying and music. Both my passions.
Flying is solitude and meditative, sharing it with a select few. Whereas music is connection, where I bring people together because of a common love.
Dance is where we allow our inner children to be free to express themselves.
Dance is where we fly on the ground.
May all my Fledglings never stop dancing.
Watch at least the first two videos below. I bet you’ll be smiling and grooving in your seat as you watch.
Allow music and dance to be a path to help you rise up out of the ashes.
Can’t Stop The Feeling
– Justin Timberlake
Evolution of Dance
Shall We Dance
– The King and I
Time of My Life
– Dirty Dancing
Dancing Through Time
~ Evolution of Dance