PS for those who asked, My Grandma is still in hospital, but on the mend ~
Sometimes a thing can “work fer ye, or agisnt ye”. I find this to be especially true to my efforts in this post. Inspired by my time this summer in the BlueRidge, life here is often so simple, that it sets the mind a wondering. Here we fall into a rhythm of waking and resting with the sun, spend hours on the porch rather than a TV, and cell phones and other “new fangled devices” rarely get a good signal. A “trip to town” is either a place to get mail, tourist merchants, with a local eatery, or if you want to get real swanky, the nearest Wal-Mart.
It was there my train of thought began as I quietly noticed the local fashions. A tall lady with bright pink patent leather cow boy boots paired with Daisy Dukes and the biggest straw hat I’ve seen in a long while. (If you know my world THAT’S saying something) A lanky teen that was going for “goth”, but lost me in the blonde “big hair”, tied up with a skull ribbon. Then there was the “PJ” family: I don’t mean the current fashion of “pj pants as ok for public” sort of thing, I am talking 4 kids aged 3-10 in their PAJAMAS, as their array of “bed head” furthered the point. They turned the corner to their equally robed (and I mean “with a robe”) Mom, who called out to “Pa”. The dad, however, was in neat suit and tie to rival the best dress Mormon knocking on your door too early on a Saturday morning.
Right there, I realized, much to my chagrin, that *I* was staring. The same sort of behavior that I have heard often vilified on “disability” type forums and chastised myself to otherwise, well mannered adults. (I rarely fault children under 10, but I’ll get to that.) My eyes went immediately forward as I caught one of kids staring back at me. However, as time passed I thought about the idea of “attention”: the kind we draw to ourselves voluntarily and the kind we don’t.
The same folks who “dressed however they want” because (they say) “I don’t care what people think!”, can be the first to give a terse word if an on looker does so too long or with an expression the dress-ee doesn’t like. However, for the person whose outer appearance falls outside the norm NOT by choice, the overt gaze with or without accompanied facial judgment is a very different thing. It is true that some folks just “don’t got no home training”, to use a “mountain-ism”, and are being somewhere between thoughtless to an ass. It’s why good parenting says “don’t stare” without any disqualifiers. There will be things that fall out of our “normal” and will invoke a long second look, as the brain’s way of confirming “did I just see what I THINK I see”. Whether we LIKE it or not, whether it SHOULD be that way or not, there are honest folks who really are NOT around folks with disabilities and beyond doing a “reality check” their kafundled brains can make them do or say some really stupid things. So maybe the real issue is intent.
Young children are fountains of curiosity and, well plain talk. When mine were small and confronted with a “new” thing, I would encourage them to ask POLITELY whatever questions they had. When a child sees my chair, if the parent isn’t busy dragging them away, I say hi to them to let them know “yes, I get around different, but I’m really just a person.” Grandma always said the best way to understand folks is to start by making them comfortable. I take the lead most of time, as a way to defuse the awkward by normalizing the participants.
I personally do this with laughter. I meet their stumbling for whatever “word” they can use without offending me. I say plainly, “It’s easy, you’re bi-peds, we’re gimps: You annoy the sh*t out of us. Let’s move along.” By doing this, I have “just said it”. I’ve pointed to the elephant in the room and named it “Gimpy McGimperston”, with a hat and sparkles for the trunk. Let’s move on.
Bi-peds CAN be taught, and once we aren't such a novelty maybe they’ll stop staring, or recording me on the escalator with their cell phones.
(ADD your character and plot ideas in the comments below or Goggle plus or email me. I am thinking this is TOTALLY do-able!!)
ALL credit goes to my awesome friend GREEN who ran with the idea and who brained stormed the above, this being one of the reasons I love him with a million floaty hearts
PS I KNOW I promised a BlueRidge post...I'm still working on it ;)
Top Ten Gimp Rules As defined by me and mine:
1. Impromptu outings are as easy as nailing Jell-O to a tree.
2. When you fall down, before getting up, you wonder what else you can do while you're down there.
3. Don't let your friends push your wheelchair when they are mad at you. (or drunk)
4. EVERYONE is your friend in the amusement park lines (or during the Christmas shopping season) as the latest news from Disney World tell us
5. Please, only WHEN requested, and then only the HELPFUL help.
6. Using the fact that you look small and helpless to lure in your prey really saves a lot of walking.
7. Your handicap parking permit gives you dibs on "shot gun" on any given car drive.
8. If there is any easier way to do it, a gimp has already figured it out.
9. It doesn't matter HOW accessible a place is once inside, if we can't get into the place, it IS NOT accessible.
10.You may call us many things, but using the phrase “YOU PEOPLE” will ALWAYS piss us off.
Since then, the dance company has performed at the Inman Park Festival, began learning two new works, crafted another to be presented this weekend at the Modern Atlanta Dance (MAD) festival, throwing in a high school workshop and a round of "dragon" school shows. "Down time" has been dedicated to rehearsal, PT, work etc. (You heard the air quotes on that too didn't ya?) So in a moment of quiet I wanted to share one of those things that keeps me on task and mostly sane.
A frequent visitor to our class noticed my humming different tunes as I went through my prep for rehearsal. I explained that it was my "theme song" for the day. My doctor likes it that I have "motivational music" to help me stay up and moving. Some days, when I am facing an "adventure" i.e. life challenges, it's the theme from "Indiana Jones", over-scheduled days you can hear the Lone Ranger Overture. Multi multi-task days, the most common, I "insert Circus Music here". The idea is to move to the music in my head, keeping time to propel me forward through whatever sort of body issues are thrown in my way. I find when I can push along until rehearsal or any morning begins, in the end, I leave feeling better, even if it's a better sort of tired.
Theme songs set a tone, an emotional backdrop, for my mind. Thinking a happy tune can brighten your outlook, even if only to put a sarcastic spin on things. Venting via a hard bass line, or centering over a melodic one brings focus when my brain is racing with too many or even unconjoined thoughts. As a dancer, I seem to have the best performances when I remind myself to relax into the movement and let the music move me. My body knows the choreography; it's my mind that sets into panic.
I find, most of all, my daily tunes are good for the soul. That is why I advocate the practice to anyone. Use the old "mixed tape" format, on whatever music device you have (yeah, I still use actual tape) to put together a playlist as a way to start. Think of media characters, heroes or villains, as many come complete with a theme. Songs from childhood Saturday morning cartoons, opening notes from a family TV night, hummed memories of a grandparent. All these are the music that moves our spirits and our hearts, and can get us passed the chaos of street sounds or even voices of negative thought.
Before performance, there is a time to warm up and connect with the other dancers. In the wings, waiting in the silence, I remind myself to find calm, trust and have fun. When I can do that, the music in my head and the sound in my ears come together, and all I feel is, "I am a dancer….”let’s DO this!”
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March of Dimes N. Georgia Walk
April 12, 2013
My own research says mostly no, in regards to dragon myths in China. “as their ability to fly (and control rain/water, etc.) are mystical and not seen as a result of their physical attributes.” But since the name of the book we base our show on is called “Legend of the Chinese Dragon” I defer to the author, who says they do. Though it’s a good example on how much detail kids regard what they see.
4) Are any of the dancers from China….or Mexico?
I laughed at the child‘s attempt to frame the question in a politically correct format. One of our AB dancers is ethically Asian, and we used the opportunity to get them to find “Saipan” on the globe back in their classrooms. The smart alec in me wanted to point out our very Caucasian Bosnian and say “why yes, yes he is”…..but I digress.
2) Do you work out with weights?
For an answer, “All Abs” sports his guns to the thrill of every sighing girl and sexual confused boy in the audience.
The Follow-up question? Can he flex his muscles again?
Really, this question is asked at EVERY kid’s performance, sometimes multiple times in various forms. Their minds are suddenly opened to the possibility that what they perceive and what is actually possible might not be the same thing. So they guess that there is something incorrect in the perception. They note who can do what: Who can leave their chair and sit on the floor. Who can do a handstand. Who can move a foot. Surely if one can do THOSE things, then the chair isn’t a “necessity”. Even when our director thought to BEGIN the Q&A with the answer, it was still their number one query. I think their tenancy to wonder isn't so different than when adults do it, the real variable seems to be their reason for asking. Children wonder the why of things without real prejudice.
Sometimes the children phrase the question more along the lines of “Does it hurt?” It is the nature of a child to think that the unknown, in this case, being handicap, might be painful. We reassure them that we rehearse each move until we can perform it without injury. We also point out that like all dancers, seated or standees, sometimes we fall. And just like anything else in life, the important thing is to get back up and keep moving.
Unlike dancing in a club or otherwise for oneself, dancing as performance is what Gabrielle Roth once called the “Light of controlled Chaos”. When rehearsals transition into nonstop run throughs, the task is to get every movement exactly correct, all the while making it feel fresh and look spontaneous. However, it is surely then that things go awry. Roth also said, “Chaos has a shadow side, when it is not grounded. And that is just a panic”. Not really “stage fright” it is the added energy that makes dance going toward performance start to “feel different”. Making mistakes you've never done before, turning ways you can’t image, forgetting moves you done a hundred times. The only thing to do is breathe, turn nervousness into excitement, finding the balance, hopefully, before opening night. Prayer, lucky charms and kind words can go a long way towards that end.
Now in the week our director has given us off, I, for one, am using the time to catch up on my everyday tasks and much needed sleep. The knot on my noggin all but gone, my feared broken toes are still black across the ridge, but only bruised. I find I am getting antsy, ready to create again, eager for that wonderful “controlled chaos” that turns learned patterns into art, and simple counts into music of movement and life.
Somethings are harder to put "out there" more than others; and I hesitated on this post. In the spirit of the journey....
Moving hurts. There’s the added physical exertion of course, the boxing, transporting, cleaning, unboxing…. But there’s also the emotional side. Even when movement is a positive thing, there is a sort of awkward melancholy that a thing that was so much a part of your everyday is changing. Goodbye to old ways of doing things, arrangement of your things, even the view from your window. You feel disoriented, as by habit your body is interrupted from falling into old patterns. You have to stop and remind yourself where you are and the relationship between that and everything else.
Dancing can be that way too, especially when the WAY you are doing it is so different from what you were used to. Trained as primarily an actor, blocking is really just choreography without the music. I once rehearsed a show in a space that had a large support beam in the middle of center stage right. When we moved to the performance space, actors were still unconsciously “going around” the now nonexistent pole. It took several reminders before new patterns took over. I find that I have been wrestling with a similar dilemma on some interesting levels.
Though my means of conveyance has changed, the original equipment still exists and functions to one degree or another. (NOT reliably, which is a major issue is bi-pedal locomotion). Part of the time, I know I have to restrain my legs from interfering with the chair’s ability to move fluidly. Others I have to use old habits in a new way. When one goes into a front tilt, the torso should react in the same way it once did to “stand straight up”. However what I’ve been working through these days have been directions to NOT use attributes that I do possess.
In our troupe, “All Abs” can literally do handstands and cartwheels while strapped firmly into his chair. “Gimp with a Limp” does a move where he stands on his two feet with chair strapped to “shake his groove thing” in one piece. “Seasoned Pro”, tiny and light, is often lifted chair and all, and carried “crowd surfing” over the troupe. My body shape is none of these things, and my current chair not designed to do many of the things we do in dance, and I often feel frustrated. I internalize the issue as being seen as a character flaw: “You are not trying HARD enough”. I go home and practice tilts and leans till sides are bruised and straps have worn away skin, but too often this doesn’t prove out in rehearsal. Now I don’t want sympathy here, I am doing what I should and NEED to do. What the goal here is results, so I thought of what our director always says “ADAPT”
I have two feet, and when not trying to hold up unreliable hips and knees, they work pretty well. So it seemed logical that if adaptation is about using what you have, using them to overcome a chair built NOT to tip over into accomplishing that feat, that would be a good thing.
Yet, I can tell, in the eyes of my colleagues, it is “cheating”. Being schooled in a technique that doesn’t address the real issues of my body and chair do not produced the same results. But to say so in class is met with “making excuses”. Tones begin to show agitation that I don’t “just do it”. I understand that dance often requires uniformity, so where do I go from there? I don’t have an answer yet, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. The physical hurt I can take, but the emotional pain is something to work out for one's self, maintaining that professional distant.
It’s been ten years and there have been some things medical science has been able to “fix”, and some that it cannot. I arm myself with knowledge and a regime to keep me mobile and self reliant. It isn’t my nature to forever grieve and there are things bigger and better in life than unencumbered walking. (Yeah, I said it!) If I have learned anything from life, it’s adapt and move on. Given the opportunity, I knew it was my chance to “dance anyway”. A year later, the title “professional” dancer is, by definition, correct, but I have much to learn to reached the skill level I see in the Company. Another day of mastering “tilts” in rehearsal today kicked up a familiar demon in me.
My orthopedist calls it the “fear/pain response”. Fear causes the body to hesitate, pain cause the body to “lean” away from the cause. Though it is “normal”, one has to constantly be aware that hesitation can lead to panic, leaning to inappropriate compensating and BOTH can lead to a heap of body on the floor. Falling has its consequences beyond bruises, but that is true for everyone. Seated dancers don’t statistically injure themselves more often than standees. We’ve all taken out each other’s toes and delivered a limb to an eye. I knew I wasn’t really afraid of the drop or even pain. I know falling is just a means to the end of gaining experience and confidence of what I CAN train my body to do. But….
“What if I never measure up, what if I can’t be as poised, as quick, as precise, as strong, as…..
ah, there it was……. Failure.
“Never giving up” doesn't always mean success, and practice doesn't always make perfect. These are hard truths in an optimistic heart. But beyond “try try again” is something our director often says, ADAPT! We are all pushed to the standards of the most accomplished around us, and we judge ourselves accordingly sometimes. Yet, if the boss sees it isn’t working, it doesn’t mean one is “out”. Like any artist, the laws of physics can be an inconvenient truth, but it is also a sign that he never thinks of us inside a box, off in a corner or “confined to a chair”. Sometimes adaptation is the mother of invention, and a close kin to imagination too. Now that is the kind of “inspiration” I can seriously get behind. So, setting up this evening on icepacks, I can at least know that today I didn’t give in to fear, took the fall, and have the proud bruise to prove it.
I have a new post for "Back on the Floor" in the works, but since one of the things I love (with a million floaty hearts) is a great youtube that shows the joy and laughter dance can bring to anyone and everyday. This one shows how Mom's "line dancing" and Son's "hip hop" meet in a wonderful wacky way!
It’s been a week since I took off for one of my favorite times of year: DragonCon. Once, only a time to earn extra bucks working the dealers’ room, being a roadie for the band, or acting as escort and “My Girl Friday” to the likes of DeAnna Troi or the chick from “MythBusters, it has since morphed into a combination college class reunion and vital away time from “mom” duties. Sure I still bartend a bit or watch a booth from time to time, but after 26 years, it is mostly this girl’s time to R &R.
Time to let my hair down, literally. Being in rehearsal, dance class and the gym so much, my hair pretty much lives piled on top of my head. Con is the place to nurture my inner “pretty girl” with fancy dress, make up and real hair styles. It is also the season for dancing; club style, Irish gig, slow couple sway. I’d been shy to show my moves outside the Company, plush carpets and crowds with unguarded toes made it difficult to be inconspicuous on the dance floor. . I had already wasted the first night on the sidelines, nursing the old feelings of lost. However, my apprenticeship had taught me control in small spaces and built muscle in my arms to cope with tough terrain The music called to my heart, wine and friends made my bold. I took a deep breath, and spun out to the middle of it all.
I ignored the shocked looks and cell phones capturing what to them was an unusual sight. I focused on the beat, the smile of my partner, the feel of the floor. Soon the karaoke singers drew the focus, and I relaxed. The following night, at the Mechanical Masquerade, dressed in our steampunk finery, I danced alone, swung between two handsome men, and even the “time warp” with my gang. Resting between sets, well wishers whisked away by my entourage as their admiration was about to turn “inspirational”, I looked back out at the crowd. Ok, so now, “Dances with Wheels” might be a novelty, but repetition can breed acceptance, or at least a level of mutual comfort. That’s a good thing, cause I got my dancin’ shoes back on, high heeled and wheels pumped. My place on the bench is gonna be empty, and who knows, next year I hope to be joined by others who, not matter what life dishes out, are gonna dance anyway.
One challenge in being in a company, is that with new choreography, I can be left/right dyslexic. I know it's just that I am concentrating "too much" but there's a part of my brain that has to take it's step by step "logic" before it can allow the rest of the body to really dance. So when I was asked for the first time to show a movement to our new "AB" dancers, I simply demonstrated while giving them the count I'd so carefully drummed into my brain. However, the count for them was awkward and off. Turning to watch, I realized the mistake was two fold and MINE.
Smiling at me patiently they demonstrated that they had TWO sets of appendages that needed movement and they DIDN'T need an extra count sneaked in for a wheel push to continue to move forward. Though I spent a lot of my 20 years in theatre dancing and directing musicals, the change in modus operandi is still being processed in my poor backwards mind. Though I am starting to find some movements in my chair more "natural" , there are times, I know, that my two feet, are causing me to stumble. Only when I strapped my feet down to the plate was I able to make my first semi successful side tilt today. That and the kindness of a dance partner who encouraged me with a smile to take my time and find my way.