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.
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.
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.
As of Friday, the company is back in the studio with 3 new “AB” dancers, “abled bodied/standees or what I refer to simply as bi-peds. There’d been auditions before and during the summer months, and I did my part to partner as we put them through the basics. Besides dancing aptitude, “AB’s” have to also have a comfort level when working with us “wheelies” (or “seated dancers”). There is always the initial awkwardness, the run-over toe, misplaced hands, the look of confusion when told to “tilt” one of us.
Now here I have to confess, that I have my own odd sense of humor. I find the funniest moments are the first time they drop one of us. It happens to wheelies just like any other dancer, but when you are not used to seeing one sprawled onto the floor or flipped over backwards, an instinctive panic goes across the bi-pedal face. In rehearsal, we are left to our own devices unless the “safe word” broccoli is called. Yeah you heard me, “broccoli”. And it’s a challenge too, like kids who don’t want to be the first one to say “uncle”. I personally would rather unstrap myself from the chair and crawl out of the carnage, especially if my “assistant” doesn’t know what they are actually doing. “Helpful help”, is gimp rule number 5.
Anyway, each wheelie was partnered with the different candidates, as each of our body abilities differ. From the seasoned pro, the “all abs” and the self referred “Gimp with a Limp”, I fall into line as the apprentice who just earned her place on the floor. The “ab's" approach us in their own ways too. There were the ones who are so caught up in their own “audition” that it was hard to really connect to them in partnered pieces. Others so focused on not trying to harm us, they almost certainly did. There were the gems who both had good dance ability coupled with an open mind. One stole my respect with an air of “I’m just here to dance, and so are you”. I confess to my bias.
When one finds themselves “otherwise capable”, due to a sudden event or a slow digression of the body, those around us, whether friends or passing acquaintances, make their own adjustments. It came to me that there is a sort of “audition” for them after the initial awkwardness of our new “normal” and you never know if they will make the cut. Some wash out, they can’t let go of their own preconceived ideas and comfort levels. Others “try too hard” and miss that we don’t want to be “inspirational”, we just want to get through our days. The keepers are the ones who stumble with the changes at first, but stay connected with us as people. Pretty soon though, they are moving right along with you, they hear the music. Those are the folks I want to stay, and in that way, dance with, cause they are the ones that “get me”.