That old saw: “write what you know.” I am still coming to know my body and our relationship has surely had interesting narrative turns. But as a Nia teacher, and now adding work with movement-challenged populations as an Ageless Grace educator, I am fascinated by my students’ relationships to their body stories–how they move, why they wince, the moments when they transcend themselves and I can literally see their souls moving underneath their flesh.
My students constantly surprise me. They are mostly women, typically between their late-forties and seventy years in age. They come to class for a variety of reasons, but mostly because they like the music and they love to dance. I’ve had a lot of different jobs in my life, but never one like this, where it daily feels like a privilege to be among them, to bear witness as they learn new steps or try new skills, often moving through pain or limitation. And whether by nature they are creaky and off-tempo or limber and rhythmic just doesn’t matter. I can see something of their struggle in life in how they move, in which movements or songs call them out of themselves and unlock their younger selves – transforming achy or self-conscious idiosyncracies into sudden bursts of playfulness, freedom or sensuality. Each of their bodies tells a story: I had colon cancer when I was in my fifties; here I am, dancing. Take that! I had breast cancer ages ago but that was child’s play compared to Parkinson’s; I’m just glad to be alive. I was a competitive ice dancer; now spinning makes me dizzy. I’ve always been a klutz, but I don’t care; look at me shakin’ it! I played three sets of tennis yesterday morning and another two last night; bring it on. I’ve been trying to lose these 10/20/30/40 pounds for the last 1/5/10/15 years; I feel beautiful when I dance. I haven’t slept well for the last year; this stretch feels so good.
Life in the physical body can be a pretty tough business. For some people, it’s a shit-storm of pain and frustration; for others, it’s the slow drip of diminishing returns. The luckiest among us may live pain and disease free, may even glory in good health, but we still find plenty to complain about. And yet, for all of us, there is joy to be had. That’s a body story.