The 12th New England Wushu International Chinese Martial Arts Championships in Connecticut came and went in a wink and–I survived! I am not quite sure how (really!), but I won 2 gold medals in the events my coach signed me up for. Since I did not get to practice due to illness the 2 weeks before the competition (COVID!) I was worried about making it through my routines. I was de-conditioned and totally intimidated by the excellent martial artists present at the event. It was really wonderful to experience true sportsmanship there because everyone was friendly and supportive. My events were sword (my favourite) and staff (signed up by coach; I do not like staff). I have only been doing this for 6 months and I thought I was in the Beginner’s competition (for those with under 2 years’ experience with once weekly classes). Unbeknownst to me, my coach signed me up for Intermediate (that’s the last time I’ll let her sign me up for competitions). It was too late to even sulk so I had to just go ahead with it. I had actually gone through the staff routine a million times in my head because I dreaded it so much and I knew it better than the sword routine. Yet somehow, I blanked out in the middle of it.
This was when all those years of dance training and performance came back to save me. I hadn’t performed in 7 years but when I blanked out in my staff routine I went into automatic mode. Keep moving! said the voice in my head. Never show you’re off. So I kept going and improvising, doing my best to channel my Inner Assassin. If I didn’t know the routine, the least I could do was to look like I could do some damage! I kept moving until my body picked up the routine again and I was able to finish it, bow and get off. Even though I had blanked out and messed up, I was pretty happy with myself for not stopping and for finishing. I had already won the sword event and I didn’t care about the staff but I was glad I had done my best. I hadn’t quit. That’s what dance has taught me and it has stayed with me, even after so many years. And then somehow, I won.
I was startled, to say the least. How was it even possible after my mess-up? I had been thrilled about my gold for the sword but this gold for the staff was–unreal. I kept running the routine in my head, recalling the blank-out moment, and wondering how it was possible to win after that. It’s been almost a month and now that I’ve processed it a little more I’ve realized you don’t have to be perfect to win. You can make mistakes, you can blank out, you can “lose it” for a moment, you can have periods where you don’t know what the heck you’re doing. You just have to keep moving, to hang in there and hold your ground no matter what. My eyes still well up a little when I think of this.
As we go into December I’m reflecting on what the year has brought me: certainly many challenges and even near-death misses, lots of difficult decisions and trials. Also amazing experiences and people. Most wonderful of all, I’ve reconnected with dance and movement. My dance background has been in ballet, modern, jazz, African (especially Senegalese Sabar), Afro Caribbean/Afro-Brazilian, some Bharatanatyam. For very personal reasons I stopped dancing for 7 years and this year I felt the urge to go back to class again. And now I can’t stop moving!
There is a very special group I’d like to acknowledge: the dance/movement tribe has always been my safe haven from all the cares of the world. No matter where I’ve gone in the world I’ve always found my footing when I went to a dance class and moved. This year, the people who helped me back onto my (dancing) feet are:
Carl Alleyne–we’ve known each other for years and danced, trained and taught in the same studios. And yet I’d never taken Carl’s class! When I thought about returning to class I knew I wanted to go to someone who exuded kind, healing energy and the first person who came to mind was Carl! It felt good to just dance at his Dance Party class on Saturdays and to start learning Hip Hop basics and choreo in the Hip Hop class. Plenty of good vibes for all levels. If you are in Boston, check out the Dance Complex or join an online class (dancewhereyouare.net). I need to check out his Locking class!
Sean Bjerke–this was the year for new movement in my body. First Hip Hop and then House! I had no idea what House was but since I was game to try something new I went for it. Sean did not disappoint. He’s able to break things down easily and I love how he gets us to challenge our minds with improv work, new patterns and complex rhythmic structures–certainly plenty of neuroplasticity work in his class!
Patrick Planet–yet another first. I discovered that Street is a combination of styles (jazz funk, hip hop, commercial, etc.) Patrick is an amazing dancer and teacher who is able to provide a nurturing and fun environment for all while pushing us out of our comfort zones. I love his attitude–“if you’re the best one in class, you’re in the wrong class.” It’s the essence of dance–always accessible and yet just out-of-reach for increasing levels of mastery. Towards the end of the year he was selected to be one of the Celtics’ Dancers and though he doesn’t teach class regularly any more, he’s brought new talents into the dance space.
One of them is Salih Bost, who has been subbing the Street class regularly for Patrick. Salih is gentle, engaging and rigorous at the same time. He’s always pushing us to do more and he’s very exacting on how a movement should feel and be executed. I love his musicality, his phrasing and his focus on performance.
Junior Cius–I just discovered Junior’s class. Again more Hip Hop, but oh wow! So many subtle nuances and flavours in just one short phrase (sometimes just in 2 counts). Like all the other teachers he is patient and accommodating but he pays attention to all the details.
Xiaoyi Chen and Calvin Wang–amazing Wushu teachers, both are able to seamlessly switch from teaching kids to adults. Xiaoyi has a way of making you do things you never thought you could. She gets you to take the first baby step (it looks like nothing, even the kids can do it!) and before you know it, you’re wondering how on earth you got signed up for a competition you don’t feel ready to be in.
All these dance and movement styles are new to me. I chose them to challenge myself and to bring new movement vocabularies and languages into my body. One of the best ways to enhance and extend the healthspan is to move. And the best way to improve cognition is to introduce new movement patterns into your life. There is good evidence that movement and cognition are related and I am planning to feature this on my podcast next year. (In case you’re wondering, I am averaging about 5-7 classes or 7.5-10.5 hours a week. It’s my therapy!)
As for NaNoWriMo, I wrote about 80% of a very ugly, messy, ickky first draft that will need LOTS of work. Lara Tupper, my friend and classmate from Warren Wilson’s MFA programme was my writing partner and she got a 100 page draft done! We’ve decided to keep our buddy system going for the next couple of months. Onward!
Lessons for 2022: 1) & 2) Keep Moving (mentally and physically), 3) Discomfort forces Growth, 4) When you’re lost, channel your Inner Assassin! 5) Accountability Buddies help you get the job done! 6) Life is a Fractal.