dance because you have to

This photo was taken three weeks after I had knee surgery. Medial meniscus, bucket handle tear they call it. They shaved it off so there was no more flap flipping and getting snagged in a rivet, divit, wherever. A mensicus is like a pool noodle curved in a C shape that is the padding between the bottom of your thigh bone – femur- and the bones in the lower leg – tibula and fibula. Imagine that, somehow, in landing a big juicy jump over the back of a chair during a performance, the pool noodle inside your knee twists and squishes in a way that it creates a little tear. Not such a big deal. I mean it was very painful. I kept dancing and even did a Q&A at the end of the performance. It was an early and rather dishevelled version of Dream Another Day – a feminist revisioning of James Bond. For Culture Night, at DanceHouse in Dublin, Ireland. As soon as the audience left, I collapsed to the floor and asked the technician to get me an ice pack and call a taxi. I could not walk.

After 3 days of icing, napping and hobbling, I could walk again. The napping indicated that something was really wrong. When the body experiences trauma, it shuts down in order to mitigate damage. It is like sleep but there’s a different quality to it. I think it’s probably the nervous system rebalancing itself. Sleep is the best way to integrate new information in the body.

That was September 23, 2016. In December I was back in Canada and after jumping on a mini trampoline to get a good video where the pain came shooting back, an MRI that confirmed this small tear. I was off again, to Spain. And there, an innocuous dance move as a glam exit after a night of performing throughout a giant art party at a disused warehouse in Barcleona, sent the pain shooting through my knee again. Luckily there were lovely folks around who offered booze, coke and weed to ease the pain. Ironically, the thing that eases the pain is putting that flap back in the right slot. It means that you sit on a counter or bench so that your lower legs dangle. Then you ask someone you trust to give that calf a good tug. And bite down on a belt. That should do it. In a gallant and misplaced move, the other time the flap flipped out of place, a charming Argentine picked me up in a carry-the-bride-over-the-threshold style to carry me from the site of the collapse to a chair. And in carrying me in this way, the passive weight of the lower leg created enough drag to adjust itself. When our gallant gentleman placed me on my feet again, I could walk. Hallalujah! I was dancing at the club the next night. It is a pretty fast recovery – from immense, totally consuming, cannot weight-bare, sharp, searing pain to being able to dance again, so long as the flap doesn’t flip out.

By the time I got onto the table in June of 2017, that tiny little tear had extended, like a bucket handle, the tear ran the entire edge of the C shape of the pool noodle. They shaved it off. And I was told to go easy, not to bend it or stress it too much and that I should be okay so long as I didn’t fuck it up. No turning on the left, no jumping.

Three weeks later I was in New York City. Barcelona International Dance Exchange had a satellite event at Gibney Dance in New York City and had asked my company, Stand Up Dance, to partner with them for the event. The first day we were improvising and I began to explore internal movement. How much could I feel the movement inside my body. Fluids, nerves, fascia, muscles moving imperceptibly.

Within a week we were devising a site-responsive performance. The wonderful Danielle Russo – check out the amazing social and climate justice, site-responsive work she is doing at drdp.org – led a session that combined memory and location and past and future to locate in the present. This was source material for a performance score. We got to the Brooklyn Bridge and walked up to it’s mouth.

I looked around. I sussed it out. I saw and felt the movement of the people on the bridge. So alive, so much movement. There is a very thick white line painted down the middle of the side of bridge separating pedestrians and cyclists. I put in my headphones, turned on the music and began walking backwards on the line. Then I closed my eyes and continued to walk backwards. Very slowly. Nothing happened. I kept going. As the music filled my head and I continued to feel the edges of the line through the soles of my shoes, I began moving in other ways. Dancing.

I am told that people bumped into each other to avoid bumping into me. It was a magical experience. Except that it wasn’t. It just was. It was just the experience that it was, for me. With my eyes closed and soaring music in my headphones, I let myself be transported into a sensory space where moving how I wanted to and following the impulses from one moment and movement to the next drove me.

45 minutes later, someone gently placed their hand on my back. I melted into them, about to give them all my weight. I tiny voice in my head whispered “What if it’s a stranger and they drop you and you fuck up the knee surgery?” I was in a state of total bliss and 85% in the moment. (There should be about 10% of your brain keeping you safe and 5% tracking the cool stuff you do so that you can recreate it later.) At that same moment, Danielle whispered in my ear “Find an ending”.

photo: Tristán Pérez-Martín, Barcelona International Dance Exchange NYC, Brooklyn Bridge, July 2017

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