Saturday, 2 May 2015

May is EDS awareness month, so this seems like a time to write a bit of a post about dancing in a less-than-perfectly-functional body. I wrote a post a while back, originally for Yahoo Lifestyle, limited by their requirements, so I'm welcoming an opportunity to return to the topic from another perspective.

EDS is an inherited disorder that affects the soft tissue. I have Hypermobility Type which is a milder version characterised by extreme flexibility and therefore instability in the joints. There are various effects on the nervous system, digestion, skin etc, but the most noticeable effect is joint pain, frequent dislocations and fatigue.

While my previous focus was working around physical limitations, and staying healthy while dancing, today I want to focus on the psychological side. It is well understood that dance can do wonders for our psychological well being, from body confidence, to warding off depression and mental health issues.

Living with chronic pain or physical restrictions can be a war of attrition against your self esteem. It's very easy to become hung up on the things you can't do, or the times when your body can't meet your aspirations. Of course this can happen to anyone, regardless of their state of health,  but the more often it happens, the more frustrated you become and the more averse to trying again.

I grew up unable to consistently participate in sport, in a culture where athletic prowess was social currency. I spent my teenage years taking painkillers and throwing myself into endurance sports, where grit and determination would get me through. It made me tenacious, but it also left me with a lot of sprains and subluxations, because that's not what I'm made for.

Discovering dance was another matter. The great thing about Raqs Sharqui is that the movements, when executed with good technique and mindful alignment, are not damaging or extreme. The core stability afforded by regular training helps me to stabilise my joints, so this dance is physically good for me. There are some aspects I struggle with, you'll rarely see me use very deep level changes for instance, but I don't need to, the beauty in the dance doesn't come from increasingly challenging physical feats but through connection and expression with the music.

Learning to dance gave me an opportunity to feel good in my skin, which is an incredible blessing when your body feels like an inconvenience the rest of the time. As part of Dancing with the Red Goddess, I encourage dancers to do an exercise/meditation in body positivity, where they come up with a list of things their body can do. Dance is something my body can do, and I do it every day,  to keep strong and healthy, but also to remind myself that I can.

It restores the balance. I can't do some things most people can do, but I can do this one thing, with my body (besides the hilarious party tricks involving joints that move in entirely the wrong direction) that most people can't. There is satisfaction in that. It reminds me that differently able does not mean lesser.

There is enormous freedom and triumph in dancing despite the pain and fatigue.There is enormous therapeutic effect in finding artistic expression, strength and beauty through a medium that should be my most restrictive. Every movement is a poke in the eye for a condition that still makes it hard to move off the sofa some days. Dancing has taught me to care for my body better, because I need to be on my best form, because it is worth taking care of.

I have met some amazing people in the dance community. People who remind me why I need to keep dancing, people who keep it fun, and people who show me how to enrich my life through dance, even when I am not dancing.

I teach dance to all kinds of people, with all kinds of ability levels. I teach general classes, but also classes and workshops for pregnant, elderly or disabled dancers (including chair based dance). I do this because I truly believe that the benefits of dance, physical and psychological are something that everyone deserves to access.

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