What is the story of my birth? Well, my mother never really seemed to fit with my father. I think at the time, 1957, she was teaching elementary school, in Santa Maria California, after having been with him for about a year.
By all accounts, I was a happy baby/toddler. I remember climbing out of cribs a lot. I was a little performer, early, with all older siblings and their friends to entertain. A sweet, early memory is of galloping with a stick horse, cowboy hat on, around the pre-K childcare area at Santa Maria High School, where my mother was teaching at the time. I guess the climbing from cribs is the earlier memory.
I was born 10 miles from the ocean in Santa Maria, CA. It was a temperate climate, rarely getting down to freezing and rarely much over 80 degrees, and foggy sometimes. I was always comfortable in water, being likened at times to a “water sprite”. I played water polo in High School, which I gave up for acting in the HS plays, and later started dancing. Pretty much as soon as I started dancing in a formal way, I was offered scholarships and work in prestigious institutions, like the New York City Ballet School and the Oakland Ballet. I opted to train at SUNY Purchase in Purchase, New York, a conservatory-type institution in the state university system. I learned later that this was one of the top schools in the US for modern dance training (it still is.) Most of our teachers also taught at Julliard. I chose Modern dance instead of ballet because it suited my temperament and particular physicality, and did very well in the field. Once I became a full-time dance student and later professional, I gradually gave up the skiing and running that I used to love. After sustaining serious ankle injuries at 31 due to ankle bone spurs (which were supposed to be career ending) I started doing weight training to supplement the Pilates, Alexander, Dance training, swimming and water workouts that weren’t enough to get me out of bad chronic inflammation cycle. I continued working as a performer for another 15+years after that.
Weight training, wove its way into the fabric of my body then, for better or worse. Sometimes this can set up conflicts, which also result in injury. A rotator cuff injury, sustained recently while out dancing with friends definitely feels like the response of my arm/shoulder to recently received body work not setting me up to support the exaggerated speed and strength still present in my muscles/nervous system. In a twisting lateral arm motion, later snapping back to medial, while springing up into the air, I heard a “pop”. It’s swollen and painful. Sigh. I can tell that it will be better soon, though.
I’ve lived in big cities-NY, Munich and university town exurbs like Berkeley, Boulder or Norman, Oklahoma. Its great to be back here, near and among mountains. I feel good here.
My family has little bit of an uptightness tendency, physically. Some of it is just normal “shades of the old” Scottish sternness. We were not a “warm” and physical bunch, as I was growing up. Every one of us, including my mother, has been working on that, influenced by the general zeitgeist concerning individual growth.
I didn’t get to spend much time with my father. I’ve often wondered what I got from him, and once created a Dance Theatre work entitled “My Father’s Hands” which examined some of that. My hands are like my father’s, and he was very skilled with his, as an airplane mechanic and oil worker, refinery technician. My hands are strong and sensitive. I enjoy using them for piano playing, writing and Rolfing. ®
At this point, the main thing I’m remembering about my father is the time of his death, in 1990. I got the news through an answering machine message while at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts graduate school for dance. I completely lost control for a while, weeping and falling down one moment, talking and functioning pretty normally the next. The thing was, I got the news the first day of a five-performance run. The Dean of the department asked me to tough it out and perform for the shows, as I could not be replaced, and I assented. Actually, at the time I felt that he “would have wanted this”. I’ve wondered about this, since, but that’s what we did. My stepmother put my dad on ice for those five days, so that I could attend his funeral.
My cultural attitudes about the body are heavily colored by the world of dance and theatre that I was involved in and evolved into my whole adult life. Even earlier, as a 9 year-old, I performed child roles in the professional theater in the town. Throughout my life, I have performed in work that was at times aesthetically distanced, and other times confrontational with the audience, as in “physical theater”, Performance Art or Dance Theatre. Each style has a distinct aesthetic. I received a thorough grounding in the art form, after my undergraduate training in dance, from my first main engagement, for ten years, with the Murray Louis Dance Company, based out of New York City. We learned a technique and philosophy heavily influenced by the German Modern Dance tradition, which was rooted in the theories of Rudolf von Laban. I still enjoy performing very much, and this was one of the reasons I left my most recent university position, as Assistant Professor of Modern Dance at the University of Oklahoma.
I sustained several injuries in my career as a dancer, some deeper than others. I once threw my hip all the way out of the socket on stage in New York, and that has probably helped distort my pelvis since that time. My body map includes, but is not limited to, these injuries:
bone spurs in left big toe joint that limit movement; bunion formation, both feet; large bone spurs, about 7 total, in both ankles, some limits on movement; severe ligament damage, right foot; minor knee issues, both knees; continued weakness, loss of coordination, left leg/hip, seemingly from recent back injury; x-ray-MRI revealed moderate damage to disc at S1-L5, T11-12, cervical vertebrae, too; teeth issues; moderate/severe injuries to left arm at elbow; many minor injuries to both arms/shoulders; permanent ligament damage, left shoulder; current right rotator cuff damage, hopefully not too bad.
I suffered some serious physical manifestations-perhaps, in hindsight, of a need for massive change. In the summer of 2005 I wrenched most everything in my lower back out of place, between T11 and S1, in one quick maneuver. Somehow, I had gotten it in my head that in order to relax, after a difficult semester teaching at OU, it might be nice to lie around, get ou
t of shape, then go out and do intensely difficult things. Two months of this rhythm, plus the strain of an unhappy marital relationship, caught up with me in July when I injured myself jerking fence stakes out of the ground for a few days. It wasn’t my age, it wasn’t the activity, it was my stupidity. This was the worst back injury I’ve ever had, which is something in itself. I couldn’t stand properly on one foot for about 8 months after that (the sciatic nerve was/is involved, too) and I’m still dealing with it a little. In September of 2005 my Appendix burst, and I later got a secondary infection and had to stay 7 days in the hospital. The appendix rupture, the back injury, problems at home and at work combined to create an especially traumatic time for me. In retrospect, this made me a more empathetic healer and teacher.
I am constantly learning more about increasing my sensitivity to and focus on the needs of another’s’ body. I’ve learned many things about doing that through various meditative, reflective, imaging and somatic practices. I admit that some times it takes a crisis, unfortunately, to get me to meditate regularly. Among several disciplines, I use Yoga stretching and breath work, TM, journaling, and creative imagination work. Ideokinesis, which uses vivid imagery for imagined movement training, is also a deep practice, for me. Some times I source creative ideas through meditation, and some times I restrict that to working before resting. I usually engage in some sort of contemplative activity, in movement, writing or music, playing the piano by ear when I can find one. I am actively pursuing more in-depth education in Contact Improvisation, Continuum and psychology at this time.
Now, dealing with the life choices I’ve made, I am feeling “older” all the time. This isn’t so terrible, really. The acute edge of the age issue for me is this: I can’t get a job performing in a company that pays enough to live on anymore, for the most part. This is good in that it also allows me to spend more time creating stability, even if I have lost some of the “highs and lows’ of my professional dancer youth. Because of this, I am more available, now, to my listening, receptive, more feminine side
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