What if anxiety is a habit?

This month, I’m taking classes at Urban Movement Arts in Center City Philly. In my first intro to breaking class, I got to relearn the basic components of a 6 step. I’ve always been a little shy about my upper body strength especially in breaking, but what made me feel free and empowered in the class was what the instructor, BBoy Metal emphasized: That the foundations are the key to freedom and creativity. By learning and drilling the basics, a dancer is free to explore their creative expression with and against the music.

Here’s the nugget of wisdom that got me thinking about creativity and liberation:

Bboy Metal said that it’s hard to get good at something by only doing it once a week. Even just a few minutes of daily practice helps develop strength and skill.

Time is precious. The ways we use our time forms our present and our futures.

And it made me think, if habits are cultivated on a daily basis, what if anxiety is also a habit that can be grown? What if feeding anxiety gives it power to direct and inform our lives? I’m thinking about worrying without stopping to breathe and recenter. Hustling to meet deadlines without pausing to be grounded. The opposite of staying present in the moment without fear of immediate or imagined consequences.

And this is present in my forethought mostly because of my current to do list. Quite frankly, I’m wondering if I will accomplish everything I said I would do. If this sounds like a familiar set of circumstances, I send you a virtual high five and a reassuring hug squeeze that you are capable and totally in charge.

Yes, as a creative it’s easy for me agree to organize 100 things, and to do some things more thoroughly than others. But I would be blocking myself to being whole, effective, and present by cultivating a disposition of worry rather than a disposition of clarity and proactive problem solving, decision making that allows for the best possible outcome and the ability to release what no longer serves a project and to adjust expectations.

Although there are many important and necessary things for me to give me energy and capacity to, I know I can’t do anything without a daily practice of liberation through being creatively and spiritually present.

Here’s to cultivating powerful, liberatory mindfulness. Because I feel most like myself when I am creative and whole.

Dancing In the Moonlight

Every once in a while I have moments where I feel like my life is an actual Step Up movie.

There are are a couple of things happening in the Step Up movie series, and several dance films throughout the late 20th and early 21st century like it: Commentary on social status and witnessing a dancer’s transformation.

Sample storyline: Classically trained (usually female) dancer enrolled in a pre-professional or conservatory program comes from a family that is well off and upper/middle class expectations attached to that. Female dancer protagonist falls in love with a b-boy. Classically trained dancer then grapples with their own privilege and artistry through being exposed to the world of hip hop. Alternative (or simultaneous) sample storyline: Hip hop dancer is out to prove themselves in an institutionalized and/or competitive dance setting. Hip hop dancer of either gender challenges the status quo of institutionalized training or queers the norms of the dance competition outcome. And it all completely galvanizes what happens on a proscenium stage.

In the classical concert dance world there can be underlying creative elitism – awareness of who has gotten which funding, which artist has certain accolades, and slowly working towards some kind of approval from those with seniority in the field. Lots of pretty, architectural dancing from lean bodies that emphasize how a dance is read, not necessarily how it is experienced. I’ve been disappointed by established dance companies in the past because the work didn’t move my soul.

Essentially, I think the Step Up effect is a process of self actualization through popular vernacular dances and community – being deeply connected with the kind of groove that classical or postmodern concert dance doesn’t necessarily teach you. And I’m aware of how present that has felt for me in recent months, especially through salsa and bachata.

I have these Step Up movie moments in my actual Philly life. Picture New Year’s Eve with all its anticipation in the air, walking through a rainy parking lot, bass blaring, seeing my friends from Hardwork Movement backstage at the Electric Factory, and feeling like such a cool kid inside. And the night didn’t end there – afterwards a friend and I went out dancing at a local Ethiopian bar/restaurant in West Philly to ring in the New Year. I felt free and deeply connected with the community I was dancing with.

Dancing at late night hours has completely rewired my approach as a performer. I feel transformed by what I’ve experienced dancing between 11 pm and 2 am. There are many profound things happening in those late night dancing hours.

And what’s refreshing and life giving in social dance is the feeling that none of the ego/production/spectacle stuff matters. In social dance, strangers of all ages and walks of life are absolutely extraordinary and there is a generosity extended in connecting with many different dance partners. I can meet someone dancing for the first time, feel shared joy and mutual appreciation, and receive an abundance of creative affirmation.

I’m also struck by the element of anonymity – what I perform in a social setting isn’t connected with any value judgement of my daytime vocation or class status. It feels like such a space to celebrate expressions of identity and redefine what identities can be in real time.

Dancing for hours late at night builds community building. Feeling reenergized through connection with music and people is empowering. The ease of leading, responding, co-creating with dance partners in real time connects me with my sense of fearlessness. And being part of a dynamic, moving dance floor as a collective while being celebrated by the community within is deeply healing.

How I Heal: 4 Recommended Approaches

Over the last year, a prominent and recurring theme for me has been healing and self care. The last time I went to acupuncture and shared my symptoms with my local acupuncturist from West Philly Community Acupuncture, she shared that she once read that 80% of our anxiety isn’t ours. She said to me, “you’ve been picking up on other people’s bullshit.”

A big learning curve for me this year was learning how much replenishment I need in a line of work where I am constantly giving of myself to others as a Teaching Artist. In my Trauma Informed training with the Bartol Foundation last fall, we reflected as a cohort on the importance of self care when working with participants who have experienced trauma.

And I’ve been especially enjoying the mantra I’ve picked up from The Artist’s Way: Treating myself like a precious object will make me strong.

Here are 4 regular practices I use to restore myself:

  1. Massage
    1. As a dancer, I need myofascial release and restorative bodywork from all the training, teaching, and performing I do. Massage is an essential part of my maintenance regiment like stretching and good nutrition. I go at least once a season and take cues from when my body feels especially sore or fatigued after intensive periods of stress or movement.
  2. Acupuncture
    1. I had plantar fasciitis as a teenager and the last time it flared up in 2017, it was cured in just two sessions. Not to mention the holistic benefits of acupuncture like improved sleep and alleviation from anxiety and depression. It’s good to give specific attention to injuries, and it’s also good for restoring balance at a physiological level. Plus acupuncture naps are some of the best kinds!
  3. Reiki
    1. I had a powerful reiki appointment this month that allowed me to experience a level of self awareness I have never experienced before. I was able to make peace with difficult moments from the year. I was able to savor moments that connected me with my sense of love and tenderness, and felt affirmed by moments related to purpose. I felt able to rest and surrender.
  4. Yoga
    1. My favorite place to practice yoga is Studio 34 in West Philly. It’s excellent cross training for any vocation or modality, allowing for greater flexibility, strength, and balance. What I benefit from the most from in yoga is mindfulness. I am present with my breath, my mind stills, and I connect with my personal sense of inner strength.

There are endless ways to heal. Time spent in the woods on a scenic trail is clarifying, the sound, smell, and sensation of the ocean and beach has healing properties, and exercise gets the blood pumping and endorphins flowing. My favorite form of cardio is riding my bicycle around town.

There is powerful purpose in taking the time to heal. When we are more whole as individuals, we are more resilient for the purposeful work we show up for. Healing allows us to release what we inevitably take in that isn’t generative. And we embody what it is to be compassionate and generous to the world around us when we practice that for ourselves.

Saltwater

I found myself again – late night on Girard Av chismeando with my queer Latinx friends

In the rhythm of cumbia and ancestral sounds coming alive

I found myself in the Pacific Ocean

running fiercely, bravely into the water

diving into the the tide then allowing the waves to rock (and comfort) me

I found myself in the rhythmic circularity of my hips and when I discovered through bodywork that the musculature of my hips was completely (re)structured by (re)turning to my Latinx movement roots

I found myself between 11 pm and 2 am in Old City inside the rhythm of bachata – a powerful expression of community, reciprocity, consent, abundant joy that overflows

I found myself using my body and my voice in the movement, entre la lucha

I found new volumes of heartache that I didn’t know I could experience

I found closure when I put to rest the very real feelings of sadness and loss that my 7 year old self carried for nearly 20 years

they call it a journey of clarification

I found my roots and felt how nourished they were and how carefully they needed to be protected

And that they were the source of my power and wholeness

Full Cold Moon 2018

Photo: Natasha Cohen-Carroll

Late December is a soulful time – the rhythms of this time of year feel like weariness, mourning, and introspection mixed with rest, warmth, and celebration. Joy and sorrow are in continual dance. The last full moon of the year came the day after winter solstice and I was reflecting on renewal in darkness. And I was inspired by these words from Adrienne Maree Brown:

“tonight, it is a time for letting go. here is a recipe for release:

i release my fear of the dark. i promise to trust that the shadows will shift as i grow and change.

i release any grasp oppressors still have on my attention. i promise to give my dreams and waking life to that which inspires me, and those who love me.

i release any traces of scarcity in my heart. i offer love, joy and connection from the incredible regenerating well that is sourced from the very miracle of my own life.

also…thank you moon, for bathing us in light, for showing us the rhythms between light and dark. thank you for moving me so viscerally that i cannot sleep, for pulling the tide out of me, and for teaching me the sacred value of reflection.”

adriennemareebrown.net

In this season of shedding what is no longer needed and inviting in the new, being present with my continuous tenderness, I’m sitting with reflections on all that 2018 was and visioning for 2019 with excitement and faith.

2018 was a year of deepening into vulnerability and resilience. I experienced aching, tremendous healing, and thriving. I grew exponentially in courage. My heart has more depth than before. I have the clarity I was yearning for, beautiful new friendships, excitement for where I am going, and nothing but gratitude going forward.

And starting this process oriented blog feels like a good fit for where my creative head/heart space has been – I’m now in week 8 of working through The Artist’s Way and it has been immensely effective, to say the least. Morning pages have been effortless. Being present with my creative recovery has allowed me to approach current and upcoming projects with greater clarity. My website has a new identity. I was reaffirmed that writing is an important and super valuable creative practice where I feel at home. I have always loved writing and I am cultivating more aspects of my penchant for words – like reading poetry and writing song lyrics.

These are some of my starting goals for this blog, I’m interested to see how they will evolve: To document the extraordinary in ordinary moments. To commit to a public writing practice as companion piece to my ongoing work at the intersection of art making and movement building. Cross pollinating with the work of others who inspire me. Sharing tangible goals for 2019 that will unfold with time.

I have always loved storytelling – I’m excited to do so with a modality that inspires shared reflection regardless of distance, interaction, and connection on and offline.

Seguimos pa’lante!