FISH SLAP: an exercise in forced air
Updated: Sep 29
My right knee is packed in ice right now. After a year-and-a-half of wrestling and trying to rehab this injury, it finally and fully displaced a few weeks ago. After a brilliant little stint of rehabbing it, I bent down too deeply last night and it went out again.
This injury started out in the hip. After exhausting my legs teaching a shimmy and footwork workshop, I bombed across state lines with the costumes I still had in the car from the previous night’s show, to cover an important event another dancer had flaked on. Unfortunately, nobody told the owner that I am a fusion dancer. This is why I always ask, “Okay, they know, right? They know they’re not getting anything close to traditional, right?”
“Oh sure-sure-sure, they’ll love you.”
In fact, only the table of American college kids loved me. They adored me so much they stopped me on the way out to say what a breath of fresh air I am. The owner and his traditional clientele, however, did not. In fact, he nixed all my music after seeing what I do during the first set. For the second set, he did not give me Turkish music, like we’d agreed on. He gave me orchestral, sweeping Alf Leyla Wa Leyla.
While I was wearing two 25 yard skirts.
And heavy metal.
And ginormous tassels!
Now, I’m talented, but to embody the subtlety of that song when the outline of my hips is completely hidden in gathered fabric and the adornments on them are huge, low, and chunky?
I finally gave up and just started swinging the darn skirts around because it was the only thing that could do justice to the sweep and elegance of the music.
I have no doubt they thought the ignorant ‘Merican had no idea that those moves are a bastardizing affront to such a classical piece, because the Show Must Go On and I swept into that performance like I was moved by a dozen gods to do so.
The second song was some bouncy Egyptian pop number I’ve never heard because I don’t dance to Egyptian pop. He hated what I did to that piece so much that he changed the music mid-song.
He actually pushed SKIP in the middle of my dance.
I could only be grateful, because all that bouncing and fast-fast-fast on concrete was killing my hip.
Let it be known, once and for all...
I DO NOT DANCE RAQS SHARQI, BALADI OR SHAABI.
I DO NOT DANCE TRADITIONAL ANYTHING.
I DO NOT EVEN DANCE AMERICAN CABARET.
I FLIPPIN’ DANCE FUSION AND PEOPLE WHO HIRE ME NEED TO KNOW THAT!
Because if they don’t, they wind up with unreasonable expectations of me, thinking I can provide the ambience their clientele has come to expect. They also cannot be expected to have a clue what a fragile thing this body is, with its gazillion injuries because I was once told I’d never be a dancer again.
That was incorrect.
But I have to be soooooo careful.
Whenever I put together a set list for a 2 hour show, I do so with great intention because otherwise I will injure myself, especially if it's on concrete. My music will alternate between fast and slow, and the inspired moves alternate between upper and lower body, between stationary and traveling, between big and intricate. This varies up which musculature I use for the duration of the show, and prevents me from burning out any one thing.
The martial artist in me says I should have protected myself better. That I should have stopped the show. That, just like he skipped the music, I should have skipped right out the door on my ever-more-pained hip, and then skipped to my car, leaving him in the lurch, because the few songs he test-drove finally settled on Shik Shak Shok.
Seriously? After all the earthy Turkish tunes he’d shown me backstage, we get more boingy-bounce?
I was in so much pain, so pissed off, and so mortified with my inability to do anything remotely acceptable to that music in that costume on that hip, that I told him through my bawling to just not pay me for the night.
We compromised. For the final set, he picked out all the fast-n-furious of my songs that he could tolerate. It was the best we could do. This was a big annual event and very important to him. It was also important to my dance group, as they’d been trying to get in on this particular venue for years. Unfortunately, all we had was me for the audition.
Well, a year and a half later, they all still dance at this place, and I am still sitting here on my ass, now switched to the heating pad on my displaced knee.
Because that injury to my hip descended down my leg. This is a compensation injury that acts up on occasion after my left hip was torn up in my first big car wreck. When it reached the ankle, my chiropractor and I finally were able to halt the progress. It started healing. I started dancing. BOOM. Back to square one. It started healing again. I finally got to the point where I could kneel on it. There were still random days when it would thunk horribly—not merely pop. No, this is misaligned bones thunking back into place. But at long last, my hips were in agreement: they would both allow me to shimmy and bounce, and do floorwork to my heart’s content.
My knee, on the other hand, waged an irrefutable protest.
I’m hoping to finally get the approval on PT. Unfortunately, my doctor keeps prescribing therapy for a “chronic knee injury,” specifically the patella. Ummm…no. My patella stays put. It's my femur and tibia misaligning, and this injury is new. The chronic issue is my hip that gets out of place whenever my neck goes out, and THOSE are what I truly need to have rehabbed, but apparently this is a really lengthy scheduling process for we disabled suckers on Medicaid. It will involve an MRI—whoooaaaahhhhh…really?! Sweet! I haven’t had an MRI since 2001, six months too late to usefully diagnose my brain.
I will love getting an MRI, because I’ve absolutely had it with this. I’ve also had it with the way my shoulder/neck injury makes my right arm go numb almost every night, and frequently during the day. I’ve had it with with mid-back tweak I’ve had since my second car wreck. I’ve had it with the brain problems I go through whenever my neck is misaligned for too long and backs up my cerebrospinal fluid inside my skull. (Yes, we discovered that was the culprit of my seizures.)
Naturally, I go through days of injury-depression. It’s to be expected. These things aren’t fun, but I’ve done this before. Over and over and over since 2000 I have done this. I know the drill. I know I’m going to be crabby and mopey and lost and sad. I know I’m going to be mad, because I was just starting to build a glorious momentum of daily dancing and consistent training after years of sporadic surges. I know I’m going to have to find other ways to entertain myself.
“Good thing I have all this writing to do! Good thing I’ve got all these online courses to finish! Good thing I have a whole rebrand/website/email list/sales funnel to plot! Good thing I decided to compose my own music so I can teach Elements without going bankrupt! Yaaaaaaaaaaay!”
Naturally, all this time on my untasseled tushie gives me the space to ponder.
Naturally, my pondering leads me to silver linings and the big ah-hahs gifted by this particular setback. Well, I had several epiphanies during that initial week of recovery. The first drove me to at last act on my decades long suspicion that I should become obsessed with drumming. (As if I didn't have enough obsessions to spread me thin...)
Then, as I lay on the floor with glazed eyes, methodically breathing through pain management with that evil little tennis ball gouging into my hip, it occurred to me that I am in desperate need of SLOWWWING...DOWWWWWWNNN...
It would appear as though this is 100% anathema to my Almighty 2018 Goal. That it blows my 90-Day Plan out of the water. That it flicks the dream of reclaiming my financial independence—This Is The Year, RAWR!—right off the table.
In actuality, it is going to put me exactly where I need to be, with the energy and focus resources to accomplish these huge projects I'm trying to get off the ground. I know this. Not only do I FEEL it in my guts and my heart, I have done this enough times to have transformed the hypothesis into a highly experimented theory.
When you’re climbing up the cliffside by tooth and cracked, broken claws with your eyes single-mindedly focused on the top, it sometimes becomes difficult to see the full magnitude of what you’re asking of yourself. Particularly when you keep forgetting that this little hunk of flesh and bone is subject to the laws of gravity and inertia in a different way from the mind.
Well, when one’s palsied hand finally slips off the rock and you’re eeeeep-ing through the air again, that’s a pretty good reminder.
Thank all the chortling Gods for overhanging branches that jut out from small ledges a mere few feet down.
As I take this much needed breather on my ledge 3/4 up the cliff face, I have been gifted with the wherewithal to survey my surroundings for the first time in some years. I slurp some much needed water and gobble down the trail mix I should have eaten…oh, somewhere way back there on the last overhang. As my blood sugar levels and dehydration brain recedes, I finally get it.
I haven’t had a break since I returned from Colorado last fall.
That trip came on the heels of a shit-storm, which was preceded by a breakup, which happened right after I was forced to move for the second year in a row to somewhere I didn’t want to live, with constant noise (the airport in my back yard and a horrible pigeon infestation), where I had to drive through heavy traffic to get anywhere I wanted to go.
The move out near the airport happened just when I thought I was free and clear from the year of hanging on by my claws—a year which began just like last year: with an abrupt, forced move in the middle of winter when my landlord sold the building out from under me.
I had just fully nested in Arkansas. I had just discovered my new chiropractor who rooted out the cause of all my seizures and brought them to a halt. I had just begun to finally exhale and dance and write. I had gotten my driving clearance reinstated and had begun to train again, when WHISK!
Rug. Out from under me.
Recovery Mode: engaged.
Because all I did for the first 2 years after moving from Colorado to Arkansas was eliminate aspect after aspect of my life so I could finally stop having seizures every 2-3 days.
That blast crater was a result of the final straw that inspired me into a second divorce. And the years of that marriage? There was no resting. Bound financially to someone who overspent our budget by $200-300 a month meant I could never take a break from working, and let my brain and body recover when they needed to.
At that point, the economic crash of my career had already happened. In 2010, I had 6 national/international festivals fold in a year, because everybody had been catapulted into survival mode and don’t you know? Belly dance classes are not a necessity to putting food on the table and keeping a roof over one’s head. My local students dwindled for the same reason, so I was back to the ever-present dilemma.
My brain injury doesn’t allow me to work normal jobs with anybody’s hours but mine. It even undermines any self-employment I build, so not being able to rest properly and being plagued by re-tweaking of my injuries resulted in the physiological and neurological crash of my career...yeah. All that pretty much finished me off. My parents moved me here so they could “finally do for me what they’d wanted to do” in 2000.
And I feel this overwhelming need to hurry up about it. To not waste a second of this precious gift I’ve been given: time and a safe place in which to finally heal and rebuild my life. Yet this newest fish-slap upside the head has made me realize that I’m not practicing what I preach.
I needed the fish-slap.
I’ve been climbing-climbing-clawing-climbing. I’ve been working so diligently at rebuilding strength and agility and organization and consistent, sustained output. But you can only inhale so much.
Exhalation is equally vital. Remember?
Since returning from Colorado, things have only intensified. Driving back by myself was such a monumental triumph, but the day after I landed, I met with my parents’ realtor to look at townhouses to buy so I could finally halt the Hey You of landlords. The last place we looked at is the home I am currently sitting in.
That meant I wasn’t even unpacked from my trip before rolling into the process of Buying A Home. That snowballed into remodeling, packing/purging, and moving in the middle of another winter—all while submitting a book for publication, doing online business school, rebranding my career, and attempting to maintain some semblance of my customary writey-fighty-dancey habits.
Then the deck fiasco happened. Our inspector had missed that the entire backside of all the main beams, stringers and support posts were rotted. (They’d been painted on the front side and I guess he didn’t get under there and do his job.) Well, that threw the budget, my timeline, and my dad’s back completely out of whack. It didn’t do any wonders for my injuries either.
So now I’m back full circle, just about to put my knee on ice for another twenty minutes.
I have been enlightened with the first blessing of being forced to come to Full Stop. It is a primary lesson that my initial car wreck taught me, and that I have had to relearn at various times since.
If you keep sharpening a sword over and over and over, eventually you will grind it into dust.
I just reread one of the last big blog posts I wrote. Allow me to quote it: “I just haven’t been able to figure out how to sustain any of it [the phenomenal feats of wonder of which I am capable] without collapsing the knees of my health out from under me.”
Yeah. Speak that shit, girl! Write it.
This injury is a crucial piece of figuring that out. Tuesday is the day of the week I’ve set aside as Air Day: breathing and balance, and rehabbing my neck/shoulders/arms. It’s also perfect for these icey-heaty-resty days. I do breathing exercises and chi-gong hands, and let my body draw whichever circles and infinities it is most inspired to draw, with whatever body part is called. All my diligent-patient torture has been about releasing everything tied into knots.
I had forgotten about releasing.
It’s amazing how easy that is for a Type A personality to do while barreling up the mountain. The last time I got this big of a reminder was during my first divorce when I was inspired to create the initial rendition of my Elements System.
It has been changing my life ever since. It changes the lives of my students who take it and use it as well. It is the foundation of this major project I’m launching and the entire rebrand of my career.
One of the hardest things for me to learn when I first started playing with these elements was AIR. By nature, I am all Fire and Water and Metal. But to release, to breathe, to flow, to suspend…to utilize the grounding force and the natural power and momentum of Earth—that was a foreign thing to me.
It only makes sense that this is one of the easiest things for me to forget.
So thanks to my long, drawn-out, multilayered chain of shit-storms, I am on me arse once again. Although I wouldn’t say I’m happy about it, I am exuberantly thankful for the fish-slap, the silver linings, and the course correction I've been offered.
Provided I learn the lesson.
And that does make me happy!
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE:
--UP NEXT: HIGH ON CRAIC- Dancing Like I Do
--OR PHOENIXING- When I Tore My Meniscus Even Worse and Couldn't Walk