TRANSCENDING INTO LIGHT: And Taking Flight - My Lindsey Stirling Journey 3
Continued from MY JOURNEY WITH LINDSEY STIRLING:
--THE MUSE IN THE MOON: A Thank You to My Muse & My Supporters
--BRAVE ENOUGH: To Fight in the Arena & Shatter Shackes
I’d done it! I’d shattered the shackles and bounded off into the Forest of the Unknown. My dancing was a complete mess--and I was beginning to love it. I was breaking bounds, along with all my own rules.
Remember all those years when I stood at the front of the room passionately espousing a concept that one of my mentors, Mona N’wal, had shared with me from her teacher, the great Ibrahim "Bobby" Farrah:
If you do not know what you are fusing with what, then you do not have Fusion. You have CON-Fusion.
He put it so much better than I ever could have, so I happily quoted and studied and researched and trained and fused, while always attempting to divulge as meticulous a historical and cultural authentification as my pauper’s budget and my rural residences would allow. All this started way before I ever had internet. YouTube and online study were a decade away from even being launched, but I never stopped hunting for as much information as I could find.
When I finally began acquiring names and context for all the strange ways my hands had been wanting to move since my earliest belly dance explorations, I was overjoyed. Nobody knew where I had gotten these spiraling, circling patterns and ornate finger positions, least of all me, and I certainly didn’t know that they meant specific things in other dance traditions. I only knew they were pretty and they felt good. I didn’t want to hold my arms just-so like my first teachers did.
I wanted to paint rainbows and scatter glitter from my fingertips. I wanted to shoot lightning from my palms and devour it on the next pass. I wanted to pluck an energy current and pose just-elaborately-so, only to wind it all back up and drape it around my head.
Around 2005, some of my friends had been studying Bharatnatyam and they gave a workshop on their fusion of it with belly dance. Perhaps they remembered the English names of the animals associated with some of the gestures incorrectly; perhaps I did. That was corrected after 2010, when I eventually got to study Bollywood, Bhangra, and Odissi with dancers who were Indian.
But I can’t remember which animals we used now. That information never really made it past the drive home from class. I've never been able to memorize the traditional mudra names, no matter how many times I read them, hear them, study them, practice them. Just trying to memorize words in English is impossible enough. (And to think, I used to memorize entire plays so easily that acting was my original college major.) I no longer know which gestures we used in which dances anymore, just like there are now belly dance stances and hip movements that I have no clue which style they go with--even moves I used to teach all the time.
Know why? Dain Bramage.
Over the past two decades living with this condition, I've come to wonder if that's actually part of some larger plan to boot me off into the toolie bushes where I've always belonged.
"You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else's path." ~Joseph Campbell
I had once made it my fervent business to learn the specifics. I was an anti-CONfusion proponent, after all, and I had discovered that using the purest hues in my blended colors gave me the most vivid paintings. Alas, just as the internet, travel gigs, and the return of an income made such learning possible, that same travel stress, those same gigs that earned me the income, and my home situation started undermining all the healing my TBI had undergone.
Month by month, fractures in memory made it ever more difficult to bring home what I’d learned from my teachers in both dance and martial arts. Glitching neural processes made it difficult, sometimes impossible to decipher the notes I had taken, or to translate the images in my head into movements. I couldn’t even decipher the notes of my own choreographies that I’d made for myself or my students. I couldn’t remember what I had just taught the week before—sometimes five minutes before, and on really bad days, speaking the most basic sentences stymied me. The words simply—
I've got these huge binders of dance notes and printouts from countless movement styles. Flamenco and drumming rhythms. Mudras and foot patterns. Katas and self-defense techniques. History, culture, costumes, props. It's all somewhere in there…just like it’s somewhere in the recesses of my memory. I just can’t access it from my brain anymore, and the thought of digging out those binders to re-memorize that many details so I can properly label and catalogue the minuscule pieces of this phenomenon that happens to my body when the music propels it into motion...
Y'all remember what my brain does with specific details now, right? And this from the History Major. 🤪 Doing that sounds really exhausting and the opposite direction from how I want to spend my limited energy and the time I have left on this planet.
Plus, there's this other weird thing that happens when I fully open the sluice gates and start doing shit nobody's ever taught me in a class. Nothing in the binders about that.
Wouldn’t you know it, just as Dain Bramage was making it more and more impossible for me to learn new information or memorize specifics, the world of Fusion Belly Dance was diving ever more deeply into certification, authentification, and cultural pedigrees. Eventually, they started lambasting anyone who hadn’t “mastered” both forms they wished to fuse—a terribly subjective word, that. “Mastered.” Heaven help those of us who enjoy fusing five ethnic forms with a dash of lyrical, a bunch of ecstatic dance and Modern, two ancient myths, and a butt-whupping section of martial arts kata to those amazing drums.
What this meant for me: I was no longer allowed to dance in peace.
At a time when I literally couldn't disgorge words from my mouth while trying to teach, and when photosensitivity to stage lights and the stressors of sensory overload left me curled up in the dark for two weeks after every performance, the last thing I needed was the additional stress of, “You can’t do that. That’s not right.” Especially when it was based on personal preference but delivered on the blades of social justice.
My cliff had already been crumbling since around 2008 after I started traveling regularly. There I was, soaring. I'd made my overcomer’s triumph and obtained my life aspirations: I was touring, teaching, doing videos, training to become a black belt. I was married and living the dancer’s dream. But underneath, my foundation was breaking apart.
Then I had that seizure onstage.
After that, the whole side of the mountain dropped out from under me. The loads I was carrying all became too much. Not only could I not properly take in and store new information, but my brain started chucking files of old stuff I’d been teaching or writing about for years.
That second car wreck brought the rest of the mountain down on top of me.
And yet, while twitching, whimpering, and worming my fingers out from under the pile of rocks at the base of the cliff, I made a crucial realization. All that stuff I had forgotten when my hard drive was wiped? All that stuff I had notes about in the binders? I wasn’t in any mood to sift through the rubble and haul it all back up the sheered-off cliffside.
All I wanted was to get free of the disaster area and dance again. I didn't care that this meant having to live in the Forest of the Unknown. I like forests and I eat the Unknown for breakfast. I didn't care that it meant I would be knowingly and intentionally dancing CON-Fusion.
Really, I just wanted to do an undulation or a rib slide without flinching. I wanted to shimmy without igniting fire into my hip. I wanted to sweep into a spin with the rush of the music and--no, I wanted to be able to look over my shoulder to change lanes while driving and not feel a horrific crunch in my neck, then spend five days unable to turn my head. I wanted to live without a permanent knife in the base of my spine. I wanted to be able to put my stupid shoe on without having to sit down and hoist, and I wanted to be able to sit upright in bed upon waking, instead of having to roll myself off sideways.
So dancing any way that was left to me sounded super-duper dandy.
Not like I had any income or neural real estate to go study new forms, so that meant a return to figuring things out on my own. In my desperate search to find new ways to move, Lindsey Stirling was instrumental (gwa-har). (1-7) I had her on broken record everywhere, along with Blackmill and a boatload of sexy salsa-pop that made me want to use my extremities, eyes, and what was left of my hip movements. Glitchmob, Bassnectar, and Prodigy made me want to kick air's ass.
So I did. Carefully. Subtly. It helped that I had switched from hard-hitting Karate to Wing Chun and Arnis. They made me efficient. They made me stealthy and taught me how to have explosive impact with minimal effort.
Once I found that new chiropractor, everything changed. This miracle gave me back my wings in both martial arts and dance. It allowed me to start repairing my obliterated body isolations and other lost toys, but the last thing I wanted was to put on the old music. Take Flight became one of my anthems, along with The Phoenix. Over and over, I danced to them with veils and fanveils, or with Isis Wings in the back room at the gym. Most often, I soared with nothing but my arms in the kitchen. To my surprise, that was where it felt the best.
With every day I heal, dancing feels pleasurable again, instead of excruciating, and I’m excited about all the dances whirling in my head. Yet the world has left me behind. I have no certifications except my university degree from 1995, and I honestly don’t care. This isn’t the way I want to teach my own students. As everyone around me has become more regimented, stamped, sealed, left-brained, I am interested in the wind singing outside my window like I live on some sort of Secret Garden moor. I am interested in the way the firelight flickers in my hearth, and the way my breath echoes the music as I dance in the kitchen while cooking supper.
All I can think is how many times I’ve said to my students, “In the countries of origin, this way of moving is not something foreign that they have to learn in a completely extraneous way like we do. They grow up moving this way in their kitchens. It’s in the water they drink and the meals they share. It’s in the air and the dirt between their toes when they walk barefoot at the water's edge. They move this way at weddings and parties and when they’re home alone.”
This is what I want. Organic creation. Free expression. I want my dance to be whatever it is in this moment and I really don’t give two figs anymore where it came from, how I learned it, how the “right” way of executing it is supposed to be, or what it means when someone else does it. I don't care if that makes me selfish. While I'm rebuilding everything that got decimated, I need to be selfish right now. All that specificity and lineage and "should...dare ye not...thou must never" puts me in my head. I need to be in my body and my heart. I need to be INSIDE the music and I need the music INSIDE me. Right now, I only care about what it means to me when *I* do it.
It means everything to me or I would have given it up ages ago. I would have quit when my first teacher picked up all the girls except me for that movie shoot. I would have quit when my second teacher refused to train me anymore because I was "one of those restaurant dancers” (read: sluts). I would have quit when my university dance sisters shucked me off for being a belly dancer (read: slut-tastic folk dance hack).
I would have quit when they told me I would never be a dancer again after a drunk driver rammed me, and I would have quit when my “best friend” got me blacklisted from the restaurants and regional shows because she didn’t want to give back my teaching and performance slots that she’d acquired in the vacuum left by my absence.
Surely I would have quit when the reviews came back with the words “mortified” and “abysmal” and “too muscular” and “unsexy” and the myriad ways that some authority or ignoramus has blathered that I have no right to be performing my abominations where anybody can see them.
At the very least I should have quit on the innumerable days when it’s felt like the pain of every hip or chest or shoulder or head or spinal isolation was more agonizing than the pain of saying, “I'm done.”
But I’m not. I can’t not dance, and I can’t not share it with anyone who is inspired by it.
So what I have now is a big ole mess.
And you know what? I love this mess! I don’t know what I’m going to do with it any more than I know what I’m doing with martial arts. That’s a disaster area, too. I’m currently a cross-training fiend, taking every class they have to offer except Judo. I tried that. I really wanted that class, too, but my body can't handle being slammed on the ground like that. I sponge everything else as often as possible. Does it all get mixed up inside me? Yup. Can I remember the official names for any of this shit either? Hells no. Do I care? Nope.
My Gladiatrix series that I’ve been writing for-flippin-ever is in shambles, too. Now that I’ve fired my literary agent, I’m tearing it all apart in an effort to finally write the books *I* would want to read instead of trying to cram myself into what mainstream fiction wants me to do. Just this week the feedback from my fantastic new beta reader has prompted an explosion in my world building so it's all on the floor in pieces. Messy pieces. Beautiful pieces and I'm drooling over it with my fingers drumming in diabolical glee.
Last month, I started trying my hand at Multilevel Marketing in the hopes of rectifying this suckalicious deficit I have regarding anything to do with advertising. I also bought my new Hartebeast domain name, started making a monster umbrella website for my gazillion endeavors, created a new blog, and have been working my way through three different online marketing courses I got as a gift.
After a month, I’m still living out of boxes from yet another move I hadn’t planned to make. I have become so sick of landlord shenanigans that I am weighing options for a more permanent living situation. Unfortunately, I have zero idea where I want to “settle down” or even IF I want to settle down. I am seriously researching the prospect of finally getting that gypsy wagon I’ve dreamed about for decades and just taking all my happy-crappy on the road. Of course, how I'll manage the driving thing...I have no clue. Whatever. It's an idea. I have a lot of those and not much concrete.
Yet I cannot ever recall enjoying my life more.
I honestly have no idea what I’m doing. At the moment, I’m puking it all out on a page. All my web-gurus say, “Don’t focus on creating content. Just document what you’re creating.” Well, all righty then.
Welcome to my big, fat, beautiful, happy mess! I hope you like extravaganzas. Because these ARE my monkeys and this IS my circus.
🤘 Enjoy the flippin’ show! 🤘
That was March 2017. As April opened, my martial instructors awarded me Student of the Month. I had pretty much become a barnacle at that place. If I wasn't training, then I was dancing or teaching my ever-growing dance class. We were up to almost ten members, and the students had started doing that magical thing of bonding outside of class.
On the 20th, I had a small gig where I got to try out my new experimental form on a stage. I played Elsa with Isis wings and Let It Goooo. Success. Four days later, the gym asked me to come in and observe the kids' classes in preparation for starting instructors' training. I had wanted to teach martial arts to children for a decade. In truth, I'd wanted that job since Kyle had first told me about his days as a karate instructor back in college. The topic is only slightly important to me.
By May, it had proved as enjoyable and fulfilling as I had ever dreamed. So was my dancing. So was my writing. So were all my new connections in my new home.
I truly was transcending. I had taken flight with my new wings. They were clipped shorter than the ones I’d had before, but that just made them more maneuverable. They were still gorgeous, and powerful in a completely different way.
Then another angry man with a smarting ego tore one of them up.
See, I'd pissed him off on the mat at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu when I made it clear that sidemount was NOT the appropriate place to come onto me. I used the look in my eyes, the tone of my voice, and my forearm wedged between me and the crushing weight of his body to inform him that, where he was concerned, there was no better time.
Knowing him like I do now, what happened twenty minutes later is no surprise. But it sure was that day. He had seemed to get over his offense and embarrassment easily, brushing it off as we worked through the rest of the technique, especially when another guy joined us. I figured that would make it safe. Mr. Sidemount went back to his customary lighthearted studiousness; so did I.
But I’ve always had a severe disconnect between things I would never dream of doing to another person and being able to fathom what other people would do to me without a second thought.
44 years old
“Wow,” he says, looking down at me, limbs locked up around mine in a neat puzzle configuration. He’s twined around my left arm to crank it up and back in a 90-degree angle like I’m raising my hand to ask a question. The rest of my body is balled up and poised on my tailbone. His brows furrow and his face screws up in astoundment. “I don’t even need to roll you onto your back. I could tap you out from here, couldn’t I?”
“Um, yes,” I state. "Absolutely." My whole left side is tense with resistance to prevent him accidentally going too far because he doesn’t live in my body and he’s not telepathic. My free hand hovers a hair’s width away from his shoulder, prepared to give him that ultimate signal of yielding: the tapout.
This full technique would require him to push me onto my back and flatten my wrist to the mat in the figure-4 lock he has already obtained, but he’s correct. There’s already the telltale zing in the back of my shoulder that radiates into my neck. It’s accompanied by that distinct pressure that vibrates the warning of imminent joint destruction because my shoulder doesn’t work that way anymore. A secondary twinge spirals down my forearm from the elbow.
It’s no surprise to me. All three of those joints have suffered significant injuries. My wrist that has given me trouble since I did gymnastics in grade school; the elbow hyperextension that proves how well a simple little orange belt technique works, especially in the hands of an offended, embarrassed black belt; the shoulder injury from my first car wreck that is a contributor to my neck problems.
“That shoulder is full of scar tissue,” I tell my training partner. “It doesn’t move any further than this. Americana takes nothing to tap me out on that side.”
“Yeah," he says, eyeing my tensed up shoulder. "So I see.”
“You don’t even have to finish the move to get it. I’m literally a millimeter away from tapping out right now.”
He glances down to see my hand poised to do just that. Then his gaze slides over to lock with mine as neatly as our interlaced limbs. “Huh,” he says with an “oh really” gleam in his eye. That gleam is a dark one. It calls to mind what shot through his face when I shot him down in sidemount, and it's clear that he didn't forget about it after all. It's also clear that we both know it: how easily he could hurt me right now.
My heart thuds. Fuck, not again. I tighten my carriage and prepare to make life very uncomfortable for him with techniques they don't use in BJJ tournaments if he pushes it any further.
But the glimmer recedes. His gaze shifts out over my shoulder. He exhales as his hold eases up and he leans back. I exhale, too, then plant my free hand on the ground, releasing my death-grip on resistance so we can untwine and trade positions.
He steamrolls me onto my back and slams my wrist onto the mat.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
--UP NEXT: LOST GIRLS: Rise Again. And Again. And Once More - My Lindsey Stirling Journey 4
--OR: I wrote about how I got into martial arts HERE.
--OR: If you're into Wings & Things, I wrote all about how I became obsessed with transforming fabric into flight.
--THE NAVIGATION TABLE OF CONTENTS
GROOVALICIOUS LINKS FOR YOUR INSPIRATIONAL PLEASURE
1) Lindsey Stirling
--"My Story" - As told by Lindsey, set to one of my favorite self-soothing, pick me up anthems: Anchor by Mindy Gledhill
3) Lindsey Stirling's tour and album, Artemis
5) Atwood Magazine's interview with Lindsey Stirling
6) Lindsey's book, The Only Pirate in the Room - yarrrrrr!
7) My Spotify collection of Lindsey Stirling songs that make me dance and swoon. I admit, I'm a bit of a Lindsey purist, but there are a few collaborations that I adore. As we will soon see.