“Allow your body to speak”: DanceAbility as recovery, not therapy

“Allow your body to speak”: DanceAbility as recovery, not therapy

Written by Amy Litzinger, dancer/activist/scholar and DanceAbility certified instructor with disabilities

When I think about it, dancing with Body Shift and practicing the DanceAbility method has been about “medicine” for me from the very beginning, even before I understood it. Because I didn’t understand it. Hang on, I know “therapy” is not the goal of Body Shift or DanceAbility, give me a minute.

I was having major surgery, and I had BIG plans that the ACC class (the one taught by Allison Orr years ago) was going to whip my body back into shape. I never made it to class. It was very sad. I missed meeting everyone. But I’m almost glad I didn’t make it, because I wouldn’t have been ready to really get the point of DanceAbility. I was still trying to “fix” myself, get myself back. Make myself better. Emphasis on “fix”. And forcing things to happen on a certain timeline.

Once I did start taking the Body Shift classes, I noticed a few things changed in my body. I was stronger, and I had more stability. My transfers were better, especially when I focused on some of the skills we were practicing in class like counterbalance and weight sharing. Suddenly all my attendants were dance trained. It helped a lot! Once I started the 150 hour DanceAbility teacher certification course, I learned I could push the limits of my body. The body creates its own kind of endorphins, and you learn you can do more than you think. Like we say in DanceAbility, “Allow your body to speak.” It knows what it needs. My body was more stable and so was my brain.

chalk drawing of the Body Shift logo, which is a stylized version of a dancer using a wheelchair with another dancer
Photograph and chalk drawing by Jamie Massaro, outside prior to The Sparky Park Project.

Certified as a DanceAbility instructor, and eight years dancing with Body Shift, I’m starting to get what I’ve learned into my body. Another major surgery, another major disaster. Everything is wrong, and nothing in my body works. I’m afraid of it all. And I keep asking for permission to move. No one answers from the doctor’s office. Eventually, I knew it was time to listen to my body. It was speaking already. Here’s what it said:

I need to find the limits of what my body can do. Explore all over again. Trace the sensation of all my new pathways. Test my boundaries. Break them. Reset again. I need to go back to sensation, and be in relationship with my own body. Above all, I need new timing and rhythms. Duration and speed need redefining.

I am constantly calling my attention to time now. I have to give more weight to the earth, allow the effects of gravity. Giving attention to my breath is helping with pain control. I’m giving attention to areas of tension; tracing pathways and letting them speak. Not trying to fix anything. Just staying in sensation. Don’t fight it, just follow my body’s desires. Pain will flow out eventually. Choose slower, smaller movements. Stillness is an option during pain, but vary duration. Too long in one position will make it worse. Changing one thing about the shape of my body has given me a sense of control when I have very little control anywhere else right now. I’m getting practice in moving in relationship with my environment. All of these are concepts that I have learned from the DanceAbility method, the foundational practice taught in Body Shift.

None of this has been officially part of my therapy program. None of this is planned. Much of this is on my own time using the skills I learned in Body Shift classes. No one is directing this. It’s just what my body says I need. This isn’t therapy, or prescribed steps in the studio. This is how to listen to your body. This is recovery!

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