Life After Cirque

Ah, the joys of public transportation. The train has just made its much-anticipated lurch forward – only two hours behind schedule. Good ol’ Amtrak, reliable in its perpetual tardiness.

After six weeks of living away from home, I’m finally coming home to St. Louis.

I began broken.  I lost two people that were dear to me, one to death. Everything I had prioritized for the past five years suddenly was no longer important.  The thought of redefining myself in a completely new city was wholly unexciting… and downright frightening.

My mornings were marked by that weight of dull dread that sat on my chest. The days were marching forward but I was stuck, paralyzed by indecision. Every once in awhile I would grudgingly allow myself to hope that today would be the day where I would find that magic road map for my life. It’s hard to find that clarity when you honestly aren’t sure where you made the wrong turn.

I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. And I don’t want to grow up.

I went away because I had to, for my sanity and to figure out what the hell I wanted out of life. All I could figure out in Columbia MO was that I was miserable and that I had no idea where to go next. I opened my email one day and out of the blue I come across an offhand message from Natalie Brown: “You should visit sometime and come train with us.”

The next thing I knew, I was on the phone asking if I could come the next week.

I was expecting to learn a lot from both Natalie and Asharah. They are phenomenal dancers that I have followed for years now, both with a completely different skill set to offer me. I knew their classes – Natalie’s American Tribal Style and Asharah’s Suhaila-based classes – were areas that I wanted to train in, but I wasn’t really anticipating how much I would gain from actually living in a house with other artists.

Natalie and Asharah became a little family for the month I was there. We would cook good meals for one another, discuss and sew costuming, train and do yoga together, work on pieces together – we managed to teach Natalie and perform the Suhaila Level II drum solo with finger cymbals and most of the Level III layering while I was there.

I realized there that I hadn’t taken a belly dance class since November.
I realized that I really had missed that more than I thought.
And I realized – and witnessed – how incredibly important it was to have community… to have those tiny families, those scrappy bands of people that share your weird. Where you can create, and grow… and heal. Few people get the rare opportunity to have several of those families. I’m one of the lucky ones that could call many places home.

I had many really incredible experiences this trip. I got hypnotized and thought my name was Susan. I cried during the best Reiki massage ever. I fell in love with quinoa (it’s a complete protein!). I saw one of the most incredible puppet shows of my life. I got to perform with Columbia Alternacirque at their Art Bar Show. I made my first fairy costume. Fractals helped me see a link between science and God. I drove to Atlanta to TA a workshop with Natalie and Asharah and dance a solo in the show.

And I had dance epiphanies!

1) The moments of silence and stillness are just as powerful – and just as important – as the movements themselves. I am always convinced my choreography is not interesting enough. I will sit and nitpick a 20-second section of choreographies for hours upon hour, trying to perfectly represent every beat, note and lyric. And I realized that this a form of insecurity and fear Natalie helped me realize that I need to allow myself to hold out some of the longer phrases in the music. Already I can tell that this concept is going to be very important for the development of my dance style.

2) Be honest in your song choice. Asharah helped me through a bit of a quandary when I was trying to pick my solo music for the Atlanta show. I really wanted to dance to “Song for You” by Alexei Murdoch, but I was afraid that the audience wouldn’t get it, or it wouldn’t be impressive enough, and I was debating if I should go for a “crowd-pleaser” song. Asharah reminded me that honesty is everything in any form of art that we create. I chose “Song for You.”

3) Learn how you work best. I worked harder on this Atlanta solo more than I have worked on any one individual solo, and a lot of the work I did was not accomplished on the dance floor. I had every note of my song memorized. I recorded and watched videos of myself dancing to the piece. I developed a pretty complete framework for my entire piece listening to it on repeat on the drive to Atlanta for several hours and had choreographed large chunks ahead of time.  I danced my piece out at the workshop space and ahead of time on the stage I would be performing. For the hour before I went on, I stretched with my iPod and visualized myself dancing the piece repeatedly. I did some emotional prep. By the time I went onstage, I felt like I could surrender and let my body remember and retell the story I had spent weeks teaching it.

I’m so excited because I feel like I conquered a pretty big fear. When you improvise, it almost feels a little safe. If you look awkward or weird, you have the “I was just making it up as I went” excuse ready  to defend yourself. If you try and fail… it’s a hell of a lot more painful.  Now I have a completely different idea of how I am going to approach choreographing and performing in general. I feel like a giant door has been unlocked.

One of my good friends told me once his goal when he travels is to live in places, not just visit them. Natalie, Asharah, Nate, Chris, Kendall, Amanda, Aaron, Jessie, Gina, Maria, Susan, Dana, Gina, Jaia, Maria, James, Victoria, Lacy, Christy, the Moodys, Mark and Wendy, Josh, Tom, Fred, Darbuka Dave, Christine, James, Ambur, and countless others… this was so much more than a visit. Thank you.

On the Road Again…

Within about five minutes, I knew tonight would be my last night in Columbia.

“Hi, Megan…” I heard my mom’s voice on my voicemail. “Well, ” (pause) “Granpa Joe died, he died this afternoon.  They’re thinking that the funeral will be this Friday.”

My Grandpa Joe. He was an odd guy. But a good odd — he sent me $2 bills and a Calvin and Hobbes book for birthdays, he told me that there was a law that allowed those over 40 years old to swear freely when I called him out when I was younger… he was a smart ass, but everyone liked that about him.

I love him, and I will miss him.

But as my good friend Steve pointed out, the good thing about knowing someone is about to die is that it gives people a chance to really find connection with their loved ones, say everything that needs to be said, and truly process everything. I’m so grateful for my family, and I’m looking forward to heading to Florida to celebrate his life — and ours.

I was planning on starting to move things to St. Louis this weekend, but it’s been pushed up a bit — I’m currently frantically packing in order to move everything but my furniture to St. Louis tomorrow.

Wednesday I leave for the funeral from St. Louis to Fort Myers, Florida, and I will stay through the weekend.

Instead of flying back to Missouri, however… I have decided I need to get out for awhile. I need to explore and train more and get refocused on my dance. More than that, though, I think I need to really put some thought about what I want in the next part of my life.

So I’m finally getting out of Columbia! … And guess where I’m going?

Columbia.

Well, Columbia, South Carolina. I’m truly running away to the circus this time — I will be staying with Natalie Brown (check out Alternacirque and Delirium Tribal) and Asharah and training with them. I’m really excited, both ladies are phenomenal dancers and pretty bad ass women in general.

How long will I stay there…? Who knows.

Then it’s back to St. Louis to figure out my life.

Columbia peeps: I need to get all my furniture and my car at some point, so I will be back. At that time, I want to have a soiree and party with all y’all, so get ready. I imagine I’ll be back in July sometime.