Becoming Exceptional: A Little Girl's Path to Freedom
The other night, after finishing up a workshop with about 30 women in Berkeley, California, someone asked me, how did you get into the work you do?
It gave me pause: Surely, many threads weave to set one on her path, but could I name that one clear and true entryway into this unusual, edgy, and sometimes hard to explain women’s embodiment thing that I’ve been up to for nearly nine years?
I have spoken, of course, with exceeding frequency about how I developed my work and what inspires me, but in the pause after that particular night’s question, clarity came like a lightning: I flashed back to the moment that became a first entryway for me.
Since girlhood, moving intuitively and exploring through my body were organic mediums for learning and contemplation, but in Eastern Europe where I grew up, there was rarely permission, possibility, or encouragement to move my body freely, beyond the pre-learned steps in my ballet class– my expression was squeezed in a corset! When I was 7, I went to an audition for the rhythmic gymnastics team– I was dying to be chosen! But they tested me only briefly, and quite quickly my mom was told (while I was hiding in the safety of her skirts!) that I was too old and unfortunately “not exceptional” to be accepted.
Boom! Not exceptional. Take-away: I couldn’t dance, and I wasn’t good enough. I needed to find some way to be exceptional!
I, like many women, was never a "dancer”, or an “expert”. You know, I wasn't exceptional. It seemed like I lacked some kind of permit for the high league. I didn't have the privilege of divine flexibility, sophisticated movement repertoire, or fine training. Worse yet, I didn't want them! I just wanted to… find me, and be me. To move with freedom.
Perhaps you recognize yourself in this story too?
It was not until my twenties that the rave culture phenomena brought me the unlikely chance: I didn’t care about the drugs everyone seemed to need, but I loved getting out under the vast open sky, finding my place on the periphery of the rave crowd, and dancing unstoppably, for hours at hand, letting everything in me MOVE- emotions, memories, sensitivities, longings, horrors, inspirations, boredoms… until everything that made me was swirling into one grand fire of expression, release, freedom, and, somehow…remembrance. The remembering of something sweet and sensuous, passionate and timeless that I belonged to. And THAT was exceptional.
Little by little, dancing in the kitchen, in the park, in a friend’s backroom, or under the full moon, I found a rhythm, a stamina, a love and a fierceness that I could never give up. Finally, I was exceptional: I had come to myself. And I felt free to express as I pleased.
I learned this well: When the body unlocks, the psyche does too. The well-expressed, practiced, freed-up body takes us deep below the surface, it moves us past thought, feeling, and wound, and dances us out of the stagnant, unmoving waters, out of the petty self talk. It takes us to the edge of everything that is possible for us when the flow flows again!
But it was later yet, when my life stumbled and tripped over and took a strange turn, that I began learning what was the promise for us as humanity when women came together to move– unlocking, discovering, taking their bodies back… A journalist and a writer long in the making, at that time, back in 2009, I worked in documentary film production and I was a very unlikely candidate to ever make a career in embodiment. It suffices to say that I did not posses a true understanding of the term embodiment. But I was in-between jobs, and I had had enough many strangers come up to me after seeing me move and ask if I could teach them. Teach?!? Umm.... But eventually, I took a risk. I decided to teach a one-off class series on intuitive expressive flow, afraid that I would be the only person in the room– and it sold out! My next series did too, and the one after that. It was suddenly very clear: It was paramount and so very needed for women to have the space, the permission, and the safety to move and express– especially those women who had never considered themselves dancers, and yet longed to move!
There was nothing–– and there still isn’t–– like women coming together to become intimate with the very bodies that have birthed their children and have been home to their being, and yet had hardly ever had a chance to... speak.
This is how I began– and how I fell deeper in love: Working with the dozens of women who came to class each week, curious and hungry to explore and find themselves again. Observing how women moved, why they couldn’t move as they wished, ‘listening’ to the shapes and the gestures they made, and witnessing how much unraveled when those shamed, ostracized, excluded and forgotten parts of our bodies came open again, I became a self-driven scientist, a researcher of the body and its moving expression… I became my own kind of exceptional.
Today still, this is the path that has most heart for me: Seeing women coming awake in their bodies, in their expressive, sensual movement and into their native ways of being, sensing, healing and creating– that is medicinal not just for me and for us, but for soul of our future.
But how did I enter? The portal into the work of my heart was that afternoon when I was 7, at the gymnastics audition in communist Bulgaria, where I was told I was not exceptional enough to join the chosen. And to that hard gift I owe my being exceptional today.
How about you? When did you look into fate’s eyes and realized you had to make your kind of exceptional?
I’d love to hear your shares and thoughts in the comments.