BY MELANIE BECKTEL
Ever since I was a small child, I have used dance as a medium to communicate, often just with myself. The moment I stepped into the studio for the very first time I felt a sense of home, a place where my curiosity about movement and music could be explored. I proceeded to spend almost 20 years in the dance studio, never going more than a few weeks without a barre.
After a certain point, I came to a juncture where I felt my passion and spirit drying up. I was emotionally tired of politics and dance studio dramas. My body was tired. I could no longer see a future in dance as a career or lifestyle. Each morning I dreaded the feeling of waking, knowing I would be greeted by a newfound pain or soreness never before felt in my body. Is there even a muscle in that corner of my knee or elbow to be sore? I yearned for a break and something new.
I did not immediately give up on dance. I moved to Sydney, started university, but kept taking class and did my own dance projects, including a dance video which showed up in an art gallery. I threw myself onto the yoga mat. A few years later it occurred to me that dance had gradually and completely left my life, and a sense of loss started to emerge.
But the real loss developed after a big year for my body; the year I had my son. Pregnancy, and all that goes with it, has the ability to profoundly change a woman’s body and mind. The weight of the baby contorts the pelvis and upper back. The hormones cause frequent waking, wild eating habits and emotional ups and downs. Nothing – nobody – can prepare someone for the journey of entering parenthood. I spent the last month of pregnancy at home, folding tiny socks, re-washing miscellaneous household items, and attempting short walks to the beach. I contemplated what would become of me as an individual. Ever since the moment of conception I was no longer one person, but two. I spent hours wondering what would become of my body, as it seemed implausible that I would ever see, let alone touch, my toes again.
Then came the birth. The most joyous, exciting, intense experience of my life. The birth of a child cannot be described in words, only raw, complex emotion. It was during the recovery of the birth that I suddenly and achingly missed my dancing body – my limber, twisting, flexing body. The body I could ask, kindly, to do things for me and receive a response in movement. Now, my requests were met with the grumbles of stillness, while my sedentary body adjusted to holding my new baby all day in my arms.
During this intense period of recovery from pregnancy and birth, a remarkably tragic event occurred. My father passed away in a sudden moment illustrating the circle of life, exactly four weeks after my son was born. There I was, without my body, in a period of recovery, and an overwhelming sense that the world was upside down. I was a mother now, but no longer had a father.
It was these experiences of tremendous change that revealed to me that for the duration of my life, or at least 20 years of it, my body processed emotions through dance. The zone I entered into via the barre, the plie, the tendu, all contributed to a complex psychosomatic experience of dealing with feelings, including grief. Movement is the channel I have always used to process information, acclimate to change, and build emotional stability.
Without dance as a guide to take me through life, I suddenly felt left without the tools to process the change. Out of nowhere, recurring dreams I experienced as a child returned, as if to nudge me back into dance. As a kid, I had the typical dance dreams on repeat: doing four pirouettes, forgetting my part in a trio, and just being there on stage. And now they were back. My brain was telling me to get back into that zone.
And so I listened. Just as gradually as I left dance, I am getting back into it, one stretch at a time. I take my son to the beach and he practices crawling as I do my ballet barre. I dance whenever, wherever I can. It is unclear where I will take dance and how long it will take to get back into it, but it is a process I am approaching with curiosity and enthusiasm.
I now know that I mustn’t ever leave dance. I realize that dance is not an activity with which one may come and go. Body and mind is movement and emotion, and there must always be effort made to maintain equilibrium of the two. Dance must stay with me, at the forefront of my heart and mind, to take me through life, death and birth.
Melanie Becktel trained in ballet, contemporary dance and improvisation techniques at Ballet San José of Silicon Valley in the United States, and the Victorian College of the Arts in Melbourne, Australia. She then danced with the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance until deciding to return to university. She earned her Juris Doctor from Sydney Law School and is now a legal aid lawyer. Her son is nearly a year old and loves to dance, too.