"It looked like God had vomited fairies all over the room. And you were all twitching."
She said this as if I was going to be offended, but in fact I was delighted. For one thing this particular friend does more traditional forms of dance, ones that are focused on minute details of form and how dancers look and what audiences see. I feel exhausted just typing it. Definitely not for me. So her impression appealed to me. Also, it reminded me of my favourite novel, The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar -- Scottish fairies called Morag and Heather with a penchant for punk rock and an oppositional attitude towards authority show up in New York. They immediately puke on the carpet of their unwilling host and announce that "fairy vomit is no doubt sweet-smelling to humans." (I was Morag for Hallowe'en last year).
So on Saturday, when my fantastic Nia instructor Jenn invited us all to do a public demo, on stage, for Taste of the Danforth I was torn. On the one hand, I feel like it's pretty cool to have an all ages dance party on stage, irreverently breaking all norms of appropriate womanly behaviour while people are watching. On the other, the whole point of Nia for me in the last four years has been that no one is watching and I'm just doing what feels good to me. Doesn't it defeat the point to do that on stage?
In 2006, I showed up to my very first class, taught by the amazing Samantha and Serena. I walked into the studio in bare feet and a sun dress, ready to dance. The summer before I'd been barely 100 lbs, and since then I'd thrown out scales and refused to look while healthcare professionals weighed me to try and at least preserve some emotional and mental health while still so physically deteriorated. The main thing that scared me was how much I loved how I looked back then, I certainly got enough socially-positive feedback for my skeletal frame. so even though I'd gained some weight by now and could walk more than a block without getting winded, I was still weak, tired and in frequent need of blood transfusions.
They had rented space from a ballet studio and pointed to a sign on the wall that said, “Discipline”.
"See that?" they asked, "That's the complete opposite of what we're here to do. We're here to find the pleasure in movement, the joy in our bodies."
And we started to free dance. I pictured myself as a fairy, dancing through a magical forest. A fantastical land where I no longer had Crohn's Disease, I wasn't so anemic I could barely function, and the pain of three bowel operations was a distant echo. All this bliss, twice a week, a short walk from our old apartment.
And now in 2010, strong and healthy, I get ready to do this onstage. I essentially assigned my self this challenge as a kind of character building exercise I give myself now and then, like not untagging myself in Facebook photos I don't like. So I'm sitting backstage waiting first 15, then 20, then 25 minutes and I begin thinking that I have enough character. For one thing, in a lighter moment during my illness, my partner Blair showed me a comic strip from the Calvin and Hobbes canon about how diarrhea builds character. So seriously after 10 years of Crohn's, I must have shitloads (Sorry. Really. Sometimes I just can't resist poo-puns).
That said, I also came all the way here, and I'm already wearing my pink, Nia “I love my body” shirt. Which miraculously (and appropriately) looks great on everyone. I know I can leave at any time, there's lots of women going up on stage and no on
e would mind if I duck out early. So when it's finally time for us to go on, I take a deep breath, and do it.
The warm up is great, stretching and flowing, I'm hitting my rhythm, not even looking out at the crowd. Then we move onto song number two. The more structured a dance is, the more likely I am to fail. I'm hiding in the back, flailing awkwardly and badly improvising when I look to my left and see perhaps one of the least desirable people (LDP) I could ever want to see there. LDP is leaning up against the barrier on my side of the stage grinning and making hammy type gestures trying to get my attention. I initially fail to recognize LDP because LDP didn't even occur to me as a possibility in my most paranoid nightmarish predictions of who might see me onstage. When I realize who LDP is, I manage to avoid eye-contact, trusting that LDP's attention-span won't last the full hour we are dancing. This strategy means that I'm essentially stuck on stage now, because I don't want to get off alone and end up talking to/being mocked by this person.
So in my own mind I start hurling ridiculous (and yes, possibly unfair) abuse at LDP. As I keep dancing my inner-rant takes a turn to the absurd and makes me laugh. And in this moment, as I find myself, grinning, giggling and moving to the music I realize that this is the point of doing Nia on a stage. We want people to see that moving our bodies can be fun and funny and irreverent and self-reflexive. We want to demonstrate that dance can be an act of love for ourselves, instead of a source of stress and focus for discipline.
We want to show off in a real way that a group of women of all ages and body-types, can get on stage and have a fabulous dance party. Little girls get up on the stage and join us. Members of our group filter out into the audience. Random people in their tourist-y fanny packs join in in front of the stage. And I catch our reflection in a store window as we're turning and kicking different legs in different directions and genuinely think, “Wow, we look hot.”