Wheelchair Dancing at Northern Ballet Expresssions With Tin Arts

14th August 2019 - Posted by Catrina

Hi all, so I thought I would do a blog about something I did recently. You may have gathered from my blogs that I get really excited about days out and doing things out of the house. This is because a massive after effect of my CES was isolation. I was so nervous about continence issues and apprehensive about making my pain worse that I definitely shut myself away. Since working at the CESA I’ve become more at peace with my condition and I have begun to venture outwards more. If you read my blogs you might know that I attended a dance event in Blackpool with friends recently and surprisingly did one wheelchair dance with them. Well that was it, once I knew I could do one dance, I had to try to do more…

On Thursday 11th July I had a very special day. For years I have struggled with my relationship with dance. I couldn’t watch it on the television, I found it hard to converse with some friends from my dancing days, I would feel like the breath was gone from inside me if I heard music that I had danced to in the past. 

My Cauda Equina Syndrome had taken away the feeling in my legs but losing dance was like another limb was missing. Dance was so integral to who I was and to how I expressed myself. It took years to find a new outlet for my creativity, writing.

I began to write, I kept a notepad with me, I’d add things on the notes section of my phone and I’d type for hours on my slow busted laptop. I wrote so much on so many topics, just to write, nothing that I ever expected others to see. It became my way to release the emotions within.

I dabbled in poetry, but mainly I wrote prose and sometimes just innate nonsense. It wasn’t the same sense of calm and connection to the world that I found in movement but it provided a new sense of expression that I came to love.

That love eventually turned into blogging and finally getting myself back into the world again. I began to reach people with my words and my life began to change for the better. As I have become more comfortable in my own skin, through writing about my feelings. I have started to accept the need I have for my wheelchair, understanding my limitations and learning new ways of doing things. Eventually after dancing with friends at the Tower Ballroom in Blackpool, I finally felt ready to get back in a dance studio. Many may feel that dance is all about the aesthetic, I too believed in that notion for a long time. I cared too much about my exterior rather than focusing on becoming at one with the music and movement. I’ve now reached a place that I can truly do that, which was why I wasn’t nervous about taking my first dance class since my Cauda Equina Syndrome. I was ready!

I arrived at the Northern Ballet with my hair in a bun ready to dance. I looked around at the magical new premises of my favourite dance company. It’s truly a sight to behold. I met Nicola who had kindly arranged my attendance at the workshop and I instantly felt at home. My Mum was not as excited as I was. She has seen more times than I can count, me being taken off in an ambulance from outings as simple as a shopping trip. Neither of us really knew how my body would respond to this dance workshop. But I had to try.

I arrived in the studio and the ladies there helped find me a dance wheelchair that would be more conducive to dance than mine. Oh my goodness, what a wheelchair!! I sped off with the slightest push of my wheels, feeling the air brushing past my face, with just small adjustments I could go in different directions, I did spins clockwise, anti clockwise it was so freeing to move so easily. I felt the prickle of a tear at this new sensation.

The group running the workshop, Tin Arts, introduced themselves and we all made a circle. There must have been around 20 participants altogether. I was having flashbacks to all the times I had been asked to make a circle in the past at uni or even before. It felt so fresh and familiar in my mind, yet I hadn’t thought about it in years. We did a classic ice breaker introducing ourselves to the room with the passing of a beach ball. I met several people that day who were regular attendees at the Northern Ballet’s accessible dance classes. They explained to me what to expect and I learnt about each of their conditions… I never fail to be in awe of how the human spirit can prevail after such dire medical circumstances. It feels trite to say I was inspired by them, but I really was.

We did a warm up moving around the room and as I gained speed it honestly felt like I was flying. After years of struggling to manoeuvre myself from place to place, those moments of seeming weightlessness made me forget my disability, just for a couple of seconds.

This is where things became particularly pertinent to me. George and Becki from Tin Arts devised the workshop around their choreography called Invisible Kisses. They created the piece by translating words from a poem of the same name. into movement. Each word was given a specific motion. This was the first time I had considered such a practise… words into dance?! And it dawned on me, the poetry, the prose, the bits of feelings written in my notes folder on my phone, they were all dances waiting to come alive. All this time I was choreographing with my words. I immediately thought back to all the nights spent hurriedly jotting down the ideas I had from inside. Contemplating creating them into movement was an exciting prospect. We were all given words which I presume were in Invisible Kisses. Fall, Time, Asleep, Help. Each one had a correlating movement.

Next we were split into groups, I was with a young boy and a female dancer, Karen, who was about my age. Each group was assigned two words on laminated cards with pictures. Our words were blow and push. I instantly thought back to a contemporary piece my friend Vicki had done at uni about a fish… there was lots of blowing and popping motions in that. Another beautiful memory that had been hiding somewhere from me. In our group we thought of motion that would represent blow. We talked to the young boy about the pictures and which one he was drawn to.We chose the balloon. We pretended we were blowing up a balloon high into the air. We puffed hard and fast as our hands traced the outside of the balloon as it became bigger and bigger. At the highest point our hands came straight down to mid-height, like our hips were on a hinge, and we blew softer this time mimicking the way one blows a dandelion. I imagined all the little dandelion bits floating into the air.

Next was the word push, we talked about the different things we could be pushing and we asked the young boy to show us what push meant to him. We incorporated the pushing motion into a cannon movement. The young boy pushed Karen and Karen pushed me. We wanted another push movement so we spoke about pushing something that was on the floor and all three of us pushed in unison. Moving in unison with someone else is something that happens very rarely in life. There’s a special quality to it like an invisible bond. I really liked dancing with Karen specifically because we seemed to work well in unison together and I hadn’t felt that type of connection in a long time. It’s something specific to dance I think, breathing when they breath, knowing where they are going to be and later on I became so comfortable that I trusted her to move my chair while my arms were doing the movement. Because of that trust I was starting to think about the creative potential my chair gave to me rather than the things that my condition takes away from my movement. It was a powerful experience and I was so grateful to Karen.

We later added more speed elements, level, direction and quality to the choreography we had created. We then watched the other groups perform their pieces to ambient music. Tears welled up in my eyes and began to flow as I watched the others dance. I felt so connected to some of the dancers. Some had discussed their pain before the class and seeing them perform through the pain was so special and made me realise I could do it too. Not just today, but from now on.

I gained so much from the Tin Arts workshop at the Northern Ballet. I honestly didn’t want it to end despite the fact I was aching to lie down. Transitioning back into my old chair was difficult I realised how constricted I have been for so long, my new wheelchair (currently being made) cannot come quickly enough! I’m not going to lie and say I wasn’t in pain after dancing because I was and I think moving forward the amount of physical dance I can do will be trial and error. I didn’t sleep that night due to the pain… but it was worth it! I know now that next time I need to take more breaks.

If you are thinking of going to the Northern Ballet Expressions next year I cannot recommend it highly enough. It was everything I hoped it would be and more!

I hope that even if you are not into dance specifically, my wonderful experience encourages you to try something new or rekindle a passion from before your CES. You never know where it may take you!

Until the next time,

Catrina

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