Wow, it is daunting to finally sit down and try write about all that has happened since my last post. A combination of not having enough time and not having the ability to organize my thoughts has prevented me from writing along the way. I’ll do the best I can to illuminate the incredible adventure that has ensued the last two weeks. I’ll begin with some thoughts I wrote the other day on a train ride…
After frantically packing our things for the weekend, inhaling a few bites of food that was undercooked, excessively doused in soy sauce and by normal standards much too hot to ingest, I am now comfortably on a train to Kaohsiung, a smaller city on the opposite side of the country where we will be performing tomorrow. It is our first performance here and only one of three coming up in the next nine days. The first consists of a dance for film that we each made and a 10 minute piece that we put together. The next two performances are in Taipei, and are the showcases of my Thesis, one for TNUA (Taipei National University of the Arts) and one for TAV (Taipei Artist Village). Considering the time, language, and money restraints, not to mention the fact that I have never been solely responsible for such an event, makes the whole thing particularly stressful for me, especially as I again find myself battling my relationship to dance, which I often question in times like this, times that exceptionally taxing both physically and psychologically. I find myself gaining critical perspective on what it is that I love about the field and what it is that I do and do not, just as we all do as we perform every craft we attempt. Being so far away from common comforts and escapes, though, seems to intensify these reflections. Other than having far too much to do, it seems, than sit and evaluate my feelings, what a better time to become fully conscious of such things, just before I enter the world as a newly graduated young adult faced with a plethora of choices as to how I want to live my life, at least the next chapter of it.
This morning, we woke up early to teach at the Jin-Long Center, which we have been leading classes at twice a week at for the last 2 weeks. I cannot fully express how incredible teaching these classes is, in fact it is one of the most joyous things I have ever had the privilege of taking part in.
On our first day at the center, we were as nervous as kindergarteners on the first day of school, entering into a completely foreign place without the slightest clue as to what to expect, who we were going to meet, or what our potential was. After our classes, we had a meeting with the staff and personnel at the center, discussing the structure of our classes, the participants, expectations, plans, etc. We were pleasantly surprised by the classes we led and the center’s reaction to them, as they were hugely complimentary and enthusiastic. They expressed actual amazement by some of the participants and truly believe that this program is going to make a long-term difference in these people’s lives. I do not know about the long-term effects of our efforts, but I do know that our classes seem to bring reciprocal joy and liveliness, at least for the hour we have together.
The first class consists of 5-7 adults that have severe cases of autism and other physical and mental impairments, and the second consists of adults with Downs Syndrome. Both classes, the first in particular, requires the help of two staff members from the center and our translator Wen. The first class has much more difficulty ascertaining even the most simple movement tasks. Many of them require two or three people’s help to crawl or roll across the floor, some even to lift their arms, or to lay down on the floor (which we do for 10 minutes at the end of each class in order to cool down, focus on breath and relax both the mind and the body.) The second class is considerably more capable, we are able to warm-up, do some simple across-the-floor exercises, a movement game or activity and a cool down. The favorite activity so far has been Freeze Dance, which at least two of them would compete for the gold medal for in Freeze Dance Olympics if they existed (oddly enough, one of them is deaf… the other has nervously learned how to tell me in English that I am “his spice girl”). It is fascinating how different the two disorders affect the body. It is clear each can benefit from movement, but in very different ways. The autistic students have extremely tense muscles and joints and are often immobilized by this tension and by their nervousness. In this class we focus on warming up and loosening the body, helping them to gain dexterity and coordination, and most importantly to relax their body and mind. The students in the Downs Syndrome class for the most part are incredibly limber and quite coordinated, so we try to focus more on strength building and channeling creativity and confidence.
In the last couple of years I have discovered and fallen in love with a new avenue of the dance field, very different than the conventional one. Ultimately, it has caused me to redefine my philosophy of dance and performance, and the direction I would like to go with it. Basically I fell in love with the intrinsic properties of movement, and the ways in which it can facilitate physical and emotional well-being. Teaching these classes is wonderful, because these people can benefit from movement in their life more so than almost any other group of people that I can think of. Of any part of this trip so far, I wish that I could share this with people in my life. Unfortunately we are unable to photograph or videotape the classes, although they are documented by a professional videographer for the use of the center and TAV… for now, you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Our exchange performance at Tsoying High School, with the students, the principal and the super intendant. The governor was also in attendance. This photo was in the newspaper, and followed a news conference. It was also, just before the bombardment of Asian highschoolers asking for pictures and “kisses.” To say it plainly, it was a bizarre and unforgettable day.
Last night we returned from our eventful weekend in Kaohsiung. Tomorrow starts the beginning of my last class of college: Chinese Meditative Arts. Twenty-three other CC students have now officially joined us in Taiwan, and I have a feeling the last three weeks of our time here is going to be very different than the first. We now have access to a whole slew of resources and guidance in which we lacked the last few weeks, which I’m sure everyone who has been dealing with my desperate attempts for comfort and communication from back home are happy to hear! My thesis piece is complete and almost ready to perform. My written thesis is not finished. I am healthy-ish… despite my friends- stomach and head ache who remain loyally at my side due the undetectable and/or unavoidable presence of soy and wheat. TAV got insect exterminated, so we are no longer infested with too many flees and mosquitoes.
It is near impossible to appropriately describe what has happened the last three weeks, especially to our newly arrived classmates. They have been some of the hardest, best and obviously (as I keep being reassured) valuable times of my entire life. As my survival instincts kicked in at full gear, my fight or flight instincts battled each other and I at times in fact considered quiting and coming home early. All in all, what was formerly almost too much to handle is now humorous to recollect, and of course I am glad I stuck it out during the difficult times. I know how obnoxious it is to hear as I report from across the world on scholarship and grant, I now see light at the end of the tunnel that has been clouded over for a considerable time. Whether that has to do with a couple more days of sunshine, the arrival of a giddy and curious group of college students, or the development of my thesis, I am unsure – perhaps a combination of them all. I do know though that if I were to describe the details of my escapades, my blog would go on for days (plus I am not sure that I have the compositional talent to properly illustrate their true colors). The last couple of weeks have included… our birthdays in Taiwan (yes, all three), our memorable trip to Macau (the Asian Vegas), our trip to Kaohsiung (the closest to fame any of us will probably ever get), friends, no friends, performing, exploring, and lots of other adventures.
CC Dance Community in Taiwan (Jack, Casey and Mauro)
Yunyu bought us massage mallets from this fabulous lady.
Taipei is wonderful because there is art everywhere, although sometimes it is a bit strange. This is outside of the Main Station, and is part of the floral expo.
There are motorbikes everywhere… and they drive like maniacs!
There are also McDonalds everywhere. This one was in Macau… quite luxurious I must say.
The three of us in Macau.
Macau at night.
A street vendor.
Just a great candid.
I am finally posting this. The fact that it has taken this long, says a lot about life here. My apologies for my absence up until now, I will try to be better about updating more regularly. Sending my love overseas, and hope you enjoy pictures (which are in the media library, I am working on getting them all uploaded into a post)! Now I have to go to class and the first showing of my thesis) Happy day everyone 🙂