Why you should dance to your own rhythm
rio beach, arms outstretched

The words are in my head forever. “I’m really sorry but we’re going to have to amputate your leg, it’s not healing.” What followed is a blur, it seems that the human body has the capability of protecting you from the worst moments, fading the edges so it’s not as sharp a cut as it should be. I remember screaming out loud. Again it’s not a scream in my memory, but a tempered groan of pure pain. 

My first thought was dance. My one love, gone forever. Because without legs I couldn’t dance. No way. It wasn’t possible. 

I was 18, and in my third month of sleeping in a hospital bed, hospital food, medication, painful 8pm ending of family visits and the news that I would need my leg amputating below the knee was almost too much for me to deal with. Almost. 

A few months down the road, and with both legs amputated I was in a physio session talking about how dance was helping me learn to walk on prosthetics quickly. “It’s your core strength and balance” my physio said, as I struggled to hold on to the bars that were stopping me from falling straight on to the floor while pulling my incredibly baggy jeans up around my waist. The months of life-support, medication, meningitis, feeding tubes, and surgeries had taken their toll on my weight. “We have had amputees dance before, it won’t be anything like you’re used to, but we might be able to get you back to a club dancefloor.”

No, I remember thinking. That is not what dance is to me. It’s really moving, it’s spinning, it’s circles and swirls and jumping so high you might as well be flying. No, dance is not for me anymore, that has been taken from me and it’s gone. 

And so I pushed dance away. I shut down thoughts about it, moved choreography ideas into a sealed box and silently cried after every dream in which my legs were back and I was dancing. 

Until one day I found Candoco while looking for disabled dance online and a glimmer of hope re-opened. They were a professional dance company made up of disabled and non-disabled dancers, and their view of the human body in all its differences and its place in dance changed my entire outlook on who is and isn’t a dancer. Suddenly every misconception I had was challenged. Anybody can dance, all bodies are valid, all bodies are interesting and worthy and able of expressing. How had I missed this? 

That was it. I knew I needed to move again, to dance at first literally with nobody watching, and then as I got used to my changed body, with others, and in front of an audience. 

Growing up all I knew of dance really was one body type with a mild variation. Two arms, two legs, mostly slim, mostly average height, standing. But what is dance really? It’s so much more than set routines or steps. It’s humans revealing, it’s humans interacting and learning and showing that and enjoying. That’s the most important thing for me, I enjoy dance again, and I hope you can too. 

 

First published on Ditch the Label, 5th Jan 2018 

Kathleen HawkinsComment