The ground shoots energy through your bare foot
That line of energy travels up through your ankle, through the knees, to reach the pelvis
Imagine the force of energy being so strong that it propels your hips forward and makes your knee joints bow down
Imagine the energy guiding your hips forward in a snail motion but with the fluidity of a snake
That is followed and rippled by—the spine, highlighting your primary and secondary curves—
The torso, sending your chest to the sky, the horizon, the earth, and back—
And the head, that falls back, victim of a strong torso moving forward
Imagine the torso moving back propelling the neck forward as the weight of the skull forces it to bow down towards the earth
As the head rolls back to its starting point, imagine the same line of energy that traveled from the ball of the foot, to the arch, the ankle, the knee, the pelvis, up the spine, and the head
Imagine that energy line returning through the back of the skull, down the spine, through the lower extremity joints, pushing at the ankle to bring the heels down
You are grounded
Now, imagine doing all of this in two seconds, repeatedly moving from right foot to left foot
While soft yet strong and rhythmically varied drums play Haitian Folklore rhythms in the background
This is how I fell in love with movement, with rhythm, with culture, and with self-expression
The movement describe above was never taught to me and I don’t remember seeing any movement that was exactly the same anywhere before I began embodying it. Nonetheless, if you practice any forms of West African dance, Haitian folklore, Cuban dance and other Afro-diasporic dance styles, this movement may feel very familiar to you. I usually perform this movement when I am alone, listening to slow drumming, and almost instantly, the movement would become a feeling. It would ground me and make me aware of what I was feeling physically and emotionally. The movement became more about sense, meaning, perception and less about technicality.
I was born in Haiti where I lived for fifteen years. If you know how taboo therapeutic practices are in the black community, my experience is that it is nothing compared to the Haitian community. My first interaction with someone with mental illness was totally disguised as someone who did not follow the laws and as a result became “crazy.” My last interaction with mental illness before I could learn what it was, was with my family circle. I watched my aunt slowly become a different person; she went from being the principle of her own elementary school to the woman who would curse you simply for walking by. Being a child, at the time I did not know the family “secrets” that I now know and it is all starting to fall into place.
Later when I came to the U.S. I started school at High School of Commerce. Every day I would come to class and see students acting out, not wanting to learn, and I could not understand why people would ever waist an opportunity to free education. I saw these kids as the “bad kids” the ones who simply didn’t care enough; the troublemakers. However, my senior year, I sat in a classroom full of “troublemakers” minding my business and I happen to overhear some conversations. The level of intellect that was in this room was unbelievable but what touched me the most is that none of it was from learning in school. These kids had been living the streets; that was their school. The most important thing I learned that day is that they did not chose to suddenly be adults. This responsibility was forced on them one way or another and they were simply playing the role.
Putting together my experience with my own family swiping mental illness under the carpet and watching students become adults before they have too, I noticed the cycle of experiencing trauma, of growing up without ever treating it then passing it into your own children. Once the cycle has been circling for so long, once mental illness has been taboo for so long, it becomes almost impossible to suggest the idea of healing to people. How can you heal if you don’t even know you’re sick?
I started learning about my dusts that were swept under the carpet once I started to dance intentionally. Dance did two things for me: made me happy and happiness was the key to break my cycle of silence. I wanted more than the hour of happiness I was getting while I dance so I began to look for ways to be happy in life. The second thing dance did for me is help me to identify my hidden hurts. Sometimes culture teach us that some things that happen to us are common and natural or that it is our fault for not following the rules. When I dance, I remember things in my body, I feel, then I reflect and that is where my healing begins.
Dance for me varies from swaying your body to the sound of music to performing a five-minute West African routine. I believe dance makes people happier and I believe dance is available to everyone. I also believe in the power of community; to find a community of people who create a safe space for you to open up is crucial because not only will they support your healing process but they will likely heal with you.
So next time you have some alone time, in your room or anywhere that has a little moving space, put on a song that speaks to you (could be drumming, gospel, jazz, or Drake for all I care) and move. Close your eyes and move!
Beautifully Written by Veronica Israel (Nica). A student at Hampshire college, Native of Haiti, and my mentee.