In the summer of 2010 I begged my parents for a hula hoop. They thought I was crazy. I had to have one, I had to learn, because my friend Katie who I still have never met was doing it and it looked awesome and I just had to learn. A few days later they brought home a hula hoop from Wal-Mart filled with beads. I felt like a child on Christmas morning. A week or so later, while watching Lady Gaga music vidoes on VH1 I called to my dad, “I can do it! I can keep it up!” I felt elated.

In the spring of 2011 I started in my own LED solo dance number at my high school variety show. Every part of me dripped with tension as I stepped through my hoop, worried that my little black dress would catch onto it, worried about messing up. I felt exposed, naked even. At the end of the second night, when I bowed, the cheers were so loud for a moment that I forgot about the exposure and soaked in the limelight. It felt good to stand out.

In the autumn of 2011 I filmed myself dancing with a polypro hula hoop, something I hadn’t known existed eight months before, by the school lake. I stopped when I saw two boys walking towards me, watching me. I felt exposed again, and the moment I felt exposed the hoop and I were no longer dance partners doing a tango but rather lovers caught in the act. I began to stumble. I felt like I could fall over. They asked me if they could try it. I can’t remember if I said yes.

In the summer of 2012, my life had changed dramatically, due to multiple emergency room visits, weight gain, and pain from ovarian cysts added on to my previously uneventful life. I went to my garage a few times, and sometimes out to the yard, trying to recapture the old feeling of dance, or as hoopers like to say, flow. I was met most of the time with sweaty uncertainty and a voice in my head telling me that I shouldn’t post videos online after my weight gain. It was weight few people around me could see, but it was all I thought about. At night, every night, binging on Mexican wedding cakes and taking copious amounts of laxatives, I wondered what had become of my life. I didn’t have the energy most of the time to pick up the hoop for more than a few rounds around my waist. I began to feel detached from it, drained, unable to find interest in something that had once fascinated me. But that’s what bulimia does; it takes over your life. It had, that summer, taken over mine. My love for dance was met with demands from my eating disorder, and often, the eating disorder won.

In spring of 2013, I was performing at my college dorm’s talent show the one thing I still knew how to do- hoop. I was blindfolded. I think at the time, I was mostly being selfish. I wanted to show people that I could do it. I also wanted to show myself that I could still hoop, if I really tried. I almost fell over once, but the blindfold along with the darkness and my LED out on our brick porch created a dazzling effect and was, as others told me, “very impressive!” I felt my head grow to the size of a watermelon, making balance very difficult. I went upstairs and breathed heavily, covered in sweat and excitement, struggling to balance with the heat and sweat and trying to find a pin to puncture a hole and deflate my ego to a reasonable level.

That was also the year I started dancing without the hoop. I found that I liked it quite a lot. I am not sure if I looked ridiculous doing it. I still wonder about this, because the way I dance is the way a model danced for me for an art project. The project was to illustrate the fairy tale, The Red Shoes, by Anderson. It is one of my favorite stories, and is quite sad. Her dance was not sad. It was loud and expressive, and I wanted to be like her. I mimicked what little video I had of her dancing over and over again, trying to add more, trying to express myself, trying to truly be a dancer. I always felt I was behind, not quite a dancer, not quite a hooper, not quite anything, and if I care about something I’ll do anything to do more of it. I cared about dancing. Some nights, when 3am passed by in the laundry room and I had been dancing for a few hours, I tried looking at myself in the reflective glass of the washing machines and seeing if I looked like a dancer yet. Nope. Not yet. I tried again.

In the summer of 2014, I left running my hoop group. Too stressed, I said. Too bulimic, I said. Both true. Both honest statements. It continued without me, as these things are want to do once they have taken a life of their own. It is the natural progression of things. The issue of course being that my body was stuck in the cement of mental illness, and the world kept rushing by without stopping to set me free. How could they, with my screams coming out as whispers, and my own refusal to see that I was stuck waist-deep?

Cue hospitalization number one, winter of 2014.

In the winter of 2014, I danced on the hardwood flooring in the hospital. I had on socks and they played music for us about once a day, sometimes twice if I was lucky, during “Rec time”. I stopped caring what I looked like. In a psychiatric hospital, you don’t get much opportunity to really move unless you want to walk for hours. Walking for hours, without shoes and arch supports, hurt my feet and ankles terribly. So I danced. I danced before I ever really talked to any of them. I felt my feet move, turning under me, my arms graceful, my head lolling back and forth, and I really felt like this was it, this was dancing; this was something I could do that was mine, my own, and maybe I didn’t have to talk if I did it. A woman who I nicknamed “Dammit-Janet” pulled me aside and said that she had seen me do things trained dancers couldn’t. Sometimes I still think about that, and wonder exactly what it means. Art professors had been telling me that for the previous three years, regarding my artistic ability. While it has always felt encouraging, it has also always felt vague. At the time, I decided that I was a psuedo-dancer. I didn’t feel that I was dancer-like enough to really be a dancer. Even though people watched me, and the staff pulled me aside and asked about where I’d had training, and even my roommate said I was a beautiful dancer, I still didn’t feel it was right to attribute the title to what I did. I didn’t do pointe, I didn’t do ballet. I wasn’t truly, really a dancer.

Was I?

In 2015, I danced off and on, but more and more I danced without the hoop. The hoop felt like an old friend greeting me each time I picked it up, but I felt more attune with my feet on the floor just the way they were; no extensions, no flow arts.

In the spring of 2016, I did not dance in the hospital. I could not will myself to move. I spent hours each day simply staring at my white walls, trying to get a grip on my thoughts, which were pulling themselves out of mud and getting shoes stuck and left behind. Medication made my mind whir but there was nowhere to dance. I didn’t feel I could do it any more. I felt like I had lost something dear to my heart and it was the sort of something that you had to seek out to find again. I did not have the energy to seek it out. I pulled the white blanket over my head and breathed in the cotton-scented air close to my face, waiting for visitation hours to take place, waiting for motivation, waiting for something to come along and pull my body out of the muck of my depressive episode.

Last week I almost filmed myself dancing, but then didn’t. Too self conscious, mostly about my weight. Too many reasons to not begin in the first place. To many why-nots being met with answers that I couldn’t work around. I have felt myself under those blankets more and more often, breathing in wine and air and dust, unable to find the will to break myself free of my bed and get up and just, for one song, just dance. I feel my mind has sunken away. It does not seem to want to break free of its fog, to make its way through the mist and find the hoops under my love seat, pick one up, and just move. This feels, often, like an insurmountable effort. This feeling is sometimes met with elation, joy, the feeling that life is grand and wonderful and everything in life is wonderful and grand. In these moments I find my mind unable to slow down, my thoughts rinsed clean of mud, and my body unwilling to stop moving. The stages of highs and lows (mostly lows) make regular physical activity, like hooping, a difficult undertaking. I can’t very well wait for my brain to get out of a depressive fog to start dancing, but I also can’t rely on the small stages up to keep my body moving. I become, as I did last week, overwhelmed with thoughts and feelings and ideas and a need to move and not stop moving, which is rapidly met with a wall of exhaustion and a need to not move. This cycle is the thing I am trying to break free of, the fog I am attempting to shake away, so as to see the sun again. I want to pick up my hoops and fly, free, but find my body weighed down with the weight of a thousand stones before I can give it a spin around my waist.

I want to be a dancer again.

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