“In the past two years I feel like I truly have taken a leap of faith.” – Ryan Schmidt
When dance is your life’s work, and your body is the substance of your career, how you’re feeling everyday is of utmost importance. On a daily basis, the majority of the working population gets up, gets dressed, and goes to work, without a thought of how their bodies might look under a microscope. They may have headaches, structural defects, disabilities, excess weight, fatigue, or even a scarred emotional life, but they still manage to punch-in and perform their tasks without the fear of losing their jobs, for the most part. For most folks, their body’s ability to function at an Olympian level is not contingent for their paycheck.
But a dancer’s life is much like that of the athlete’s. The stakes are high to find a job, keep a job, and have longevity in the field. Dancers, like athletes, are expected to be their best – every time they perform. A musician can hide behind their instrument; an artist can hide behind the canvas, but a dancer is the sum total of all the parts. There is NO hiding! The body is a finely-tuned instrument, and the reality is, tensions and stress affect the body, mind and spirit – and it shows! The outer structure of the body is a reflection of the inner core of their being, so it is important to deal with every little assault.
It would be nice to take your body to a mechanic when it’s tired, injured, or emotionally broken, so they could fix it while you comfortably sit in the waiting room, wouldn’t it? Some dancers take to bodywork or yoga to get the kinks out, or visit their physical therapist for their rehab and strength training. All types of body/mind techniques can be helpful to the dancer wanting to stay in balance. Practices, from Feldenkrais and Pilates, to Alexander Technique and Gyrotonics/Gyrokinesis, can be helpful. Psychotherapy, in addition, can complement any of these techniques, to help put balance back into the fragile life of a dancer, especially one who has been through trauma; however, restricted by money, dancers often suffer under that “poor, starving artist” adage. It’s costly to keep up dance classes everyday, let alone pay for the fees of a professional therapist and scads of bodywork.
But, some of the best care one can give to themselves absolutely free, is throughJin Shin Jyutsu® , an ancient Japanese healing art based on the body’s own energy system. It can be utilized by one’s own hands, performing what is known as “self-help.” All you need are your hands, patience, and dedication to the practice.
As a certified practitioner of Jin Shin Jyutsu, having studied this art for over twenty-three years now, I can attest to the power of its healing, and I share this work with all those who dance for me in my company, Adams Company Dance. I feel it is a necessary component to the life of a dancer, not only helping them with their discomforts, flexibility, weight balance, and general aches and pains, but with emotional and spiritual stability as well. It’s all connected. This can only enhance their performance; so I teach everyone, with the hope they will continue “self-help” for life.
While an assistant professor at Western Michigan University, I was blessed to be able to teach a class in Self-Help Jin Shin Jyutsu for the dance students. Ryan (pictured above), was in my class and picked up the work, as if she had been born to do it. A very talented dancer, and educated student, I knew that she would be able to take all that she had learned and carve a career for herself wherever she decided to go. I, of course, expected her to continue the practice of “self-help,” as I encouraged all the dancers to do. I found out that they even started their own Jin Shin Jyustu club after I had left! It caught on, I guess. But, what I didn’t factor in, was a phone call I got from a colleague after Ryan had graduated. Her mother had passed away suddenly from a bout with cancer. Then, shortly thereafter, she lost two other very important people in her life.
As if preparation for graduation and moving away from her childhood home weren’t enough, now this. Could Ryan’s situation be worse, I thought? Under normal circumstances, it’s hard for a dancer to not entertain terminating their career path due to stiff competition, and economic factors, but add to that three major losses, and a move to NYC from the Midwest, and you’re looking through the yellow pages under social services! What could have potentially ended a career for this dancer, led her instead to an approach of healing that helped her to have faith. Ryan eventually bounced back, but it took some time, some love, some energy, and a lot of faith. Here’s her story:
“In the past two years I feel like I have truly taken a leap of faith. I graduated college as a dance major a year early, then packed up, and left my friends and family back in the Midwest, and moved out to New York City. In a city of millions, I knew next to no one, and was attempting to pursue a difficult career in dance, no less. Within the first year of being in NYC, my mother died unexpectedly of cancer, and the year following, my friend and aerialist partner, died in a tragic accident while performing. A few months later, my uncle died very suddenly.
My dance career headed into an unfamiliar place. I thought, if no one was expecting me to show up to class, I wouldn’t go. I congratulated myself on merely making it to rehearsals, when I had them. If I did make it to class, good days were great and bad days were terrible. It always felt very extreme. If I had a bad class, I felt like it ruined my whole day. In yoga classes, I usually cried, but felt that was good because I was releasing. Simply going was my way of shutting my brain off to the outside world. I remember times when I couldn’t ride the subway or walk in the rain without crying. It was almost as though just getting out of bed every day was a leap of faith.
Somehow, I got through it all with the help of Jin Shin Jyutsu, a practice I learned while a student in college, and my first seeds of learning self-sufficiency. The sessions I had with my practitioner, Mitzi Adams, were great moments of release. I would always cry, but it always felt so good. I think those sessions really helped me get back on my feet. I felt like the moment Mitzi put her hands on my body, the tears would start to flow. My “self help” practice would begin upon waking, where I would perform what’s called the Main Central Vertical Flow, for general maintenance of the body. I also would lie in the bath or in bed and perform my 36 breaths, a breathing technique which helps all the body’s energy functions. This connection to the energy inside me changed my life. I became more aware of my moods and the way my body felt, and realized that I was truly the only person that controlled these essential functions. If I wasn’t happy, I knew I could do something about it, through the power of my own hands! Not only was this empowering and freeing – it was free!
I was faithful to my practice of Jin Shin Jyutsu, and continued to grow with this heightened awareness. Yoga took on a new meaning for me, too, as I began frequenting classes. I originally started going to yoga because it was cheaper than a dance class and I was poor, (still am), but rich in another sense. I became addicted to the familiar techniques of focusing my breath and body. A deep, full, healing breath – that I still can afford!
A healthy lifestyle has always been important to me, also, and I think I was influenced in this positive direction already, from having grown up in a family who ate mostly macrobiotically. Even when that became too difficult, my parents kept us eating as clean as they could, and educated us on how to feed our bodies with beneficial foods. It became very important to keep these healthy habits for nourishing my body through this time of mourning.
After my mom died, I was lost. She was my best friend and the keeper of the secrets of the world, it seemed. I wasn’t sure how to go on in life without talking to her three times a day about the weather, what I ate, how to deal with my annoying boss, or just to hear her say she was proud of me, and that she loved me. It seemed as though my current life wouldn’t work without her in it. I didn’t know how to act, really. Dancing was an outlet, but I struggled with not feeling my best. But, over these past two years, I have adjusted to her absence and honestly, I feel great. I definitely have a different relationship with my family, too. I didn’t know it was possible, but the unconditional love I have for them as family has grown beyond what I ever thought possible.
My relationship with myself has also changed a great deal. I have always been a pretty positive person, but I have learned how important that can be, especially when it comes to wanting a dance career. The way you see a situation determines how you feel, and you can decide for yourself if you want to be happy or upset about something. Failed auditions and struggling to survive on next-to-nothing could really bring me down, but a change in attitude seemed the better route. Since my mom died, I’ve realized that time, faith, and the energy work I’ve been studying DOES heal wounds, and now performing feels really good. Mom always supported me in my dance career and is truly the reason I chose this path. I think of my mom always giving me that extra boost of confidence with pre-performance compliments, and post-performance congratulations, and that helps me to feel better. It also reminds me that my mom will always be with me.
It’s almost as if I spent the last two years opening my eyes to the world. Rather than closing myself off in fear of losing people, like I lost my mom, my uncle, and my friend, I decided to open up even more. I give more love, more smiles, more hugs, and even more compliments. Ultimately, I now live my life with my own goals, aspirations, and agenda. In these past two years, I have developed more faith in myself and the constant energy from the universe, than ever before. I could’ve stepped out on dance, and on life, but with the support of family, friends, yoga, and Jin Shin Jyustu, I can now enjoy spreading that positive energy to others. The picture says it all, I took a big leap of faith. I had to. The rest, so they say, is history.”