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  • Nicole (Johnson) Williams

27. backstory

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

I got a hunch…

*hunch (v) raise (one’s shoulders) and bend the top of one’s body forward *hunch– (n) a feeling or guess based on intuition rather than known facts or a humped position or thing Oxford Languages

BodyStories: A Guide to Experiential Anatomy (Andrea Olsen)

I can’t recall exactly when it started, but the pain had persisted for a long time. A deep ache in the instep of my left foot that was just dull enough to ignore for a number of years. By the time it had become unbearable, it was July of 2019 and I was preparing for a big show with a ballet company I had been dancing with. I worked with a physical therapist to find the source of the problem, but left only with a Theraband, some prescribed relevés, and perhaps with more questions than when I had begun. Although he wasn’t able to cure my pain, he did open my awareness to the possible connection to a hip injury that originated during my first year of college. Bursitis in my left hip, which could possibly be the cause of my, now, compromised psoas and the strain it was placing on my foot as I strapped on my pointe shoes and danced for hours each day.

Fast forward.

By the time I made it to western Mass in 2022, I had been dancing with a contemporary company and had hung up my pointe shoes for good. Even still, that nagging pain returned just as loudly and disruptively as before. I sought out the help of a different physical therapist. The results were similar and eventually, the pain subsided. Out of sight out of mind.

I don’t think I began to recognize any real problem until I noticed an arresting pain in my lower back in July of 2022. Over the next few months, it would travel continuously from my lower back, to deep inside my shoulder blade, to my neck, and at times, up into my skull… all on the left side. I continued to ignore.

In the winter, I began teaching the second term of my Honors Ballet Technique and Theory class; a kinesthetic study highlighting the inseparability of the mind and body, and focusing on our own body stories (primarily the upper body). We began by writing our own body stories; birth stories, earliest movement memories, illnesses, injuries, training techniques, messages we were told about our bodies, etc. We then discussed at length how those pieces of backstory manifest in our own physical bodies and performance of identity in and outside of the dance studio. Reflecting with my class throughout this process of discovery has allowed possibility for me to consider connections that move my work forward.

Oppression and the Body: Roots Resistance, and Resolutions (Christine Caldwell)

At the same time, I had also been working with Urban Bush Women as a part of the Community Chorus for the site-responsive work, Haint Blu (click link for visual), “an embodied look into familial lines and the movements, histories and stories of our elders and ancestors.” The text used for the section I participated in, written by poet Nina Angela Mercer, was from the perspective of a woman who’s Nana told her “there’s a new spirit sittin’ right in the middle of [the narrator’s] back.” She wonders if this spirit is the tension in her backbone, making her walk different, and giving her a sense of knowing, as if she’s lived more years than she has in some strange way. In the end, the woman wonders what kind of healing the spirit has come for. In a way, this is the premise for my own Artistic Experience. It’s been a physical manifestation of the connections that have come intuitively when I’ve been open enough to wonder, seek, and explore.

Motivational author, Louise Hay, describes the left side of the body as the feminine side, the receiving side, where you take in. As I continue to work with somatic and medical professionals to gain a better understanding, I wonder how this sensation on my left side will show itself within the choreography. I’m excited to play with the concepts and invite the connections. I’m interested to know what kind of healing this spirit has come for. And I’m grateful for the space to take the journey.

I’ve got a hunch… and I know that if I move critically and intuitively, the connections will be abundant, and the Artistic Experience I curate at the end of this semester will help me to uncover and give voice to my own stories, and those of my ancestors. I’m honored to do the work, and continue weaving together the connections as I go.

Oppression and the Body: Roots Resistance, and Resolutions (Christine Caldwell)

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