Cast out from Courage: A letter to my dislocated elbow

”Our arms start from the back because they were once wings” (Martha Graham)

Wing-broken due to a freak accident in Tallinn five weeks ago. I could fall into despair since at the moment I am unable to fly. Or, alternatively, I can take this as a learning experience. For the first time I understand how it feels to dwell inside a body petrified by fear. When my dislocated right arm was put into a cast at Tallinn Central Hospital, I realized that also my mind ended up being sealed inside a cast.  Upon teaching Business Ballet, I´m always asking my students to step courageously into space, and now I suddenly find myself tiptoeing with short and fearful steps, scared of falling down at any given moment. Truly, courage is something very physical. Courage starts from being able to use the full range of gestures in space. Courage is synonymous of open focus of the body.

My summer started off gloriously with my Silver Swan dance performance to celebrate my 50th birthday at my work place. Naturally, the music was the Dying Swan by Saint Seans. Maybe I was challenging my faith, little did I know that my summer would end with my silver swan wing transformed into a rigid duck foot.

Silver Swan

Dying Swan indeed! Sadly, it will take long before I’ll be able to return to ballet class. However, this is also an interesting state that can be regarded from a metaphorical angle. In my teaching of embodied awareness, I often encounter people with body and mind trapped inside an invisible cast, unable to use their full range of expression. In the Finnish language “olla kipsissä” (being in a cast) refers to a rigid mental state. Thus, in the midst of these dire circumstances, I’ve discovered something very valuable for the future development of my Business Ballet method: the concept of the courageous body. Ultimately, the point of making business students move in class is to get rid of the invisible casts that hinder communication.

Throughout my childhood and teens I trained ballet semi-professionally and after finishing high school I was appointed Ballet teacher at my alma mater. After a few years of ballet teaching, I entered Helsinki Theater Academy to qualify as dance teacher. Those 43 years of practicing an extremely difficult discipline has made my body courageous. My 50-year old body has been shaped by the extreme stunts I used to be able to perform in ballet class. I always loved the Grand Allegro at the end of class, flying across the studio with big Grand Jeté jumps. Frankly, today many of those stunts are impossible for my middle aged body, yet, I still carry them in my muscle memory. This boldness is reflected in my pedagogical approach, I´m constantly looking for new openings and undiscovered grounds. Yet, all this came to an abrupt end when I found myself lying in an ambulance on my way to the emergency room of Tallinn Central Hospital. The pain made  me contract and focus inward. The cast around my arm immobilized my mind as well. This was my personal Ground Zero. A total stop.

My dislocated elbow in a cast

 

Throughout my dancing years I’ve been complimented for my Russian-style ballet arms. I miss the fluidity of my right arm. What a joy it was to sneak away on early July mornings to take Ballet morning class while the rest of the family was still asleep. An exceptional summer it was with eternal sunshine. The hot weather made me feel embodied and fully alive. Since it was also football World Cup summer, I’m recalling an anatomy course I attended at the Theater Academy in the mid-90´s. The lecturer claimed that Finland would never have a premier national football team, since our children grow up being entrapped in winter overalls half of the year. I can see his point: the harsh climate makes us disembodied under a thick layer of winter clothes. In reference to a body in discomfort, Drew Leder presents the concept of dysappearing body in his book The Absent Body. In other words, we only become aware of our body once it fails us. On a deeper level, I feel that my injury was meant to happen, as a reminder of a body that has been too strained by stress and worries over the past years. It was time for me to stop. If the brain does not understand to make the body  come to a halt, the disregarded body will dysappear, in other words, appear in a dislocated state – be it in the shape of a dislocated elbow or a twisted ankle. Apparently, there is a profound wisdom in our bodies.

Reverence at turning 50

I started this post several weeks ago, slowly typing word by word with my left hand. Over the weeks I have felt my arm get better millimeter by millimeter. For long, I did not have an idea of where my writing would lead me. The recovery seemed to be a hopelessly long process, and frankly speaking, quite distressing and not very uplifting to write about. Until something magical and totally unexpected happened! I had finally been appointed a physiotherapist by my travel insurance and entered the clinic with just a time scheduled for the appointment. Upon meeting the therapist, I immediately recognized her as very familiar-looking. It turned out that we had spent the summer 1990 in Palucca Schule Dresden, just after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  I was there to attend a course in Ballet methodology for ballet teachers and she was a talented young ballet student.  That summer 28 years ago stays in my memory as a world long lost. Occasionally I have returned to Dresden in my thoughts, to those weeks when DDR was changed into West Germany just over night. When earth colours were replaced by garish plastic kitsch in the stores. During all the turmoil, Palucca Schule remained intact, following the tradition set by its founder, avant garde dancer Gret Palucca, that of providing an educational mix of modern dance and classical ballet in order to bring up generations of well-formed dancers. Maybe it was here that I first understood the value of blending and mixing disciplines, eventually paving way for me becoming Dancing English Teacher in a business school. So at the end, my dislocated elbow enabled a joyful encounter with my past. And my recovery is in very good hands, soon I will be able to fly again!

Arms that were once wings

About Pia Kiviaho-Kallio

Dancing English Teacher holds an MA in English Philology and is a certified dance teacher. She takes interest in introducing dance and movement improvisation into vocational business studies. Dance is a shortcut to embodiment, kinesthetic awareness and efficient team work. Thus, business students benefit from dance and movement studies.
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