Oct 13, 2001
I teach dance at the Borough of Manhattan Community College in the Early Childhood Center. It’s quite close to the site of the World Trade Center and has just reopened. Last week when I went into teach, I gave the kids an exercise that they weren’t quite engaging in. Suddenly one kid said, “Look at me! I can be a building falling down,” and then for the next five minutes all the kids began falling—replaying the image of the WTC collapse in their bodies. It was such a direct physical representation and kinetic experience of what it means and how it feels to collapse. It was beautiful, not sad, just heroic in each of their little bodies—a way to keep moving and being in the world that at times makes so little sense.
The first time I danced after September 11th I had a similar experience. I stood up and walked into the studio space to dance for a friend and found myself instantly imploding, until I collapsed on the floor. Then the images of what it must have been like in those last few moments came to me, writhing through my body, aching, struggling, until eventually I found a calm space to look into the grief and hold it in my body. In my rehearsals I have been working on digging and burying. Originally the idea came from wanting to make a dance that could express the enthusiasm that my dog has for digging and playing with other dogs. But over the past month it has come to mean so many more things. As Erin and I delve under each other, feeling each other’s dead weight or strength, settling and unsettling, finding the dark places and moving out from under them to the light, I know that I am processing the experience of watching thousands of people caught in those buildings. Dancing has been the only way to get close to what is incomprehensible and unspeakable grief.
My brain and my body have never worked so hard to find solutions, to make sense of something. We have all had a crash course in Middle Eastern history and Islam. As artists I think we are constantly trying to tackle the contradictions of being inside and outside of other people’s experiences. Dance deals in delicate languages that reveal emotional subtleties from a personal place. Our bodies project our grief.
I am resistant to the smoothness of slipping back to familiar handleable emotions. The rawness left us all so open, so unified, so emotional—now we are slipping back into political rhetoric and sentimentality, not to mention the odd concept of patriotism. For a moment we really could make a difference. We could hold each other and contemplate what had been unthinkable. Now as opinions vary and spread across a broad field our differences become apparent. Rhetoric is easier to find, to lean on. It’s smooth.
How to hold on to the roughness, rawness, sharpness? Or how to understand the smoothness as the next development? The edge is too tender to stay open.
A smooth scar will grow over it. But as our minds pass along it over and over again, like fingers across an old cut, our common body will recognize how it has been permanently altered.
MRPJ Project, Grief