Because dance is one way that I express myself, I’ve been wanting to dedicate a dance to the youth with cancer that I have spent time with over the years.
When I learned about Zach Sobiech, a teenager with osteosarcoma, his incredible musical talent resonated with me: the lyrics he wrote and the songs he sang expressed his inspiring attitude amidst his experiences with cancer. With subtle undertones of cancer, his music is simple yet powerful. One of my favorite songs by Zach is Sandcastles: a melodious, heartfelt duet with Sammy Brown about a far off land “where no one gets hurt and no one dies.”
Zach died one year ago today. My hope is that my choreography and performance of a dance to Sandcastles, speaks for itself.
“Say what you wanna say And let the words fall out Honestly I wanna see you be brave”
The lyrics of Sara Bareilles’ song Brave struck me. They reminded me of the purpose behind my research and my Honors English thesis: to give children and adolescents a chance to tell their own stories. And, to give all those involved the opportunity to listen, to better understand how these children and adolescents cope with the complex, mysterious illness of cancer. In my mind, the bravery arises in how children are talking and writing about their intimate experiences with cancer.
From Stronger to Roar and now Brave, my emotions are mixed about these charged music videos about the sphere of pediatric oncology. While the Stronger and Roar videos ask for donations to support childhood cancer research in the caption, this video of Brave only links to additional information about the programs offered. I wonder, how does the purpose behind these videos affect how we should respond to them?
I have to say, one of the best things about these music videos is that they counter common misconceptions about childhood cancer. Every time I tell someone that I want to be a pediatric oncologist, people stare at me and say, “Oh. That’s so depressing” or “That’s so sad!”. I’m not saying that it’s not going to be an emotionally challenging career, but at the same time, these are truly incredible and lively children. These videos portray the fun and joy that is also part of pediatric oncology. These children embrace their passions and make the most of their time in hospitals by playing games, making crafts, and finding reasons to laugh.
In addition to sharing her story through the book Grace, Melinda Marchiano gave voice to her experiences through a language of her own: dance. Through the Fire embodies her illness experience with childhood cancer.
Healing is an intimate process, both for those being healed and for their healers. I choreographed this dance to the song Fix You by Coldplay to commemorate the intricacies of the healing process, particularly for those surrounding the sufferer. Illness may isolate the self, but it can often unite others.
From family and friends, physicians and nurses, therapists and chaplains, there are numerous individuals who dedicate themselves to this cause: to “try[ing] to fix you.” This performance honors these individuals, recognizing their independent contributions. It illuminates the parallels across these different efforts, revealing how these different methods of healing are in fact synchronized. Similar motions are performed with unique takes by each dancer and each healer. Reducing pain with Oxycodone, alleviating emotional unraveling through art. Finding solace in spirituality.
Healing is a collective effort, just as dancing; collaboration demands a conversation of sorts that is embodied here in movement. Each must share their insight and showcase their strengths while recognizing what to forfeit in favor of healing the mind, the body, and the total self. Considering the nutritional imbalances imposed by antidepressants, the psychological side effects of surgical disfigurement. The limitations to restoring normalcy.
There is dynamism to healing. There are trying times and moments of liberation, symbolized by movements high and low. There are bursts of chaos and body rolls, unexpected outcomes and relapses, but there are also breaths of peace demonstrated by graceful releases of the body and sustained poses. Recoveries.
This choreography and its performance demonstrate that healing vitalizes all involved, as it “ignite[s] your bones.”
This week, I’m on the look out for non-narrative illness narratives. Expressions of the illness experience that occupy any form of media.
I’m beginning my exploration of multimedia illness narratives with dance. As someone who has danced forever, I have always been fascinated by movement. Recently I have learned about dance therapy and movement programs, and I love how dance and movement have been adapted to help with coping.
I began with a youtube search for ‘illness dances’.
This first video is called Schizophrenia, and is “loosely based” on the illness.
These movements embody the marriage of chaos and calm, of sharp and fluid, of control and collapse.
Another video I found is called “An Interpretation of My Illness- Crohn’s disease.” Unlike the previous one, this dance is choreographed by an individual who has the illness that the dance expresses.
Her incorporation of movements on the floor demonstrate the “falling” aspects of her illness, the numerous head rolls reveal her anguish. An interesting aspect of this dance is the song chosen: “Her Diamonds” by Rob Thomas, a song written for his wife who has an auto-immune diseases.
Last but not least, how can I forget my own dance loosely choreographed about autism? After seeing this video, I was inspired to choreograph a dance last year to “Fix You” by Coldplay.
It’s interesting to look back on my own choreography through the lens of illness narratives. I didn’t even realize that I was depicting the light of triumph narratives. At the time, I described the circle as a moment of “chaos,”; now it seems like those movements express the “chaos narrative” that words cannot capture.
Haven’t had enough dance illness narratives? Here’s an epic production of “Childhood Illness…Our Story”, Part 1 and Part 2, telling the tale of “a mother and young daughter’s journey through chemotherapy.”