I’m excited and more than a little nervous to announce that a dream I’ve had for a long time is finally coming to fruition next week: I’m opening a studio in northern Santa Monica (Tongva Lands): Pilates CAN (my initials and essentially my life motto). I hope you’ll visit me in this inclusive space that I hope will be a haven of healing, growth, and new frontiers of every kind.
If you follow me on Instagram, you may notice that my platform has become more explicitly anti-racist recently. I’ve been hesitant to speak about it on my blog for fear that I don’t yet have adequate language, but there’s been far too much silence around this subject so I’ve decided to blunder forward, doing the best I can for now. Please call me out for any missteps that I make.
This July, I joined Layla Saad’s “Me and White Supremacy” challenge a few days in, having caught wind of it from a few people I followed, seeing the profound effect it was having having on those who are doing it, and hearing Layla’s calls to action for white peoples to assume the necessary work of dismantling white supremacy.
I am ashamed that come up until this point, my activism has been very passive. I was absorbed in anti-racist education as an undergrad, but I guess life happened. I got swept up in change, moves, relationships, music and really failed to take the work to its next logical step. I’m ashamed that I never really sought that next step, even in the wake of the Trump election. I was mollified by the movement community’s aphorisms about universality, about intention, but have come to see how very tone deaf we are, how ineffectual, how focusing and insisting on love and light mutes so many voices.
But this is a very exciting time. So many brilliant educators are accessible, visible, and encouraging white people to assume our responsibility in dismantling white supremacy. Racism will take genations to undo. It’s not enough not to be racist - white people ARE racist as a result of being raised in, living in a racist world. But we must DAILY participate in antitacist activities. There are so many places to find these activities and I will summarize serval of my favorites here.
I spoke to a newish friend the other day. A mutual friend introduced us in New York last year and we share a passion for the enlightening, healing potential of movement and on that ground became fast friends and have stayed in touch despite some globetrotting on both of our parts. We spoke at length about how, as a result of so many disorders (illness both physical and psychological), dissociative disorders can result – physiological manifestations of stress and anxiety. Both of us aim to maintain CONNECTION in our clients; connection to the body, connection to loved ones, connection to community, connection to presence, to breath. For it is disconnection that provokes a slippery slope, a lack of intonation with one’s own vibration that can - sometimes indirectly and sometimes quite directly – lead to worsening symptoms and disease.
First, this isn’t a new conversation for me. But I think it’s a newish conversation for bodyworkers - us more physical shepherds of the wellness community. I think this conversation is important and I’d like to see it become more mainstream.
Second, for several reasons after this conversation I’m drawn to examine the ways in which I have fallen short in my connections. Maybe that’s a little bit harsh: may be it’s difficult to feel connected when you’ve been nomadic for some time and when you somewhat prone to anxiety? But true mindfulness, true bodyfulness, attention is connection. Is home. May be is the only true home there is. So, working on that. And, as always, here for any of you need support on your own journey.
I’ve been remiss about blogging for a bit. Just trying to get my bearings in a very new language, new culture, new friends, new lifestyle. It’s all been a bit disorienting. And something about blogging needles one to be oriented, resolved, sure of oneself. And, truth to be told, I never am. I used to think that was a me thing, that I’m slow to figure things out. But I begin to suspect it’s a human thing...
Having weathered a lot of change over the past few years, I realize the thing that has most persistently bitten me in the ass is expectation. I expected certian things of a musical career, of Los Angeles, of marriage, for example, and was a bit boulversé (what a great anamatapoetic word!) when reality didn’t line up with fantasy. But a. the act of projection/fantasy/planning is a little bit self-deluding to begin with. Even IF our best laid plans come to fruition, b. we still have to deal with bills, and an overflowing toilet, being groped on the subway. Those things, inevitable parts of daily life, are rarely factored into one’s future fantasies.
So I’m trying to get more pragmatic about all that while still working for and planning for the best.
In all frankness, I feel ill-equipped to describe my experience of Spain so far. My impressions are so subjective. What claim do I have upon describing the city, this country? To blog, for that matter? Ah well, please take that as a disclaimer, and I’ll say what I can. Hopefully the friends and family that read this won’t hold it against me. Know that I’m trying to see things with as clear an eye as possible but aknowledge that my experience is privileged, biased, and limited.
First and foremost, I admit I probably left Los Angeles to soon. It was a really hard year, I wasn’t doing enough of what I really loved, and as is my wont, running away was easier. I’ll try to bear that in mind for the future, but for now I have to live with that decision.
And what did I expect of Spain? What rosy visions seduced me? I’ll admit, I did think osmosis would rapidly transform me into a fantastic dancer and deft improviser. This wasn’t entirely a conscious assumption, but I’m guilty of harboring it nonetheless. I expected Spanish to be easier. Learning especially the grammar of a new language is bloody hard. I’m not sure what I expected of Spanish culture – I’m probably guilty of not doing enough research. But it is infinitely more complex, more nuanced than I could’ve imagined.
And what am I doing? I’m teaching a little bit – both music and movement. But my teaching is handicapped by my not-quite-fluent Spanish. So I’m teaching English on the side as well. Though exhausting, this jack-of-all-trades lifestyle suits me well – nothing ever gets stale. I really do miss teaching movement more, but I have a Spanish language class now, so hopefully that’s in the works!
As I’ve always been warned, and have experienced, making performance connections takes a little bit longer. So I’m mostly just listening to musicians I’d like to play with, dancers I’d like to dance with, right now and, most importantly, doing the work, because that is what being a professional really is. I’ve never strayed so far from the idea of a five-year plan, and that’s a bit terrifying. But taking it one day at a time and I’ll try to keep you all in the loop!
My 2018 goals are still deeply personal and this year is unique in that, for one of the first times in my life, I have few concrete plans (or jobs, gulp!) aside from some solid, core goals. 2017 was a year of both great growth and great disappointment. I’d like to keep the growth going but seek much greater fulfillment and satisfaction - just raising the bar on what I’m asking of life and of myself. I’ll keep you posted!
“Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. Conditions are always impossible.“ Doris Lessing
photo credit: the beautiful Sara Parra, Esencia Dance Company, Los Alamitos, California
As artists, we are called to be performers. This is an inner call, an artistic obligation, and a social expectation. But I think I’m not alone in having some inner conflict about performance. So much of the creative process is intensely solitary. In an ideal world, like Casals’ proclamation that he only felt ready to share his Bach after 80, we would only share our process after it has yielded rich fruit and it feels like a natural continuation of our personal exploration to do so. But that’s actually neither realistic nor even productive. In order to feed our fire, creatively and motivationally, we need the pressure of imminent exposure. Nothing is EVER “ready,” but the process of preparation is a huge incentive to creativity. Additionally, the sharing itself, as traumatic as it can often be, yields fresh insights into our strengths and weaknesses. I’m not really pontificating about something that is novel to any creative, just acknowledging this constant inner conflict- an act that is itself kind of liberating and motivating.
You don't have to be a highly evolved paragon of enlightenment in order to ease suffering and bestow blessings - Caroline Myss (Image: Marco Battaglini)
I went through a break up recently - one of those processes that is absolutely universal and yet also feels extremely isolating. During that time, friends’ and authors’ snippets of wisdom were incredibly helpful to me, so I wanted to share some of that as most anyone who reads this has or will go through this.
The most important thing to know is that it’s not about them. What all this pain, loss, and sadness is really about is you. That’s both a liberating and terrifying realization. Now you have to face all your stuff that drove you to bond with someone when, for whatever reason, you were ill-prepared to do so and drives you to seek attachment in general (to be clear, not all attachment is bad, but addiction to attachment is – more about that below).
Self care is about as overused, overabused, goopified, yuppified a term as you can get. And yet...most of us weren’t taught a. what this really is and b. how to practice. I think Dr. Howard Halpern has my favorite definition;
You must learn to listen to the demands of that inner infant and become for her the best possible parent you can be. Nurture, guide, be good to that child, love her deeply, do nice things for her, tell her you will build her self-esteem and confidence and tell her you will always be there for her and never berate her. Also teach her that all of her needs may not be gratified immediately and that she can cope with the pain, that being alone is ok, not to attach to get needs met. The more you can stop yourself from these desperate attempts to avoid facing your own separateness, the more you can experience a mature, self-respecting, almost stately sense of who you are.
Got it? Pretty tall order. But, if just reading that paragraph gave you some warm fuzzies, I think there’s hope for you.
I’ll leave you from one more gem from the venerable Dr. Halpern; “The intensity of your withdrawal symptoms does not indicate the strength of your love but the strength of your addiction.” This answered a lot of questions for me. My recent break up, though something I provoked, was more challenging than that of my longest relationship. And I realized that was due to a dependency that kicked in as other aspects of my life (work, home) were incredibly insecure. Becoming overly dependent on another person’s love is surely a weakness, but it is also a quintesssentially human one, so go gentle on your sweet self, shore up your life so that you don’t do it again, and self care like a boss.
Change is hard, yo! (so hard that I'm compelled to punctuate this statement with a completely uncharacteristic interjection) - even for someone who lives fairly far along the spectrum of adventurousness. Our brains love habit, consistency with an addictive ferocity - ESPECIALLY when that habit gives you love, comfort, and security. And yet almost all evidence (biological, social, creative) urges us towards change, towards the new, to evolve - ESPECIALLY if we feel that itch of something not quite being the right fit for us. TRUST THE ITCH. Particularly during these scary, uncomfortable, and even sad times of change we have to trust that we CHOSE to leave people, places, and things because they no longer served our highest good. Not only trust, but celebrate! Look back with so much gratitude and learn from it but celebrate that you chose change to better yourself - how awesome is that!? Go you!:) On that note I'm sharing some things about LA that make me happy - because gratitude is the muscle that assists change. Top of the list is my fricking backyard: Santa Monica State Beach - and that it's sometimes foggy enough for this pale-assed vampire to do yoga on the beach. This place calms me down more than I can say. All in all, a pretty huge thing to be thankful for.
MUSICIANS' HEALTH COLLECTIVE: SUPPORTING THE HEALTH OF MUSICIANS
The Intersection of Dance, Pilates, and Music: An Interview with Cicely NelsonAugust 31, 2017
Cicely Nelson is a violinist, educator, pilates teacher, dancer, and general somatic adventurer. With a wide range of educational and artistic experiences, as well as having lived a number of places, she brings a unique perspective to all that she does. She's also a recent Canadian transplant in Los Angeles, which is a new chapter in her career. I am impressed by all that she does and I can't wait to meet up with her and move the next time I'm in LA.
K: Tell us a little about your varied career. You have a wide range of interests and training, and a blended career in multiple fields of education, somatic teaching, and music performance. (and a liberal arts degree too!) You also just moved to LA...
C: My parents are very musical and music was a constant in my house growing up. Dancing was really my first artistic outlet - I danced seriously (attending professional schools in Canada) and professionally until my early twenties (I am back to dancing now, after some time off, but not as much ballet). Dancing is a tough career though, and I think, in many ways, I was emotionally unprepared for it, and I found healing and strength in returning to therapeutic bodywork as a career while at university in New York. Music kind of slowly blossomed alongside that. So I'm not sure I even noticed at the time how helpful both conditioning and somatic work was for my playing! That I maintained my physical health was always kind of a given. Later, encountering so many musicians with physical issues, I really realized the value of the work I do! In New York I used to teach pilates to a big-name violinist. I'll never forget the day he asked me for a violin lesson – for the sake of his alignment of course, my head exploded nevertheless!
Cicely here in the early days of studying ballet
K: When did you start music study as a child, as well as dance, and how did studying those two performing arts concurrently affect you then and now?
C: Like I said, dance was very much primary, but music always alongside. I don't think musicians always think of dancers as musicians (but of course they are) - and, similarly musicians do have far greater command of their coordination and propriocention than they realize! My bodywork makes me super keenly aware of the physicality of playing - to the extent that it can occasionally be difficult to get into a state of flow where I'm just thinking of the music. But generally body awareness really helps my playing.
K: How does the liberal arts degree factor into things?
C: I didn't have much of a high school experience (due to ballet school), so college was really about studying anything and everything! Thankfully, I went to college in New York City so it was a tremendously stimulating place to kind of reroute my passions after the ballet career and, while I dabbled in premed and even contemplated going a more academic direction, I don't think it was really ever a question that I could stay away from the arts.
K: You additionally have training in Suzuki- when did you start that? C: I was made aware of the really excellent Suzuki teacher training program at the school for strings in NYC after I finished my undergraduate degree. In all honesty, the program's approach sounded so similar to Pilates! The school really emphasizes creatively finding a slow, steady, systematic path for every single student, regardless of ability or learning style. The skills that I had gained in training people to move came in really handy in teaching children to play. It's really such a great program! Incredible teachers – I think of them every day that I teach, not only the amazing violinistic tips but their humanity – how they really prioritized developing the whole child as opposed to just a little prodigies, how art for them wasn't just about creativity and achievement but also about emotional health. This resonated with me as it wasn't a balance that was particularly well struck during my own childhood.
K: How does have a somatic background affect the way you work with beginners and children? C: Oh wow, it's huge! Kids are so much more in touch with their emotions than adults, for a variety of reasons. Of course, they're not always able to understand or verbalize their feelings, but my awareness of how emotions manifest physically enables me to guide both their learning and performing experiences with extra sensitivity, I think.
K: Who have some of your biggest teachers/mentors been, either in movement or music? C: I've been fortunate to study with some incredible mentors - in all of my endeavors. I've always sought answers very avidly and, for better or worse, impatiently - so, if one my mentors wasn't getting through to me, I would seek another answer. Of course the downside to this is that I have been a somewhat of a fickle student.
In New York, I studied violin with Joey Corpus, who is just a total savant. He extremely creative about solving violinistic issues - he has no set system, his eye just seems to see. Also, somewhat ironically for a paraplegic, his instructions are extremely kinetic, an approach that resonated with me.
In terms of bodywork, I absolutely adore Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. Her work on embodied anatomy, living in our bodies instead of our minds, was and remains a game changer for me.
Cicely doing swan on the ladder barrel
Erika Bloom has been an incredible Pilates colleague and mentor. We met up in New York in 2006, where I was a member of the team that opened her first studio. It was so refreshing to work with someone who prioritized education and truly kept themselves and their team abreast of current anatomical and neuromuscular scholarship. I think that's becoming a more common model now, but not as much 10 years ago. I continue to work for her now, having moved to LA to open her first West Coast studio last January.
K: What has the intersection of movement and music done for you?
C: They are the same to me. Vehicles of expression that demand massive amounts of devotion, drilling, sacrifice, and self care. But pursuits that are more rewarding than anything under the sun. Being a musician makes me a better dancer and vice versa. Pilates, yoga, and bodywork are truly my therapeutic recourse personally, but also teaching is both something that fills me up and enables me to give back in a really tangible way. Of course performing arts make people's lives better, but that can sometimes feel somewhat abstract? In teaching Pilates I feel I can make people's lives better in the moment, which provides a nice counterbalance to the occasional loneliness of artistic pursuits.
K: What are you currently fascinated with in your own movement practice and what do you want to learn more about? C: Oh that's such a great question. Last year, after a fairly stressful couple of years, I was working in the Caribbean and I had lots of extra time. My obsession then was limits – that I had always been focused on finding and pushing my boundaries and limits, but I wanted to take that time to find a real comfort zone – not pushing boundaries and leaning into ligaments, but really making my muscles stronger and becoming fluid and confident within my own skeleton. That was a really helpful direction to take and I do feel much more grounded now. Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen's work has been really influential recently, especially her studies on how we somatize emotion and, similarly, how movement is far more than a physical therapy, but also tremendously impactful on emotional, intellectual, and even spiritual levels.
K: What are some upcoming projects? C: Playing-wise, I am getting in shape for orchestra auditions. Given the variety of my interests, even if I could win a full time orchestra job, that wouldn't so much be my ideal life, I'm more focusing on getting in better shape to that I can play with better pick-up orchestras? My dream is to meet some local chamber musicians, that is of course my favorite thing. I had that in New York - people with whom you play for fun but people who are serious and professional so that a bunch of gigs came our way and we actually did quite well in the classical nightlife scene there for a few years!
In terms of dance, I continue to dance here in Los Angeles, mostly studying with both visiting and local Flamenco artists and performing a little bit, just casually. I'm still pretty new to Flamenco, so there is so much to learn! But what I especially love in this art form is that the dancer is the musician.
I'm probably most deeply involved right now in getting Erika Bloom's studio up and running in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. I'm really excited for what our studio can bring to this city! In my experience here thus far, Pilates is usually lumped in with fitness and the whole magic bullet/vanity industry, which of course it can be, but we offer so much more than that - a really holistic approach to wellness, movement, and fitness that is about so much more than this typically-LA obsession with looking good - and an approach that is directed by arguably the best education available in the industry at the moment.
K: Thanks so much, Cicely!