In December, I started giving dance classes at a psychiatric hospital in South London.
I still can’t really explain what was the trigger, why I wanted to do that. I’ve had a fascination for psychiatric hospitals since my teenage. Was it because I thought the line between my own mental sanity or what is perceived like insanity was thin and challenged at times? Is it a fascination for the place in itself, which obeys to its own rules, where there is a discontinuous management of time and space? Is it because the patients’ relationship to what you are supposed to do or not is so different from the outside world?
When I walked out of my last session, there was a big lady rolling naked on the floor in the corridor, screaming with her legs wide open. Two nurses rushed to cover her with a sheet and told her to go back to her room. I wasn’t shocked by the scene. I wondered what the story was like in her reality. Was she giving birth? Was she begging for sex? I caught myself envying her for just a second. My first thought was: “This must be really liberating!” I wish I had the guts to roll around naked and scream in my office or in my house if I feel like it. Why should it be necessary perceived as offensive, just because it is somewhat disturbing the established order? What if it was socially accepted to do that, just because this is what someone needs at that precise moment? I’ve always had the belief that there is no such thing as “madness” or “craziness”, just different perceptions of reality and different modes of self expression.
I think my psychiatric hospital immersion is the natural continuation of my 5 Rhythms dance and my sexual explorations. It is another aspect of liberating the body from rigid mindfucking rules. It is crossing the lines of what is socially accepted. Of course, I am aware that the patients may be a danger to themselves or to others, and that’s why they are locked in. But even so, I think they challenge a lot of unspoken self integrated rules, and I secretely admire them for that reason.
After tough beginnings, I finally start finding my rhythm with the patients. It has been nothing but easy. I have had to struggle to find adequate support from the institution itself and was tempted to slam the door for a moment.
Holding a “class” there is like dancing tango. I never know in which direction the next step is going to be. Whatever upsets them, they don’t force themselves to cope with it, they just leave the room. Once, everyone left. I had no more students. I managed not to take it personally.
Every session is dramatically different. Everything changes from one moment to the other. I have to be so present, so so so present every second, and readjust constantly in response to the ladies. At the beginning, I was preparing the class, but I quickly realised that there was no point. The best I can do is preparing myself to be physically and mentally engaged.
I start building a core group of 2-3 girls. The first time I saw one of them, she was sitting still in silence for half an hour, just watching the class. She had just received medication and looked stoned. I wondered if she was autistic, because she wouldn’t even answer my questions. The patients left the class one after the other, but she stayed. When it was just me and her, she finally spoke. She asked me if we could do some stretching exercises. She had done ballet before. I showed her some moves. Suddenly, she looked different. She was beautiful, engaged, alive again. She was sighing with relief while reconnecting with her body. When I left the place, she looked like a healthy person again, just like me.
The girls of my core group are young and pretty. Sensitive and wild. Last session with them was awesome. I stop pretending I am “teaching” them anything, because they know more than me at so many levels. I just turn off the lights, play music, and we dance freely together in the dark.
Last time, I was amazed at how far they went, how abruptly they express themselves and don’t give a shit about what the others may think. It really doesn’t seem to be part of their mindset. Whatever direction I was giving, they were picking it up super fast and were immediately twisting it into magic, way beyond my expectations. I played the song ‘I Am What I Am’ and they all started singing amazingly. I was stunned. The words were so meaningful in their mouth, too. We were all repeating “I am what I am”, whatever it meant. We laughed. It was a nice moment. I was the student in the end. I don’t know, I am just learning so much. They have so much to say, they are so intensely emotionally charged.
We got together in a small circle at the end, holding hands in the dark. They treated me as if I belonged with them, as if I was one of their sistas. One told me: “You should totally get a room here with us at Mad House!”
I giggled, but I was tempted for a minute. Yeah. I’ll think about it. I am glad I am finally hanging out with people who speak my language.