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7/1/2011

I arrived at the farm, set up my tent and crawled inside. It’s sleeps five, so being in it alone feels luxurious, ample — and the warm night air is still. I could wish for nothing more, other than to teleport you here, my husband. The farm is familiar and stimulating to all the senses. Jessica and I are talking about last year. I met the other students, each a potential cosmos. I can’t wait to know them better. The farm is comforting to me with its babies and dogs and its quiet, quiet evenings. Right now there is just the croaking frogs.

7/2/2011 Dance Without Sight Day One

Kia is a Japanese traveler who works with senior citizens suffering from dementia. Hannah is a video editor from Colorado who lives in the Bay area now and is searching for a new career. There are others: Luke who studied clowning, has encyclopedic knowledge of whole foods nutrition and is a skateboard phenomenon and Andrew who is an MFA student in The Bay Area. We had lots to share about that. The morning was laced by a fresh ocean smell and bright sunlight that burned off the fog before we finished breakfast. Here on the Lost Coast of California there is a softness to the air and land that makes me feel nourished. I enjoyed oatmeal with some local fruit and tea, while surveying the farm.

Our teacher Mana is a trained ballerina, concert pianist and professional violinist from Japan who lost her sight a few years ago. It happened quickly from a disease. She was a new mother at the onset and her daughter, age 6, accompanies her everywhere. Our morning started with blindfolds. Thick, soft and black with some elasticity, we tied them on snugly and waited for directions. Mana gave us some time to explore the floor of the studio freely and physically, but without sight or speech.

I fell in love with the floor. It was made of smooth, hard wood and was completely unfinished. There were no splinters. I marveled thinking it must have been sanded with a machine. In every part it felt silky smooth and clean. We slithered slowly, reticent without eyesight, taking care not to collide or injure other bodies in the space. After about 30 minutes Mana told us to find our favorite spot on the floor. After about 5 minutes more of exploring I decided on a place that was fairly unpopulated, free of drafts and warm, which felt good after the cool damp morning. I lay down and realized how much in my body I was. Mana talked us through a meditation and moved us to yet another spot on the floor, a shift in perspective both physical and psychological. The whole morning’s exercises led us to this conclusion: Your own body is your favorite spot.

As a group we did a blind floor dance, so no one stood up, we just moved around the space in a variety of ways, but ever so carefully! Everyone was extremely gentle and slow. When I came into contact with another body I immediately became very attentive and hyper-sensitive to touch. We did not speak, we tumbled, rolled, and interacted, cautiously and playfully. I’d be enjoying some interactive space with someone and wondering who it was, then realize in the same moment that I’d never know. Some bodies seemed to invite a little play or a touch on the arm, or maybe just the brushing of backs, others moved on toward an unseen destination. I had lost my orientation, so unless I found myself near the door there was no way of knowing where I was in visual space.

At some point I wanted to see again and thought, surely Mana will let us take off our blindfolds soon — but then I realized that wasn’t likely, this was it: Dance Without Sight. We were blind, like her.

The next activity was a palm to palm partner dance. Mana told us to keep our palms in full contact and move as if blown by a gentle breeze. I was paired with Kia. Our breeze dance was enormously graceful by my kinesthetic understanding. Kia and I moved as one, as true equals, so intuitively that I marveled and wondered was it because we were blind?

The next exercise was called “Observing By Touch” — with the same pair we each chose a role, “mover” or “observer” — knowing we’d probably switch later, I volunteered to be the mover first. Mana explained that we should use our hands to carefully discern the position of the mover’s body in space. She encouraged us not to linger on limbs but to spend time with the palms on various parts of the back. She said back muscles gave lots of information about what a body was doing and feeling.

I did a dance that was a contracting of my body, seeking the earth, going down, then opening up, reaching out, arms becoming level and straight by the end. I did it slow so she could ‘see’ it with her hands, but she only touched my back. I longed for her to touch my limbs; I thought about all she was missing by not touching them. How funny that I urgently wanted to be seen; this was an exhibitionist, theatrical part of myself I hadn’t been aware of. When it was her turn as mover I touched her the same way, only on the back. I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable by crossing boundaries she had maintained when she was in the observer role.

We switched partners and I was matched with Tinara, another Japanese woman from the Bay area who is married and has lived in the U.S. for about 9 years. First she was the mover and I observed. I did exactly as I had with Kia, I placed my hands on her back, and added minimal touching of the arms and calves. But, as soon as we broke for water she told me she wanted more touch, “See me,” she said, “I’m doing so much, I want you to observe more.” I told her I was trying to be sensitive to boundaries — she understood. Then it was my turn to be the mover and Tinara touched me a lot. It was fantastically intimate but neutral, comfortable and safe. To feel someone touching you in a way that is non-sexual, but not uninterested, was a new experience for me. This kind of touch is real and immediate, innervating. She lightly ran her hands over my back, legs, arms, neck, hands, face and head. She was trying to SEE by touch — I mean she was really looking with her hands. What a wonderful experience, it felt quite amazing to be witnessed by touch. Tinara gave me my first sense of how sight can be tactile.

I’m alone and clean, (the new solar shower is awesome, better than the old “on demand”) in my tent and at peace. We wore the blindfold in the morning from 8am-noon, then after lunch from 1–5pm. It’s a lot of time to be without sight, and when I removed the blindfold I was awash in colors, shapes, and emotion…a profound gratitude for sight.

7/3/2011 Dance Without Sight Day Two

We partnered up in the barn/studio and Lara wore the blindfold while I stayed sighted. Mana told us to walk our partner out to a tree, introduce tree and dancer, then observe the poetic interaction. I took Lara to a stand of trees near my tent. Several other pairs chose that same area and I wanted to avoid congestion or distraction. I guided her out of the way to another pair of trees and let her pick one. It was pure delight to watch her move, such a creature of the earth. Lara is from this area and her connection with the land was obvious. She remained barefoot, wasn’t afraid to get dirty, stung, bitten, scratched or anything. Her fearlessness made me realize how much fear I harbor about the natural world. Shocked, I realized that I had never noticed that about myself. Would I take my shoes off outside while blindfolded? No way. I am afraid of so much: ticks, poison oak, blackberry bramble, spiders, cow turds, the grass seed I’m allergic to, etc. Lara’s dance was beautiful, she explored the tree and communed with it in a physical way. I thought she’s a tree nymph, a friend of the dyads.

When it was time to switch I thought I’d get to dance with a tree too, but Mana said that this time the dancers should dance with the ground, the earth. I laughed at myself because of course I ended up rolling around in the grass getting my face in the dirt and totally exploring with my fingers. Fears conquered on impulse! I dance better when I’m blind. It places me in my body — and increases my other senses. There is love here. We are bonded as a group by our collective blindness. The touch of the others is always gentle, careful and respectful. Mana told us that the nerve endings on the finger tips apprehend information much like the cells of the eyes do. This is one way for her to see, and I momentarily glimpsed how the tactile landscape opens up for those without sight.

After lunch we went to the beach, it’s about two miles so we drove (no blindfolds). Mana put us in new pairs. This time I was matched with Paula, with whom I have a slight history. She and I met three years ago at my first workshop here and we didn’t really click. So there I was with Paula, now glowing and 6 months pregnant. We were on the beach, smelling the ocean and feeling the strong breeze. There was no worry about sand in our eyes with our thick blindfolds. The sand under our feet was complex, shifting, and unpredictable. We were instructed to do the “Observing by Touch” exercise again, though now we had greater knowledge plus the interplay of the beach. I decided to be the mover first. Paula began to observe and wow, she was all over me, really exploring, with her hands and her whole body. This observation was shockingly intimate, but also completely platonic. I felt a strange discomfort in myself until I realized that Paula was perfectly fine touching my body in that way and then I relaxed. At one point she positioned herself on the ground between my legs and let the top of her head rest on my crotch for a moment. When we switched I asked her if she was comfortable with me touching her pregnant belly. She said, “Of course” and I should freely observe her, not holding back my touch. I returned the observation of her dance with equal enthusiasm. This was the most I had ever seen with my tactile eyes. This was the final Dance Without Sight, and through this Paula and I bonded. When I touched her in the ways she had touched me, we were just our human selves without the ego baggage that accompanies sight. After today I am sure we will be friends.

The excellent chef served Tom Ka Kai, a Thai soup with shrimp or just vegetarian over brown rice. During dinner all the participants talked and talked, energized that we could finally see each other. There was a powerful closeness among us. I’d never experienced such an intense bond to a group before. This closeness stems from interacting in blindness, as it’s never clear who is touching who, so you feel like you’re touching the group as a whole. This made for great dinner conversation. I chatted with two cool women in their late 50s, Nanette and Dorothy, both were quite extraordinary. We talked long past dinner. Nanette is a scholar and Dot is raising two teenage boys. I also spoke at length with Lara, who I like very much. She’s my age, and an aerialist/circus performer from Arcadia. She contains much of what I love about California’s Lost Coast: she’s earthy, wholesome, and exudes a natural, unadorned beauty.

Some of the participants left, choosing not to stay for the next workshop Dance on Land. The four of us that remained have been forever changed by those days of blindness with their intimate dances.

I missed my husband but there is no phone for students and I hadn’t brought my laptop (which never really caught the elusive signal from the neighbor’s house anyway). We were cut off from the world but after all the wonder from dancing blind, it didn’t matter anymore.

(Many thanks to my editor Pamela Daley! All the names have been changed, except for Mana’s.)

Interpreter, Teacher, Artist.

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