On Thursday, July 27, I am offering a JourneyDance class at the Wilson Center in Orono. The Wilson Center is “an independent, progressive religious and spiritual organization” that “aims to build community for spiritual exploration and multi-faith dialogue.” For this JourneyDance and potluck event I put together a special “Mindbodyspirit” playlist and have been thinking about the context of spirituality in JD and in my life and life’s work.
I have never described myself as a spiritual person. I was raised Presbyterian, but religion never resonated with me. Church was a drag, except for the donuts. Sometimes I envy people who believe in God, who have an anchor to what I consider to be the unknown and the unknowable.
Sometimes I would imagine what it would be like to be able to say, “I’m not religious, but I am spiritual.” Sometimes I would joke that yoga was as close as I got to church; I taught most Sundays and it’s as close to a spiritual practice as I have ever gotten. Perhaps I would connect spirituality to my relationship to nature, mountains, the ocean—the vastness of the universe. A love of science fiction is, perhaps, a kind of spiritual practice? It wasn’t until I participated in JourneyDance that I began to participate in what I might describe as spiritual practices. And I began to see other aspects of my life’s work as spiritual.
Before JourneyDance, I took an Embodied Social Justice certificate program through The Embody Lab and was introduced to the work of Rev. angel Kyodo williams. If I was going to be religious, I would probably choose Buddhism, but all religions are too structured and too limiting for me. For a short time, I investigated Paganism, which resonated in many ways. And when I recently read a bit of Starhawk’s classic The Spiral Dance, I found that many of her descriptions of witchcraft—in history and in practice—resonate with the teaching I do in and out of academia.
But, nothing speaks to me as a whole, contained spiritual belief system. Like my interdisciplinary academic work, I take bits and pieces from a variety of sources and cobble them into something that resonates with me and remains flexible. This approach is not unlike Octavia Butler’s creation of Earthseed (which is now a “real religion”) in her Parable duology. Her character, Lauren Olamina, an empath raised in the strict religious practices of her Baptist father, collects truths from a variety of sources and leads her followers through dystopic landscapes as Shaper. My students have likened me to Olamina, but I would not be so arrogant as to make this comparison myself.
And yet, I am a “natural leader,” an empath, and a visionary and the power that I hold is not unlike what Olamina wields (collecting ideas, writing, taking care of people, providing opportunities for education) or what Starhawk describes as a “power that comes from within” and that “is never power over another.” Instead, it is a power that helps to grow the power of others and depends upon “personal integrity, courage, and wholeness” and “encourages healthy pride, not self-effacing anonymity; joy in one’s strength. Not shame and guilt.” This is the power—and the path—that JourneyDance has helped me to embrace more fully.
Through The Embody Lab, I was also introduced to the work of Staci K. Haines and her book The Politics of Trauma. In addition to describing “the ever-expanding universe, the energies, beyond human, that we are living with,” she also explains spirituality as “a connection to something more vast, felt yet unknown.” Around the same time, I was introduced to the work of yoga therapist and psychologist, Gail Parker, who describes spirituality as “an ideal that lifts you beyond your everyday struggles and helps you clarify, reflect upon, and understand life from a deeper perspective, and to live more artfully.” All of these ideas about spirituality turn up effortlessly in my JD teaching, which is an art that I feel my way into.
When Haines writes about spirituality, she is also writing about embodied transformation as “ways of being, acting, and relating [that] are aligned with what [we] most care about.” Gail Parker expands on this idea as she explains: “The spiritual dimension refers to our relationship to the beliefs, ideals, values, and principles that we live by; this dimension determines how we operate on the other dimensions [physical, mental/emotional, social] and how we make sense of the world.”
Before JD, I had largely made sense of the world intellectually. I would push away anything that felt too woo-woo. But my JourneyDance training came about through an unbelievable string of synchronicities that cannot be dismissed as mere coincidence. People of faith might explain my experience with other words, but I can only say that there was a spiritual dimension that I have continued to explore through movement, meditation, oracle cards, and an open mind to learning more about myself and my purpose—education, embodiment, and empowerment—and the path that I walk, or dance, through this life.
Gail Parker explains that “it is by connecting to this higher state of consciousness that you begin to reconnect to values that express your internal truth, allowing you to create meaning for yourself and make sense of things.” And this is the key to a spiritual life for me—this reconnection and the creations that have been birthed from my desire to “make sense of things.” The Spiral Goddess Collective is one of these creations and each JourneyDance playlist is a stepping stone on this path that has no destination, only process.
This “Mindbodyspirit” playlist brings together some of my favorite songs and practices from other playlists and provides a variety of ways of considering the connections between mind, body, and spirit. The titles of the songs for the first few tracks speak for themselves: “For My Soul”; “Waking Up”; “Gold Flow”; and “My Mind” take us through a welcoming of our mindbodyspirit, connecting to our internal truths, to seeing the bigger picture and connections between the individual and the structural, feeling the full weight of our bodies on the earth, and appreciating the portal of our minds.
We start to connect to each other through Trevor Hall’s “2 Oceans” and Lakeside’s classic “Fantastic Voyage.” The former resonates with spiritual vibes and the connections that make us human regardless of which ocean we find ourselves by. The latter taps into the sci-fi quality of the fantastic, but also into the power of pleasure in our bodies and collective celebration in “the land of funk.”
We then turn to one of my favorite process song, Milkman’s “Controversy,” which layers The Beatles and Tupac, Eminem and Britney Spears, and other artists who invite controversy for a variety of reasons. We play with ways of embodying masculinity and femininity and exploring the spaces in between these culturally polarized opposites. Our bodies anchor us to these energies that our culture pits against each other and we break out of those constraints by employing mind/body connections and exploring a third space of possibility.
A couple of songs directly engage with more religious connotations of spirituality: “Praising You” and “Save our Soul.” The first takes Fatboy Slim’s classic and gives it a feminine party vibe. In the second, we tell our story to the dance floor through Lexxi Saal’s soulful exploration of the state of our individual and collective souls as we navigate the challenges of this world that we live in.
From here we turn to an extended process of climbing a mountain to a clearing where we find our favorite place (real or imagined) and meet our inner guide for a JourneyDance ritual of parts work exploration. Through this ritual we discover what we need to know in the moment, but also that we have a wealth of wisdom within us already and that we can access this inner wisdom whenever we want to.
In the last section of class we explore all of our senses and sensuality as we dance to Annie Lennox’s version of “I Put a Spell on You,” which brings us back to ourselves, reminding us of all of the ways that we avoid getting too close to the parts of ourselves that we fear, but that we belong to ourselves and deserve to love our whole selves, even if we have to use enchantments to find that self-love and self-acceptance.
And finally, we connect back to the power of nature with Lo Wolf’s “Be Like Water,” a repeating mantra that connects us to all of the ways that we can be like water as we flow around obstacles in our path, carve new possibilities, nourish ourselves and others, and expand and contract to meet the circumstances. We sink back into the earth and into ourselves, contemplating the ever-expanding universe through two instrumental pieces: “Writing Poems” and “My People Have Deep Roots.”
This is just a glance into the bigger picture and deeper meaning of this particular JourneyDance playlist. Each playlist is unique even as it follow the flow created by Toni Bergins. And each time we come to the dancefloor, the journey is unique to the moment we find ourselves in and the people we find ourselves with, even if the playlist is the same.
Part of the reason I opened this space was to offer something to our community that is rarely found in other places and spaces dedicated to fitness, wellness, dance, or yoga—a space that is inclusive of all bodies and identities not just in word, but in practice. I wanted to bring my particular approach to yoga and movement, which is queer—unconventional, radical, inclusive, trauma-informed, creative, and “deeply rooted in truth, love, and justice,” as Jacoby Ballard describes (and as I quote in part 1 of this blog). There are many ways to be queer, and one way is to challenge gender binaries and social and cultural norms of all kinds.
Many gyms draw strict gender lines with offerings for men and women, reinforcing stereotypes that weight rooms are for men and group fitness classes are for women. Locker rooms where you have to choose to identify as “man” or “woman” will likely feel unsafe if your appearance is gender non-conforming. Some yoga classes offer a certain pose variation “for men” or “for women” and reinforce binaries of gender. The music used in a lot of classes reinforces heterosexual narratives about love and romance and stereotypes about men and women (and boys and girls).
Further, many group fitness classes are populated by people who are thin and already “fit” and fat bodies are conditionally welcomed into that space if they want to lose weight, as if this is the only goal of moving one’s body. The messaging in and around group fitness is largely about losing weight—about changing your body to be more “fit” or “healthy,” which ultimately means more socially acceptable. But “fat” is not just a physical weight we carry; it is often related to trauma—the psychological weight we carry. And narrow cultural norms reinforce the psychological weight that queer people, and all socially unacceptable people, carry.
Before opening The SGC, I taught fitness classes for over a decade at a community non-profit where I did not feel comfortable being out (and I taught fitness classes elsewhere for many years before I was brave enough to consider myself queer). I was discouraged from including “political” messages in my classes and promotions for classes. I taught a program where I was required to use music that often had lyrics that I found to be offensive to women and to reinforce stereotypes related to race and sexuality. But it was deemed “clean,” and context was ignored. Still, being in my fat body, leading a class, was the least I could do to push back again one of the norms of fitness spaces. More than once a new participant walked right past me to talk to the thin woman they thought must be the instructor. Too often, we are unaware of the limited scripts we participate in on a daily basis and most gyms and fitness centers prefer not to have these societal corsets pointed out.
One of the worst examples from this past teaching gig is something that happens all the time in mainstream/corporate America. One day I walked in to the facility to witness a large, masculine person teetering around in high heels and “acting” like the female CEO because he had won the honor of “CEO for the day.” The staff filled the lobby as everyone laughed and cheered for this offensive display, which was probably considered to be a light, fun team-building activity. I felt extremely uncomfortable as I passed through to teach my class and imagined what it would be like to be trans and witness that display. I debated for weeks about whether I should say something to my supervisor or just let it go. I still regret that I let it go.
So, opening The Spiral Goddess Collective is also an opportunity for me to be more brave, more open, and more in line with my values. This is part of “the potential for queer identity,” what Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore describes as “the radical potential to choose one’s gender and one’s sexual and social identities, to embrace a radical outsider’s perspective, to create a culture on our terms, and to challenge everything that’s sickening about the dominant culture around us.” The Spiral Goddess Collective embraces a radical outsider’s perspective.
Despite a name that is feminine, and perhaps makes people wonder if men are allowed to attend classes and events at The SGC (the answer: of course they are and they do!), our space is pushing up against the boundaries of the norms of fitness spaces as well as the norms of social justice movements. The Spiral Goddess is not just a symbol for women—it is an archetype that informs what we birth into the world, how we use our energy, how we treat ourselves and each other, and how we connect our inner and outer worlds.
Feminine qualities and values like collaboration, compassion, empathy, nurturing, and flowing are seen as weaknesses. Women are expected to work out to get hard, but not too hard. To be thin, but still curvy. We compete against ourselves as much as the other women in the room. And, women and femme people of all genders, have been excluded, abused, and threatened in fitness spaces (and the larger culture), to say the least.
Men are made to feel like they have to be stereotypically masculine (competitive, linear, logical, assertive, independent, controlling), which just adds to the problems of our patriarchal world and the mental health problems of men, women, and children and everyone outside of these gendered categories. Individuals are forced to choose one side of the gender binary or to push back as non-binary, both of which can lead to violence against ourselves and others.
At The SGC we embrace the radical, political meaning of queer and practice radical acceptance—we invite you to come as you are and to discover that you are so much more than you’ve been allowed to be. We invite you to start healing your wounds so that we might also heal the systems and structures that cause these wounds. Transformative healing happens form the inside out and the outside in. When we move our minds/bodies together, we are stronger—we are a collective of power and potential!
Queer is a reclaimed word. It is an umbrella term and denotes a spectrum of identities and sexualities that have been marginalized and demonized. I like this term because it is inclusive, political, and ambiguous; and the word also means unusual, not normal, odd, eccentric, and unconventional. To queer something, as Jacoby Ballard describes, is to “critique, challenge, and transform toward something more radical—that is deeply rooted in truth, love, and justice.” In this way, The Spiral Goddess Collective is a queer enterprise. And there are many ways to be queer.
Despite my professional life as a professor and fitness instructor—both things that appear to be the realms of the extrovert—I am a shy, introverted, home body who likes to spend time by myself—usually with a book and preferably with a cat or two or three. I’m not the type to yell from rooftops or wave a flag in a parade regardless of how passionate I am. When Hannah Gadbsy asks where the introverted queers are in her brilliant stand-up special, Nanette, I whisper “right here” and feel seen.
When I filled out the forms to propose Bangor Pride Events—a Queer Yoga/Yoga Outside the Box event on June 17, First Friday Free Dance on June 2, and a table among the vendors at the Pride celebration on June 24, I was reminded about how much anxiety can come from inclusion and visibility. I’m sure I am not the only introvert who feels this anxiety when they are asked to expose semi-private parts of themselves toward a bigger cause. And yet, brave acts by marginalized people have created social change and continue to transform our world. I would like to be so brave, but my role is to support and facilitate. And I am far more comfortable behind the scenes.
I have offered several events at Bangor Pride in the past through my role as a professor at UMA-Bangor. But now I offer these events through The Spiral Goddess Collective, a Center for Mind/Body Movement. Part of my desire to participate in Bangor Pride is to bring more visibility to the space and our offerings. We are a space where members of the LGBTQIA+ community can come for dance and yoga and healing modalities that are inclusive, trauma-informed, and social justice-oriented.
And The SGC is a space where we want everyone to feel welcome. We are not simply a yoga studio; we are a center for mind/body movement. What we offer at SGC is not an ordinary approach to "fitness," dance, or yoga—it is something deeper and it is difficult to get people to come try something new, especially something that requires vulnerability and self-reflection. As Jacoby Ballard argues, queer and trans people don’t often have “the opportunity to be in their bodies as their whole selves” and a queer approach to yoga (and JourneyDance!) “creates expansion and spaciousness.” The Queer Yoga/Yoga Outside the Box event on June 17 is partially inspired by Jacoby Ballard’s book A Queer Dharma: Yoga and Meditations for Liberation.
We all deserve to be in our bodies as our whole selves and this is one of the goals of SGC. Our work is inspired by a desire to make a difference in our community. We offer scholarships and encourage people to pay what they can. We offer a space where people can come together toward embodied wholeness—movement that isn’t about meeting the demands of dominant culture, but meeting ourselves where we are.
Yesterday I realized that Monday is our 6 month anniversary at The Spiral Goddess Collective, a Center for Mind/Body Movement! In celebration, everyone who attends a class this week gets a free SGC sticker (1 per person) and gets their name entered into a raffle for a grand prize for each class. This includes all of our classes from today, Sunday, April 2 through Saturday, April 8, including First Friday’s Get Embodied! event: Dance Yourself Free!
As we look back over the past 6 months, I offer a quick look at what we have been doing, some feedback we have gotten, and some frequently asked questions. We’re always happy to get questions, comments, and ideas as we continue to expand and hone our offerings. And I am so grateful for all of the support and excitement that we have shared and will continue to build upon!
Here’s some of what we have offered in these last six months:
249 classes and workshops
8 Spiral Punch Cards via The Spiral Goddess Collective Card Fund Scholarship
3 additional scholarships for Spiral Series workshops
40 comps for first-time visits
Here is some of the repeated feedback I have received in the 6 months since The Spiral Goddess Collective opened its doors.
What a beautiful space!
I agree! It was beautiful before we decorated and filled the space with feminist art, a Girls on Fire lending library and Mind/Body resource center, plants (and more plants), oracle and tarot decks, a comfy hang out area, a family heirloom tea set, chaga tea and snacks, lights, color, and positive energy!
Your website is a little bit overwhelming.
Yeah. I don’t really do anything half-way. I plan to simplify a little bit and make some of the more pertinent information easier to find, but I have a lot to say and the website reflects that! If you’re confused, just ask! (Many of you have asked! Thank you!)
One of the songs and mantras that we dance to in JourneyDance is “You Are Enough,” but I struggle more with the feeling of “you are too much,” compounded with the feeling of not enough. I am an over-thinker, an over-explainer, and I’ve been told that I am “scary” and intimidating. Sorry, not sorry. But also, I’m working on it!
Thank you for being you!
Wow, what a compliment! I mean, I’m not trying to be anyone else, so it’s good to be seen and appreciated!
Thank you for creating this space in our community.
My pleasure! Creating this space is a dream come true and being able to share it with other curators and with the community is the best part!
Here are some Frequently asked Questions:
Can men attend classes at The Spiral Goddess?
Of course! Men do attend classes at The SGC! In the world of group fitness, yoga, and fitness dance, every space that I have been in has been dominated by women (the opposite is true of weight rooms). Our culture is segregated and full of stereotypes that keep people boxed in. People gravitate to where they are most comfortable and we want everyone to be comfortable at The SGC. Your gender identity is not what defines you in our space. But one of the things that is different about The SGC is that we aim to create an environment where feminine qualities and feminine energy are valued and celebrated: connection, empathy, compassion, community, letting go of competition, nurturing, flowing, caring, feeling, understanding, and supporting each other. We all have feminine qualities regardless of our gender and if these qualities were the most valued in our world, it would be a much better place.
How much does it cost to take classes at The SGC?
Yeah, so here’s that tendency toward “too much” and what might seem like an overwhelming amount of options. We aim to meet each person where they are. So, the short answer is $10 a class. But, we have sliding scale prices and people who can afford to pay more do so. And we have punch cards that reduce the per-class price. And we have memberships that help to support our mission and vision and to fund The Spiral Goddess Collective Care Fund, a scholarship that provides the opportunity to attend classes at no cost to community members who cannot afford to pay for self-care and healing modalities. So, if you are unsure what to pay, please just ask!
Why can’t I get the App to work?
I don’t know! There are many great aspects of the Mindbody App, but there are a lot of little issues that I don’t have the time or skill to fix. We’ll keep working with it for at least another 6 months! You don’t have to use the App—just email, message, call, or drop in and we will work it out!
The Salt Eaters, a 1980 novel by Toni Cade Bambara, opens with a healer, Minnie Ransom, saying to her patient, Velma Henry: “‘are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?’” Velma, an activist, mother, and wife, has attempted suicide and she is having trouble holding onto herself, let alone the stool she is perched upon. Later, Minnie continues, “‘cause wholeness is no trifling matter. A lot of weight when you’re well.’” Staying well is a challenge even in the best of times and circumstance. Being well requires work, patience, self-compassion, and resources. The struggle is real. As Susan Raffo argues, “healing is dangerous work. Healing is about going into the struggle.”
The struggle to be well is neither a straight line nor a quick fix; in fact, as Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, argues in her book, Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice: “the idea that survivorhood is a thing to ‘fix’ or ‘cure,’ to get over, and that the cure is not only possible and easy but the only desirable option, is as common as breath.” We want to believe in cures because this is an idea that our culture feeds us, and our healthcare system supports the idea that a pill or a procedure can cure whatever ills us. In Who Is Wellness For? Fariha Roísín argues that “In the worlds of health and wellness, there’s an inconsistent belief that if you try hard enough at something, eventually you will see results.” Just lose a little bit of weight. Just eat organic whole foods. Just exercise three times a week. Just take this prescription. This isn’t bad advice, and wouldn’t it be nice if being well was just this easy? But what if, as Susan Raffo argues, being healed or cured is not what we should be seeking, but instead, what if “struggling better is the goal”?
Many of us avoid struggle as often as we can. If we are struggling, our culture tells us, then there is something wrong with us. But the idea that we can avoid struggle, just like the idea that we can find a cure or heal completely from our trauma, is a myth. As Piepzna-Samarasinha reminds us, the idea that we can be fixed or cured is “a concept that has deep roots in ableist ideas that when there’s something wrong, there’s either cured or broken and nothing in between.” But there are a lot of spaces and possibilities between broken and healed—in these spaces there is room to move, to shift, to transform. As Roísín writes, “Healing is an everyday practice that requires personal resolve and diligence [and] relies on reworking, reweaving, and reimagining what it looks like to feel safe and at ease with oneself.” We have to think differently, but we can’t just think our way out of trauma. We have to engage our bodies as well as our minds. In fact, when we engage the body/mind, the results are far more powerful.
We pursue all kinds of ways of finding ease, often deferring, deflecting, dismissing, detouring, avoiding, ignoring, replacing. Sometimes these coping strategies are just what we have to do to get through our day, our week, our life, and that’s okay. It is hard work to venture toward wellness and the path is circuitous and often hazardous. As Melissa Febos writes in her book, Girlhood, “It is slow, and there is no shortcut. . . It is sometimes painful and often tedious. . . . it requires consistent tending. We must choose it over and over.” And we cannot choose heling or wellness all alone: “A lasting, conscientious change in the self is similar to one in society.” We need to do the inner work and the outer connection. This is where JourneyDance comes in.
In JourneyDance, we move our bodies in ways that help us heal emotional wounds. We loosen up trauma that has become wedded to our bones and tissues, embedded in our mind/body/spirit matrix. More than one participant has told me that JourneyDance has helped them make deeper and quicker progress toward healing than they were able to find in talk therapy and other attempts at healing that do not address the mind/body connection. This, too, is my experience with JourneyDance. We often say: “you have to feel it to heal it,” and the mind often wants to control the process and intellectualize it. But when we dance, we can’t help but feel what we feel and what we find sometimes surprises us.
Melissa Febos writes a lot about the body and about her journey to overcome addiction and to work toward wholeness. She writes, “When I think about healing in the abstract, I imagine a closing-up, or a lifting-up. In my fantasies, healing comes like a plane to pull me out of the water. Real healing is the opposite of that. It is an opening, a dropping down into the lost parts of yourself to reclaim them.” We can’t rely on external factors to drag us out of our mire; in JourneyDance, we drop into the deepest parts of ourselves and claw our way back into the world to struggle another day. And another day. And another. And we become more powerful and more empowered.
Before I found this healing modality, my introvert tendencies convinced me that I could work toward healing and wellness mostly by myself. Reaching out to other people was (and is) a huge part of my process, but reverting back into my shell often feels like the easy way out. JourneyDance provides a sacred space where we can be alone and together; we can work on our own stuff, but we can also hold the space for other people. I created The Spiral Goddess, a Center for Mind/Body Movement, to be more than just a space to do yoga and dance and move our bodies in the pursuit of health and wellness. It is a space for healing and processes that take a commitment to our own mind/body/spirit as well as to that of the collective. When we change ourselves, we change the world. This cannot be overstated.
As Minnie reminds us in The Salt Eaters, “‘got to give it all up, the pain, the hurt, the anger and make room for lovely things to rush in and fill you full’” (16). There’s nothing wrong if we “‘want to stomp around a little more in the mud puddle . . . like a little kid . . .Nothing wrong with that’” (16). We’re all just stomping around in the mud, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But when we can harness our play toward healing, rather than toward distraction or avoidance, the possibilities abound. JourneyDance lets us play, experiment, explore, push and pull, open and close, mimic and create. Each time we return to this practice, we find new things about ourselves and new possibilities for our lives. We don’t have to ask, or be asked, if we want to be well because we are already moving toward—not a destination, but a weigh station—and our hearts, minds, bodies, and spirit are carving a journey where we can enjoy what we find along the way.
“According to ancient Asian philosophy, life is not a straight line but a spiral. Every life lesson that has ever been presented to me (which means everything I have ever been through) will come back again, in some form, until I learn it. And the stakes each time will be higher. Whatever I’ve learned will bear greater fruit. Whatever I’ve failed to learn will bear harsher consequences.”
"Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well? . . . 'cause wholeness is no trifling matter. A lot of weight when you're well."
--Toni Cade Bambara, The Salt Eaters
Healing and transformation are closely related. We might argue that we cannot have one without the other. And we might argue that in order to transform our society and culture we first need to heal--our bodies, minds, and environment.
In her book, Transforming Ethnic and Race-Based Traumatic Stress with Yoga: Rest, Reflect, Renew, Gail Parker describes the difference between healing and transformation in her note to the reader:
"Healing is a term we use when we discuss illness or injury. Racial stress and trauma are emotional injuries that, left unhealed, become chronic and can lead to negative health outcomes. . . . Transformation, on the other hand, suggests change--in this case, positive change that leads to growth. To that end, transformation can be a change agent and can also be the result of healing. . . . What is true is that healing the wounds of racial distress along with individual personal and collective transformation are essential to a better quality of life for us all. Yoga is a science, a philosophy, a practice, and an art that can both effect healing and lead to positive transformation."
While Parker focuses on racial stress and trauma, her words apply to all kinds of stress and trauma--individual and collective, complex and intergenerational. Further, In his groundbreaking book, My Grandmother's Hands: Racialized trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies, Resmaa Menakem argues that we are all impacted by "white-body supremacy" which is "in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the culture we share"; it is "an equivalent of a toxic chemical we ingest on a daily basis. Eventually, it changes our brains and the chemistry of our bodies."
Those who practice and teach conscious dance, trauma-informed yoga, and embodied practices often say things like "the issues are in our tissues" and "we need to feel it to heal it." As Melissa Febos argues in her book, Body Work: The Radical Power of Personal Narrative, All forms of trauma--from intergenerational or historical traumas to those of illness, mental and physical abuse, and the many wrought by war—share the quality of disempowerment." In other words, we cannot begin to heal, let alone transform until we are willing to do the hard work of healing and until we recover some sense of agency.
The work we do--the practices we do--at The Spiral Goddess Collective, a Center for Mind/Body Movement, aim to bring us back into our bodies, to help us become more empowered, to feel, and to heal and, ultimately, to transform ourselves, our community, and our world.
In my yoga training, one of the mantras we rely on for guidance is “letting go of competition.” We often follow this up by saying: “letting go of competition with ourselves and others.” Sometimes we can be really hard on ourselves when we compete with our own expectations and judgements. (We also let go of judgement and expectations!) And we can make our friends and community members into enemies when we see them as competition. We will never be as beautiful, as thin, as strong, as successful, as whatever as the person standing next to us. But we also never know what they are struggling with in their life. Yoga teaches us that it is best to tend our own garden and to let our neighbors tend theirs, but this mindset is in direct competition with American culture!
When I first started to ask myself if I could open a yoga and dance studio, I almost shut myself down before I started because I was afraid of the competition. I knew I would have to compete with the Bangor YMCA where I have taught a variety of fitness, dance, and yoga classes since 2010 (and left because I was told that I am not allowed to talk about The SGC at the Y). I knew I would have to compete with the long-established OmLand, only a few doors down from my new space at 16 State Street. I knew about a few other dance fitness opportunities, like Sunshine's Zumba and Jill's Beyond Bold Dance Fitness. (I love dance fitness and I love that we have a growing number of options in Bangor, including my new neighbor offering classes on the 3rd floor starting in January--Dirigo Dance Fitness.)
When I came across Eye Candy Dance and Fitness, I almost ran away from my dream. "A place where you can feel empowered to be yourself," Eye Candy's tagline, articulates what I have offered in my academic and fitness classes for as long as I have been doing this work. And belly dance fitness and empowering women—these are two things that have been staples of my work in the world of dance fitness. How could I complete with sexy, trendy classes and savvy social media?
Each time my internet research revealed another “boutique fitness” enterprise that I did not know about, my doubt grew and I told myself that I was crazy to think that I could do this—that I could be a business woman, that I could have my own space for the kinds of fitness/dance/yoga classes that feed my soul and inspire me to make the world, and my community, a better place.
But then a few things occurred to me that set me on the path to pursue this dream of The Spiral Goddess Collective, a Center for Mind/Body Movement:
1) While there may be competition concerning people’s time and money and the coveted post-work time slots, what I am offering does not exist in Bangor. It doesn’t really even exist in Portland. Maybe this unique space and concept I am offering does not really exist anywhere, at least not in this particular form. In this case, there is no competition at all.
2) The space that I have created (with the help of many of my friends) is downright magical. From the moment I walked up the stairs to the fourth floor, my mind started to imagine what that space could become and what I have created matches that vision with room to grow. I am confident that when people drag themselves up those four flights of stairs, they feel the lightness and positivity, the possibility of what we can discover when we move our minds and bodies and our collective mind/body. (And the stairs get easier every time!)
3) Because I believe in community, I believe that there is space for all of us. I believe that what I am offering is something that people in Bangor have been looking for. It has existed in different iterations in the past, but now is the time for it to flourish. I tried to offer mind/body movement and radical approaches to fitness/dance/yoga at the Y and was able to reach some people who might not know to look for such offerings, but it became clear that I needed my own space to push back against limiting definitions and mainstream ethics. I am honored and humbled to be able to create a space for mind/body movement, a place for community-building and radical acceptance, for self-exploration and interpersonal connections, for growth and healing—for so much more than I can imagine, and I have a vivid imagination!
4) And, finally, it has been a long road of self-discovery, self-compassion, and self-acceptance, of growth and healing and confidence-building to get to where I am today. I have never fit into the box of “fitness” despite spending 25 years teaching almost every iteration of group fitness—many that I created and choreographed. And I have struggled to believe in my gifts and talents. I have struggled with body image. I have struggled with being radical and queer in a vanilla world that wants repetition and predictability and to know how many calories they are going to burn and whether they have discovered the magical pill of weight loss (spoiler alert: there is no such thing). Today I am trying to be the best and most authentic version of myself without fear or shame, and I am inviting my community to do the same. It's not easy to push back against the messages that we receive every day—messages that tell us that we will never be good enough and fuck with our self-esteem and self-worth, to say the least.
JourneyDance was what set me on a path to believe in myself and my “personal medicine” as they call it in our training. Ironically, the CEO of the Bangor YMCA set me on this path when she told me about the online teacher training. I am grateful to her and to my time in the fitness industry. I have learned many skills and lessons and I have made them my own. I still love dance fitness, but what I have to offer is more than just fitness and I am excited to bring JourneyDance—and my eclectic, creative, intuitive approach to yoga and mind/body movement—to this space and to the larger Bangor community. I am excited to be able to bring in other talented, unique people who also have gifts to offer our community.
What we offer might scare some people away, but I hope it will attract people who are looking for something different than a workout. We offer yoga that meets each person where they are, dance that is about how you feel not about how you look, healing that goes at your pace, space and activities that nourish and open new possibilities. Deciding to approach fitness, health, and wellness from a different ideology is not easy, but it is worth it. If we practice consistently, we will start to see changes we might have thought were not possible.
Getting here is the hard part, but I am confident that once people take that leap they will return again and again because they will feel the difference that mind/body movement makes. As the saying goes, we have to feel it to heal it—to move and be moved.
And a message from our business hat: we have gift certificates in any amount and a 10-punch card for your gift-giving needs! Give the gift of yoga, movement, self-healing, and self-care to yourself or someone else who needs it. And your first class is always free!
11/17/2022 0 Comments
For almost my entire career I have walked a line between what is work and what is “work.” By some definitions, I am working all the time. For instance, my hobbies and passions of teaching fitness and yoga classes were often paid work in addition to being a work out. This is work that I have always done in addition to the work of being a student, and later a professor. For a long time these spheres were completely separate, in part because being a fitness instructor was looked down upon in the world of academia. I have worked over the last decade to bring these two spheres closer together.
Almost anything and everything I do that is not work can be connected to work somehow. My fitness teaching has been work, a work out, and then work in the form of research. As a cultural critic and theorist even my recreation of watching tv shows is also work! I have worked (there’s that word again!) hard over the past few years to create better boundaries between work and not work, and to pursue activities that are not at all work, but it is an ongoing challenge for a recovering overachiever and someone who is passionate about all the work that I do.
Being a professor is to be in a vacuum that absorbs everything as a part of the expectation of our teaching, advising, research, university service, and public service. I can always do more, if only because it can be another line on my vita. There is an unspoken expectation that we should give more of ourselves, more of our time and energy (and even our money) in service to the university and our community. I teach my students that service is part and parcel with our privilege, but where do we draw the line?
In my attempt to be ethical and serve my community, for more than a decade I have offered fitness/wellness events for free as well as low-cost events, sliding scale events, and events where the funds raised support scholarships. Part of my free offerings was my reluctance to profit from what I consider to be community service. I love being able to offer free events, especially to those who cannot afford to pay for the “luxuries” of self-care. With a flexible full-time job with decent pay and benefits, I can afford to be generous. I give freely of my time, energy, skills, and talents even when my giving is not always in my best interests.
In addition to offering a ton of free and fund-raising events, on and off campus, I have also taught for non-profits where my annual pay is a nice bonus but doesn’t even begin to cover my expenses for trainings, let alone for the things I need to do the work of this side job. I’ve always operated from the idea that this work is more service than it is work. Even when I receive a paycheck I am also spending thousands of dollars a year on maintaining certifications and continuing my training. I could skate by on my knowledge and experience, but I want to learn more, do better, heal myself, and better serve my community.
I have continued to operate with this loose ethical structure of service for over a decade—working a demanding full-time job while also teaching up to five or six fitness and yoga classes a week (plus unpaid prep time for these classes) and offering free events and classes, on and off campus. In this work, I consider myself to be an ethical person. At least I try to be.
But in the world of yoga and healing modalities, like JourneyDance, we are encouraged to not offer free classes and events for a variety of reasons. Many consider it unethical to regularly offer free classes. We spend a lot of money on trainings and professional development and we are encouraged to ask to be paid what we are worth. (This argument of my own worth has always been an additional challenge for me!) But not everyone who needs these healing modalities can pay what they are worth in our capitalist system, which is an ethical dilemma that I struggle with.
Further, when we offer free yoga classes, for instance, we are devaluing the work that other instructors are doing to make a living (not to mention the debates around cultural appropriation, but that’s a whole other blog!). Just because I have the privilege to afford to offer free yoga doesn’t mean that I should, especially if I am hurting the work that other teachers are doing in an attempt to make a living. And, really, by offering my highly skilled work for free, I am ultimately devaluing myself, even if this is not the way that I see it.
My navigation of the lines between my professional career and my work in my community have become further complicated by my opening of a “business.” I really hope that someday I can say that I run a successful and profitable business, but that dream seems like a far-off future, especially since I have spent a sizable chunk of my personal savings to open the doors of The Spiral Goddess Collective, a Center for Mind/Body Movement. As a new venture, I really have no idea if I can expect to pay the rent each month, let alone make back the money I have invested in this dream.
Further, because of the model of my enterprise—as a low-profit LLC that aims to provide not just affordable and accessible yoga and JourneyDance classes, but also free and low-cost community events and scholarships for community members who cannot afford the luxury of healing modalities—my potential profit is mitigated by my personal ethics and generous spirit of community service. I am okay with this. Even if I never make a penny of profit, it will be worth the time, effort, energy, and money to be able to offer my gifts and talents on my terms and to create space for others to do the same. The Spiral Goddess Collective is ultimately not about making money; it is about creating and curating space and inviting the community to engage in healing modalities. My community includes my colleagues—faculty, staff, and students at UMA—as well as people living in and around Bangor.
But here’s the crux of the issue . . . part of what I am offering is workshops that colleagues and friends encouraged me to offer as professional development workshop opportunities, especially since UMaine system money is available for just such offerings. In an attempt to do so, I hit a barrier that I did not anticipate—UMaine’s policy on conflicts of interest. I have been told that while it is okay for me to own and operate a business as “outside employment,” UMA faculty and staff cannot use professional development funds to pay for my workshops because this is considered a conflict of interest. In fact, when I inquired further I was told that no faculty or staff in the entire UMaine system are allowed to spend professional development funds at my “personal business.”
This breaks my heart. Not only because of the money that I will not be making, but because I have been offering workshops like this for free or by donation for a long time and I have witnessed the positive impacts that they have made on people’s mind/body health and wellness. Of course my colleagues can still attend. They can still choose to pay me their own hard-earned money. But because I now pay to maintain a beautiful, sacred space for such offerings, I can no longer afford to offer these services for free. I will continue to offer sliding scale prices, and I have already awarded scholarships to a couple of UMA students. So I find myself wondering what is ethical about this decision to bar faculty and staff from the entire UMaine system from using professional development funds to pay for the innovative, revolutionary services I am offering?
Is it ethical to tell faculty and staff in the entire UMaine system that they cannot choose which trainings they want to spend their professional development funds on? Is it ethical to create a circumstance where I feel like I cannot charge what I am worth? Is it ethical to restrict funds to a business that is trying to place the best interests of its community above its profit margins?
Apparently it is not a conflict of interest for me to offer free weekly yoga classes to UMA students and staff, and to give scholarships to those same students and other community members. It is not a conflict of interest for me to offer my professional services for free, as I have been doing for years. But it is a conflict of interest for people to pay me with money that comes from the UMaine system because I am also employed by this same system?
To make this fuzzy boundary more complicated (because that’s what I do), The Spiral Goddess Collective is not simply “outside employment”; it is a manifestation, culmination, and synergy of everything that I have been working on, and for, over the last couple of decades, maybe longer. I had dreamed of having my own space and teaching mind/body movement on my own terms, but I never really thought this dream could be a reality. It only very suddenly came into being when the universe plopped down the opportunity of a lifetime right smack in the middle of my path. The SGC is a blending of my education, my activism, my academic teaching, my personal and professional research, my fitness and yoga teaching and training, my service, my ideology, my life’s work—the best of both worlds in one amazing, magical space that has already made a difference in my community.
Evil capitalists bask in the glow of conflicts of interest and bend the rules of ethics all the time. It’s why we need conflict of interest policies in the first place. The language of the UMaine conflict of interest policy is vague—perhaps as vague as the rules that surround ethics more generally. I feel stuck and constrained by a system that is trying to preserve the ethics of its employees. I feel devalued by a system with no wiggle room and hard boundaries. I feel cheated out of an opportunity to reach more people in my community and to actually have a chance to make enough money to pay my rent and grow my business to serve even more people.
My dream finally has a sacred space—a place where I can offer comfort, relative safety, and an atmosphere that fosters healing, rather than the austere and chaotic borrowed spaces where I have previously offered my healing modalities. But even with a physical space, the dream of The Spiral Goddess Collective still does not fit in a square world. I am just another “personal business.” There is no category on Google that describes The SGC. The categories on the Mindbody scheduling App don’t fit the classes I am offering. I still have to convince people that yoga and conscious dance are worth their time and money. I should have expected the lack of conventional fit, especially since its uniqueness is at the core of its creation and impetus.
So, perhaps this is just one of the many lessons I have to learn about what it means to be a “business woman,” an identity that I avoided as long as I could and still struggle to embrace. Perhaps this is one of those “life lessons” that I have chaffed against as I have attempted to carve my own path through the wilderness of what it means to be an ethical person and to work in service of the people in my community. I will appeal. I will push back. I will continue to live and work within my personal code of ethics and hope that I at least break even on the money front. My approach has worked pretty well so far though I grow tired of always having to argue and defend innovation, transdisciplinarity, and radical service. And that is another reason why I took the leap and opened The Spiral Goddess Collective—every time I arrive there I am renewed, rejuvenated, and reminded that I am right where I need to be.
When I was nine years old, my mother took me to see A Chorus Line, the movie, in the theater. It was a special treat that has stayed with me all of my life. I remember my mom saying something like, "now, there are a lot of things in this movie that you aren't going to understand because it is for adults, but I know how much you like to dance and I think you will really love this movie." I was all in, of course!
Since that special viewing, I have seen this movie countless more times and I know all the words to all of the songs, which I have been known to sing loudly and obnoxiously at times. When I was a little older, and my mom wanted to be hired at our local newspaper, we would drive by and she would sing, "yes, oh yes, I am a writer! . . . let me write for you. Let me try. Let me write for you . . . ." So, obviously this movie held special meaning to me and within my family, but also toward my identity as not a dancer. Oh, I could dream, but I knew very early on that I would never be a dancer, especially not the kind that could audition for something like A Chorus Line! And since I, like my mother, am a writer, this song line is always ever-present and ready to bust out of my subconscious or my mouth.
By now you might have an inkling of why this this blog title echoes this song, but you might be wondering why I changed the word from dancer to artist. After all, I certainly have been able to claim my identity as a dancer! Again, not as a dancer like the ones I emulated and idolized in A Chorus Line, but as a person who loves to move to music, who loves to dance, who loves to create and teach choreography. It took me a long time and a lot of work to recover this part of myself and it is my passion and mission to continue my dance-related self-care practice and to teach dance-based classes and organize events that provide other people with a safer container to find their own love of dance and movement.
I still have trouble calling myself a dancer, and proclaiming it freely. For a long time I had trouble claiming myself as a "real" yoga teacher, a "real" belly dance teacher, and a "real" writer because I did not feel like I could authentically claim this title. When a student or friend says something like, "I'm kind of a writer" or "I want to be a writer," I am quick to reinforce their self-efficacy. But, like so many things, it is more difficult to adhere to my own pep talk.
It is even more difficult for me to proclaim myself an artist, which I am trying to work through. Because what I do when I create and teach a JourneyDance playlist, when I teach a yoga class, when I put together a syllabus, when I write a book or a blog or a website, and when I created The Spiral Goddess Collective–is art. All of these things tap into my creativity and flow out of me as if they have always been there just waiting to be born. One of my favorite quotes is from Ranier Maria Rilke, "You must give birth to your images. They are the future waiting to be born." I am always waiting for the future to be born, and when I get tired of waiting, I push my images out into the world. Now I am able to push other artists' images out into the world–whether they call themselves an artists or not!
As Shoshona Currier, Director, Bates Dance Festival writes: “The value of the artists goes beyond the shows they create. Their work resonates throughout society in critical and creative thinking, collaborative work environments, problem-solving, dreaming. Artists change space.” And this is how I think of my art–the arts I describe above. And this is where I circle back to A Chorus Line. When my mom took me to see that movie, she planted a seed for a life-long love of dance (even as fear, shame, and self-doubt tried to separate me from this love). But there was another, more important seed planted by that film that I did not link back until much later in life–a seed of social justice.
In A Chorus Line I was exposed to a kind of diversity that did not exist in my sheltered, middle-class world at that time. The cast of characters auditioning for the chorus line were Black, and Puerto Rican, and gay, and too "old" to be dancers. They were pursuing their dream and pushing back against the barriers that society put in front of them. They were personifying grit, ambition, drive, passion, and hard work. I was all in. My mom was right, much of that film went over my head at nine-years-old, but the important stuff sunk into my heart, my bones, my muscles, my sinew.
The value of the artists I saw on screen, emulations of the artists on the stage, created work that resonated and fostered my creative and critical thinking. It allowed me to dream and, eventually to claim many parts of my identity that have helped me to continue to birth my images into the world. So, yes, oh yes, I am an artist and I am excited to bring this vision of art into downtown Bangor and ARTober through The Spiral Goddess Collective (and some of it in the slideshow above!). I'll be posting more about the art that decorates our Collective space though I do consider the space to be a work of art in and of itself.
American fitness is one of my areas of specialization. I teach a class at the University of Maine at Augusta on the topic and I wrote a book about it, published almost a decade ago: Women and Fitness in American Culture. Not a lot of people have read my book, but not a lot of people want to read my book because it requires that we face the myths of American culture that promise that if we work hard enough then we can have whatever we want. The reality is that no matter how hard we work, there are some things that just won't be available to us because of biology, or social structures, or the limitations of time and space. The idealized, fetishized, whitewashed, airbrushed "perfect body" is one of those things.
So, if the "perfect body" does not actually exist—or at least if we can agree that it is out of our reach—we might think: why bother? Why am I doing all of these squats, counting all of these calories, tracking my every step, denying myself sleep and quality time with my family, and more, only to keep reaching toward an impossible goal? But it is not so much the things that were are doing, as it is the way we are approaching the things that we are doing. For starters, the more we beat ourselves up—mentally and physically, metaphorically and realistically—the less likely it is that we are going to meet even the most modest of goals, The mindset we have when we approach physical activity shapes the results, or lack of results, that we get. The language we use to talk about fitness, health, and wellness is part of the problem.
Here are some words and phrases that you will not hear at The Spiral Goddess Collective, a Center for Mind/Body Movement: shred, swole, grind, results, plateau, workout, goals, cheat day, gym, in shape/out of shape, burn it off, no pain no gain, high impact, routine, regimen, work off that ____ that you ate last night, go harder, move faster, calories in calories out. These words and phrases fit a philosophy that punishes the mind and body and sets a standard that is nearly impossible to achieve. We chase the dreams of perfection offered by products and services that will never be able to deliver what the glossy images and catchy names and taglines promise.
At The SGC there is no scale to weigh yourself and the only mirror you will find is above the sink in the bathroom and it is surrounded by positive affirmations. When we "weigh" our fitness by different measurements, when we see ourselves without the negative self-image lurking in the background, we can start to transform ourselves and our lives. We change the way we show up for ourselves and the ways in which we carry ourselves. We change the way we relate to people and the ways in which we show up for the people we love.
Every body is different and there are no simple answers, no simple solutions, no magic pills, no miracle workouts. American fitness is a sham and we have bought into it individually and collectively exactly because sometimes it works.
But if you have been riding that roller coaster of weight loss and weight gain, if you have been stuck in that perpetual loop of not enough or too much, if you have tried all the diets and specialized equipment and you still aren't happy with what you look like—then something has to change. That something is not you—that something is the larger culture that shapes these trends, but changing the way you think about yourself and the way that you approach fitness is an important start.
Here are some words and phrases that speak to our offerings at the SGC, a Center for Mind/Body Movement: mind/body and mind/body/spirit (those were obvious, weren't they?!), practice, authenticity, neuroplasticity, process, trauma-informed, balance, nervous system, functional movement, holistic, whole body, do what feels good, in the moment, listening to our bodies, health at every size, feminism, pleasure, joy, embodiment, rest, relaxation, mindfulness, contemplation, feel it to heal it, meditation, mental health, tap into your inner guide, feel, breathe, opening space in our minds and bodies.
What happens when we change the language that we use to describe our fitness routines? When we don't think about moving our body as "working out"? What happens when we change the ways we approach moving our bodies?
Now, I hate to make it more complicated, but that's what I do. Many of these words have also been morphed into the world of manufactured fitness and have been sold back to us as part and parcel of the world of American Fitness. (Stay tuned for my newest book, American Yoga Demystified!) Yoga is big business and as people start to realize and recognize the benefits found in mind/body approaches to health, wellness, and fitness, ancient practices (and modern innovations on these practices) are becoming even more commodified.
The market is being saturated with inexpensive online yoga teacher training programs (especially since covid proved that we could do anything online if we wanted it badly enough), branded yoga approaches, stylish (and expensive) outfits, specialized gear, luxury spa vacations, and more "self-care" practices that bypass conversations about responsibility, integrity, and social (in)equality. In fact the good old "perfect body" myth has been rebranded as the "yoga body," and sometimes more specifically, the "yoga booty." This is the new whitewashed, fetishized, airbrushed ideal and it is just as toxic as the old one.
So, now that we're feeling pretty discouraged, let me share some hope. We can—literally and figuratively—change our minds whenever we want to. And when we change our minds, we also change our bodies. And when we change our bodies and minds, we shift our relationship to ourselves. We learn to move authentically and to approach movement as practices rather than routines and regimens. We learn to love ourselves and to be compassionate to ourselves and this transforms the way we are in the world and the ways in which we interact with others and react to stressful situations. We learn to respond rather than react. We learn to let go of unrealistic expectations, to be in our bodies as they are, and to respect other people's bodies as they are.
Maybe this all sounds too good to be true. How can changing the way we think about ourselves and the way we think about how we move our bodies transform us? The only answer is another question: how do we know if we don't even try?