Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Wednesday Wonder: Dancing Back Into Life

Nothing, nothing prepared me for what I heard. . .
the words cancer, stage, grade.
Cancer was the zodiak sign of my friend.
Stage was what I performed on
and grades were what I got in school.
. . . That day I learned what fear was.
~ Ananda Shankar Jayant

Choreographer and performer Ananda Shankar Jayant has danced for more than four decades, since she was four. She is trained in two forms of classical Indian dance, each of which requires years of training and learning and a gift for precise timing as well as expression.

When she sat in her doctor's office one day not long ago and heard the word "carcinoma", Jayant couldn't think about dancing. She says she felt she'd lost all control over her life. She shed copious tears, got angry at her new "unwelcome, uninvited life partner", and despaired. And then she made a vow to get "from where I was to where I wanted to be" by drawing on her art for the strength she needed to control the only three things she knew she could control: her thoughts, the images her thoughts created, and the actions derived from her thoughts.

Jayant resolved to dance through her cancer, to "tune out of cancer and tune into my dance."

A few weeks after her cancer surgery, Jayant went back to her studio. She went every day, relearning everything, she says, focusing on her mantras and the imagery of her dance, which she describes as her strength, her energy, her passion, her "very life breath". She is clear how deeply affected she was by the ravages of her cancer, to "go from beautiful to bald in three days", to be accustomed to dancing for three hours and feel now the "sheer torture" of climbing a flight of stairs.

Fear and tears were options I did not have.

She needed, she says, something more, something to lock onto, an anchor, a peg that would enable her to find her way back to healing, health, and happiness. Jayant, perhaps not unexpectedly, found what she needed through dance, through "the poetry and metaphor and philosophy" of dance. She recalled one particular image, that of the Mother Goddess Durga, the 18-armed "Fearless One", the "One Who Rules the Lion" and is ever ready for warfare. Assuming every attribute of this spirit, Jayant describes how she gave "laser-sharp focus" to her dancing, dancing between cycles of chemotherapy and radiation until finally she could say of herself not that she is a cancer survivor but a cancer conqueror.

The inspirational story of how Jayant danced away her cancer's hold on her, of how she used her art to  heal and overcome, is a wonder. Watch here as Jayant dances with intensity, with joy, with the strength that literally saved her life. 

My language called dance paints before you
a canvas of life and beyond—of our fallible self
groping in the darkness for that light of eternity.

Ananda Shankar Jayant's Website

Interview with Ananda Shankar Jayant at TED


Graceful said...

Maureen, That is a very cool story. She is beautiful, and that dance is amazing!

Ami Mattison said...

Thank you so much for sharing this amazing story, Maureen. I've forwarded the link to my partner who is also a classical Indian dancer as well as a doctor. I know she'll find this as inspirational as I did!

Kathleen Overby said...

As a dancer yourself Maureen, you could probably share in the pain and joy of her resolve to keep dancing through all the stages? Beautiful womanhood. The reserves of resilience we don't even know we have is astonishing.

Laura said...

What an inspiring, beautiful story. What a remarkable woman.

I didn't know you were a dancer, Maureen. How did I miss that? You are just full of surprises.

Maureen said...

I do not consider myself a dancer. I am not a dancer, though I do think it's fun to dance through life.

S. Etole said...

I like that she is a conqueror ... not just a survivor. We are overcomers!!!