Photography Credit: Kitfox Valentín
Jai-Dee Dancewear is a sustainable leotard company celebrating the beauty, wisdom and value of women who dance. Our blog serves to inform, inspire and connect our community of socially conscious women in ballet and beyond. All hearts are welcome here.
To dance is to converse with both freedom and restraint. For most of us, it’s the freedom that speaks to us first. It’s the freedom that calls us to the path. Too soon though, our bodies, minds and the ecological framework in which dance is nested introduce restriction. Walls are erected, constructing an intricate maze where freedom is still possible, but more obstructed.
Finding freedom within restraint is undeniably part of the art – perhaps even the heart of it. But when we spiral so deeply into the maze that we can’t feel the ground, see the sky or access the field where we first felt free, we know we have given too much up.
Today on our blog, Jessica McCarthy guides us out of the maze and into alchemy.
Change is Constant: An Ode to the Evolution as a Dancer
“A village, a center, a space within the landscape for artists and curious seekers of something more than what this modern cultural construct has to offer. A place where people come to learn, explore, heal, and grow into themselves then take that back out into the world – a ripple effect, led by example. Vibrant, full of wilderness and wildlife. I see expansive lands. A center for gathering. Minimal, dynamic, flexible spaces made out of the earth. Spaces for artistic residencies and performances – where dancers can connect back to the roots of the body they came from; the elements. A large bonfire space where we dance awake the dream that lays dormant in our spirits as a domesticated version of the wild human lineage we are descended from. To move as a part of the land – to feed and be fed. Shifting the paradigm through movement.”
The excerpt of writing above comes from a letter I wrote to myself at the beginning of a composition and improvisation class during the summer of 2017. The prompt was something along the lines of, “If you could do anything, what would you do?” While I’ve tweaked the answer a bit since the original draft almost 2 years ago, the essence of this vision remains true.
I felt my relationship to dance shifting long before the moment I laid pencil to paper that July. But in that moment, when surrounded by fellow artists seeking the same path as professional dancers, I still chose to string that selection of words together. To veer away from desiring the “traditional” path of a professional dancer – the one I yearned for, for so very long. There are times when I question my desires, when I feel the slippery seductress of all that I had ever (thought) I wanted from my dance career begin to sing sweet siren songs and lead me astray. But this questioning happens less and less as I become more grounded in my purpose as a dancer, and beyond that identity, as a human being.
I’m in a process of alchemizing my relationship with dance – an ongoing process that will continue to be a thread throughout my life.
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The Alchemizing of a Relationship
No.1 – Extract the elements of the relationship that are the essence of why I chose to dance long ago, and throughout all of the trials and tribulations, still choose to dance today. Imbibe their spirit. Hold them dear to my heart.
No.2 – Compost the residual muck that is no longer serving a beneficial purpose in the relationship. Do not dispel the lingering negative notions, but rather, allow them to decay. Be patient with their death. As the life slips away, reflect on what I’ve learned from their teachings. Invest in the act of gratitude as the organic matter of my relationship transmutes.
No.3 – Fertilize the elemental essences with the rich, organic matter of my past experiences. Allow for the alchemy to take root in the heart of the matter. See what new life takes form.
Repeat steps 1 through 3 as often as is necessary. May be used for all kinds of relationships.
Results may vary
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Sometimes, I speak of dance as though it is a person, or a characterization of all that it is. This is simply for expression’s sake and written creativity. When in truth, dance – the way I have grown to see it, to know it, to experience it – is much more thematic in texture. A human motif. An innate wisdom of the body, experienced across all cultures throughout time, as we know it. The essence of dance, this truth, is what I’ve loved all along. It’s what has kept me invested; what has carried me through countless periods of struggle and pain, enduring the inflicted wounds of rejection and confusion that accompany the path of a professional dancer. All, for the love of dance.
When I was 3, I wanted to dance. I don’t know why, but I did. I insisted on it. I would only wear dresses, mind you, that twirled when I danced around…no matter what the weather was like outside. Simple and pure, movement was life. Fast forward many years and somewhere along the way, I got a little lost. A little caught up in the concerns of “making it” and being a successful professional dancer. Thinking I knew what I wanted out of a professional dance career and that ultimately, I would be happy once this career goal was reached. Until then, being content in my career was always a stone’s throw away. Setting the bar higher. Wanting more out of life. Never stop, never settle. Just a few of the guiding mantras I followed.
My ideas as to what it means for me to be in touch with my human self have shifted as I’ve been walking down a rewilding path. It’s a very hard pill to swallow when it dawns on you that the very thing you love to do has become captive to the domesticated systems that we mostly operate within. When it dawns on you that the very thing you’ve grown up loving and devoting yourself to, has manifested itself into a career paradigm that holds direct conflict with how you actually envision your life unfolding.
The dance studio feels like a cage at times. Surrounded by mirrors, marley, and artificial lighting when I crave woodland paths, giant old-growth Doug firs, the reflection from rushing rivers, and natural light sourced from the sun’s rays, even when that means the direct light is blocked by a thick blanket of clouds on an overcast day here in the PNW. To me, a little natural light is better than lots of artificial light – quality vs. quantity.
Outside of the dance studio, I have weaved an interconnected web of wellness, honoring the wisdom of the natural world and the cycles we find within it as guidance for how I structure my own life, and facilitate my offerings to others. I am a wellness guide to those seeking to cultivate a deeper connection to themselves and the world around them through movement practices that bridge ancient wisdoms with modern methodologies. Luminous Architecture, my body of work, allows me to serve others through my favorite medium: movement. Merging healing movement with holistic lifestyle design, my spirit soars when helping people move through the world, both literally and figuratively, with more awareness and pleasure…similar to how I feel when I’m performing.
I love performing – always have, always will. But to solely be a great performer, that is not where I find purpose. It is not where I feel most useful. To have a profound impact on the way people choose to live their lives while here on this earth, to empower others through the medium of movement, to bring dance back to its roots – dance not just for entertainment, but as a form of ritual, holding ceremony, celebration, mourning, processing the unwavering human experience of emotions. The raw, primal, transcendent aspects of dance that allow us to connect with the human spirit. Shifting the paradigm of human existence through movement. This is where I find purpose.
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Deciding to move away from NYC and relocate to the Pacific Northwest was a big step towards bringing these visions to life. How could I ever connect to the body of the land, the blood of my work, the call to come home as a human while living in the city that never sleeps? Quite honestly, I was getting exhausted.
I have found myself dancing, rehearsing, and performing with BodyVox here in Portland because my dreams seem to unfold in a non-linear way. When an opportunity comes a-knockin’ the least you can do is answer and give it a listen. Old habits die hard, true change takes time, and that siren song is strong enough to bring me back to the studio in the more conventional career path. Now I’m able to balance my rehearsal schedule with plenty of time outdoors, unlike when living in the concrete jungle. Seeking balance along the spectrum of this vision is serving me well, and for that, I am grateful.
My partner and I have begun to explore how to breathe life into our collective vision of merging artistry with humanity through the creation of GROUND + CENTER. A project, and furthermore, a lifestyle, that melds our art forms with our human forms. On the artistic side, combining site specific dance performance and fine art photography. On the human side, combining our need to feed and be fed by the natural world of which we are a part. A project where we, as artistic humans, can ground into the land we live on, the art forms we love, and build a center for people to gather, grow, and awaken the human spirit. Something like that letter I wrote back in 2017. The vision stays alive, is nourished, and it continues to manifest.
Feeling at home within my body, honoring the wisdom of my body, bringing greater awareness as to how my movement – how I choose to move, walk, dance in this world – affects lives, human and non-human alike, and truly has an impact on the bigger picture of this planet. Leading by example, physically moving to inspire others to move more, move more freely, more purposefully, more intentionally, with greater care and deeper connection to themselves and the wild world that cradles them. This is where my movement practice is leading me these days. To work within a landscape, dance among the elements, and create something that sheds light on the heart of the matter – our humanness, our nature; our human nature.
Jessica McCarthy is a dancer, teacher, and healer based in Portland, OR. A native of Virginia, she holds a BFA in Dance and a minor in Psychology from NYU. Throughout her dance career, she has performed contemporary, opera, and dance theater works by Jamey Hampton + Ashley Roland, Florian Bilbao, Reut Shemesh, Charlotte Boye-Christensen, and Zoe Scofield, among others. Training includes Gaga Intensive, Strictly Seattle, Richmond Ballet, The Ailey School, and Elbert Watson. Jessica is also a 300 hour licensed Mind Body Dancer yoga teacher. Her body of work, Luminous Architecture, weaves an integrative web of movement, healing, wellness practices, and holistic lifestyle design. After 7 years in NYC, Jessica happily calls the Pacific Northwest home, where she dances with BodyVox, serves as a wellness guide, and can be found exploring wild landscapes. She also teaches yoga classes at The Grinning Yogi in PDX and returns to NYC seasonally to offer workshops and women’s gatherings.
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