Hard times require furious dancing.’ ~Alice Walker
I remember being in love with the dance since I was a child.
I lived with my dad and grandparents in a small conservative town not too far from Rome.
My mum passed away suddenly from a brain aneurism when I was six. She was only thirty-four years old. My whole family experienced a terrible shock, tragedy and chaos.
Somewhat I have a blurred memory of that day. She had to pick me up from my grandparents’ home, but she never showed up. There were no mobile phones in those days. So my dad came to pick me up instead. When we returned to our flat, he opened the door and noticed something off in the apartment. He quietly asked me to visit the neighbours. I can’t recall what happened because I suffered partially from a memory loss. I have a gap.
But I remember the sense of confusion and despair. Children are very intuitive. I knew somewhat in my being that something terrible had happened.
I may have spent a few days with the neighbours and didn’t go to my mum’s funeral. My dad told me that she was in the hospital. He shared with me that she was dead after more than one month. I remember the moment when he told me. He stopped the car and taught me a prayer for the dead, to wish my mum eternal peace. My dad also said that I had to behave and be responsible. I was six years old!
From that day on, I started to carry a weight on my shoulder that did not belong to me. I lost somewhat the innocence of childhood. Perhaps, unconsciously or at a more subtle level, I agreed with my dad to take care of him and never leave him.
Only as an adult, much later in life, I reclaimed my relationship with grief and the loss of my mother, and I created many simple rituals to say goodbye to her. I made a funeral with a friend for her a couple of years ago. We sang, drummed and spoke words of beauty and gratitude. I brought some flowers to my garden and buried a little stone symbolically. These simple gestures allowed me to get a sense of closure in my psyche creatively.
I also understood that I had to let go of the impossible promises I made to take care of my dad’s wellbeing. I was desperately his consultant, best friend, and healer for many years. And that was not healthy. It took me a long time to understand this pattern and remove myself from it, releasing that responsibility.
My grandparents moved with us after my mum died. They were Catholic, old fashioned and sadly not gifted with lightness or a sense of humour. I know that they loved me.
They had a tough life. They were carrying the weight and suffering of previous generations. They survived bombings in their village and hid in the caves in the mountains at night. They experienced what it means to be hungry and in danger while taking care of a baby. As far as I know, they did not love each other. I remember them constantly arguing. The only bond they had, was the love for their son.
My dad was born in 1942, and he still remembers the sound of the bombs.
When my mother died, I think that a part of him died too, and he never recovered fully. He was already a man with a typical vulcanic Italian loud energy. His generation grew up with the myth of cars, speed, women and had a lot of indigested trauma and emotions. Still, he became increasingly nervous, angry, and irritable after she passed away. Sadly, he didn’t embrace any tool to deal with his pain, and he treated me many times in a way that wasn’t fair and patient. I grew up in a household where there was a lot of yelling. My little heart was crushed many times, and I did not feel safe. Thanks to intelligent survival strategies, I often had to shrink, got in the habit of being invisible, and closed the area around my chest to protect myself.
When I was a child, I wouldn’t say I liked going to school: I felt in a cage and not understood by the adults. There was nobody around to hold or validate my feelings.
Only now, as an adult, I am aware of the immense stress I was holding in my little body. And I know that trauma can be crystallized in it for many years, even after the events that caused it in the first place.
When I was seven or eight years old, I used to lock myself in the living room, put the stereo at high volume, and shake my body until I was exhausted (listening to heavy metal music!) I still remember my grandmother storming in the room and shouting to put the volume down, worried about what the neighbours would think, and then I would turn it up even more! As a child, I found instinctively a way to cope, live and find relief: I used to bananas and dance my socks off! There was a primal intelligence moving through my body. I was intuitively releasing stress.
Even though we lived in a city, I also had the opportunity to spend significant time by the sea, in the mountains, walking in forests. I had the chance to explore the world around me through my senses. I developed curiosity, stamina, flexibility and a hunger for life.
When I became a teenager, I used to go to the discos as much as I could, and as a young adult, I started taking a lot of drugs. I was addicted to substances and had a self-destructive drive in those years. However, I was also fascinated with movement because I could express myself and liberate some burdens too unfathomable to be spoken.
My first boyfriend beat me up and left me with black eyes and bruises over my body. It was a miracle that I did not suffer from severe physical injuries or go to the hospital. Still, I was scarred emotionally and at the soul level. My self-esteem went under my feet. I guess I had a pretty distorted idea about what love was and had no clue how to take care of myself kindly. I probably felt that I deserved being treated in that way.
In my early twenties, after getting drunk, I often woke up in the street, alone, in the middle of the night. I passed out and my friends maybe just went to the next party. Somewhat, some angel, or my mum from the sky, watched out for me, and I did not end up raped, robbed or hurt.
Something inside me told me that I had a long road ahead to find myself, as I could feel a great sense of emptiness, grief, despair, and self-hatred.
Later at the university, I discovered my love for the drums.
Whenever there was a drummer, I would appear next to him, leaping, abandoning myself to the dance (and somehow experiencing spontaneous states of trance). There was something life-affirming in this passion for the drums. My body would relax into the beat and rhythm, connecting to the ground and the Earth. As a young adult, I intuitively knew that I had experienced states of dissociation many times. But I also sensed something still intact in me and that was never broken. I was able to access it spontaneously through dance and connection with the sound of the drums.
My life journey was about coming back into my body. I knew it since I was a young adult and sensed that it would have been a wild ride!
Many years later, I moved to London. I discovered the 5 Rhythms and Movement Medicine.
When I met my teacher Susannah Darling Khan in 2009, I immediately fell in love with her words, big heart and embodied presence. There was something congruent in her that I admired and strongly resonated with me, and I thought, ‘I want something that she has… she has the strength to speak from her heart.’
A few months after, I enrolled in Initiation, a 10-day workshop in Devon, led by Ya’Acov and Susannah Darling Khan, the creators of Movement Medicine dance practice. It was a very intense experience. I was terrified, as I had never gone to an event like that by myself.
I connected to parts of myself that I had never accessed before to feel enormous grief and physical pain. When I was dancing to honour the female and male ancestors, I remember saying to an assistant that I had pain inside my cells.
After that workshop, as we sang a lot, I felt I had found my voice. I never studied singing. I liked having a very raw and primal relationship with my voice.
There are many paths to the Divine,
I have chosen the way of song, dance and laughter.- ~ Rumi
I have my grandmother’s voice.
She was a half soprano and never allowed to continue singing. During WWII, Italian culture labelled artists as ‘bad’ or degenerated women.
Today, I use my voice also for her. Her name was Clara, and I learnt from her unwavering love.
I sing to connect to my ancestors and all women of my lineage who lost their voices and could not express themselves freely and creatively. Sometimes I sense how they were muted and longed for more freedom, safety and permission to be themselves!
A few weeks after attending Initiation, a lump suddenly started growing at the heart level on my chest. And a few weeks after, it had the size of an apple and I could barely move. I was in pain, and doctors misdiagnosed me a few times, but my intuition kept telling me something was wrong. After going to several hospitals, I was diagnosed with a Non Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was thirty-three years old. My mum died when she was thirty-four.
I had accessed a deep part of myself that held grief and old stories. I never thought about cancer as an illness or disease: I thought it was a mechanism of the body to heal, do its things, and show where my attention needed to go (on the heart).
I didn’t think I was sick: I thought I was starting to heal deep stuff, also related to my ancestors, family and to the grief I held for my mum’s death, for the toxicity I had in my system, as I used to abuse myself when I was younger (with drugs, unhealthy relationships, lack of self-love and self-esteem). I turned a lot of anger inward for many years. I knew I had to stop that pattern and embrace myself with kindness.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a fast-growing cancer of the lymphatic system that gets clogged with toxins and cannot support the immune system.
I decided that this situation was going to be an adventure.
I went to therapy, changed my diet, interrupted communication with my family (as I needed to hold firm boundaries). I got reflexology treatments, went to EFT sessions, rode the bike, hiked in snowy hills, and most of all danced my socks off.
I used to show up on the dance floor, without hair, sometimes wearing a hat and big hearings and looked like a monk because I was bold.
The dance helped me stay fit, strong, have fun. Most importantly, I could explore repressed emotions that needed expression through movement. Creatively and poetically, I could give shape and voice to the sorrow and the anger. I could allow the tears that never flew freely, the gratitude for being still miraculously alive. The dance became a tool to bring to completion, symbolically, things that I could not do when I was younger. Thanks to Movement Medicine practice, I strengthened the muscle of my embodied imagination. I explored moving and being rooted like a tree, light as a bird, fluid like water. And I reignited my passion. In this way, I also connected more with my playfulness and inquired how I could use these qualities in my daily life.
Moreover, the dance gave me the gift of practising being present and grounded in the body. That was an essential element, as I couldn’t afford to think too much about the future and fall into the fears and anxieties related to chemo or the possibility to die.
I decided to live day by day.
Whenever I danced and discovered a new movement, I felt a sense of possibility and a fresh breeze. I was not doomed to be stuck. Not everything was lost.
I was able to do something new. Perhaps my elbows or my knees had a different story to say. Through my whole body in motion, I could create new narratives that had nothing to do with being a victim. That feeling of discovery and awe was essential, as a part of me felt as if I was crippled and destined to misery for most of my life.
I found hope, and it was vital in a moment when my life was at stake, and I did not know if I would survive.
While I had cancer treatments, I attended two intensive School of Movement Medicine workshops even if I was a bit weak and scared. We would dance for more than a week in a row. These experiences also gave me the gift of community. I met people who became friends, lifted me, encouraged me and helped me feel seen, heard and celebrated. I was lucky enough to meet a bunch of visionary dancers who were willing to reclaim the dance as a tool for transformation, self-knowledge, collective prayer and community-making.
Many studies suggest that cancer patients mustn’t be isolated. I gathered tools and resources that supported my immune and nervous systems. At the end of that journey, I felt more confident in myself and the body’s natural capacity to heal.
I knew that for women under thirty-five, it was hazardous to combine chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It could have exposed me to severe cardiovascular disease and other cancers in the long term. When the hospital called me to follow the protocol and have radiotherapy, I refused and walked away. I could feel the strength I gathered through many dances.
I am not giving any medical advice here, but only sharing my story!
Having cancer has been a profound and transformative experience that allowed me to look at the parts that I needed to include with love, kindness, and compassion. It showed me the wounds that needed healing and the unhealthy patterns that needed change. And most certainly, I would not have survived that experience without dancing!
We all know the pain of a broken heart. We carry deep suffering for what happened to us and what is happening collectively. We feel the burden of previous generations and sense (consciously or not) the pain inflicted on others and the Earth. And yet, from that place, we can generate much love, compassion, and kindness if we choose so.
Dear friends, this is not a time to turn bitter. The world is in chaos. We need to embrace and befriend our shadows, pain and suffering, brew them in an alchemical pot to extract the gold. That is one of the gifts of the dance.
Everything can be a dance. Movement helps us transmute stagnant energies and find new perspectives and a broader vocabulary of expression. It allows us to feel more and connect to what is alive inside us.
So, this is my invitation to you dear ones, dance, dance, dance!
That’s it for today!
Thanks for taking the time to read this story.
Let me know how it lands if you wish!
With love and gratitude,
Ps, check out my dear friend Lizzie’s work, she took my dancing picture!