How do we weather the storms in life?
This question matters to me not only because I’ve needed to get through my personal dangerous and disorienting storms and also not only because I worry about basement flooding or losing electricity in a blizzard. This question is also about the big storm coming: climate change, and all the social and political chaos accentuated by it.
Weathering a Storm is the name of one of Wisdom Dances’ first projects. In anticipation of the ten year anniversary of Wisdom Dances, I’m taking time reflect on this project and how the theme has continued to evolve in my work.
In 2013 the construction of the light rail Green Line was nearing completion and I seized an opportunity to be one of many arts groups engaged in creative place making in this very disrupted area. I received a tiny little grant from Irrigate which was administered by Springboard for the Arts. My concept was huge.
The construction of the light rail included massive new storm water infrastructure. The project included rain gardens, stormwater planters, infiltration trenches, tree trenches and permeable surfaces all with the purpose of helping stormwater runoff soak into the ground rather than run into the storm sewer.
This also reduces the phosphorous and sediment in run-off while improving air quality, protecting pollinator habitats, and reducing the urban heat island effect. You can see I get excited about green infrastructure. It’s important because we are experiencing more and more severe and extreme weather.
Weathering a Storm began as an invitation to notice and appreciate this important infrastructure. It was also an invitation to think about an even larger question: what cultural and community infrastructure do we have to weather the storms of life?
On a September Sunday afternoon during an Open Streets event on University Avenue I created a three part dance event. I organized a small group of dancers and also invited Voice of Culture Dance & Drum and Danza Mexica Cuauhtemoc to perform. The energy and color of our dancing was an invitation to think about these questions:
How does water move down the street, through your community, and in your life?
How well will your community withstand severe storms?
How does dance and culture help communities survive literal and figurative storms?
The best part of the experience was appreciating the talent and deep commitment from my collaborating arts groups. A few friends came. A handful of people passed by on their bikes and maybe a couple stopped.
Full of passion and buoyed by the enthusiasm from the Capitol Region Watershed District, I was inspired to go even bigger the next year. I created a whole afternoon of performances with six different cultural groups during the next year’s Open Streets festival.
Culture is an expression of how we understand our relationships to each other and all of life. Infrastructure is a reflection of a culture’s relationship to the land. I wondered what would happen if I could get together with other cultural dance groups and really talk about how we are building cultural infrastructure and how that intersects with green infrastructure. I convened the Culture of Water Leadership Summit with this question.
While I completed the projects that year, attendance was really low. I wasn’t having the depth of conversation and connection that I wanted. I realized I was ten years ahead of myself. Relationship building takes time. I was full of big concepts in my dancing, but they were not really manifest enough in a way that other people could relate to them.
Here is what did grow out of and follow the Weathering a Storm Project.
I met one of my teachers
One of the people I met over the course of the Weathering a Storm project suggested that I join the St. Louis River Nibi (Water) Walk happening later that autumn. It was a chilly, drizzly day when I joined a group of strangers in this walking ceremony for the water based in Ojibwe teachings. I said an awkward first hello to Sharon M Day, the leader of the walk. The day concluded with a ceremony on Spirit Island in the river delta before Lake Superior, and I knew I had found a connection I had been looking for. I keep showing up for more walks.
I keep showing up to support the group with what is needed, in particular communications support. I keep learning so much about how to honor the water, how to be in community and how to participate in the work of decolonizing. This relationship building continues in the background, influencing how I develop my own work.
I got much bigger perspective on the storms of life
The big story of cosmic evolution puts even the most catastrophic storms in perspective. The reason dance and qigong had already been so powerful for me is because they connected to experiences of being in deep harmony with the universe. I already generally knew the science of the universe story. I was introduced to the idea of how our consciousness is also part of this evolution, first by Ilia Delio and then by many others, and this has brought depth and context to all my practices.
I hadn’t realized how much I’d been looking at the horizon of climate chaos as the end times. The Universe story helped me understand a much great continuity, and a powerful, trustworthy impulse towards more beauty, complexity, and cooperation. The chaos of storms began to feel less senseless, and instead part of larger patterns. I developed some workshops teaching the cosmic story through movement and contemplation; we all need this foundational understanding of who we are and where we are going.
Slowly and steadily I danced into my vision
We dance every week. Gradually we have developed a cycle of traditions we observe through the year including the winter solstice, many springtime celebrations, mid-summer, and All Soul’s Day. We now make our own music, thanks to sweet partnership with musician Greg Herriges. We have two sets of traditional dress that we wear on special occasions.
Over time we have become more and more deeply engaged with the mythology and symbols encoded in our dance songs. I tell my new students that it takes at least a year to experience the full cycle of the dance, and at least a few years through that cycle before one can fully own the wisdom of that cycle in their bodies. This is transformational community building and it is deeply satisfying.
The storms are here and we are weathering them together
Our dance circle has had the honor of dancing with two of our members through the final stages of their life. We have seen each other through big losses, health challenges, and big life changes. The dancing is incredibly reliable container. Sometimes people are dragging themselves to class and feel on the edge of falling apart but invariably the dance reconnects them to a sense of being held by a much bigger.
Then the pandemic arrived. It continues to reveal and heighten all the storms that are already here. We found new forms to dance together every week – online and then outside. Our city erupted with the movement for Black Liberation. Everything was disrupted. We kept dancing. The uncertainties continue. We keep dancing. Several people have told me the relatively consistent presence of our dance circle made all the difference in their being able to weather the recent storms. This is what weathering a storm is all about.
Green infrastructure is still cool
I still feel passionate about green infrastructure and am currently serving on the community advisory committee for the River Learning Center. After teaching outside for two years I find myself increasingly passionate about the value of picnic shelters and outdoor classrooms that help us learn in nature.
When I realized I was ten years ahead of myself, I also couldn’t quite imagine how my work would evolve in those ten years. I’m grateful to have found traction in the long-term transformational work. I’m curious how I will continue to share the vitality and wisdom carried in our dancing community to support our wider community through these stormy times.
With gratitude for all the learning,
Coming up in July: Mid-Summer Anniversary Party
We will celebrate the height of summer with an evening of dancing, live music, feasting and working with plants. This year’s celebration will have extra zest as we also celebrate the ten year anniversary of Wisdom Dances. There will be special treats, a special program, additional musicians and merriment. The Mid-Summer Celebration is a relaxed, joyful day open to all who want to participate or bask in the glow as an observer. Sunday July 17, 2022. Learn more.
Want to hear about more upcoming events and opportunities?
Sign up for my newsletter for monthly updates.