#SpeakingInDance: Learning to Breathe Again
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#SpeakingInDance: Learning to Breathe Again

Occasionally, I would take a jazz dance class on the weekend for fun. Jazz, as compared with ballet and contemporary Martha Graham dance techniques, uses more isolation of different parts of the body. It’s quite fun to have a slightly different physical challenge occasionally.

“Respirer! Respirer!” (In English, it means “breathe”.)

In my first class with Lalia, my French jazz teacher, she would stop the whole class, run over to me and use her fingers to open my mouth. She must have said “respirer” over 30 times in one class. Now, whenever I look at her, I see “respirer” all over her lovely face with her curly red hair.

In dance, breathing is part of the training. We use our breaths to connect with each other during a choreography, so we can become as one and synchronise our movements. We exhale and use contractions (push out of a breath from our pelvic floor) when we jump to give us more thrust — like a rocket which pushes air down to go up. We use our breaths to relax our muscles and facilitate efficiency and fluidity in our movements.

We, as humans, can live without food for about 40 days and three days without water. On average, we can last around three minutes without air. Yet, we think about eating more often than about breathing. Dance training has helped me realise the importance and the power of the breath, something so basic and so vital, yet it is something that is often overlooked.

Sometimes, I wish I had gotten to where I am today a little sooner. There were too many important things I had taken for granted. I took people, health and even my breaths for granted. I held my breath often, when I was stressed at work, when I was playing video games, when I was nervous. I did not feel the importance of nature, the power of the universe or the connections to each other.

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My beautiful friend and former schoolmate, Paula Gay (Instagram @paola.yag), who is an 18-year-old pre-professional dance student, executes a powerful jump. Photo taken by Juan Manuel Abbelan (Instagram @juanmanuelabellan)

I was 28. I wanted to see the world. My brain was not ready to be tied down to one person. Ben* and I were together for three years but in my mind, I enjoyed being loved so I kept him around even though we had officially broken up. I never looked inside my heart and realised how much I loved him.

I almost fell to the ground when he told me on the phone that his parents had been arrested on murder charges in Japan. There were people connected to the Japanese mafia that were sending him death threats. He got very ill, was hospitalised and his weight dropped to 40kg.

I begged him to let me move to Japan to be with him, many times.

His exact words to me were: “Do you want to break up very hard next time? Do you want us to end up hating each other? We have to stop here. I cannot let you move here [to Japan] for me. You do not have any friends here, you do not speak the language. And every day, I have to see my parents in jail and people are threatening to kill me. This is not the life I would offer you. You have always wanted to see the world. I cannot let you give that up, for this.”

He bought our tickets to New York, helped me find an apartment and made sure I could start my life there comfortably. That was the last time we saw each other.

The guilt I felt was rather enormous. Guilt for what I had done to him when we were together and guilt for not being able to be there for him when he needed me the most. I had to learn to forgive myself. It took a few years with a lot of tears and some self-destructive behaviour. I blamed it on being “too young”.

At that time, I wondered: “Why is this happening to me? I am not in a movie. This only happens in movies, this tragic dramatic love story crap.”

Certainly, it had nothing to do with being young. Ben clearly understood what it meant to love someone even though he was only one year older than me.

Maybe it was “designed” to happen. Some people are on the fast track and understand all this earlier in their lives. I needed multiple earthquakes to shake me to the core to find the connection.  The connection within myself, to a love that is saturated with peace, harmony and hope. A love that is necessary to feel within oneself first so that we can offer it to others. A love that is only possible if we let go, trust and forgive. A love that leads to an understanding that one of the ultimate paths to peace is forgiveness, not just of myself but of others.

Paris at night, Domaine National du Palais-Royal.
Paris at night, Domaine National du Palais-Royal.

“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers,  as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.” 

 ~ Herman Melville, American novelist

*Names have been changed to protect their privacy.

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Patsy Lo is the founder and curator of sml Dance.  Originally from Hong Kong, Patsy worked in marketing for more than 20 years globally.  At 48, she left Apple Inc. after working for the American tech giant in various cities to become a full-time dance student in Paris, France.  She still lives in Paris, practising ballet and contemporary Graham technique.  Besides dancing more than 20 hours every week, she is also the founder of sml (@sml_dance on Instagram), which curates dance performances. The aim of the company is three fold, make dance more accessible, provide a bridge for choreographers and dancers to cross platforms, and ultimately, inspire people to reconnect within themselves and feel, move and expand more.
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