Tagged: Expressive Arts

The Right Size: My Steps to Self-Acceptance

Frames
Frames of Control, photographer David Hou

I wrote a post for the Love Our Bodies, Love Ourselves Blog (launched the B.C. Provincial Eating Disorders Awareness Campaign) about the day I was shamed for being too fat and to thin and how the ludicrousness of the situation helped me realise that the only place I could find self-acceptance was within myself.

“The Right Size: My Steps to Self-Acceptance, by Kathleen Rea”

 
For a decade I suffered from bulimia. During my recovery, I came to know Merryl Bear, the director of the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC).  She had heard that I was a dancer with the National Ballet Company of Canada and asked if I would choreograph and perform a dance based on my recovery at their upcoming conference.  I said yes even though the prospect of being open about my struggles scared me. 

Creating the dance solo was a challenge because the subject was still raw. I felt so vulnerable. Finally, after months of rehearsal, I waited backstage at the theatre where the conference was being held. My hands clenched into fists and my shoulders tightened in an effort to collect the strength to walk on stage. This would be the first time I admitted publicly that I suffered from an eating disorder, and doing so took all the muscle I had. A large empty mirror frame stood at center-stage, waiting for me; the partner that would give meaning to my performance. I breathed in and took a step into the light. As I did so I heard someone in the theatre gasp and say, “She’s so thin!”  Her tone was sharp and brittle. I wondered if this audience member thought I was part of the problem, and that just by standing there on stage my size was encouraging people to starve and dislike their bodies. I took another step towards the mirror frame. Further murmurs of judgments about my size rippled through the theatre. My body froze. I felt that I didn’t belong here, that I was too thin to be spokesperson for positive body image.

I was immobilised not just by a feeling of not being accepted but also by the irony of my situation, because just one hour ago I had been made to feel shamefully overweight.

The theatre where the NEDIC conference took place was across the street from another theatre, where I was dancing in the premiere performance of The National Ballet of Canada’s Romeo & Juliet. During intermission, I had run across the street to perform at the NEDIC conference. My required performance weight at the National Ballet Company was bone thin. This was not my choice but the weight required of me to keep my job. For the past five years I had struggled to maintain this unnatural shape. I was told that, because of my “large breasts” (I was a B cup size), I had to be even thinner than the other girls. Those of us with “large breasts” were so ashamed of our womanly curves that we would bind our chests for performances.  Our ballet rehearsal mistress frequently told me that I would lose a role unless I dropped weight.  I was constantly on a starvation diet. Then after dieting intensely for days, a famished “creature” would seize control, and an intense desire to eat would overcome my willpower. In a trance-like state, I would binge on all the foods my strict diet denied me. Emerging from my daze, I would try to erase the calories through various methods of purging.  And yet somehow, my struggles with eating were not the worst part. That honor went to the hatred I felt towards my body, and the shame I internalized for not having the willpower to maintain my starvation diet. I often slept on the bathroom floor fighting the urge to find relief through self-harming. I would lie like that on the cold tiles until morning because the comfort of my bed seemed too indulgent for someone who was such a failure. One morning, after a particularly traumatic night, I scraped myself off the bathroom floor and I looked in the mirror at my sunken eyes. I saw in them that I was dying — a soul death that would eventually result in a physical death if I stayed on the path I was on. 

I chose life. I found an eating disorder therapist and began the recovery process. I spoke with the ballet company, telling them I was in recovery from an eating disorder and might gain weight, but that I would try to get back to my performance weight as quickly as possible. Shortly after this, the company went on tour to Washington, D.C. After we returned, the artistic director told me I had been far too fat to appear onstage, but due to so many dancers being injured, they were forced to keep me in the performance lineup. As a result, he informed me, I had embarrassed the nation of Canada on the international stage!  By the time of the Romeo & Juliet premiere, I had been told that I was fired because of my weight…

 
 
“Love our Bodies, Love Ourselves!” is a movement launched by the B.C. Provincial Eating Disorders Awareness Campaign (PEDAW), coordinated by Amy Pezzente, to bring awareness to the public in preventing eating disorders and building  self-esteem with a positive body image!
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A parent getting messy with the paints

For wordpress
Painting # 1 by three and a half year old Wyatt and his Mama

Parents who understand the value of creativity often send their kids off to ballet, violin or piano lessons. While learning a pirouette or a Mozart sonata does teach rhythm, grace and technique, these activities are often too directed to let kids truly explore the world of free-play and self expression.

How about sending them them off to the “art room” with a blank paper and paints? Yes this will help them practice self directed creative choices. However I suggest a more effective way to support their creativity is to go off to the “art room” with them.

Young kids look up to their parents as models. If you model an interest and excitement about getting messy with the paints and seeing what happens, they will follow your lead.

My husband says “When I put paint in front of Wyatt (our three and half year old) he just paints the whole page the same colour. I don’t know how you get him to use so much colour?”

Here is how I do it:

Project – Paint With Your Child
Preparation: Tape a large plastic sheet to the wall with a lip for spilled paints. Tape a huge piece of paper on top of the plastic. The paper should be at least three feet wide by two feet tall or bigger. Kids love to move and if you make the painting area as tall as their arms reach they will be able to dance and move around as they are painting. Set up a tray of non-toxic wet paints and a box of crayons. Put a smock on your child and wear clothes that you are comfortable getting paint on. Put a mason jar of water in a shallow plastic bin for washing off brushes or for watering down paints. If your child accidentally spills the water (which my son does frequently) it lands in the plastic bin and no big clean up needs to happen.

Step One: Grab a crayon and scribble on the paper. Your child will follow your action. Scribble big and fast, without care as to what it looks like. The fun is in the action not how it turns out. Once you start using wet paints the crayon will help create a layered effect.

Step Two: Move on to wet paints. It is okay to establish some ground rules. Mine are 1) Paint is for the paper… i.e. not for eating and not for your clothes or the walls of the house or for Mommy’s face. Often my son will create other “rules of play”. His rule of play from the example above was “paint over everything Mommy paints”. This rule led to a game of paint tag in which he was chasing my paint brush. The rule of play I added in is “we must fill up the paper and leave no space not painted”. I liked this rule because it was fun to fill up the paper and it gave our painting a creative end point that helped us know when it was finished.

The most important aspect of this project is to engage in the fun of it without care about how the painting turns out. When you and your child or children are finished painting you all can then stand back… and you might be surprised with what you have created.

My final suggestion is that sometimes negotiation is needed. In the example below I had painted a tree with leaves. My son started to paint dark blue over it and I felt sad because I really liked the tree. A negotiation process proceeded in which we agreed that he would paint over my leaves and then we would use the end of our brushes to scrape the leaves back into the picture.

The great thing about this project is I felt relaxed and enlivened by the end. There is nothing like the tactile feel of paints and creating something out of nothing to make my parenting day alive with joy.

painring
Painting # 2 by three and a half year old Wyatt and his Mama

Robbie Wychwood Interview with Expressive Arts Therapist Kathleen Rea

Fire Warming Light by Kathleen Rea

Robbie Wychwood from The Sacred Fire Blog, sat down to interview me just after the launch of my book The Healing Dance: The Life and Practice of an Expressive Arts Therapist. Robbie is a singer/songwriter who has a passion for creative and sustainable living. He is also a painter, writer and ecstatic dancer. He is currently being mentored as a spiritual counselor in pagan traditions. After several previous interviews with hosts who had not read my book, it was refreshing to talk with someone so well informed and passionate about expressive arts. He will be posting the interview two parts.

Here is an excerpt from part one:

 I made it out to celebrate the launch of Kathleen Rea’s book, ‘the Healing Dance’ at Café Arts and the Norman Felix Gallery in Toronto.

The gallery was packed with Kathleen’s family, friends, mentors, peers, students and fans. During her introduction Kathleen’s sister, Lovisa commented “only Kathleen could have a book launch like opening night for one of her shows.” Indeed it was a wonderful evening of art, readings, and with original music performed by Kathleen’s long-time friend, Ariel Brink.

Her former ISIS Canada-mentor, Steven K. Levine started the evening with a lovely, heartfelt endorsement, saying “this book demonstrates to me that my student, Kathleen, might know more about being an Expressive Arts Therapist than I do.”

Having anticipated this book for some time I was blown away by how captivating it was. Kathleen’s tells a very personal, deeply moving, and powerfully transforming story.

I caught up with her a couple of weeks later in her home for the following interview.

 Robbie Wychwood (RW): I was at the book launch and it was a wonderful gathering. It is wonderful to see this book come out knowing the story, and that it was a big project for you. So I would like to start there. There are many arts to Kathleen Rea, the artist, the dancer, the choreographer, the ballet company director, the expressive arts therapist… and now Kathleen Rea, the author. Tell us about becoming an author, and the process. I gather this was not an easy book to write?

 Kathleen Rea (KR): The book began as my Master’s Thesis which I actually started in 2000. There was two years of writing even before I thought I should make this Master’s Thesis into a book.

 Read more at:
http://robbiewychwood.blogspot.ca/2013/01/an-interview-with-dancer-therapist.html

Professional Mourners

The Mourning Flower Blossoms by Kathleen Rea

The Mourning Flower Blossoms by Kathleen Rea

I am halfway through reading “The Loss That Is Forever: The Lifelong Impact of the Early Death of a Mother or Father” by Maxine Harris.

In the book, Harris describes the custom of having professional mourners at funerals. She explains how many cultures believe that crying and weeping and feeling one’s pain is a fundamental step in the grieving process. So much so that at funerals, the grieving family and friends are joined by a group of professional mourners whose sole responsibility is to make sure that family members feel their feelings. When a professional mourner sees a family member trying to supress their emotions, they move closer to them and start wailing and saying phrases they think the family member is thinking, such as “I am angry that you left me”.  This inevitably draws the family member back to the experience of their emotions and helps them avoid the devastating numbness that can occur if they fail to grieve in an embodied manner.

 In Expressive Arts Therapy, the beat of a drum, the sweep of a paint brush or the ecstatic dance are the “wail” of a professional mourner calling someone home to themselves.

As a parents, we can also be professional mourners by giving our children space to experience their emotions.

On the weekend, my son and I were at a play centre in which the kids put on construction outfits and were building a house with foam bricks and shingles. My three year old tripped over another mother’s foot and starting wailing for me, “Mama….Mama”, with big tears in his eyes. He was grieving his own vulnerability and grieving the fact that I was not within arm’s reach. The mother who had accidently tripped him picked my son up and said, “Stop crying. Construction workers don’t cry”.

I was sad that someone would so quickly dismiss my son’s need to cry. The experience made me think about how important it is for me to be a professional mourner for my son—to give him space and encouragement to feel his feelings in the face of a world that so often will tell him that men do not cry.

Reference:
Harris, M. (1996).  The Loss That Is Forever: The Lifelong Impact of the Early Death of a Mother or Father. Plume/Penguin Group, NY, NY.