Rolfer, Dancer, Teacher

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Advice From My First 7 Years as a Rolfer®

It’s been a little over 8 years since I graduated the Rolfing® basic training and slightly under 7 since I completed my licensure, got laid off, and made an abrupt transition into “full time” at about 2-3 clients a week at the time. Last year I completed my Advanced training and assisted a Unit 3 training for the first time and it’s had me thinking about how much has changed since I first stepped into a classroom in Boulder. I’ve reached the point where there’s no thought to calling myself a Rolfer anymore and even on the days that it just feels like work I still wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

I’ve had my first Rolfling (client who decided to become a Rolfer) and possibly a few more in the making so I’ve been thinking about some of the advice I can offer that I feel really helped me become the Rolfer I am today. It’s not a comprehensive list, but a number of salient points I’ve found useful along the way.

Worry Less About Fixing and More About Learning

It’s challenging to remember when someone is paying for your help but one of the things I wished I’d realized earlier is that it’s not incumbent on me to be everyone’s savior. In the course of my career I might seem like a total wizard to some people and a charlatan or waste of time to other people. In training it was easy to watch an instructor be magical and think that that was what I was supposed to produce in the next hour. And in hindsight what may have held me back in my first few years was the tendency to try and push harder when that sort of magic wasn’t happening.

Having recently assisted a training for the first time, I think that ideally Rolfing training would be something like a 4-year degree. But for a variety of factors it’s not reasonable to run things that way so what we get is a training that teaches enough enough to be dangerous then sets us up to spend our early years getting our “finishing school” from our clients and continuing education. Even being told “the 10-series is what you do for 5 years or until you know what you’re doing” is easy to lose sight of in that moment when you have hands on a new client who’s coming to you for help and your training didn’t tell you exactly what to do in that moment with that client’s particular issue.

Looking back, and in working with my first Rolfing mentee, I think one of the things that most served the Rolfer I have become at this point was learning to back off, stop trying to fix, and focus more on learning. Making my Rolfing practice into my Rolfing *Practice* as it were. When my job became not to fix in the moment but to be effective enough that people came back (when appropriate for them) that was when I think I started to really become more effective. Pacing things not only to the client’s rate of change but also to a level or touch where I could work but still listen an gain understanding of what was going on. So that has become my primary stock piece of advice to new Rolfers which I also found echoed to some level by my advice to first time dance students.

Your primary job for the first 5 years is not to fix people. It is to be effective enough that people want to come back so you can continue to learn from working with them.

Sweat the Small Talk

I started Rolfing training as an avowed introvert, quiet and shy. When I share with clients that this is where I started from, most having little to no trouble believing this (although that’s starting the change lately, *happy dance*). They are far more likely to have a hard time believing I’ve been a swing dancer for 15 years and taught, competed, and ran my own dance studio for a while. So when I say that I’ve found being chatty with clients is a valuable thing, it’s a pretty big statement from where I started.

I think the early stages of Rolfing training made it easy for me to get focused on the client’s body and issues therein. After all, as Dr. Rolf said, it is the part we work with because it’s what we can get our hands on. People tend to show up in my office because they have big issues that have been affecting their life for a while and it’s easy to hang up on those. But one of the things I’ve realized over time is that if I focus too much on the current issues it becomes hard to see why we’re doing all this work and where it is going for the client. Understanding my client’s strengths and resources and joys has proven every bit as important as their problems and it takes a certain level of trust and familiarity to share any of those.

Making small talk with clients (or bigger talk), chatting about their day, their likes, what they or their kids did this past weekend, etc. has been a major source of insight that I didn’t expect it to be. I find that the more levels I’m willing to work with my clients on the more effective I’ve been able to be. Since it’s impossible to really know a person from an intake form I find myself that I can learn and connect more with my clients in a conversational”rolling intake” way not unlike getting to know another human being in any other situation would. The more I’m willing to roam through subjects with clients, the more I get to see the bigger picture of who they are, how their issues and activities and woes and joys are influencing their lives, and very often in conversation I find words or ideas or other hooks to help empower them in their healing process (and I find plenty to help heal myself as well). Sometimes the conversation itself is an important part of the healing. And let’s be honest, it can be a weird thing to meet someone, get in your underwear, and have them work on you; carrying on a conversation like a normal person often seems to help with the process of normalizing the newness of Rolfing for a lot of clients.

When in Doubt, Ask the Client

Being unsure what to do seems to be a pretty common thread in my first few years and strikes me as likely to continue showing up pretty regularly in my practice for the rest of my life. In theory unless I’m working with another Rolfer, I’m the person in the room most likely to be the expert on Rolfing but that still often means not knowing. I’ve often seen situations where Rolfers seem to think they need to know what the client needs as a default. “How do I know when to do X?” is a common question I’ve heard in classes and I think it speaks to the uncertainty of working with bodies and human health. I’ve found that, for me, the simplest and most powerful solution is to own my uncertainty, say “I’m not sure” and then ask the client for input. After all, the client is the expert on being themselves and have been figuring out and meeting their own needs for a lot longer than I have, so why not use them as a resource?

I usually give the client an out by telling them”You’re paying me to figure it out” if they don’t have a clear preference or sense of which direction to go, but sharing ideas and asking for client input helps make the process collaborative and a team effort for the their health. It invites them into conversation with their body and offers them some practice with better defining their internal landscape. It makes my job a hell of a lot easier than trying to know everything all the time and it gives me more information for my own learning process. It’s humbling and humanizing to say “I don’t know” but I’ve found it’s almost always improved on my results and helped keep my ego from getting in the way of the work.

Get a Mentor

There is a lot to learn in this little niche therapy of ours, and fairly likely still a lot more than I’m aware of at 7/8 years in. My de facto mentors for the first few years were my first Rolfers, Bethany Ward and Larry Koliha. I knew going into my first 10-series that I was interested in being a Rolfer so Bethany gave me a behind-the-scenes view of her processes as we worked together and it was incredibly helpful and something I’ve carried in to working with potential Rolfers. Larry and Bethany are also faculty at the Rolf Institute which meant they were full of helpful thoughts on preparing for the training or reigning in my occasional oversteps in practicing (I got scolded for trying nosework on a friend before I had done any training).

It was a real boon to be able to have someone I could ask when I got stuck with a client or when a session had a detrimental result or even when I just felt like a client’s issue was out of my depth and it was better to refer them out to someone more experienced. At the same time, I had Larry’s advice that often the difficult clients are the ones you learn the most from as a guide to work on staying calm and continuing to hang with the moment when I was having trouble with a client or with my own body. And being able to take classes from Larry and Bethany and receive work from both of them over the years has been a great source of new-to-me ideas and feedback on if I’m getting the right idea or if I missed the point of something they were teaching.

And ultimately having mentors has also provided me a metric for realizing that I can be both different and awesome. One of the things I’ve noticed over time is that the people who excel in various fields often seem to do so in part by being deeply themselves in the process. Being able to compare notes with Bethany and Larry and the occasional shared client helped me realize that I didn’t have to always use their ideas to be effective and on occasion I saw something for a client that they didn’t and vice versa. Knowing and working with them gave me a model for success in this trade and over time also helped me realize that my success didn’t have to look the same way as their success.

Get a Colleague

I think perhaps even more important than finding a mentor is finding a peer with whom you can connect. Someone who you feel on an even playing field with and free to talk about your experiences, exchange work, challenge each other, be a shoulder to cry on, and grow in unison (if not always in the same direction or at the same rate). A good colleague provides a safe space to grow in a different way than a mentor and can also help be a great yardstick for our own progress.

One of the most valuable resources to me has been my first client-turned-Rolfer, Lisa Barr. While we started in sort of a mentor/mentee relationship at first, we transitioned pretty quickly to trying to be more like colleagues and equals and both of us feel we got far more benefit from that relationship in the long run. Lisa knows me far better than any other Rolfer because we make time to trade sessions, get coffee after the session, and spend time talking about life beyond the table. This close friendship not only means we have a strong supportive colleague but also gives us additional space to grow and often helps us connect the dots and do deeply transformative work with each other. I believe we are often able to evoke change with each other that more experienced practitioners couldn’t or didn’t because of the additional layers of trust and familiarity that we have built with each other.

Get a (Really Good) Therapist

I feel like I got very lucky with the therapist I started working with just after I finished Basic Training. I’d be dumped HARD during my Unit 3 and came home incredibly distraught and finally ended up working with the therapist who a doctor friend had been advising me to try for several years prior. Frank has been my go-to therapist through the growth of my career and someone I still see off and on as my life, body, etc. continue to shift and grow. Working with him has not only improved my life but it has made me a better Rolfer.

While I started from a place of being a pretty good listener, having a therapist to model on has provided so many small and large pieces towards presenting both a more compassionate and more open model of listening for my clients. My early few years working with Frank involved a lot of anger and his willingness to simply sit with it and advice to “get comfortable being uncomfortable” has, I think, made me a far more accessible therapist to my clients. I’ve learned how to sit and simply hear their stories and when appropriate share my own stories or my own thoughts as opposed to jumping to giving advice or trying to fix things for a client.

And in a more general way, I think it’s an important aspect of presenting balance in ourselves with our clients. As I keep my own personal self developing, I keep myself relatively sharp for helping others develop as well; plus having a close relationship with a therapist has been useful when I need to get a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist for a client.. And as a colleague recently said to me “I keep going to a therapist so that I don’t have to”.

You Get To Co-Create the Context

It took me a while to recognize it, but the average client coming into my office doesn’t seem to know what to expect from a Rolfing session. Rolfing can be hard to describe even if you’ve had it and it seems to almost defy the “elevator speech” level of communication. So even if they’ve been referred by another client, many new Rolfees seem to show up not knowing what the experience is going to look like.

While it’s easy to view this as a detriment, I have found this can be spun as a strength of the work as well. With minimal pre-conceived notions, it becomes possible to set the stage for our work in a different way than if someone is going for a spa massage or other therapeutic intervention more oriented to them simply receiving care. I have found this ability to re-contextualize our work together as something collaborative, exploratory, out-of-the-box, and holistic is of great benefit and helps go beyond just “fix my pain” to allow room for the sort of transformative work that drew me to Rolfing in the first place.

I aim to meet my clients on a person-to-person level first and foremost and to work as equals rather than play into certain professional roles and expectations. It works for me and it seems to work for the majority of my clients. I’ve seen other colleagues work it different ways that serve them where my strategy wouldn’t fit. But in essence, you get to set the tone of the relationship you want to create with your clients and the more you take advantage of that, the more your work starts to look like you which I generally seems to make the more powerful both for Rolfer and client.

It’s OK to do Free Work

At times, offering free work has been one of the best tools to create a learning environment for myself and to be effective with clients I might not otherwise have helped. Offering free work significantly cuts down the anxiety around producing results for money which helps me feel space to experiment and take risks I might have talked myself out of. Sometimes a client shows up with an issue so outside of my experience that I have no idea if I can help but I want to try and see both if I can help them and if I can learn something. For instance, when I had a lactation consultant start sending me infants with tongue tie issues I spent the first few months doing free work on babies. This allowed me to create training space for myself and the freedom to experiment helped me to play with tactics that were both new to me and seemingly outside of what other tongue tie workers were doing.

Offering free work has also been a great way to smooth things over with clients on the rare occasion where something goes wrong from a session. This happens occasionally when a client struggles with integrating a session or every once in a while when I make a mistake. I try to first do no harm, so when I feel I’ve done something that adversely affected a client, it helps me stay in integrity with my intentions to either return their money for that session or offer free work until they feel better. Some of this is self soothing but it also goes a long way towards restoring trust with clients and being clear that we are working for their betterment and it gives me a chance to get hands on them again and try to learn where things went sideways. The most memorable case of this working for both me and a client happened when I was working with a first time client and had one of her ribs pop out of alignment. She called me the next day saying she was in pain and would be unable to come back, so I offered to do free work until the issue resolved. I spent 6 weeks doing free sessions for her until it felt better but I learned a lot about ribs and haven’t had that happen since, plus she became one of my best clients for a number of years.

Be Careful With Discount Work

One of the things I’ve learned over time is it’s equally important that my clients are covering my needs as that I am covering theirs. At the base level this means that I need to get enough money and/or emotional return on my time and energy to make doing work sustainable. While offering discounted work is occasionally valuable as a marketing or accessibility tool it can also be fairly destructive to the sustainability and quality of my work and client relationships.

I’ve run Groupons twice in my earlier days and found that those kind of steep discounts invite a lot of clients only looking for more discounts. I’ve gotten a few wonderful folks out of each one, but not at a much higher rate than what was already coming through my door by referral. At the same time Groupon tended to bring in a higher than average level of people just there for cheap work and less engaged in the process in general. Additionally the ones who wanted to stick around but only if I kept offering them a discounted rate tended to be the ones frequently going on fun weekend outings worth several times the discount they were asking for. While I don’t fault anyone for trying to save money, it typically seemed like the issue with these cases was one more of priority than true need for a discount which ended up feeling to me like a de-valuing of my time and effort. Noticing this effect has also made me very mindful of making sure my providers feel fully valued when I go to other therapists/practitioners/artists/etc nowadays.

So my early years pricing advice has been to set a price that feels good, and maybe a little uncomfortably high in the sense that it gives you space to grow into. Start from the market price for Rolfing in your area and adjust up or down to find that sweet spot for yourself. I don’t think money is everything but it is the most easily quantifiable and I do believe it communicates something about how people value my time and effort. What I found running Groupons was that doing a lot of work at a steep discount tended to affect the quality of my work across the board. So at this point I’m very mindful of offering discounts and making sure that I take care of my needs in a sustainable fashion that keeps me doing great work for my clients and myself.

Start with 3s When Strategizing and Pitching Work

I started out doing a lot of one-off sessions at dance events so I didn’t get particularly tied to the Ten-Series sales pitch but over time I’ve learned that it’s not where I prefer to start with clients. And clients coming in for the first time tend to find the idea of committing to 10 sessions upfront for a therapy and a person they have never tried to be rather daunting.

3 sessions is a much more manageable amount to consider for trying something new and I find it is typically enough for most clients to decide if we are making forward progress towards their needs and goals. For the last few years I’ve told new clients to “give it 3 sessions and that should give you a good sense of whether or not we’re making forward progress and/or if we need to change directions.” After a year or two working with that number as a proving ground, I’ve found there’s better client engagement and return, more people helped, and I’ve gotten much better at honing in on my clients’ core needs. Plus I find it typically takes 3-5 sessions to really start establishing a trust and rapport that allows for deeper work so when clients stick around past that point we usually get to dive into even cooler territory. Or if a client and I aren’t making some progress in 3 sessions I’m much better informed by then to be able to suggest someone or something that might be more helpful to their needs.

Strategise/Be Opportunistic About Classes for Advanced Training

My practice is in Raleigh, North Carolina in the USA. In the time I’ve been in practice there have been just a handful of RISI credits offered within even a day’s driving distance. When I finally got around to planning for Advanced Training I found myself scrambling to get the required prerequisites done in time. I actually ended up finishing my prerequisites mid-Advanced by flying to LA for a class on my way down to Brazil for the second half of my Advanced Training.

So generally now I recommend to newer Rolfers that they keep an eye out for the workshops near them, try to spread out the CEUs you need to get through RISI for your Advanced Training. If you live in Boulder or Seattle or the like it’s probably not a particular issue. But if you live a couple hundred miles or more from the nearest place where RISI regularly offers classes then pay attention to when they come up and try to maybe take one class every year or two. This will help you be ahead of the Advanced Training game when it comes time to cash in those prerequisite classes.

Titration and Pacing

One of the first pieces of advice I got from Bethany when I did a mentored session with her was to slow down and find the first layer of resistance rather than diving straight to as deep as I could do. I started out with a “Get in there and FIX IT” mentality that, in hindsight, was partly driven by a desire to speed through my own discomfort with my client’s expectations of relief (ESPECIALLY in the cases where I got a client who’d been to a much more experienced Rolfer elsewhere). It took a number of years and a fair amount of confidence and self loving growth to reach a point where I could just hang out at a client’s pace of change and feel (for the most part) comfortable with the discomfort of “they’re not feeling better yet and I’m not sure if they will”. The more I became comfortable with not having to ‘fix’ a client and just helping them evoke change at a pace that worked for them the more effective my work became. And curiously enough, the less I rushed things, the more rapidly they seemed become available to shift.

Pacing for myself as a human and practitioner is important as well. When I first started, two of the local Rolfers were closing their offices and I expected to be flooded with clients. In hindsight I’m glad I ended up getting very few of their people coming to me because it gave me time for my body to adjust and strengthen with this work. It made for some tough financial years in the middle but I believe that taking 5 years to reach a relatively full practice helped me be a better kind of strong and stable for this work.

Learning to pace and spread out my learning has been of great help. The desire to know ALL THE THINGS is certainly there for me at times and occasionally it’s worth cramming a few classes together. But it’s worth remembering that sometimes our clients integrate the most when we take our hands off of them. And similarly, we as practitioners and people integrate similarly when we just settle in and do the work where we are and with what we have at that moment.

Go Beyond Fascia/Try Things/Make It Your Own

I didn’t plan it this way, but looking back at the last 4 or 5 years of Continuing Ed for myself, I did as much learning about tissues other than fascia, as I did taking more traditionally Rolfing/fascial work classes. Nerve work, scar tissue, visceral, and deeper cranial rhythms all helped me refine my touch, expand my range, and take my fascial work deeper as well. Plus watching the various instructors for these courses helped gain a broader idea of how many directions this work can go and how much you can personalize it to your own knowledge base, body type, and way of being.

I started to define Rolfing, at least for myself, as something more of a philosophy than a technique. Most of the experienced Rolfers I know seem to have borrowed pieces of other work that isn’t strictly from the original Rolfing tradition and most of them do work that is in some way distinctly reflective of who they are as a person. As I observed this, I began to think of Rolfing less as a tool and more of an organizing principle for how I arrange my toolbox and how I go about using those tools to help someone (ordering of interventions, seeing beyond the surface, etc.). Thus, to to me, Rolfing becomes not a specific product or service that I offer but rather a context for offering my best therapeutic self to help people, which is part of how my work began to reflect me as a person.

Get Some Work for Yourself

Simple enough but so easy to get away from the habit. Believe in your own product and get Rolfing (and any other work that calls you) not just when you need it but before you need it. Having gone through phases of both I can say I think my clients’ results are markedly better in the periods where I’m spending or even overspending on self care compared to the periods where I wasn’t getting any work for 6 months or so.

Make Room for the Work to Change You

When I started down the path of this work, I oriented to it strongly as “I want this so I can do good things for others” What I failed to predict in those early stages was how much the work would also become a tool for letting the world do for and change me. At nearly 10 years since my first Rolfing sessions, I’m suddenly encountering the idea from multiple sources that the spiritual/personal growth work that we do is not just for ourselves but for all of our relationships and our clients as well. And after spending most of my life orienting as a giver, I find myself learning some really powerful lessons about how much I’m capable of receiving as well.

When I started training as a Rolfer I was on antidepressants, living in a construction zone of a house , and unconvinced that I had much value in the world. I was rather painfully shy, afraid of judgement, and felt stuck going down some family paths that I didn’t even realize I was on. Last year one of my colleagues told me when she had first met me seven years ago she was sure I was going to be a pain in her ass because I was dreadfully unhappy and couldn’t see it for myself.

Yesterday the same colleague told me she’s looking forward to the day when her children reach the point of change that I’ve gotten to lately. I’ve also had comments from pretty much every Rolfer I’ve worked with long-term about how much my body and way of being have changed over time. I still have the rest of my life to grow but I’m significantly happier, healthier, and more fulfilled than I was before I entered this process.

As I changed, my work changed and grew. The more my energy and way of being improved, the better my clients’ results got. In a grand sense, I don’t think of this work as fixing or creating a change in someone, it’s helping them (and ourselves) remove or work through the roadblocks to being our best, happiest, lightest selves. The more we allow ourselves to soften into our hard spaces, the more we learn how to offer similar space to our clients, our friends, and ourselves. So regardless of where you start from, probably my biggest advice to new Rolfers is to be open to the work changing you, challenging you, and bringing you to places in yourself that you may not have been able to imagine when you walked into your Unit 1 training.

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How I Became a Rolfer®

In 2002 I graduated from NC State University with a degree in Computer Science. By the time I graduated I was fairly sure that tech wasn’t exactly going to be a deep and abiding passion, but I had the story that I was supposed to go to college and supposed to get a job based on that. So, when I started in 1997, it had seemed like tech was going to keep being more and more important in almost every field and I figured it would work itself out in one way or another. Through this time I was working for various facilities departments at UNC-CH mostly doing mapping of their underground utilities.

Also in 2002 I went to my first swing dance. I’d taken a social dance class for PE credits somewhere in the prior year then broken my hand playing basketball in the spring. As I was waiting for it to heal up, a friend of mine who’d been involved in swing dance a few years earlier during the original revival days was talking about getting back into dance. Right after graduation we went out dancing a couple times then I took off to Australia to visit a friend studying abroad and she moved to Denver just as I got back. I happened to go out one more time on my own and ran into another friend at the dance who directed me to some places for further dance instruction. I started taking classes and within 6 months the then fairly shy and introvert me had the rather weird idea that I wanted to learn how to teach swing.

Early Dance Years and (Slight) Intro to Rolfing

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Dancing back in the days of having hair

Jump forward a couple of years and I was learning to teach, dancing up a storm, and temporarily unemployed for a year. I also happened to be dating someone who messed up her shoulder in a car accident and after extensive difficulty with it, had finally been directed to a Rolfer which she described as “an hour of intense pain, but it worked” and was the only thing that really got her moving forward out of the injury. At the time I can recall she suggested it as a career path saying “you’re strong, you could hurt people, you should be a Rolfer!” I was a bit intrigued as I looked into it and was not feeling particularly motivated by the search for another tech job. However, I had only recently paid off my college loans and had no desire to go back into debt at the time so I set the idea aside.

By this point I was also traveling enough to discover dance beyond the confines of the Triangle where I started. I was particularly enamored with the teaching of Paul Overton and Sharon Ashe and realizing that there was a lot more possibility to the teaching of dance than any of the local instructors were offering. Even so, I was taking from everyone I could locally including a period of taking three classes from three different instructors in three different locations on one night. At the same time I was also watching what life looked like as a dance instructor and coming to understand that while I loved it, I had no desire to make it my primary source of income.

Paragon Years

I eventually found my way back into my first (and only) private sector tech job at a company called Paragon Application Systems working on ATM testing tools and financial transaction simulation. While it was satisfying to create products that our customers found useful, I didn’t feel any particular passion for the work. This was also the first tech job where I had a few coworkers who were really stoked about programming. They would go home and read about new coding ideas, wanted to implement whatever the latest coding methodology was, etc. Watching them I knew I felt similarly about dance but was clearly never going to feel that passionately about programming. As I considered what another 30 years in programming might look like for me I decided I’d better find a different career if I wanted to have that sort of passion.

Around this time I was partnering with another dancer who was going through massage school. It seems to be common for massage schools to briefly mention the existence of Rolfing and when she mentioned something about wanting to try Rolfing, it re-sparked my inquiry into it. I wasn’t experiencing any particular pains, but my 8-10 hour-a-day computer posture was something I knew was holding me back in competition dancing and dance instructors just telling me to “stand up straight” for years hadn’t done much to alleviate it. So I looked around, found Bethany Ward who was the only local Rolfer with a reasonably informative website at the time plus she offered Saturday appointments, making the half hour drive or so to her office much more accessible for me.

First Session and Series

I’ve talked to Bethany about this recently and she doesn’t remember how our first session went so I’m reporting this from admittedly probably a bit biased recollection. I don’t honestly recall the session as a whole but I remember three salient points.

  1. My own thought of “What do you mean my ribs are supposed to move? Nobody told me ribs are supposed to do that” (now I recognize that it’s a pretty common idea in physical modalities but at the time it was very clear that this was a whole deeper level of understanding the body than any dance teacher I had yet encountered).
  2. Heavily-introverted-at-the-time me rambling on for pretty much the entire session. I really remember just feeling totally unable to shut up.
  3. Walking out with a clear sense of YES, THIS! I WANT IT. and almost immediately asking Bethany when we could find some time to meet and talk about what it looks like to train to do this work.

The rest of the session is sort of lost to my memory but it was great having it established early on that I planned to go to the Rolf Institute. As we went through my series Bethany kept me in the loop in a behind-the-scenes sort of way that gave me insight to build on in training. And as we worked and I talked to friends about my plans to become a Rolfer, people started willingly letting me put hands on them and experiment, trying to replicate some of the stuff I felt Bethany doing on me.

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Before & After photos from my first Ten-Series

Support and Hurdles for Getting to Boulder

In my life there had been a few projects that just seemed like foregone conclusions from the time I started them: getting my Eagle Scout, becoming a dance teacher, and then becoming a Rolfer. It was one of those pursuits that, in hindsight, I basically powered through hurdles without thinking about it where I have let challenges stop me in pursuits less important to me.

The first hurdle was getting my work to give me leave to take 2 month sabbaticals to go train. I had a meeting with my boss and simply told him I didn’t think I wanted to be a programmer for the rest of my life and here was this Rolfing thing that I wanted to do, here’s how the training looks, and could we make it work for me to keep my job through the training. Very fortunately for me they liked my work enough that they wanted to keep me around and we made arrangements for me to take two months off at a time then come back to work for 6-8 months in between trainings.

Knowing that work would support it, my next challenge was family support. My mom was supportive but my parents had apparently had a friend years ago who’d become a Rolfer and was fairly un-grounded so my dad seemed convinced I was just going to turn into a crystal-toting hippie. In past I think I’d almost always tended to hide it or fight back when my dad disagreed with something that stoked my fire. This time I simply accepted his concern without much comment and proceeded along with my plans to go. When I came back a month or two later with my registration for Unit 1 in Boulder, he seemed a bit surprised then fell into being more accepting of my plans.

The final big hurdle came during my drive out to Unit 1. I took a solo trip from Raleigh, NC to Boulder, CO and somewhere in the middle of Missouri the fuel pump in my Saturn started to die. The car managed to limp to the next big town where I found a Saturn dealership and lost a day’s worth of driving time and all of my discretionary fund for the trip. The Saturn guys went out of their way (including driving halfway to St. Louis for a part) to get me back on the road. I arrived in Boulder a day late(r than planned) and a number of dollars short with barely enough time to land and get my head on straight for the first day of class.

Boulder, Colorado Unit 1

Unit 1 is the section of the Rolfing training that gets you started and focuses on anatomy and touch skills. I rented a basement room from a Rolfer about 2 miles from the Institute and the class was taught by Michael Polon and Suzanne Picard with Sterling Cassel assisting. A few of the salient points from my Unit 1:

  1. On the first day that we started getting into anatomy we ended up modeling scapulae (shoulder blades) out of clay. As I worked to get the acromion process right I had the thought “I’m definitely in the right place.” And all throughout my training past and continuing I’ve been impressed with the multi-dimensional approach to teaching at the Rolf Institute.
  2. I went through a rough breakup at the beginning of the second week with a woman I’d been dating for 2 years at that point. It was a long time coming but at the time it really hurt and after a day of trying to stifle it I ended up breaking down crying in front of the whole class, sharing what had happened. Hugs ensued and the whole class got me a card the next day: one of many lessons to follow in the power of vulnerability.
  3. About halfway through the training I was trading a session with one of my closer classmates. We were following an area in her lower ribs that felt “dark” to her and after 10-15 minutes of working into it she started sobbing and went through a big emotional release for another 10-20 minutes. In the aftermath of this experience I realized that in a sense I hadn’t actively done anything to make it happen and it had only taken patience and presence to co-create the space with her for her to have that experience.
  4. Jonesing for barbecue one day and taking Michael’s suggestion that my classmate, Allie, and I head down to Daddy Bruce’s BBQ where we got mammoth ribs slathered in sauce and a generic sandwich cookie for dessert. The place has since closed, but the memory retains a special place in my heart for that moment of comfort.
  5. Towards the end of class I felt like I was having an easy time with the anatomy and touch skills and was looking to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. I asked Michael what I should be working on personally/spiritually to round out my skills. His response was “figure out what’s holding you back from giving yourself fully to the world” and recommended a book to me: The Way Of The Superior Man that ended up shaping a lot of my exploration into healing my relationship with masculine energy and my own masculinity over the next few years. In some ways I’ve moved deeper than the concepts in the book since then but it was a huge turning point for me at the time.

I finished Unit 1 with a certificate in Skillful Touch, a wording that earned me plenty of juvenile comments (not that I have anything against good innuendo, it was just pretty consistent).

Boulder, Colorado Unit 2

Unit 2 in the Rolfing basic training took me deeper into anatomy and touch skills and is where we first learn and practice the Ten-Series on each other. At this point I’d already been sort of practicing it with a few friends based on what I remembered from my work with Bethany, but this was where I really started to get it. Thomas Walker lead the class with Kima Kramer assisting. A full 2 months in Colorado staying with a local dancer and her husband in Longmont stuck some of these memories in my mind:

  1. I started to feel a little bit more at home with some of the dancers in Boulder and Denver. I was going out more regularly, starting to try a few things and getting out to dinner and such more often new and existing dance friends. This is where I started feeling like Colorado was (and still is) my second home dance scene.
  2. Thomas’ influence played a strong part in the development of my Rolfing touch having more listening in it and learning to be effective on the lighter pressure side of the spectrum. It helped further enhance ideas about how Rolfing doesn’t have to hurt and how to be effective in the moments when it doesn’t.
  3. I found two things that to this day remain some of my favorite breakfasts when I’m in Boulder; Santiago’s breakfast burritos and pretty much anything from Lucile’s Creole Cafe which became a haven when I wanted grits.
  4. In Unit 2 we learn the Ten-Series by practicing it on each other. I had been warned by Bethany to make sure I had good work lined up after I got back because getting learning sessions several times a week can really mess things up. I felt very lucky to have my closest friend from Unit 1 as my practitioner and a male classmate who I jived with as my practice client. My practitioner however had conflict with her practitioner so on the days she worked on me after receiving her session I had to be pretty on my game about minding my own boundaries and at times taking care of her while I was on the table. Overall though I had great sessions and came out of Unit 2 feeling built up rather than broken down.
  5. I have a strong recollection of my 7th session with my client. 7th session involves the mouth and nose work which he had an emotional charge around but hadn’t mentioned to me. The session went totally fine but when he got off the table it was fully soaked in sweat. It was a good lesson about how I might miss a client’s reaction or how they might hide something to make a session go the way they thing it is supposed to.
  6. Work on opening my chest has been a mainstay of my personal Rolfing journey. One day Thomas was doing a demo session with me standing in front of the whole class and working on opening some of my ribs using hands-on pressure and my own movement. At some point he asked me to see if I could let the corners of my mouth float towards the ceiling. As my mouth crested towards a smile I felt a major draw back in and had to say “I’m not ready to go there yet.” This became one of the early realizations that feeling happy was one of the most vulnerable and scary things I could feel. It also started to shape my idea of allowing the work to pace to the client and not always trying to force things open.

I ended Unit 2 feeling good, happy to be flying home rather than driving, and both excited and nervous about my developing plans to take my Unit 3 training in Brazil instead of returning to Boulder.

Barra do Sahy, Brasil Unit 3

When I had been in my Unit 2 trying to decide who to do my Unit 3 training with, an email had gone out notifying us of a Unit 3 training in Brazil. The Brazil course had a combined Rolf Movement Certification with the Unit 3 completion and would be taught by Monica Caspari for Movement and Jan Sultan for the hands-on with Raquel Motta assisting. As far as I could tell from asking around this was like a dream team of instruction so despite not knowing the language or anyone who’d be there, I signed up and booked a room in a beach house to stay at in Barra do Sahy, São Paulo, Brasil. Along with the Movement Certification, Unit 3 involves further deepening our anatomy and therapeutic skills and taking two practice clients through a Ten-Series with instructor supervision. If the view alone isn’t enough to explain why I decided to go, here are a few other highlights of what I got out of that training:

brazil_hammock

And people ask me why I’d choose to go to Brazil…

  1. There were several weeks of exploration and embodiment work with the movement training; challenging the ways we moved and exploring ways to move with more ease and less effort. Monica was an incredible teacher and more than anything else what has etched itself on my soul was her statement that “The primary cause of physical dysfunction is social inhibition.” I take this statement with a grain of salt but ever since in my dancing, my teaching, my work, and my self explorations that idea has informed my work, helping me make sense of motions, pains, and challenges that pure biomechanics couldn’t fully explain.
  2. I got dumped again (by a different woman) somewhere around the second week into training. This was probably the most challenging breakup of my life as I was thousands of miles away from any familiar support network. In hindsight I dodged a bullet with her, but at the time it added a really rough component to contemplate throughout the training.
  3. The beach house which several of us stayed in had a wood-fired sauna that became a focal point for the nights when we needed to decompress. Multiple nights 5 or 6 of us would pile in, watch the bay through the window in the sauna overlooking it and talk through whatever was going on with us through the training or life in general.
  4. Jan became my primary influence from basic training for the power and value of the heavier side of the Rolfing touch spectrum. Between Jan’s teaching and Thomas in Unit 2, I feel I got a good sense of the ends of the spectrum and a foundation for finding a lot of shades in the middle. I don’t think Jan typically used or encouraged us to use any more force than necessary to achieve results but he also had no problem digging in. I have an image of him at one time coming up to observe me working on a client, assessed what was going on and the result we were after and simply said “You’re just gonna have to hurt her.” I also watched a few of my classmates who were really reticent to work in uncomfortable levels with their clients and in my perception it seemed like it sometimes prevented them from creating the healing that their clients needed.
  5. Watching Jan working was amazing and inspiring. It both gave me an idea of what might be possible at at the same time was so distant from what I was able to do at the time that I started to realize there was no way at one year I’d be able to do it like Jan was doing it with his 40+ years. Instead of being disheartening, it actually became an idea that helped me relax, be at peace with where I was as a practitioner and do the best work I was capable of in that moment without so much judging it against the work of those far more experienced than me. This ease seemed to make my work better and my learning faster as I was able to be more present to where I was rather than worrying about where I thought I should be.
  6. My Ten-Series clients were a 60-something Brazillian aesthetician who I didn’t have much language in common with and an ex-pat American who I was grateful to be able to conduct sessions in English with. We relatively quickly fell into a routine of lectures in the morning followed by a two hour lunch break where I’d typically eat then go swim in the ocean for 45 minutes or so, come back, work with a client, then finish the day with lectures. My clients progressed well and I had the absolute best tan of my life.
  7. We were in Brazil over Thanksgiving so one of our ex-American clients who owned a restaurant bought a turkey and invited all the class and all of our practice clients to Thanksgiving dinner.
  8. After the end of her series, my ex-American client invited me over for dinner at her house. It’s the sort of thing that might have been frowned upon in Boulder but in Brazil it was no big deal. It turned into one of the most formative experiences of the trip as my client and I talked about and shared our experiences through the series and in both our lives in general. Of particular influence to me was the fact that she called me out on a few of my less composed moments in class and helped me realize that my clients could see my issues as much as I saw theirs. It’s taken a number of years to really pull it all together, but it has made a huge difference overall in how I work with and relate to my clients now.

I don’t know what to say about Brazil other than I think it has made worlds of difference in who I became as a person and a practitioner and I am forever grateful for having had the opportunity and courage to go there. While I don’t think it’s for everyone, I pretty much recommend every Rolfing student consider it as an option. That said, I was also grateful to return home and be able to not have to worry about sharing a common language when I wanted to go buy a burger or soap or just say more than “Oi. Tudo bem?” to someone on the street.

Lucking Into The Center

thecenterlogoThe final stage of the “becoming a Rolfer” process for me landed in finding an office and building a practice to the point where saying “I’m a Rolfer” felt natural rather than new and weird. I landed at The Center through a curious series of events. As I was settling into the idea of being an alternative health practitioner, I figured it would be worthwhile to familiarize myself with some of the other practitioners locally. I was curious to try out acupuncture and got a referral to Quinn Takei as a great acupuncturist. I went and did a few sessions with Quinn and was impressed with his office and professionalism. On my last session of the series with him I noticed one of the massage therapists packing up her office to move out. I asked if he would be interested in having a Rolfer in the office and the rest is kind of history.

About a month after I had gotten a lease at The Center I was laid off from my programming job at Paragon. It was a year or two in the banking crisis and they were having to make cutbacks. So instead of the slow easing into Rolfing that I had intended, I got a bit shoved into full time. It took a few years and a few withdrawals from my retirement savings to really get settled in here, but I haven’t looked back. And while I can’t exactly recommend the way I got here, I’m dreadfully grateful to have found work that feeds my soul and lets me do something that I feel is of value to the world.

Adventures in Assisting – UC 5.16 Week 4

Week 4 crossed the halfway point for both students and myself with this Unit 3 Rolfing® training. What started feeling incredibly spacious and like we might be here forever is beginning to pick up steam and nearing that fever pitch where parts of the internal monologue start saying less “la-di-da, so much time” and more “oh crap, how are we going to get everything in?!”

Day 22 – September 5

uc516_day_22_music_festivalToday was Labor Day and thankfully and enjoyably a day off. This made for the final day of a nice 4-day weekend and a good chance to unwind and sort of take stock for me. I spent the morning relaxing, checking in with some dance friends, and getting some more ideas of how to get more connected with Boulder again. While it had been great to have 4 days off I also hadn’t planned a lot of activity for it and ended up feeling a bit cut off from people.

So there happened to be a Labor Day Weekend Boulder Creek Hometown Music Festival going on complete with duck floats, a Zucchini car race which looked similar to Pinewood Derbies but with Zucchini as the car basis instead of a block of wood. There was also the seal-your-self in balls for floating on the water pictured above but sadly they seemed limited to kids about 8 or younger. I tooled around the festival for a few hours then got tea at the iconic Dushanbe Tea House then happened to find my way to Press Play bar and arcade on Pearl Street. Finally I made my way to Kakes Studio at 9pm for some dancing to Jeremy Mohney.

Day 23 – September 6

uc516_day_23_smile_muralTuesday was session 6 (back line) with my client. As I had walked in to class today the mural above had caught my eye. This mural sits across from the Rolf Institute and while it spans the whole building, the “Your smile matters” part had grabbed my attention this morning. I’m not sure what to share about it other than to say that smiling has been one of those things I felt I had to force for a long time and this year has been a brilliant space of finding ways to have it start coming back naturally. Thanks to the mural for reminding me that it is a powerful and valuable thing to have back too. 🙂

Day 24 – September 7

uc516_day_24_lake_runWednesday seemed to be a day with a feeling of divergence. Students had their session 4 (inner line of the leg) with one of their clients while having just finished session 6 with their other client the previous day. It had also been a week since they had seen this client and most recently had done movement sessions with them. While it doesn’t seem like much, that week break is the longest any of the clients will have gone without getting work during the course of this series. And something about the further shifting placement of sessions between the two clients helps to nudge that feeling of “this is going to be real work soon” since clients in a practice situation are rarely coming in on the same session on the same day (though it is fun when the stars align and all your sessions one day seem to have the same theme).

With the end of today I realized it’s the halfway point for me, everyone else’s halfway point having been over the weekend. I’d hoped to spend more time being active and getting in a bit better shape while I was out here but have so far felt a little sporadic about it. So as I’m getting out dancing more I also wanted to start being more active elsewhere so I took a run around the lakes by RISI after class and got this gorgeous picture of the sky reflecting off the water.

Day 25 – September 8

uc516_day_25_poop_fairyThursday morning saw me early into the office for another run around the lake which happened to include running into this delightful sign. Today was session 7 (head, neck, mouth, nose) with my demo client which is probably most often the weirdest session of the series to most people. It ended up being a great session but one where the time got away from me a little bit and I was relieved to find that my client didn’t have to start work until slightly later than usual so we had time to get her out the door without creating a problem.

After class I had a dance friend coming in for a session and got to spend an hour or so doing a more casual session not under the observation of a 10-person group. It was really nice to have that moment to just get back to working for the sake of working for a bit and to have the conversation time to catch up a bit on how the dance scene is in Colorado lately. We got dinner, had some more conversation, then headed off home.

Day 26 – September 9

uc516_day_26_denver_colleagueFriday was a class day today since we had our whole week shifted by a day on account of Labor Day. So it was a day that demanded less work from me since Neal was demoing today, but we had a lively conversation about trauma and how to work with it in the morning.

I finished up class and drove down to Denver for what was intended to be dinner with a colleague, who I’d met in Scotland, followed by going to a dance. However, due to awesome conversation and tasty foods and beverages we ended up hanging out until after midnight and I bagged on going to the dance which ended at 10:30. The photo for today is of one of his coffee table books which just seemed quirky enough to make me think it would be a good photo for today. We had some delicious food at a place called Cho 77 and then walked around the neighborhood for a bit catching up and talking about assisting and such before having a final drink in which we finished off a bottle my friend had brought back from Scotland which seemed a little poetic somehow and a great way to end the week’s work.

Day 27 – September 10

uc516_day_27_lindy_and_libationsWEEKEND TIME!!! This morning started with sleeping in followed by barely making it up in time to go meet a new dance friend and her boyfriend for brunch. Bagels from Moe’s Bagels were the order of the day and man they had a lovely home. He’s an architect who has lived in Boulder for 60+ years and designed and built several of the homes on the block, culminating in the current home which was just incredibly beautiful. It was a fun and interesting sort of reminder of what that sort of commitment to one place might allow for as I’m currently wondering how much longer I might remain in the Triangle. Following brunch we took a nice easy hike around the foothills area and then I headed home for the afternoon.

A bit of article prepping and vegging out to Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell brought me dance luck in the form of a Facebook post. At about 4pm, I happened to catch a post about live music and dancing at Stem Ciders in Denver. I headed down to Denver a few hours later for some solid swing with Odessa Rose and some tasty cider. The crowd was small and a bit more social than dancy that night but the band was good and the energy picked up after the lesson at the first band break. Also ran into a dancer who was a recent transplant to Denver and spent some time talking Rolfing and moves and many other things. It continues to amaze me how much of my energy to socialize, chat people up, make small or large talk, and enjoy being in a crowd has been freeing up since I sold the house.

Day 28 – September 11

Another drive down to Denver Sunday morning, this time for a chat with my demo client. Since she’s interested in potentially training to be a Rolfer it has always been my policy to make time to talk about Rolfing training outside of the treatment room. Not that it can’t be discussed in session but there are so many nuances that could be lost if one was constantly trying to talk and receive or give a worthwhile session. So down to Denver I headed with a registration packet and a copy of one of Dr. Rolf’s books for her. It was a great talk with lots of nuance both about possible ways to go about training and about what being a Rolfer is like for me. I continue to be more excited about the possibility that she will end up becoming a Rolfer and at times it was hard not to burst out with “OMG go already, you gonna love it!!!”

uc516_day_28_snarfburgerTook my time heading home after a leisurely fancy Mexican lunch at Leña and a trip through what a colleague had described as Denver’s fanciest Goodwill. After getting home I ended up taking an extended nap that lasted from something like 3:30-7:30. I woke up hungry and decided to go for a walk to find dinner. After a few Google Maps searches I finally landed on going to Snarfburger which is an offshoot of Snarf’s, my to-date favorite sandwich shop chain in Boulder. Incidentally it appears that Snarfburger is located in the spot where Daddy Bruce’s Barbecue used to be.

I’m going to end this post waxing slightly poetic about Daddy Bruce’s. I was introduced to Daddy Bruce’s by Michael Polon in my Unit 1 training close to 9 years ago now. I was jonesing for some barbecue one lunch and asked if there were any good places. Michael sent myself and a few of my classmates down to Daddy Bruce’s which, oddly enough, was right next door to the campus of Naropa, the Buddhist university in Boulder. It was about as bare bones of a barbecue shack as I’ve ever been in but it felt like a breath of fresh air walking in for me. There was basically just room for take away or there may have been 2-3 tables. Everything was served in Styrofoam take out trays with piles of meat, a side or two, and a generic store bought sandwich cookie for dessert. The beef ribs were pretty hefty caveman style eating and downright delicious. The older black gentleman running the joint, who I can only assume was Daddy Bruce, appeared to run the entire operation by hand including doing all of the calculations for order pricing by hand on a sheet of paper. It was one of those places that somehow just etched itself in your memory and felt like you were stepping into something just rustically authentic and unfettered by the dressing up that so often accompanies barbecue restaurants nowadays and it gave me a taste of home in my first training when I was deeply in need of one. It’s a place I expect to miss just a little bit for many years to come if not every time I come to Boulder for the rest of my life.

Adventures in Assisting – UC 5.16 Week 3

Week 3 of this Unit 3 basic Rolfing® training has begun to feel like something of a different animal. We’re getting into the core/deep sessions of the series, students are starting to settle and hit their stride with their clients, and overall the momentum of the class feels more stable and up-and-running. The 4 weeks we still have to go feels at once very distant and almost an inevitable conclusion rushing towards us.

Day 15 – August 29

UC516_Day_15_Jeep_RenegadeFirst day getting to drive into class instead of taking the bus. While I had arranged to rent a compact car, the rental agency saw fit to upgrade me after a 5 hour extra wait to get a vehicle at all. So for the upcoming month I had a Jeep Renegade to drive around town. First day or two driving it were a little nervous being that I’m unused to the shape of it; but at the same time it seems like another potential step forward in terms of getting used to standing in the full width of my body (something I’ve been working with for the past few years ever since John Martine’s Neural 2 class).

Today was Neal’s demo client day so I mostly got to sit back and observe with interjections of ideas when necessary. Continuing to get more comfortable with observing student sessions and adding input at appropriate times and such. There’s definitely an art to this that I expect will take some time to fully embody. That said, 12 years of teaching dance is definitely serving me pretty well in terms of feeling semi-comfortable jumping into it.

Day 16 – August 30

UC516_Day_16_PhoSession 4 demo day for me today. Session 4 remains a curiosity for me in terms of trust. For those of you not familiar, session 4 in the Rolfing 10-series works the muscles of the inner leg and thigh up to the pelvic floor and hips. It’s the first time in the series that you start really digging into territory that many people have never had touched therapeutically and it still amazes me sometimes how clients will trust me to work in odd areas after having only known me for a few hours of direct contact.

I’d spent a decent portion of the weekend mulling over and mapping out some various options for the session then ended up discarding more than half of those ideas mid-session. Session went great and as I’m continuing to settle into my side of the work I think my client and the students are getting better info and better results.

On the challenging side, I feel like my days seem to just be show up to class, do class things, get dinner, go to bed. I expect it to keep shifting as we go, but I’m hoping to start finding more of a social life here again soon so I can feel like there’s more to this trip than just work and survive. I’m also being patient with this evolution, letting it come, and keeping in mind how much change has gone down for me already this year.

Day 17 – August 31

Today was a fun and chill day. It was 2nd Movement session day for the clients who are doing movement work. One of my goals for the movement work was to do what we could to evoke a greater sense of play and to that end, we started off class with a John Cleese video on creativity. The thought behind this video being as much to evoke play in the day’s sessions as to suggest ways of staying open to grown and creation in the Movement work longer term so the Movement ideas continue to grow and evolve rather than becoming stuck in rote memorization.

Today felt like a good reminder about patience with growth. Planting ideas like creativity and play are these long-term sort of projects that require one to plant seeds, then sit back and not meddle too much while students work it out for themselves. Taking this as a good reminder too to be patient with some of my own growth aspects that are bubbling up this week.

Day 18 – September 1

UC516_Day_18_SunsetAnother grey day for my session 5 with my client. Got into some really rich territory and I’m feeling very grateful for having a client who’s down for the whole multi-faceted journey of the 10-series. It’s interesting to find myself leading someone else through some of the changes I went through as a Rolfer® and sort of evoking the idea that to help others as fully as possible you also get to be open to the work changing you as a practitioner as well.

Today marked our heading into a 4 day Labor Day weekend which I’m both looking forward to and have a bit of trepidation about. Lack of social time so far is starting to wear on me a little bit and although I am planning to hit up a dance in Boulder on Monday, I’m unsure how I’ll work through the extended downtime.

Day 19 – September 2

UC516_Day_19_Sunny_SkyNot a great deal to report for this Friday. I was riding pretty high off of doing two really fun demo sessions and feeling like we had some solid rapport going with the students. I sort of semi-snoozed through part of the day then took myself out to see Don’t Think Twice at the local movie theater. It was a good if entirely chill day to the extent that this is basically the only photo I took that day and wasn’t really even thinking about documenting for the day.

Day 20 – September 3

UC516_Day_20_Mount_SanitasSaturday morning I decided to take a hike up the trails around Mount Sanitas on the west edge of Boulder. Set off on foot from the house with about a 2 mile hike to the trail head. The last time I’d gone near Sanitas was about a year ago taking a night hike through the valley with a newly graduated Rolfer friend. We had hiked what turned out to be the very easy part of the trail which is the valley section on a nice easy slope. The summit trails turned out to be around 1350 elevation gain and then descent over about 3 miles. It was a beautiful hike and one I’m thinking might get repeated a few more times while I’m here, but definitely more intense than I was expecting.

Hiked my way back through Pearl Street Mall, got some street tacos, then napped and read for a good portion of the rest of the day.

Day 21 – September 4

UC516_Day_21_Deer_in_YardDeer in the yard across the street from where I am staying this morning. Today was a little exploration and a lot of chill time. Took a drive down the foothills to Golden, CO and Denver. Took an afternoon nap and did some reading on student papers that need to be done by Tuesday.

Stepping Away from The Lindy Lab

About a month and a half ago I ended my tenure running a dance studio and one week ago I finished cleaning out the office at The Lindy Lab. It was a dream I’d had for about 10 years and 3 years ago got the chance to try making it a reality. The greater reality turned out to be, not so much a nightmare, but more one of those weird confusing WTF dreams that just leave you questioning your own brain and feeling like you may not get back to sleep that night. So I’m moving on to other pursuits and wanted to put together a post to share my experience so I can close out with friends and community on why I’m doing this and hopefully express something that may be useful to future folks walking a similar path.

TL;DR version: I took a moonshot on setting up a studio to try and spark transformation in my scene and found I couldn’t create or gather enough support or buy-in to make the idea sustainable for myself. After watching my own energy flag for close to two years, I chose to get out before I soured on dance and did my best to leave the scene with a great space to create in.

What This Post Is and Isn’t

This will be, to the best of my ability, an honest telling of why I chose to move on. It was, in many ways, a difficult tenure and a difficult decision to leave and I don’t want to candy coat that. I also want to be clear that in trying to speak truthfully about my experiences, I am, for the most part, at peace with the past on this or actively working to making peace with it. There were a lot of frustrations and results that I will likely never fully understand the “why’s” but I have plenty of responsibility in that as well. I’m grateful that I got to take the chance I did and humbled by what I learned from it and will try to cleanly communicate both the positives and negatives that lead to this course of action.

Backstory

I’ve been dancing in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill swing scene since 2002. I grew up in this scene, took lessons from just about anybody and everybody who was teaching and grew immensely as a person through dance. I found a love of body mechanics in dancing that lead me into my career in Rolfing which, in turn, deeply affected my teaching. I had a longer term vision of buying an old church to forge a mixed-use space to house both my Rolfing practice and some sort of dance/movement space. The Lindy Lab at Triangle Dance Studios was a way to test the concept in a rental situation before I considered buying a space. It was also intended to be a space for growth, creativity, and exploration in dancing which I felt had never been strongly offered in this area since I started dancing.

Creating a Space to Support the Dance

I’ve written before about the difficulties I had with the studio build. But suffice to say in the course of about 2 months I spent probably $10k and 400 or so hours of my own time plus a lot of friend’s man hours building a space to raise the level of ambiance for our scene. It has significantly raised the bar for the studio that owns the space and nudged the owner to take some steps to improve all the other studio spaces there. I hear from the studio owner that people rave about the studio but really nobody seeks me out to say thank you and there seems to be a general lack of care from other renters and dance scene for trying to care for the space. People tend to break things or move things out of sight and make no effort to replace or even note that they have broken things. It has helped me understand why the studio owners tend not to go all out on their spaces and the past year I’ve had the refrain of “this is why we can’t have nice things” in my head more times than I expected to. While I’m happy for the improved spaces for the scene and proud of what we built, it ultimately seemed like people responded to a different space a bit, but not enough to affect their behavior towards taking greater care of the space.

Teaching From a Radically Different Head Space

To put it succinctly, I have taken a fundamentally different approach to teaching dance than any other instructor I have seen on the swing dance world stage. I took my training as a Rolfer and developed a way to help people find dance in their existing movements, using what they already know and treating dance as inherent rather than something that must be taught. Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of faults as a teacher and I believe that pretty much every teacher out there does something better than I do. But I built my teaching to provide a base that would allow people to travel and learn readily, giving them a “first principles” base of knowledge to be able to fill in the gaps from things other teacher don’t say (or don’t know to say). I tended to receive comments from students who traveled that they rarely encountered an international teacher saying something about mechanics that they hadn’t heard from me already and I’d taught it more succinctly and accessibly.

Lack of Return Students

The response to classes was a somewhat baffling combination of intense appreciation coupled with lack of attendance. While I consistently received praise for the style of teaching and was told it made the dance far more accessible or made people comfortable in a way that nobody else had, such statements also frequently came from people showing up once and never returning. I also encountered a number of people choosing to take from an instructor who was closer even if they felt they got less from that instructor. I’ve been over this many times with friends and fellow dancers and we’ve never really been able to determine if people couldn’t tell the difference in the quality of material or simply had other priorities or goals. But frankly it was disheartening to find myself teaching someone how to do another instructor’s material without it hurting them or their partner (when prior instructors had just shrugged at or been completely oblivious to the pain) and then have those students just head back to previous instructors. I had some really great engaged students 2-3 years ago, but somewhere in the past year and a half that seemed to disappear and a sustained lack of excited students eventually wore down my excitement for teaching.

Did Not Play Well With Other Instructors

I had high hopes going in but found it pretty much untenable to work with any other local instructors. Where I had expected collaboration I more often ran into passive-aggressive silence and where I tried to show respect to former teachers I mostly saw them reference me as someone they taught, oblivious to the fact that I spent the middle 5 years of my dancing career unlearning habits from them in order to be the dancer I am today. Suffice to say I’d seen some of the drama and instructor bullshit coming up in this scene and had hoped to change the conversation. In the course of several years, I feel like was wholely unsuccessful and ended up being just as bad. Some of the standard instructor power trips in the dance world are hot button issues for me and I hoped to set an example or talk to other instructors in a way that would help, but when I didn’t get far I got frustrated and started getting on my own little petty tyrant power trip.

I’m quite sure I was as much of a pain in the ass to other instructors as they were to me and I just generally found that it was more effort than benefit to work with anyone who I hadn’t trained. I would have liked to have things turn out differently but I’ll echo a sentiment I heard time after time the last few years that the instructors (and I include myself in this) are some of the most off-putting people in the scene and one of the primary reasons that more people don’t step up to help. I was fortunate enough to have some friends willing to kick my ass about it when I was making things ugly and I already find my interactions with people being lighter as I’ve basically removed myself from any need to be in contact with that energy.

Timing Suuuuucked

In general, I think there was also a strong element of timing to all of this. Attendance rose and fell but seemed to be in an overall decline in general for the last 4 years or so, even before I started Lindy Lab. Options like Groupon and Living Social seem to have run their course in this area so options that used to provide quick boosts to prior studios didn’t amount to much. In general, it seems like this area is in a bit of a dip in terms of advanced dancers getting more into jobs or marriages or whatever as well so while that core hasn’t disappeared it has become less consistent week to week than it was a few years ago. It does seem to be starting to uptick as I’m handing things off, so I’m heartened, but generally I felt like I spent so much keeping things going through a trough in the cycle that I stopped having much interest in sticking around to push things back uphill once the cycle picked up again. And, on a personal level, add in things like a multi-year house renovation and a 5 year career overhaul and by this past spring I felt pretty certain I wasn’t going to have anything left to give if I kept going.

Deciding to Quit

All these factors came together earlier this year to culminate in a decision to quit. I say I’m quitting because I’m trying to take ownership of that word. It’s a word I haven’t been comfortable with as long as I can remember and I think it’s about time to redefine it for myself. I’ve spent many years in my life holding onto situations, activities, and relationships where I was not getting back the energy I put in and I’ve slowly come to understand that that just doesn’t serve me long term. So, having given it a good 3 years, trying as many angles and tactics as I could without completely tanking myself, I’ve decided to quit with as much integrity as I can and move on to other pursuits.

Space to Grow

Ultimately I am quitting both to create space for myself and to create space for The Lindy Lab. If I had continued to head the studio, I believe it would have taken me an awfully long time to rebound even if it had been possible. Stepping back and turning it over to a committee of committed and excited dancers creates much more space for LL to grow again. It also frees me up to focus on aspects that I did enjoy, namely teaching and special events. And frankly, I find I’m greatly happier having my evenings free to spend with friends, fix up my house, cook, read, etc. The person I’ve been trying to be for several years now has arrived much more readily by creating space than it did by pursuing achievement. The Lindy Lab was an amazing vehicle for me to grow and learn and, for a time, to spread some Lindy Love to some wonderful people and I look forward to seeing it grow and change under new leadership.

The Hopeful Aftermath

I spent a lot of my past year wondering if I was just in the way. And while I don’t think it will just completely rebound, it does seem that attendance has already started to pick up as we’ve worked through handing things off over the past two months. There is definitely space for someone excited and motivated to jump in and start teaching Lindy in the area and the workload is already being spread better than I ever managed to do it.

I just had a former dance student who travels and lectures on education tell me he presents some of my teaching tactics all over the country to great success. A Rolfer in Portland who I was talking to about teaching asked me excitedly if I would be willing to share a workshop on how I teach dance. So it seems that whether I decide to teach again or not, some of the key tenants that I wanted to get out to the world are getting out.

And perhaps simply put, I think I’ve finally managed to swap out “Try to change the world and hopefully that will make me happy” for “Let myself by happy and see how the world shifts”.

We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Cup: A Thought on Happiness and Relationships

It’s my birthday tomorrow and I’m realizing it’s been about a year since I had the following epiphany but haven’t gotten around to writing it down.

Last year shortly after my birthday I was having lunch with a friend and talking about relationships and I realized that somewhere along the line, my approach to relationships had changed significantly. I’d been building skills for several years around the idea that I needed to be happy with myself, not seeking a relationship to make me happy and I realized that not only had that shift occurred but a rather apt metaphor for it had formed in my unconscious mind. And in the midst of that conversation I found myself speaking it consciously for the first time.

If I think of my own happiness as a cup to be filled, I used to view the cup as my own thing and that I had to find a person to fill that cup. What I’ve come to feel now is that what goes into the cup is mine and
the cup is also mine, but the people in my life contribute by helping me to grow (or sometimes shrink) the size of the cup. So adding loves/friendships/etc. to my life helps to grow my capacity for happiness rather than making me happier. And whatever I am cultivating in myself helps to fill the cup with joy or love or sorrow or whatever else I am choosing in that time.

To say the least, this recontextualizing has made some slow but profound shifts in my way of being the past year. I’ve found myself both feeling closer to people and much more patient with time apart. And despite some very intense ups and downs with a major home renovation (which I am living in), I’ve started to find a much more even keel internal state without too much grasping for a relationship to try and distract myself.

As my birthday neared this year I started thinking back on this revelation and noticed as well that I’ve started to do a much better job of regulating my social interaction to my energy levels. In times when I’ve been particularly tired but overcommitted to social interaction I could feel like the contents of my cup were becoming watered down, too little of me to fill a too big cup or “like butter scraped over too much bread” (one of my favorite Tolkien lines that’s been coming to mind a lot ) and it’s been a useful cue to slow down, settle into a smaller group of friends for a bit until I had more of myself to give again.

And in weeks like the past two where I could feel myself constrained and feeling lonely under the pressures of construction it cued me to reach out to a few more folks to help me “upsize” my cup and have space to feel full instead of spilling over.

In addition, I’ve found myself becoming better at allowing friendships to be more fluid. I have a few friends who are in similarly stressful situations to my own and we’ve gone through some periods of being close and periods of needing tons of space or to not talk for a while. It still makes me nervous, but I’ve found a certain peace with allowing
that space to exist and a much better understanding of how allowing space can serve to make a friendship stronger sometimes.

In short, realizing that I am the source of my own joy and that the people in my life can help me to hold more of that joy and share it has helped me be happier, balance my time better, and feel more able to give and receive when I choose to spend time with friends and loved ones. And in the spirit of growing my cup, if you found this useful or have thoughts to share, I’d love to connect about it. 🙂

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