My Story ~ The Medicine of Music and Movement

Movement and music are my medicine...My guides, my callings, and my offerings.

The path to this moment, it winds. Sometimes walking with my head down, my perspective is small. One step at a time. Sometimes, walking with my head down, I mistake myself to be alone. In truth, there is a larger choreography that each step is a part of. In truth, I am backed by a bloodline of generosity and a band of kindreds, led in the last decade by a man who holds my hands, hears my heart, loves me senseless, and has held down the day-to-day time and again while I have healed, and heeded calls. I am struck by how suffering teaches surrender, and how surrender lets more of life move through me. How life moving through me, lets me trace the mystery of how veins of sorrow lie so close to the arteries of joy, privilege, and purpose, that pump through this one little life. 

What follows, is one version of the story of my Callings, written with retrospective perspective. There have been many moments, when I have not seen the bigger picture; when I have been numbed by disappointments not yet grieved; weighed down by losses not yet let go; and at a true loss for how best to offer myself to life. The curious choreography of the whole thing - how injury and illness at different times of my life would intervene and shift my direction, leading eventually to an integrated creative life as a musician and dancer, is some kind of magical musical movement mystery to me...

Dancing from before I could walk, I began creative movement classes at the age of 3 years old, and as I got older, studied ballet, and contemporary dance, at the Toronto Dance Theatre and the Canadian Contemporary Dance Theatre in Toronto. I was headed for a career as a performing dancer, when at the age of 13 years old, injuries intervened.

A year of battling Achilles tendonitis followed by the onset of debilitating migraines as a young adolescent, diverted me away from my intense dance studies, and I took refuge in songwriting. Instruments and music were around my house from the time I was born, but it was at that time, that I began a love affair with making my own music, and that would grow into my central creative focus for the next 15 years. The luminous spark of inspiration, the delight of poetic articulation, and the joyful physical release of singing led me to devote my late teens and my twenties to making music, much of it with Oliver Johnson, who would become my beloved partner onstage and off. Between 2001-2011, we recorded 6 Folk/Soul albums, and performed all over North America. Music is what drew Oliver and I close, and schooled us in the intricacies of co-creation. Playing together continues to be one of my all-time favorite things. Watching him shine onstage makes my heart soar. 

 Photo by Graham Powell

Photo by Graham Powell

It felt like we were just beginning to gain some musical scene traction with bigger shows, festivals and showcases, when in 2009, my body intervened again, with a sudden and shocking health crisis that turned out to be a Type 1 Diabetes diagnosis. Over the next 2 years, having brushed close to my own mortality, and now living with a new body that demanded I stay more tuned in to how I was truly doing, I found myself thrust into deep reflection on the direction of my life and my livelihood. Am I offering all of myself to life, and being nourished by it? Am I in a relationship to my creativity that is sustainable? What is in the way of me digesting the sweetness of life that flows to me? I found myself feeling less called to my life as an indie musician. I was able to recognize and name that the years of self-booked tours, the constant push of self-promotion, and the regular surges of anxiety about how to earn a living as a musician, had been taking their toll on me for some time.

I sought refuge and healing in my love of movement, which had been present all along as a hobby, but had not been "center stage", since that injury as an early teen had diverted me from becoming a professional dancer. At age 27, I discovered that dance, and the 5Rhythms movement method in particular, had the power to help me process all that was changing in my life...To help me express all the life that was moving through me, that I didn't (yet) have lyrics or melodies for.

 Photo by Denise Militzer

Photo by Denise Militzer

I poured myself into intensives with experienced teachers of the work, studying and practicing the 5Rhythms method whenever I could. I moved through many tender terrains of the heart - fear, anger, and sadness, as well as sweet and moving experiences of lighthearted joy and compassionate connection with myself and others on the dance floor. As 5Rhythms founder Gabrielle Roth says, we "turn our suffering into art, our art into awareness, and our awareness into action."

In April 2011, fifteen years after my step-Mom first led a 17 year old me to a 5Rhythms dance floor, I felt a strong call to become a teacher myself. A profound desire was ignited in me, to dedicate myself more deeply to this work...To live my life as more of an offering to the world; to offer more of myself to the world. I knew at that time, that dance was the doorway to this deeper way of being I was so craving. My own passion for the practice had grown into a desire to offer it's healing to others. Every time I would talk about it, I would start to cry. I had never experienced such a profound and emotional sense of purpose. I sought my mentors' blessings, and with their support, applied and was accepted into the 2013-2014 5Rhythms Teacher Training.

Following my certification as a 5Rhythms teacher in Oct 2014, I noticed that some space opened again for songwriting. In the midst of launching a weekly Tuesday movement class, and a monthly Saturday gathering for 5Rhythms Toronto, I began making music again...Two solo songwriting retreats in the woods partially funded by the Toronto Arts Council, were creatively fruitful, and it seems I have a batch of tunes that could make up another record. If there is going to be another record though, it's going to be done in a much gentler way. No deadlines. No stress of needing it to earn money. Just some meandering, meaningful musical experiences that might make it on to tape, and might make it out to you.

And in the meantime, in the realm of recording, a music collective of five musicians (Chris Assaad, Brian MacMillan, Matt York, and Oliver Johnson) called Grass Roots that I am a part of, recorded an EP this past January, due out Aug 2015!

I'm also in the midst of hatching a project in collaboration with a couple Electronic producers, that is very different from my previous Folk/Soul endeavors...I want to make music specifically for expressive movement and dance. A blend of big beats, beautiful melodies, and rich textures designed for folks who want to dive in to the dance at home, and conscious dance DJs alike. 

Music is finding its ways to weave back in. I feel how my years as a performer and musician helped prepare me to teach; to hold space for group creative energy; to curate the music that I play in my classes, workshops, and dance gatherings. And I feel how my experience as a dancer, shapes my stage presence as a performer. I have found more ease in my own skin. More capacity for presence. I feel how my relationship to dance was not meant to be dance as a performance art, but rather as a healing art. The adolescent interruption of that performance path, almost seems orchestrated now, to direct me towards the development of my musical self, that would eventually lead me back to dance, but this time, as a tool for my own transformation.

This isn't the end. This is a pause. A moment of musing. A moment of getting, and giving perspective; of marking this place on the path. This is gratitude for the whole, big, bloody, gorgeous mess of it. For the quiet, tender, aching, sweet and salt of it. For the up-and-down, and up-and-until-now of it. For the mystery, perfect in the how of it.

To be
continued.

~ Layah, July 18, 2015, Toronto, ON

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