Finally the tears came today, seemingly out of nowhere. I had just gotten off the phone taking care of some business, while sitting at the laptop getting sh** done. I started sobbing. I don’t know why, and then I realized that’s part of why I’m crying. I. Don’t. Know. Dear Transition, Change, Growth Opportunity: I embrace you, thank you for answering my call. Now leave me the fuck alone.
That’s right I can turn you off if I want to, if I am not ready to process or unsure where even to begin.
Ha ha, I wish.
Two days ago I attended the Private Riot with Sheila Kelley at S Factor San Francisco. This was a unique opportunity to learn from the creatrix of my beloved movement practice herself, and it’s as intense as the name might suggest. I did manage to spend all day yesterday feeling only from the shoulders up. My brain was lit up, and I was hurting from a knee injury I got dancing at the Riot the night before. But this isn’t about the injury, which I know will heal with time. This is about what I was trying to sort out, make sense of and understand. You see, I got pulled apart at that Riot. So it makes complete sense that I’d spend the day after nursing my knee, texting friends who were there to make sure everyone else was ok, and btw did you see me? Can you tell me who I am? I don’t know anymore.
My brain tends to be very active anyway so it’s not hard to crawl up in there and hang out. She likes to KNOW. She is very uncomfortable with the not knowing. And I’m deep deep into not knowing presently. (BTW I hated that fucking book on my required reading list for my yoga teacher certification, “Only Don’t Know”, like an arch nemesis!) Crap it’s coming up again, I’ve been pushed to the brink, hanging off the edge of the abyss of Don’t Know and I’m clawing my way back to safety, clinging to the vines keeping me connected to knowing, to figuring it out, to constant fucking questioning. And then it happens, I just start crying and let the tears come. So I lay down on my yoga mat and cry until it stops – for the moment.
What we do at S Factor is truly impossible to describe in words to someone who has never experienced it. We sometimes call it “Fight Club for Women”, but that language draws me into some unsavory images that aren’t exactly right…however the mystery, the initiation, the rites of fighting for your truth with a fierceness, leaving everything out on the floor – sure do sound like a “Fight Club” of sorts. However you probably shouldn’t start there, so let’s go back.
I’ve been dancing at S Factor for 10 years. It started as a fun little hobby, but quickly became a practice as dear to me as my yoga. My delusion was that I’d walk away from this movement once I’d been filled up enough, finally satisfied and whole. Obviously that’s not ever going to happen because well, who the fuck is whole? As in yoga, you practice and just get more deeply raw and real, more connected to your essence. Shining light into our deepest darkest corners is an ongoing practice in and of itself. Purposefully dark places like to stay dark thanks, so you need to keep at it. Then when you become whole again, you need to practice staying whole. The perfect cycle – the domain of the feminine. In addition, it’s a community of women whom I trust to hold me up; they understand because we speak the same language. In short, nothing gets me the way that S Factor does.
We’ve all grown up in a world dominated by the masculine concept of power being power over something rather than true power generating from within. When I got my period my mom said “that’s bad blood, don’t touch it”. I listened because I was thirteen, and I didn’t have any other women to turn to. I listened, but only partly. I gave her the day, straddled the gigantic cotton canoe she insisted that I wear. Later I told her about tampons, because I’d thankfully learned about them in sex ed in school. My mother (born in the Dominican Republic in 1929) didn’t know that they existed, so I must have taught myself to put them in.
Let’s pause here and consider my mother – Latina, Catholic, native Spanish speaker from a 1929 machista culture, a dictatorship – she didn’t have a chance in hell of growing up to be the rebel that I am. Unfortunately her role modeling taught me not to trust my femininity, and at times to hate it. From there I grew into a rebellious teenager who experimented with sex, alcohol and hated her body. In my early 20’s I wore baggy clothes to hide my curves, and proudly walked with a masculine strut. I’ve always known that I was going to disappoint some of my ancestors and live out the wildest dreams of others. I challenged my mother by not wanting to have children early in life, which turned into never. Her whole training around being “ladylike” got an angry middle finger in the air from my spirit. When I found S Factor in my late 30’s, my whole body knew that I’d found my home. I walked out of my first intro class, handed over my credit card; and I’ve been a part of this glorious movement ever since.
Through S Factor I learned how to both celebrate my femininity and feel strong in it for the first time. I started to wear really high heels, and experiment with lace lingerie. For once I could give my anger a name and a healthy way to move me out in the world. I used to fight with the masculine for power in relationships, out of fear of losing myself and also from the distrust I’d learned. Anytime I felt attracted to a man, I moved into my fighting stance. Thankfully, I’d healed that dynamic through dancing at S Factor by the time I met the man who became my husband. The more I loved my femininity, my curves and felt empowered as a woman the more I could allow men into my life. I had my first straight male friend then. I learned that in allowing myself to be supported by the masculine, I didn’t simultaneously lose my own power. I was able to see my now husband’s unique gifts as comforting rather than a threat.
Most recently in my S Factor journey, I feel as if I’m bringing light to some new feelings that have managed to stay dark and hidden through a decade of dancing. It may be in a song, a walk or a tender caress. I never quite know until it happens. So I’m on the floor writhing in the middle of this “Riot”. Sheila calls to me “How do you want to be loved, Michelle? Show me.” WTF? This song makes me sad, just let me melt into my puddle of despair please. “Louder, Michelle. I can’t hear you. Louder.” Can’t you hear me? Can’t you see me? I’m trying. Isn’t this enough? And there it is, my archaic wound. I am not enough. I feel everything, it’s too much, too overwhelming. And then I put my hand on my chest and throw my head back. Time stops, I feel myself melting to the floor…I found it, I was loud in my stillness, fully embodied in my ache as well as my erotic charge, feeling my passion so deeply. It was profound and sacred. I’m unwinding the threads, and shedding whatever tears may come.
I still haven’t told you what a Riot is, and I’m not going to. Because the words just simply cannot do it justice. And you should really start at the beginning and see for yourself. If you are seeking a way to reclaim your femininity, your power, your sexy or your body; if you seek a path back to wholeness; if you want more than just another way to workout, and you are down for an amazing circle of women to rise up around you. If you are ready to see and be seen, to be held and protected while you dive deep, rage, play, hide, cry and explore; take an intro class sometime. Then maybe someday I’ll see you at a Riot, we’ll look in each other’s eyes and just know. It’s on.