‘The Red Shoes: Working Creatively With Trauma’ was the name of the workshop I attended this morning. It took place in a conference room at The Holiday Inn, which has carpets reminiscent of ‘The Shining’ and a tacky central chandelier that threatens to crash to the floor at any moment.
When I arrived, I was not up for it. I didn’t want to think about the relationship between a dancer in a film getting her feet hacked off and the disocciation we all experience from our past traumas. Normally I love that sort of thing, but today I just wanted a chocolate twist and was sulking because I hadn’t managed to grab one on my way there.
With twenty or so other therapists, I sat tiredly awaiting a gloomy lecture, resentful of having given up another Saturday morning to think about human pain and suffering. Too much coffee flooded my system. And then, after a brief introduction from our teacher, the magick (yes, with a k) began to unfold.
Everything that had been brought into the room was RED. Blood-coloured fabric lay in the middle of our circle, wine-hued wool and many pairs of scarlet shoes were scattered on top. Roses and ribbon and paint-tubes and inks were up for grabs. When I tried to look away from the crimson display, it seeped shockingly into my periphery. The atmosphere was most violent in its redness.
Many people’s worst nightmare followed:
“Now,” said Anna, our teacher, and guardian of psychic doorways for the day. “I’m going to hand each of you a few lines from The Red Shoes script, and I would like you to imagine how you might physically express them. Then, I will read out the story, and when I say your lines please enter the circle and enact them.”
I looked at my scrap of paper and it said something like ‘she danced to the gates of the graveyard, dancing so hard that her entrails poured out and she became a ghost’. Obviously it was phrased more poetically than that, but all I saw was a vision of myself tap-dancing across the red material with my guts spilling around my ankles.
Oh shit. I was about to dance like my life depended on it in front of a room full of strangers. There was no music. Was that good or bad? If there was no rhythm, I couldn’t be out of time. But if there was no other stimulation for the audience, all attention would be on me, in a pair of D.M.’s trying to move like a ballerina from a fairytale, without falling over.
We’ve all seen that episode of Peep Show. I thought about Marks debilitating self-consciousness, his humiliation, the descent into a regressed child ego-state, masked with tomfoolery. Well, I thought, I’m not going to be a dick about this. Better to go all in.
For about ninety seconds my resistance disappeared out of the window. I was Kate Bush. My limbs were flailing, my head rolling, I was moving in circles, sweeping through positions I’m not sure I’ve ever held before. Afterwards, the adrenaline was pumping so hard I had to remind myself how to breathe.
Doing this was a big deal for me, because I am ashamed. Not logically. Rationally, I’m firm in my belief that ‘I am okay’. Irrationally, another me is rejecting of my deep desires, my sexuality, my wildness. If, as a child, your feelings are ridiculed and dismissed by your parent/s, you take on the core belief that the ways you feel, that you as a person, are not acceptable. Inner conflict. Unbridled creative expression can transform and transcend this belief. I’m not just going to regurgitate a theory here: today I felt it happen.
Yes, Carl Jung and a million analytic psychologists and play therapists after him wrote about the ‘transcendent function’: the unquantifiable healing process of symbols being brought forth from the collective unconscious into solid reality through creative arts. A symbol has been expressed, a transformative balancing within the psyche has taken place. When it happens to you, you just know. The high is so high it feels right. It is ancient wisdom; sacrifice of the surface self.
So there I was, in a room full of kind, open people and they accepted my outpouring. And when their moment came, I could understand and joyfully tolerate theirs.
Next, there was a slide-show of collaged artworks. All were red, white and black with themes of violation, despair, dismemberment and disemboweling. In my state of altered consciousness, they were beautiful.
We watched Wim Wenders legendary 3D dance movie ‘Pina’, showcasing the work of recently passed-over choreographer Pina Bausch. Sinewy dancers in long shift nighties begged from the screen with their bodies for mercy. Each woman took possession of a red cloth, the only strong colour in the piece, and danced towards the camera. One woman shuffled forwards, broken, without the ability to lift her eyes and make contact. Oh, and then it happened again! That woman was speaking to me. Her shame became my shame, coursing through my body. Suddenly, I was sitting in my shame in the Holiday Inn on Brighton Seafront and I had to grit my teeth and lock every muscle in my legs not to run away.
Shortly afterwards came catharsis. Thank the universe. An hour to play with the plethora of red things and already I knew what I was going to make. I wrapped a chopped piece of wool around my thigh and tied it there. Mechanically, I kept going, tying frayed ends together and binding my leg neatly. Symbolically it was a tourniquet, to stop my lifeforce escaping from my femoral artery. I wrapped my fingers, and waited, bound up in my shame, which no longer felt like an enemy, but something I had mastery over.
My process ended with the symbolic cutting of the thread. As in any sound ritual, all group members were involved. Scissors were passed between hands until they reached me, and I severed the bloodied bandages from my fingers and leg. Freeeedom!
Not wanting to leave my little pile of destroyed shame for someone else to clear up, at the Holiday Inn, I stuffed it into a paper cup and carried it with me, in my bag, for the rest of the day and night. It is sitting next to my laptop right now and I intend to burn it by the sea tomorrow afternoon. Hey, what else would I be doing with my day off?
So, this is my message to you, dear friend: overcome your cynical resistance, that voice wanting to deride ‘new age hippie nonsense’, and make something – without focusing on the artistic quality of the end result. Trust in the process. Or, if you feel like it, put on your red shoes and dance the blues. I’ll see you on the dance-floor.