Pas de Milles / Dance of Thousands1
You and I, we both once knew the pleasure of training as dancers: the aerobic intensity of vigorous choreographies, the muscular focus on the body’s lines, the contractions and expansions of core and limbs to feverish musics, the power of conveying to others that we are thought in motion, desire in motion, life in motion. Now, dance is a strained effort, a mode of expression only periodically attainable, and even then, a hindered exercise of nostalgic gestures. For both of us, our illness was an End to Dance as we knew it. We find the constraint spilling out over so much of our lives—our ability to party, to bear the sensory inundation of the cities we love, to relish the athleticism that once was a source of our sense of our power, to participate in any variety of happenings. No less, our ability to keep up in the absurdity of the forty-hour work week that is required for basic sustenance, health insurance costs and management of medical bills in these United States.
But it is also the beginning of new dance, new movement. As choreographer, art director and founder of Kinetic Light, a disability arts ensemble, Alice Sheppard says, “in my work, disability is an aesthetic. It is not about the deficit or diagnosis. It is not about the individual medical state of your body and mind. It is a source of artistry and technological innovation.” On Kinetic Light’s stage, dancers in wheelchairs fly and spin, strong and sensuous and sensual, several feet off the ground. A soaring avigation of crip artistries and intimacies.
Chronic illness, too, is a source of artistry, technological and relational innovation. In the tossing hours of my insomnia, I dream up a performance of dozens of micro-choreographies, of sick and disabled queers in an improvised and experimental “pas de milles”—a dance of thousands from the archipelagic concourse of our beds. We are already in this dance, a speculative performance staging our disavowal of our devaluation. A dance through which we might, we could, feel each other through the beat and the beaten down breakdown of the systems inside us and the systems governing us.
We are in a convalescent cadence, a dance of the body (im)possible, the body in posse, pose, passé, potent, able to come into its own difference of being—twitching legs, fingers in arthritic agitations, the inhale and exhale of lungs in their tides of calm and anxiety, the blinking of eyes, the stirring of toes burrowing blankets, this toss and turn of torsos, entwinements with lovers in the fluxes of the hours, pirouettes of arms declaring our frustrations, hearts thrumming up the thundering velocity of our grief, the moveable feast of our laughter, the exhilarations we provide as we keep company by texting each other in irregular rhythms: tap, tap-tap-tap. “I carry you all the time.”
- In ballet, the term “pas de deux” is used to refer to a dance involving two people. While the pas de deux is traditionally performed by a (cis)man and (cis)woman, a pas de milles as an improvisational dance of thousands not only removes the dance from the cis-heteronorm that shapes classical ballet, but might mirror something of the furious and quantum multitude of particles refusing individuation and predetermination—a ritual of mattering. The dance queers, relationally, and ontologically.
About the Author
heidi andrea restrepo rhodes (she/her) is a queer, sick/disabled, Colombian/Latinx, writer, scholar, educator, and cultural worker. Her poetry collection, The Inheritance of Haunting (University of Notre Dame Press, 2019) won the 2018 Letras Latinas Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. She is a VONA alum and has received poetry fellowships from Zoeglossia, CantoMundo, Radar, VONA, and Yale’s Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration. Her disability scholarship is published or forthcoming in Frontiers, Feminist Studies, and Disability Studies Quarterly. Her poetry has been published in Poetry, Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day, Split This Rock’s Quarry, Nat.Brut, and Foglifter, among other places. She currently lives in southern California.