Dancing is Existing

Image is of two hands held in the air, it looks like their tattood owner is dancing.

Riah Person (Interviewed by Florence Neville)

I officially got diagnosed in July but I’ve been on this more upfront journey since around January/February when I got burnout. I found Agony Autie and her videos on stim dancing and it was like, “Oh my gosh, I think I do this! Hello? I have questions! This looks like me right here!” I was, “All of my weird movements have been me trying to keep myself alive. Wow, I didn’t even know!”

Stim dancing is allowing me to be my open self. Learning about myself being autistic has allowed me to open up more. For instance, I would find myself doing piano stuff a lot (does piano playing movements and then waves fingers in the air). I learned how to do piano and that kind of stuck in my brain. So whenever I got anxious or bored I would just kind of ‘piano it’ (demonstrates wavy finger dancing). People would say, “Oh you must be great at piano!” but I hadn’t played in years. Once I found out I was autistic my body started integrating more of these moves and so I started to realise that when I’m me, being my open self, it’s normal behaviour and this is a way to cope.

I think the body is absolutely amazing. Dancing is me being able to be my most open self. It allows me to process. Like for instance, I would never get a job that said I couldn’t dance, because I would just break down. Like “No, I’d rather be unemployed. Thank you, goodbye!” Even before diagnosis I knew that that would be provoking meltdown. I can’t sit still like that.

Not being able to dance is like feeling bound. Its like having a part of you that’s being told it is not allowed to exist. Its very difficult. I hear music in my head. My brain is always making things so I’m hearing things in the environment and then integrating the sounds into movements. I always have a reason to move. If somebody was to take that away? It’s like having your own best friend in your head and then someone taking them away from you. They know you, they’ve been there your entire life. If someone’s like “We’re going to detain this person now. Continue living your life.” I would be like, “Can I die?” It very much feels like that. It’s physically bad, it’s emotionally bad, it’s spiritually bad. It’s grounds for meltdown. Dancing is existing.

When I had burnout, I would be in my bed all the time, and it would encourage me to ball up. And understanding the mind-body connection, when you do stuff like balling yourself up, then that sends signals to your brain that you’re anxious. And when we’re feeling anxious, we ball ourselves up, and it goes back and forth. While I’m lying down, I’m less likely to stim, unless I have uncontrollable negative stims. When I’m able to sit up and stim or stand up and stim it helps me to exist. Because existing isn’t always something that’s easy to cope with.

Stim dancing seems to be a really touchy subject. There seems to be this mindset that because involuntary stims exist then voluntary and semi-voluntary stims can’t exist. And stim dancing is going to look different for each individual because whatever route has been dug the deepest is how you are going to see your dancing manifest. So, for me, having danced my entire life it’s probably going to look more ‘dancy.’ And for martial artists, their stim dancing is going to look more like martial arts. For someone to try and gatekeep stimming? I’m not going to punish myself because I spent my whole life dancing! And I’m not going to punish you for not doing the thing that I did. I’m going to embrace all of the stim dancing. I want to see them all!

Please click the ‘play’ icon below to see an example of Riah’s stim dancing!

Mariah is an aspiring dance movement therapist, intending to help people to heal and develop through movement, and help to understand the significance of stimming. Currently, she creates accessibility conscious curriculum for her dance/creative movement students.

You can find her on twitter: @lilririah and she blogs at Riah’s Weird Journey

Published by florence neville (she/her)

PhD student

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