by Karin Nadler
Just the other day, I was shopping for last minute Halloween accessories at Party City. I made a left out of the store and started walking west on 14th Street. My friends were laughing at me because they could not believe how excited I was simply because we were walking past Pratt. Of course, it’s not the physical building that excites me. It’s the endless memories, the lessons learned, the ineffable friends and supportive teachers.
When I think about my two years at Pratt, I think about the Safety that I felt, the Support that surrounded me, and the feeling of being Seen. I had no choice but to completely strip and unravel the many layers that I wasn’t even aware of wearing. Goodbye Cynicism. Goodbye Bitch (she still makes an appearance every now and then!). Goodbye Pity. Goodbye Unidentified Sadness. Once the layers were removed, I was then able to See myself with 20/20 vision for the first time. I didn’t always love what I saw, and I still don’t, but I was met with such a strong Support system from my professors and friends alike, who applauded me for my journey and never once made me feel silly or judged.
I wasn’t dealt an easy deck outside of Pratt. Foot surgery, a traumatic breakup, my grandma and good friend both diagnosed with cancer within 24 hours of each other. Pratt was my Safety net. I was allowed to fall apart there and I was encouraged to find my strengths there. With every tear shed (and trust me there were plenty), I began to rebuild, renew and revive myself.
With this most fascinating form of therapy, I fell in love. I fell in love with the medium, I fell in love with the work, I fell in love with myself. Going to school was never laborious. Homework never felt like a chore. I immersed myself in the teachings of my insightful, caring and warm‐hearted professors. There are others who I feel must be mentioned, because without them, my graduate experience would not have been complete. There was the intimidating guidance of Claire Schmais, my thesis advisor, who encouraged me to write about the importance of Self‐Awareness and relentlessly challenged me to find and understand the “why” behind my actions and writings. Then there were my larger‐than‐life supervisors, Joetta Cherry and Ted Ehrhardt who opened my eyes to the beauty in this work. They applauded me for my mistakes and sat with me week after week, while I questioned and cried, laughed and learned. And my therapist, who I guess will remain nameless, who helped me put all of these puzzle pieces together and who still continues to champion my every essence.
On May 15, 2010, I saw the words “Congratulations Pratt Institute” on the marquee of Radio City. I cried, of course. Why did it have to come to an end? Would I ever feel that Safe again? Can I somehow prevent this all from being a distant memory? I wanted to hold onto Pratt the way my mom made me hold her hand when we crossed the street. I wanted to hold onto Pratt the way I held onto bus notes from friends at end of a summer at sleepaway camp. We were all elated on graduation day. Yes, we were given diplomas, but we were also given permission to spread our wings and bring our passions out into the world. We, the Pratt CATs, may have been the smallest department in number, but we were, without a doubt, the loudest and proudest group of people in the theatre that day.
And so my summer began. With a nationwide recession and a field that makes people say, “WHAT?! You’re a physical therapist for dancers?” I never once doubted myself or feared that I wouldn’t get a job. There was no way that I wouldn’t be able to sell myself or the work, once given the chance to go on an interview. I knew that my passion would ooze right through me. And with every fiber in my body, I believed in myself more than I ever had before. I once heard Simon Sinek, a marketing consultant, say, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”
I had two job offers, another was brewing, and ended up accepting a position at Brooklyn Community Services, working in outpatient adult psychiatry, a population that exhausts me and refuels me, and one that I grew to love while in school. I had applied for the position of an Art Therapist (per Joan Wittig’s brilliant advice), and opened my boss’s eyes to this modality instead. There was already an art therapist on site and so I convinced them that they didn’t need another. It was a dream come true because I am the first dance therapist there, but have an on site LCAT supervising me! And because she, a fellow Pratt graduate, had planted her feet in the same office only two years before I did, my boss and colleagues knew that I was capable of doing more than Dance/Movement Therapy. I run verbal therapy groups and see sixteen patients individually. Of course I had to, and still have to, prove myself, but I was given a solid foundation to work from.
My roots from Pratt are so firmly planted in the ground; I never doubted that I wouldn’t be able to take on the extra work. The paperwork, the verbal groups, the individual sessions are all fine and dandy (they’re actually intense and draining, but “fine and dandy” sounds much nicer!). The Dance/Movement Therapy sessions are where I belong, however. It’s where I am me. It’s where I am my best self. It’s where I beam with amazement and excitement. It’s where I’m centered and curious and sponge‐like. It’s where I try to understand their innate selves with non‐judgmental eyes and an open heart. And I’ll forever be eternally grateful for my patients who have accepted Dance/Movement Therapy, who really bring their true selves into this intimate work and who ride the emotional rollercoaster with me on a daily basis. It’s such a raw therapy, where hiding is rarely an option. One patient tells me that Dance/Movement Therapy is the
only thing that makes him feel like he doesn’t have a mental illness. Another patient compares my sessions to Sunday church. Sure, there are those that think we’re there to exercise (okay, maybe I’m a little judgmental here) and there are those who don’t get much from the sessions. But, my wish is that I can provide for my patients what was provided for me at school: the Safety, the Support and the feeling of being Seen. My wish for my patients is that they can one day see themselves through my eyes because I see them possessing so much strength, potential and beauty.
I think it’s very important to mention two themes that arose throughout my time at Pratt. Two themes that I never imagined I’d be able to cope with, at least this soon after graduation. One is the ability to detach from the patients and the other is ability to self‐care. Ask anyone that was with me over these two years just how hard it was for me to separate me from them. In fact, that’s why I started going to see a therapist. I brought my patients home with me every night. It was overwhelming, heartbreaking and exhausting. When papers were returned to me at school, chances are, the comment, “Are you in therapy yet?” was written on the last page from my professors. Seriously! That’s how bad it was!
Since I’ve started working three and half months ago, I’ve noticed that I haven’t brought the patients home with me. There’s the occasional rough day where I will, but more than not, I haven’t. I’ve wondered why and think it’s because as an intern, I was only on site twice a week, which meant that there were five days a week to wonder about, think about, pray for, and feel concern for the patients. I was also inundated with homework and was simultaneously trying to relate what I was reading to what I was experiencing at my internships. Therefore, I never let myself escape. Now that I’m with my patients five days a week, I play a much more hands on role in their day‐to‐day lives and treatment. I feel more in control of what’s happening with them, so when the time comes for me to go home or meet friends for dinner, I really allow myself to do just that.
And this goes hand‐in‐hand with self‐care. Because I am able to separate work from life, I have found that I am really enabling myself to live. I can’t remember the last time I was so social! I’ve come out of Pratt hibernation and have been trying new restaurants, sleeping more, walking more, exercising more, smiling more, appreciating more – and just taking it all in. I’m allowing myself to be somewhat selfish by making sure I have ME time.
As I mentioned earlier on, I was very nervous about losing the Safety net that I found at Pratt. I attended this year’s ADTA conference in Brooklyn, and for those of you that don’t know, at the closing of the conference, they honor all of the new RDMTs. They form two lines, like Soul Train, and one by one, we walk (or dance) through the line. As I stood at the beginning of the train, I saw all of these faces, familiar faces and new ones, waiting happily to welcome me into their family. So with tears, a smile and huge sense of Pride, I let my Soul lead me through the Train. And I thought to myself, “I have nothing to worry about. Not only did I not lose my Safety net, but I increased it by hundreds of people!” Hello Comfort.
I will leave you with one more thing that I find Comfort in. Last February, I went to, what turned out to be, a very posh charity event. The girls who were in attendance looked like they had stepped out of the September issue of Vogue. If I had been at this event a few years ago, I would’ve sulked and wished that I could have had the clothing and accessories they had. It didn’t take too long before I realized that I have a much greater accessory – mine just happens to be one that you can’t see. That night, I realized that I often feel like I’m carrying a wonderful secret that won’t be revealed unless you take the time to get to know me. It’s a secret that fills me with light brighter than their diamonds and rubies. It’s a secret that allows me to carry myself tall, as if I were in their four‐inch heels. It’s a secret that keeps me warm like the fur draped over their shoulders. This secret is my passion. And my passion is Dance/Movement Therapy. So no matter what season we’re in, no matter if a stranger took “my” seat on the C train, no matter if “he” didn’t respond to my text, I have my passion brewing from within. And it’s with me everywhere I go. It’s my partner‐in‐crime. It’s my answered prayer. It’s what makes getting up in the morning so easy. It’s what gets me excited when people say, “What do YOU do?” No matter where I am or what I’m doing, Dance/ Movement Therapy has become a huge part of who I am and where I’m going. So, if you pass me on the street and I look irritatingly happy, it’s because my passion is keeping me warm from within, more so than this cup of green tea in my hands. I share my (not‐so) secret with you. Shhh. Don’t tell!