As a Board Certified Dance Movement Therapist in the modern therapy world (and the grief world) I feel like it's important to share a little about me and what brought me to this work. So this blog post will be just that. The story of what got me to where I am today. Spoiler alert. It's a grief story, so please take care while you are reading. My intention behind sharing is to provide connection in our grief, and context into how movement and yoga have been healing in my grief process. Know that I am here in "grief land" with you. You are not alone.
Throughout my childhood, I experienced a lot of death. From family friends, to friend's parents and siblings, to neighbors, family members, and even friends, I felt like I attended more funerals than birthday parties. As I began to grow up and understand how permanent death is, and what these deaths meant about how I view the world and my future, I felt very alone in my grief. I was angry that these deaths had to happen to my friends and the people I love, and I lost a lot of hope for the world being a safe and happy place. Even though my mom knew enough about angsty teenagers to put me in therapy when I was in high school, I never had any grief support at school, and there were no therapy groups made up of kids my age who got it, despite all the grief my hometown community experienced! My therapist was amazing and I loved her, but she had never had any formal grief training either as grief wasn't her specialty (understandably, who would want to become a grief therapist and talk about death all day). Little did I know, that was exactly what I wanted to do.
When I was a senior in high school my friend, and one of my biggest role models, was murdered. It happened on the day I was suppose to see her after going months apart (she was away at college at the time, but came home to visit for thanksgiving break). She was also a dancer like me and the rest of my friends, and we were all supposed to dance together again that afternoon (it was tradition when dancers from my home studio graduated to come back and take class over the holidays). When she never showed up, we knew something was wrong, we just didn't know how wrong. This was the day that changed my life, my career goals, and everything I thought I knew about myself and the world around me. How could someone take someone else's life so easily? And why her? And how was I suppose to keep living my life and finish being a senior in high school? Why does what college I'm going to matter? My friend just died.
The only way I knew how to cope with all of these questions, and my grief, was to dance. I spent hours and hours at the studio. My dance friends and I just kept saying "and so we dance" to each other every day until we felt good enough to go back home and try to sleep. Side note- I now have that phrase tattooed on my ribs and every time I see it, I think of that time of my life and I remember the pain I felt. Today, I still dance. I dance for her, and I dance for my grief.
I ended up going to the same college she went to and was in the same dance program. I had the same teachers, and danced in same studios at the same ballet barres. I was even told I danced like her, but something was missing. I felt like I was dancing for everyone else, instead of dancing for myself. Everything I loved about dance didn't matter in a dance program that was more focused on what you look like and what your grade is based on one variation you learn at the end of the year. I missed dancing to express myself and how I feel. I missed dancing that was both technique and messiness. Dancing that made me feel good. And more than anything I missed dancing with my friend.
At the end of my sophomore year of college, I picked up a psychology major and discovered that dancing to express yourself and to heal was a thing. Enter Dance Movement Therapy. I knew the second I found it that this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. And I knew exactly the population I wanted to work with...other people who were also grieving somebody important in their lives (particularly children and teens since that is how old I was when I first started to experience grief). So I went on to study Dance Movement Therapy in graduate school at Lesley University (after a brief stent at Naropa University and receiving my 200 hr yoga teacher certification), and focused completely on grief throughout my entire clinical experience. I was honored to continue my professional grief experience with the Dougy Center, The Healing Center, Safe Crossings Foundation, Hospice of the Piedmont's children's program, Paul Denniston, and my biggest mentor and teacher Claire Bidwell Smith (I get to teach yoga on her upcoming in person retreat in California and I still feel like I'm dreaming!)
Flash forward to now having my own private practice where I get to do this incredible work every single day, hoping that in some way I am making a difference in someone else's grief experience. I feel extremely honored to be able to do the work I do and to be a witness in other's grief processes.
Current Grief Offerings
Now that I finally have my own private practice (yay!) I can offer the services that are most in alignment with my experience and my overall view of grief. Currently I am accepting new individual clients! If you or someone you know is grieving and could benefit from exploring this grief through movement and the body, please contact me! I serve children ages 6-17, young adults, and adults who are grieving. I offer these sessions in person on the farm, as well as virtually. I also offer grief support groups for children and workshops for adults. These are offered at different times of the year and all correspond to the season of grief and life we are in.
My favorite offering is my Monthly "Flowing with Grief" yoga class. These yoga classes are designed to allow individuals to process their grief through movement, breath, and sound. The focus is more on the emotional body, but the physical body and movement are the catalysts. I am hoping to have these classes more frequently next year as I continue to build my grief community.
I have so many other ideas to expand my practice (including a grief book club group!) But for now, I am focusing on what's important at the beginning stage of a private practice and that is to be fully present for my clients and continue to make connections. I am grateful for Ohana Preservation Foundation for giving me the opportunity to share my work at events throughout the year, as well as collab with them in hosting a free family grief support group each month. Make sure to check out the amazing work they are doing at their website https://virginiahorseback.com/ohanapreservationfoundation/ .
The next chapter...
I hope this blog post has given you a little more insight into who I am as a person, a griever, and a therapist. I am hoping to write more posts from time to time explaining more about what I do and sharing my thoughts around the current grief research and themes coming up in my practice. Below is a picture of me and some of my best friends when I was deep in my ballet days, and deep in my grief. I miss those days a lot as hard as they were, and I miss my friend Jenni. Everything I do today is in honor of her and my ballerina self. I hope I am making her proud.
If you are interested in services with me please reach out! Grief can be lonely, and I'm here to support you!