HOLISTIC HEALTH Finding the dance that lives on inside
Lyme disease nearly took out a Hermitage woman.
By L. CROW
Before 1991, Kathy Gracenin of Hermitage was living the life of her dreams. With a master's degree in fine arts in contemporary dance from Case Western Reserve University, she was artist-in-residence at Kent State University, an artist-in-education for the state of Pennsylvania, a teacher for the International Dance Workshop in Bonn, Germany, and she had her own touring dance company.
"My life was where I thought it was supposed to be going," Gracenin said.
But in 1990, an innocent trip to a deer petting park with her little daughter, 4, changed her life forever. They both were bitten by a deer tick infected with Lyme disease, and both contracted the disease. Because Gracenin's daughter was so young, her immune system was able to successfully battle the disease. But Gracenin was not so fortunate.
To anyone who has not had any experience with the disease, Gracenin's descriptions are bone-chilling. "I started getting ill when my knees began to swell," she said. "Then I got 'strange brain.' I would have memory lapses. I became dyslexic, paranoid. Everything was surreal. I had vertigo. My driving was affected. All of my senses became intensified. Sounds hurt like a bomb. I had night terrors, hallucinations."
Not all Lyme disease sufferers are affected neurologically, but Gracenin's case centered in her brain and central nervous system. She said she nearly died.
"In 1993, I was at my sickest point, my darkest place," Gracenin said. "I was watching 'Oprah' one day, and her guest was Joan Borysenko, [Ph.D.]. She was talking about her book 'Fire in the Soul,' and something just clicked. I knew she would be one of my teachers. Then, shortly after, someone gave me a copy of the book, and I was sure we would be working together."
"When we are in our deepest ocean of despair, there comes that moment of surrender," Gracenin continued. "Mine came when my little girl jumped on the bed and said, 'Are you dying?' That was my moment of surrender. I had a family to care for and knew it was not my time to die."
She spent the next years healing, both body and mind, and she is still in that process. Physically, she has had hip replacement surgery, right knee surgery, and a small tumor removed from her jaw. She had surgery for a pericardial window to manage the inflammation around her heart.
Emotionally, she has come to terms with the fact that, at the moment, she is not able to dance as she did. But she has taken all of her skills and developed her own healing method, called energy choreography. And yes, she is now a student of Borysenko.
When Gracenin determined that she had no choice but to live, she gathered all the tools she could find to begin the healing process. She became a Reiki master/teacher and learned yoga, feng shui and pilates. She learned tai chi and qigong from her husband, Nick, a martial arts champion. And she also works with Chinese medicine, including herbs and acupuncture. She combined all this with her background in dance to create her energy choreography program.
"We are on a spiral dance, and along that pathway the continuum of the spiral can be fraught with positives and negatives," she said. "It is taking what seems to be a negative and reinventing the language of it so it becomes a positive, giving you the strength, courage and new understanding to forge ahead. When I first became ill, I threw away dance because I lost my body, and my identity was related to physicality. One of my biggest lessons was to learn it was the internal dance -- tapping into energy -- that created healing."
"When people sign up for the class, they will learn to express the mystery of life itself through a compilation of movement experiences," Gracenin explained. "We learn postural alignment and finding the structural integrity of the container [the body] to allow the energy of the body to freely flow. Postural alignment is learning to work efficiently through correct lining up of landmarks of the body, such as shoulders, hips. I also work metaphorically. I may say, 'stretch the upper back -- go into the cave of the heart and around.' I want people to really feel it, to have their own deep inquiry into inner terrain. I rarely correct someone externally. I say things poetically to help others visualize what is happening inside, then the body falls into place: the body is like an hour glass -- the sand comes through a clear and open channel. Or, imagine the brain like a water balloon -- spill through the ear over the shoulder."
Gracenin says that through the practice of energy choreography, physical healing takes place, but a a deep spiritual awareness also develops. "We become aware that our bodies are sacred and that we are connected to each other," she said. "We learn to honor the sacredness in everyone, and reach a deeper connection to 'it' -- whatever the divine is to each individual."
In addition, Gracenin has also made available a DVD of pieces of choreography, celebratory dances that she calls "Dances of Universal Peace." "It is about being open to the authentic, finding one's personal source of the divine, unique to everyone," she said. She also does personal feng shui consulting, teaches all levels of Reiki, personal postural alignment sessions and meditation sessions.
XLaughing Crow is a holistic practitioner. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.