Loving Him Meant Facing My Greatest Fear

In the studio, filled with light, I watch my boyfriend, the artist and choreographer Matty Davis, as he dances beside me, and I feel, above all else, disgusted. He circles me in a sort of sideways gallop, a movement akin to a basketball player’s defensive shuffle, then changes direction, reaches his arms out and lifts them high and falls to the floor, colliding and rebounding against it like a rubber ball.

Listen to this article, read by Emily Woo Zeller

“OK,” he says. “Your turn.”

I try. I shuffle, shuffle, fall. Once on the ground, I roll onto my stomach, push myself into a plank, then inch my stiff and unyielding body forward until I am standing. I start again — shuffle, fall, stand again. This series of movements is intended to exhaust my heart, getting it to beat hard and fast, such that if I were to fall into Matty instead of the floor, he would feel it pounding against his chest.

Am I able to find, he asks, some sort of joy of movement? He smiles at me. I want to leave. I am hiding something from Matty as we dance over the Hudson River in a rented room in Greenwich Village. My body is locking up; first my neck, my hips, my legs and, soon, my back. Pain turns my body rigid, an inconvenient fortress. I was born with sacral agenesis, a congenital disability that restricts my mobility, making the actions Matty wants me to do arduous and uncomfortable. I want to stop, rest, but I keep going. He watches me dance and asks me to check in with my body, to touch my sternum or inch my fingers across my ribs, counting — not as an empty aesthetic gesture, but to really be here, with myself, sensing my heart, through effort, rising. I do it.

We are rehearsing for “Die No Die,” a dance work choreographed by Matty that he and five collaborators will be performing as part of the upcoming Frieze New York art fair. The work will traverse a mile-long stretch of the High Line, with the audience traveling that distance alongside the dancers. And I am one of those dancers, a fact that now, in this sunny and exposing studio, infuriates me.

Some past version of myself agreed to do this, but now I long to quit. Or I long for the work to quit me because of some unforeseen circumstance or twist of fate that would make my participation not possible but also my absence not my fault, not my choice, not tangible proof of the immense fear I feel. Ideally, the High Line would just mysteriously disappear, evaporate, or I would evaporate, no longer a body at all, forever a mind, free from pain and the need to seek some joy in movement.

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