Wilma Casal: From Dance, to Healing, to Dance

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Wilma is an upcoming choreographer in the US; in her native Germany she was a prima ballerina. She could have had her choice of major ballet companies in Europe in which to be a principal dancer. Europe in general is far more generous than the USA. Had Wilma decided to continue her dance career in Europe, she would have had a privileged existence as a principal dancer in an important ballet company. As a Dance Movement Therapist (DMT), who had been working with wildly psychotic patients on stone floors for over 30 years, the columnist, Johanna (J) had her share of injuries. J had had three major surgeries to address repetitive impact injuries. This scribe needed to rehab before deciding to have surgery, and then, subsequent to surgery, she needed to spend a good deal of her life focused on healing. Profiling the passionate and committed danseuse, Wilma, she says that their paths crossed. We are introducing a monthly column by the New York-based Johanna, beginning this Sunday, on multiculturalism, exclusively in Different Truths.

To those of you who are reading this in India, or other far off lands, you may need to activate your capacity to ‘tele-transport’ to attend the first dance performance of Wilma Casal, at the Hudson Guild Performance Space, on November 18, at 8PM, at the ‘Sans Limite’ Dance Festival, in New York City (NYC).

Wilma is now an ‘up and coming’ choreographer in this country; in her native Germany she was a prima ballerina, whose work was shown in major concert venues, film and television. Wilma could have had her choice of major ballet companies in Europe in which to be a principal dancer.

For those of you who are not familiar with the international differences in the support of the arts, Europe in general is far more generous than the USA. Had Wilma decided to continue her dance career in Europe, she would have had a privileged existence as a principal dancer in an important ballet company. However, after being introduced to the Martha Graham technique of modern dance by an important teacher in Germany, she was ‘bitten by the bug’ and decided that her calling as a dancer was to study this technique intensively.

Berlin Modern

I found out from Wilma that she was actually introduced to the Graham technique at the age of eight, when she amazingly got away with sneaking into a class given for adults. She was entirely smitten by the expressionistic technique at that time.

Because Graham training is really centered in NYC, and Wilma was so gifted in classical ballet, she let herself be convinced that she should accept all the prestigious opportunities for training and performing and choreographing that were presenting themselves in Europe.

Indeed she had a most impressive career in classical ballet, receiving awards, and performing in major stages throughout Europe, as well as appearing in film, television and screen performances.

When she could no longer contain her desire to study the Graham Technique, Wilma came to NYC, six years ago, to study at the Martha Graham School of Dance. (Martha Graham was one of the most important pioneers of deeply expressive modern dance—a far cry from the formal elegance of ballet.)

NYC blue

When Wilma applied to the Graham School, the artistic director was also from Germany. Realising what Wilma’s options would be as a prima ballerina in Europe, she said ‘Of course you can attend this school, and go through the professional training, but why would you want to give up the cushy life you could have in Europe to be a ‘struggling student’ in NYC?’

Wilma’s passionate response was, “I would be a street vendor here to support studying the Graham technique, and this is what I have to do!” And so began her training at the Martha Graham School of Dance. And she threw herself into it with unbridled enthusiasm.

Anyone who knows dancers knows that one of our major proclivities is to ‘overdo it.’ Wilma was taking eighteen Graham classes a week, plus ballet and rehearsals, and lo and behold — she injured herself quite seriously.

She tore her Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL), and was not able to dance for two years. During this time she did ‘rehabilitative movement work’, which is where I met Wilma. As a Dance Movement Therapist (DMT), who had been working with wildly psychotic patients on stone floors for over 30 years, I had my share of ‘war injuries.’ I had had three major surgeries to address repetitive impact injuries. I needed to rehab myself before deciding to have surgery, and then, subsequent to surgery, I have needed to spend a good deal of my life focused on my own healing.

NYC gyrotonicstudio 02

So, this is where Wilma’s and my paths converged. We were both doing rehabilitative movement work to recover from our dance engendered injuries.

In the process of doing this rehabilitative work, I realised that studying ballet from a master teacher would facilitate my own healing process. Both Wilma and I had sufficiently recovered from our initial injuries that she was performing and teaching again, and I was able to return to dance/movement therapy and mind/body/spirit psychotherapy as a clinician and a teacher.

I have been working with Wilma studying for several months now, and it has added a dimension to my healing and my work with my own clients and students that are utterly unique and irreplaceable. Wilma’s fascinating integration of classical ballet and the Martha Graham technique, worked through the lens of her own healing process, has created a new modality to heal dance injury through dance. What could be more thrilling for an injured dancer that to heal through what he/she loves the most?!

Through Wilma’s most dedicated healing, she is now able to choreograph and perform with the company she has gathered. If you are not able to be in NYC to see the premiere performance, I am attaching the link to a preliminary video that was taken as the piece was taking form. Enjoy!

©Johanna Climenko

Photographs and video  links by Wilma Casal

#Dance #Multiculturalism #Healing #Europe #NYC #TherapistDMT #MarthaGrahamSchoolofDance #WilmaCasal

Johanna Climenko, LCSW-R, LCAT, BC-DMT, pioneering Dance/Movement Therapist, Laban Movement Analyst, Reichian Character Analytic Mind/Body psychotherapist and Licensed Clinical Social Worker, has worked with populations from infants — geriatrics, taught and consulted, in and out of academic settings in the U.S. and Netherlands. Currently, Director, Center for Reichian Energetic Therapy, where the combined modality she created of DMT, LMA, and RT is employed, working with individuals, couples, groups, systems analysis, and professional training.