Healing Through the Arts

Art can be a powerful tool to deal with one’s sorrow.

Listening to Lisa Schirch express how depressed she feels when she follows the news:“wars in Syria and Afghanistan, women being raped in Congo, soldiers committing suicide, babies being abused, birds dying of pesticides, crops failing, climate change shifting the whole planet to a desert or a flood plain, bees disappearing,” and how she uses the pots she makes to put away the pain she cannot contain in herself reminds me of the movie “the Secret life of Bees” where one of the sisters also felt the ache of the world every time something unbearable happened. To ease up the pain, she created a wall just like the wailing wall in Israel where she would write down her pain and let the paper rest under a piece of stone. It occurred to me that in certain cultures, there is neither room nor place for crying. It is very true as per Lisa’s perspective that everything is set to overachieve and many structures are built to numb any pain or frustration.

“dancing is a way for me to let go of any burden.”


Though I love the metaphor of a pot or a stone as a healing mechanism, my pain is contained on papers where I carve out myriads of words to take away my sorrow. If I feel like it, I sit in front of my computer and type my sorrow away. There is something magical and therapeutic about the way my fingers move to the rhythm of my thoughts on the keyboard, or the way they wrap themselves up around a pen, as if dancing the tango.

If I do not write, dancing is a way for me to let go of any burden.

Discussing about shamanism and the need for a myth within society in her “ Reenchantment of Art”, Suzi Gablik tells us that “ whatever happens to a culture without a living mythology is that it gets addicted to whatever numbs the pain of archetypal starvation and the vacuum of meaning”.(P.51) Having lived in New York for a long time,  the concept of finding a myth to be used to dump one’s own  pain is somehow materialized through the way the arts are used in the city as a tool to undo stress.

The one thing that I have always loved about New York is the way the arts bring citizens from hundreds of countries under one roof. Djoniba Dance Centre has helped New York do just that. Because people are so busy with their lives, they do not get to connect much with their inner-selves. Every day, people rush and run as if fighting or domesticating the city. Sometimes through a brief painting class, a dance or yoga class and even a reading session they get to embrace themselves fully and make peace with themselves. Watching the dynamic in this context makes Cornel West totally right when he says that “human beings created culture to stop us from committing suicide”. I sometimes wonder what New York, one of the greatest cities in the world, would have been without its daily mega celebration of culture and without the culture of arts itself being embedded in its identity. For many years, Djoniba Dance Centre brought lovers of African and Caribbean culture together. I have gone to Djoniba many times when I needed to connect with my land and to free myself from any hurt.

Once at Djoniba, it seemed that every dancer, regardless of their origins, had one culture and that the beat of the drums went through their blood washing away any pain or sorrow or stress.

Sometime this year, one of our fellow dance mates passed away after months of fighting cancer. And so when the news spread around the dance school, it is only naturally that the students decided to organize an afternoon of celebration for her. To few of her friends, Beth had mentioned that she wanted people to celebrate her life. And that is exactly what we did. At a local church one afternoon, many of her friends presented a piece of dance to honor her life: Brazilians brought their Samba, African Americans danced through a Gospel song, Capoeira was on the agenda. To see the video of the ceremony, click here. At the end of the ceremony, African drummers made the room vibrate. Instead of tears,  sweat was shed as everyone danced their sadness away and gave Beth the biggest corporal distinction of their lives. That was quite a memorable healing process.

By: Wore Ndiaye