Lessons From A Dancing Life: An Interview with Memoir Author Sheila K.Collins
“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star” Friedrich Nietzche, Philosopher
I am very pleased to feature Memoir Author Sheila K. Collins in this interview about her newly released memoir, Warrior Mother: Fierce Love, Unbearable Loss and Rituals that Heal. Sheila and I met when her literary publicist Stephanie Barko contacted me to review and participate in the launch of Warrior Mother. A lucky commenter whose name will be selected in a random drawing will receive a copy of her memoir.
Warrior Mother is the true story of a mother’s fierce love and determination, and her willingness to go outside the bounds of ordinary when two of her three adult children are diagnosed with and succumb to life-threatening diseases. My reviews can be found on Amazon and Goodreads.
Sheila calls herself a “dancing social worker who practices finding the words to write about it all” Her mission is to encourage, inspire and enliven women to dance with everything.
Here is The Warrior Mother book trailer:
We will explore how dancing helped her to write her memoir and how writing her memoir helped her to heal from the unfathomable losses of her two adult children.
KP: You have developed a unique way of achieving peace and healing in your life through your dancing rituals. In Warrior Mother you show how these rituals helped you to heal. When did you discover dancing to be a pathway to healing?
SC: It seems I’ve always known that dancing put me in a more centered and grounded place. Even my children noticed, when they were small that when I came back home from a dance class or performance, I was happier and so glad to see them. If I would get out of sorts or impatient they would sometimes remind me, “It’s time for you to go dancing again Mom.”
KP: In your preface, you share how you made a conscious decision to step back into the pain of losing two of your three adult children to horrific diseases. What made you decide to tell your story?
SC: When I was a professor of social work, I designed the health care curriculum and my students did field placements in hospitals and other health care setting. As a therapist for thirty years I helped many families deal with the pain of major diagnoses, illness and loss. So I was familiar with the professional literature on these topics. But when it was happening to me, and members of my own family, there was so much I didn’t know, so much that no one speaks or writes about. I was determined to deal with some of those themes, to tell those stories. Also, my daughter intended to tell her story. “When this is all over,” she would say, “I will speak about this and about what God has done for me.” Since she wasn’t able to tell her story, I felt it was even more important for me to write my version of what happened to us: the tough parts, the funny parts, and the amazing grace that gave us the strength to live fully through it all.
KP: As you state on your website, you “use dancing as a metaphor and a vehicle” for dealing with the stressors of life and for living life fully. Please share how dancing helped you face and endure the devastating illnesses and losses of your two adult children, Ken and Corinne.
SC: Well, first there is the metaphor. I asked myself, what makes it a dance instead of just a bunch of movements, a series of calisthenics? It’s the transitions that tie one movement into the next, creating a flow, a sense of connection and inevitability. A dancer puts her whole self into the movement, without resistance, and becomes one with the dance. Relating that to my experiences with my two children through their illnesses and deaths, as a dancer I knew to stay present in my body, feel the resistance and the pain, and then as soon as possible, to say yes to what life was demanding of me. Also a big part of my story tells about being held up by the love and support of others. As a former member of the chorus, or corps de ballet, I learned early, I’m just one small part of any performance piece. It’s how it all fits together that makes the dance, that makes the work art.
KP: You call yourself “a dancing social worker” which, to me, means you are combining your many skills to face life’s challenges. How has being in the health care field as a social worker impacted—positively or negatively– your ability to deal with your painful losses?
SC: Sometimes being in the health care field can make things harder because you have higher expectations than the general public. My daughter was a physical therapist and as such, she was a cheerleader for her patients. She always encouraged them and never wanted anyone to take their hope away. She was shocked to see that some physicians didn’t subscribe to that philosophy. I had my own issue with the hospital social worker who handed us a five page list of apartments to lease when Corinne’s treatment required us to spend the summer in Houston. We could have gotten that from the phone book, so of course I thought she should have taken more time to actually help us find a place. My mother, who was a nurse, always felt that nurses and doctors make terrible patients or family members of patients, because they know two much about how things can go wrong with a particular treatment. But now with the Internet, we can all read about all the things that can go wrong, along with the things that can go right.
KP: What are the main messages you want to convey to your readers in Warrior Mother?
SC: My daughter told her five-year-old son, when she had to explain to him about the loss of the twins she was carrying, that there are happy times and sad times. And that “the sad times are shorter and the happy times are longer.” I want people to know that they are connected. Just as happy events can come with stressful challenges, (a new baby, preparing for a wedding) so is the opposite the case, (going through an illness, dealing with death.) The tough stuff in my life also brought precious gifts I could never have imagined beforehand. The experience I wrote about in the book about being with my friend Rose in the hospital during the last fourteen days of her life turned out to be a sacred holy time. All those experiences were useful later to help get me through my experiences with my children; the dancing, singing, storytelling, meditating rituals, and the support and sharing of community.
KP: In the afterword, you state that you feel you were able to share more special times with your adult children due to their illnesses than if they had been healthy and busy in their own lives. This strikes me as being an incredibly brave and positive attitude to attain. How have you been able to maintain your positive attitude?
SC: I feel I am responsible for my own happiness. If my children where still here in this life I would not want them to worry about me or feel obligated to take care of me. And after seeing how hard my children each fought for the chance to have more life, I don’t want to dishonor them by moping around in self pity, wasting the additional years of life I’ve been given. I think more about what there is left to do. On the anniversaries of my children’s birthdays, or death days, I think of what I can do to honor their lives and remember them. Perhaps do something they might have done if they were here, like teach teenage kids about HIV/AIDS so other families don’t have to go through what we did.
KP: Do you have any final thoughts about Warrior Mother or about the memoir writing process you’d like to share?
SC: I have had the practice of keeping a journal for many years and I’ve always recommended journaling to clients as well. Journaling helps to get the emotions and thoughts outside of oneself, to objectify the experiences. This is definitely therapeutic because continuing to carry reactions in our bodies can lead to illness. But memoir writing, where you begin describing details for a reader, adds another layer, as does moving the story or singing it in front of witnesses. All of these are ways to get inside the story, to learn more about what it has to teach. I began what is now Warrior Mother by using the improvisational tools of InterPlay. I would start with a scene or a single memory or even a sentence that someone said and, without checking my journal, I’d begin moving and talking, going with whatever remnants of the experience were still in my body. There were often discoveries or surprises as moving the story made connections I hadn’t been aware of initially. Then I would write these short snippets down. When I shared some of these with Marc Neison, the man who is now my writing teacher he was most encouraging. I remember him advising me, “just keep doing what you’re doing.” He suggested I not go to my journals to check out details and facts too soon. And then, just as I got up to leave he said, “And keep the play in it.” That’s turned out to be the best writing advice eve
Here are two videos – one about InterPlay with my troupe:
and one, a TEDx presentation at the Andy Warhol Museum in 2010.
Thank you, Sheila, for sharing how you have combined your health care profession and love of dancing into healing rituals for yourself and others.
Author Bio and Contact Information:
Sheila K. Collins, PhD has been a dancer, social worker, university professor, clinic director, writer, and improvisational performance artist. She currently directs the Wing & A Prayer Pittsburgh Players, an InterPlay-based improvisational performance troupe that assists human service agencies in serving noble purposes in the Pittsburgh community.
Sheila has written about the power of play, dance, and the expressive arts in her book, Stillpoint: The Dance of Selfcaring, Selfhealing, a playbook for people who do caring work and on her blog, Dancing With Everything which is on her website, sheilakcollins.com.
- See more here
Facebook: Dancing with Everything
How about you? Have you discovered your own pathway to healing?
Sheila will give away a copy of Warrior Mother: Fierce Love, Unbearable Loss and Rituals That Heal to a commenter whose name will be selected in a random drawing.
We’d love to hear from you . Please leave your comments below~
Congratulations Janet Givens! Your name was selected in a random drawing to receive a copy of Cheryl Stahe’s book,Slices of Life: The Art and Craft of Memoir Writing.
Congratulations Louise Carlini! Your name was selected to receive A Southern Place by Elaine Drennon Little.
Next Week: Memoir Writer Sherrey Meyer will discuss: ” How to Review a Book in Eight Easy Steps”