SPEAK: Discovering the Power and Ability to Take Action

By Megan Lowe

December 1, 2019, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE
3 dancers hanging from a pole inside a studio

Photo by John Carnahan

I am deeply immersed in contact improvisation and site-specific dance—exploring the possibilities/capabilities of my body in relationship to other bodies and in relationship to space/architecture. I crave the feeling of earth in my core, sensing the ground through my dance partner’s core, and finding the gravitational center of an object. Even now, as I write this, I get little butterflies in my stomach, alluding to that connection of centers: to move and be moved; to respond and elicit a response; to be thrilled by surprise, yet ready for anything. Climbing, falling, and folding into and out of floors, walls, windows, stairs, ledges, edges, and bodies, I test the laws of physics diligently. I am on a never-ending search for new discoveries through proficient movement generation, tackling unusual physical situations and coming up with compelling solutions. It feels strange writing about this thing I love so much, instead of just doing it. I want to get up and dance. But as I sit here, I am reminded that I am constantly moving and connecting—my dance practice informs everything I do and how I interact with the world.

The way my body makes slight adjustments to stay standing on a train that jerks to start and stop. The instinct that kicks in for me to counterbalance, gaining a little more length to obtain something that was just out of reach. The recruiting of my entire body to lift heavy objects in a safe and sustainable way. The ability I have to fall with little impact, working with gravity instead of against it. I recall a time when I was traveling fast on my bike and the front tire got stuck in a grate, flipping the bike in the air and launching me off it. Amazingly, I was able to land safely, with my backpack still on, and everything intact. Often in these moments, I find myself thinking, “Woah! Good thing I’m a dancer.” Never did I imagine that I would need to call upon my skills as a dancer during a life-threatening assault.

Potentially Triggering Story

At 4 a.m. on December 30, 2018, my partner and I were woken by a woman screaming for help outside our home. We opened our window, and saw her and another stranger being assaulted. We yelled at the man attacking them to stop, but the violence continued. As my partner called the police, I ran to the front door. When I opened it, I noticed the attacker had started bludgeoning the male victim with a fire extinguisher—it was clear to me in this moment that he was trying to kill them, that these victims were just trying to get away, and that there was no time to wait for the police to arrive—so I made a split-second decision and urged the victims to come into our home for protection.

It was like a horror movie—the victims hobbled down the sidewalk while their attacker slowly walked behind them, knowing he could easily catch up. I remember thinking there was no way they were going to make it up the stairs before their attacker did, but the victims made it into our home and I slammed and locked the door behind them. The male victim was bleeding profusely from his head, face, and leg, and he had been stabbed multiple times. While my partner was on the phone with the police, our roommate and I looked for things to stop the bleeding. Then the attacker started breaking down our door. My partner went to hold the door while the victims hid in the bathroom. We tried to reason with the attacker, but to no avail. No human words came from him, just screaming, growling, and roaring. Then the enraged man broke our window with the fire extinguisher. There was glass everywhere.

The Ability to Take Action: Feet firmly planted, knees bent, hands tightly gripping a table near the broken window, I harnessed the power of the ground and felt its connection to my core and my connection to the object’s center, and I threw the large, heavy table up in one fell swoop to block the window.

The Ability to Take Action: As the door started coming off the hinges, I ran to help my partner hold the door. Firmly planting my feet into the floor again, I channelled that power through my legs, my torso, my arms, and pressed my entire being into the one thing between us and this unseen, but very much felt and heard attacker.

The Ability to Take Action: Through the cracks of the door, the attacker unloaded the contents of the fire extinguisher into our home. The chemicals made it hard to breathe and see. All I could do at that point was sense through my skin, muscle, and bone, trying to maintain functionality. The door completely detached from the frame and became a floating shield. I could feel the floor through my partner’s core via the door. Coordination become a necessity, as I could not press too hard or too little at the wrong moment, or the door would flip. I also had to react accordingly to the volatile entity on the other side with no way to visually predict what he was going to do next. This was a feat of deeply physical listening to my ally, and to my enemy, through a large object.

The Ability to Take Action: The attacker’s hands and legs started forcing their way in. He kept body slamming the door and ended up successfully pushing through, bursting his way into our home. I was the first point of contact; his hands grabbed at my face, and ripped at the insides of my mouth. All I could think of was getting this intruder out of our home, and that I needed to continue to push back without being overtaken—a harsh negotiation of balance. Our roommate pulled the attacker off me. Then my partner pulled the attacker off our roommate, and towards the gaping exit. I rushed to get a tall stool, using its weight, density, and length to help push the intruder out. No longer able to use the stool in our narrow entryway, I threw it aside and went to rush the attacker.

The Ability to Take Action: We got the intruder out of our home, but as we did, he grabbed my braid and attempted to throw me down the flight of stairs. While my partner was trying to get him off me, I counterbalanced against the attacker, pressing away from the railing with my left hand and sending my pelvis weight in the opposite direction of him, while holding his arm in place with my right hand so my hair did not completely rip out of my head. (Throughout my career as a dancer, I am constantly grateful for my understanding of how to use counterbalancing to aid my everyday life, but never more so than during this instance.)

It felt like it took forever for the police to arrive, but they made it in this moment. They had to taser the attacker multiple times to get him to stop. Even after they fully restrained him, we could see that he kept fighting and trying to come back. I have never seen someone so enraged and out of control. Once the attacker was apprehended, the police questioned us outside in the cold, with nothing on but our torn, blood-soaked pajamas. We were then released to return to our broken home that was filled with glass, wood shards, chemical residue, hair, and blood—left to figure out what to do next all on our own.

This is the most traumatic event that has occurred in my life. I never thought that saving two strangers would have resulted in such a brutal attack on our household. As a result, our door and window were destroyed, and our flooring had to be completely ripped out due to blood contamination. We were out of our home for three weeks while repairs were being made. We had to replace much of our furniture and belongings. We continue needing to take time off work, have meetings, manage paperwork and bills, and attend medical appointments. However, the psychological impact of this event has been the most difficult to deal with. At least I can take solace in the fact that everyone is alive; a couple months later I received a letter from one of the victims:

Megan was a complete stranger who risked her own life to save two random people in her parking lot. She had no obligation to help us, but out of the kindness of her heart she did. There were plenty of other neighbors who had come outside during all of the commotion, but Megan and her roommates were the only people who tried to help. I have no doubt in my mind that if she would have waited any longer, or just stood and watched like the other people around, I would not be here today. That night was the scariest thing that has ever happened to me and I am forever in debt to Megan’s bravery. It takes a special kind of person to put someone else’s safety above your own, and that is what she did for my boyfriend and me.

This event took some extreme teamwork between my partner, roommate, and me. I attribute having healthy active bodies as a primary reason we were able to make it through this horrific moment without more damage and to help shield those in need from further harm. A deep dance practice centered in contact improvisation and site-specific work has provided me with this potential to take action. And as I continue to heal physically, financially, and emotionally, the process of creating dance with people I love has helped me work through some of this trauma and take steps forward.

Megan Lowe and Shira Yaziv in Megan Lowe Dances presents Action Potential
Photo by Sebastian Arrua

In January 2019, I embarked on a dance project with two of my closest friends/collaborators (and phenomenal movers), Shira Yaziv and Sonsherée Giles, which we presented in August 2019. At first, I tried to avoid acknowledging what had happened. I wanted to just focus on making an energetic and virtuosic site-specific dance for Athletic Playground, that artfully activated ladders, planks, bars, mats, blocks, lofts, and walls, and that centered contact improvisation and dynamic partnering. It helped to draw my attention to something productive and positive. But at some point, I realized this incident was informing everything I was doing and that it was impossible to ignore. I was processing this traumatic event through the creation of this dance with two of the people I trust most. Why hide it? But also, how would I share this story without overwhelming viewers? What hopeful aspects could I highlight? How was everyone able to come out alive on the other side? How could this inspire people to move and act? I did not want to focus on narrative or reenactment, though there was one specific investigation we explored.

The Ability to Take Action: I put myself on the side of a large block (24″W x 48″L x 36″H) with the firm goal of pushing it to one side of the room, and asked Shira and Sonsherée to be on the other side of that block, trying to push it to the opposite side of the room. It was similar to the action of having to hold a floating door between my home and the attacker months before, except this time with a counterbalance of trust instead of violence. Rather than feelings of being disempowered and afraid, I was able to recognize the strength and bravery it took to protect myself, my loved ones, and the lives of others. It was an act of heroism. This theme became a driving exploration in the creation of Action Potential, where we channelled our inner superheroes—climbing, lifting, assisting, jumping, and flying in celebration of movement, trust, strength, resilience, and the power to take action.

This article appeared in the December 2019 issue of In Dance.

Megan Lowe is a dancer, performer, choreographer, singer, teacher, and administrator in the San Francisco Bay Area. She creates dance works with an affinity for dynamic/kinetic movement, site-specificity/space-interaction, and contact improvisation/partnering. Megan has performed with Flyaway Productions, Scott Wells & Dancers, Lenora Lee Dance, Lizz Roman & Dancers, Epiphany Productions, Dance Brigade, and more. She is a Teaching/Choreographing Artist for Joe Goode Performance Group, Bandaloop, and Flyaway, teaches semesterly masterclasses at UC Berkeley, and has taught contact improvisation for wcciJAM, ODC, Finnish Hall, InterKinected, Shawl-Anderson Dance Center, and Athletic Playground. Megan would like to thank Rosemary Hannon and Stephanie Sherman for their generous feedback in the writing of this article. mlowedances.wixsite.com/meganlowe