Ep#24 Movement is Medicine: Embodied Trust through Dance with Harmony Lee
In this episode of Your Story Medicine, I welcome Harmony Lee, who left the military in 2019 to teach self-healing through movement. They have been dancing for joy ever since! Harmony believes movement is medicine and play is nourishment. Their approach to dance blends somatic psychotherapy, embodiment, spiritual healing, and playfulness. Their online movement school provides students with a safe and respectful space for self-expression and healing.
Harmony speaks to us about how their Chinese and White lineages have influenced their life and work as a dance teacher, why dance is healing, and the powerful story behind one of their tattoos. Then, they share an excerpt from their book, Seven Days of Embodied Movement, along with a powerful practice you can participate in to explore your mind and ground yourself.
What are you celebrating today?
I’m celebrating speaking with my own voice, feeling my entire body, and my breath. Having days like today where I am grounded and present is a gift.
How would you describe your medicine?
Sharing the power of dance that each of us holds. It’s my belief that we are all dancers and dance teachers who hold the authority within us to create. It’s my true desire that people are about to awaken to that.
What is your ancestral lineage and how has that influenced your medicine today?
My mom’s side is Chinese and my dad’s side is German, Norwegian, and Swedish. My lineage on my mom’s side is what I’m closest with. I come from a line of teachers and writers so the idea of teaching and knowledge being sacred and valuable is something I hold very dear to me.
Considering the closeness I have with my Chinese background, there’s also distance because I am an American-born Chinese. It’s difficult not being able to speak my mother’s native tongue fluently, which creates emotional distance because the language of our emotions is different. Though, body language is consistent between us, which brings me back to why dance is so powerful. With dance, we can communicate as our whole selves without words and barriers of communication.
As for how my father’s lineage informs my work… my father is highly racist and a white supremacist. He’s extremely homophobic, transphobic, embodies toxic masculinity, and because of this, I’m estranged with him. There is pain there because at the core of it, this is somebody who doesn’t recognize how their whiteness impacts their children and their family dynamic, which causes pain and abuse among us. I’m aware of both the privilege I have by being white-passing, but also the pain I’m still unpacking from knowing how destructive those forces can be on an interpersonal level.
Have you experienced intergenerational healing by saying yes to dance?
Profoundly, yes. The unification of my body and my mind through dance was a healing process in and of itself. The intergenerational impacts of growing up socialized into whiteness and then having a lot of cultural distance from my Chinese lineage created a split personality. This compartmentalization manifested for me as a separation between my head and my body. The most direct way this impacted me was with an eating disorder. Dance is a space for me to be alone with my body and my mind without them going to war with each other.
Then, being able to talk to my mother about embodied sensations of trauma was a big thing for us. We were able to see the same situation through the language of movement, where the communication wouldn’t quite be there with words.
What was it like to join the military and what was the deciding factor for you to leave?
The deciding factor for me to leave the military was an embodied feeling. I was getting ready to pick orders and transfer to a new work place and there was no part of my body that could say yes to it, even if it looked like the right thing to do. It was scary to leave.
I worked in the field of public health as an environmental health officer, so I would manage and support public health emergency situations. My allegiance was to my sailors and to the public.
Tell us about your tattoo and your epiphany moment.
I have a tattoo on my back, which I got shortly before leaving the military. It’s design is based off of an ancient Chinese offering vessel and when I was designing it, I was thinking this is a way I could have my ancestors on my back. On the third session, my nervous system was so dysregulated and inflamed that the anxiety, depression, and disembodiment that I was feeling while transitioning out of the military inflamed my skin so much that my back started to resemble an orange peel and pushed the ink out. The tattoo artist couldn’t continue, so I had to accept defeat and move on. My body basically said that if I don’t say no right now, it was going to do it for me. We need to take time to grieve, to process emotions, and to transition, otherwise we won’t be able to move on.
What are you doing to stay grounded right now and what are you learning to release?
Sometimes it’s hard to dance, but embodied listening is what I prefer to do before trying movement. For example, I love snapping to songs. As someone who is autistic with ADHD, finding ways to slow down, like tai chi or breathwork, are gifts to my future self. Martial arts is also one of the first ways I connected to my Chinese ancestry.
Tell us about your new book!
I created a dance book, Seven Days of Embodied Movement, with seven different prompts to help you get into a regular dance practice. This book is for people who want to start dancing but don’t know how or people who want to return to dance after leaving it for whatever reason. I want there to be more dancers dancing in the ways that dance was stolen from them.
If you could envision yourself as a future ancestor, what would you say to young Harmony?
Listen to your senses. This is the same wisdom my grandmother gave me. Our time is limited and when times feel uncertain, remember that you are a sensual being. Our bodies know where balance is and how to get us there. Being able to attune our senses to the present moment is where we can find big truths.
Conclusion: You don’t need to be a studio and take all the classes in order to claim yourself as a dancer. Dancing is a way to connect the body and the mind and to heal. Dancing also doesn’t have to look like dancing. It can be whatever you want it to be.
Action Integration: What is the dance that was stolen from you? I invite you to get up and start moving your body intuitively. Find some space to dance! Feel into your body and how dance makes your body and mind feel. Remember, there’s no wrong way to move, as long as you’re not hurting yourself or others.
Learn more about Harmony and their offerings:
Visit their website: www.yourgaydanceteacher.com
Follow them on Instagram: www.instagram.com/yourgaydanceteacher
Check out Seven Days of Embodied Movement: www.yourgaydanceteacher.com/product-page/i-want-to-dance-but-how-do-i-start-7-days-of-embodied-movement