George Fellows writes about his journey to WILD, his new research and development project.
In 2010 (aged 25) I was diagnosed with Anklylosing Spondylitis: a chronic inflammatory condition that affects the joints of the spine. I’d been having back issues for years and, whilst I was glad to receive a diagnosis, the implications of it were huge. I was basically told that I had this disease, that it was a degenerative condition where the joints of my spine would eventually fuse and there was nothing I could do about it apart from take some quite scary immunosuppressant drugs.
This was a massive knock to my confidence as a young man. In the next year or so, my life took a down- turn, sometimes struggling to get out of bed and walk due to the pain and feeling debilitated by depression and anxiety about what the future may bring.
Then my friend encouraged me to attend a dance therapy group. Dance wasn’t a thing I did. I went anyway and immediately I was hooked. This facilitated space allowed me to express my emotions with my body (a part of me that I had grown to loath) through dance. I went every week for about a year and I’m not exaggerating when I say it changed my life.
Around this time, I spent some time in Alaska. I was staying with some friends in a log cabin they had built themselves on the Knik Arm of the Cook Inlet near Anchorage. The day I arrived, we took the short walk to the water to go fishing. When we arrived, I was moved to tears by the beauty of the landscape and the view across the water. We climbed down to the beach and started fishing. This was during the Pacific salmon run, so within less than five minutes I had pulled a fish out of the water, killed it and began cooking it over a fire. As I took the first bites of the delicious pink flesh I had a revelation. This is what we are meant to do and have been doing as long as humans have existed. This is what it means to be human.
This experience was what started my interest in ancestral skills: the knowledge and practices of our nomadic hunter-gatherer ancestors (such as foraging, tracking, fire-making, plant medicine etc.).
In 2013, I started taking more formal dance technique classes and workshops. My passion grew with my skill, which lead to me being invited to join a professional dance company (Maresa von Stockert’s Tilted Productions) in 2016. This was the beginning of my dance career, which has recently led to my moderate success as a choreographer.
Around this time, I read an essay by Kevin Tucker called Hooked on a Feeling: The Loss of Community and the Rise of Addiction. In this essay, Tucker writes that taking intoxicants are relatively recent in terms of human history and that “healing dance is near-universal amongst hunter-gatherer societies... The purpose is to achieve ecstatic states. To experience mutual derived joy.” To cut a long story short, humans have been practicing healing dance for as long as we have existed. This made me realise that, during my experience with therapeutic dance, not only had I been connecting to my body, but to something that is an essential part of humanness: to dance.
It’s been a while since this realisation, but I’m finally ready to bring together these experiences in a new project called WILD.