Olivia

The Healing Power of Art

As millions around the world, I was heartbroken to hear of the passing of Dame Olivia Newton John.

Not because it was necessarily a shock – all people die, and of course she was 70+ and had long battled with health issues – but because there was something special about Olivia that transcended her life as a performer, as a Mother, a wife, an activist, a business owner and all the many, many roles she played so well. Olivia’s presence came across, to both those that knew her well and those that only knew her from afar, as a genuine goodness in the world, and having that tangible creative presence gone brought on a deep sadness.

Surely there was more to do; surely the world still needed Olivia? She couldn’t be gone. And of course, there is, and we do.

Olivia’s passing caused deep reflection, and during this time I read the beautiful words from her bereaved husband, John Easterling, posted on @therealonj Instagram page:

At Olivia’s deepest essence she was a healer using her mediums of song, of words, of touch. She was the most courageous woman I’ve ever known. Her bandwidth for genuinely caring for people, for nature and all creatures almost eclipses what is humanly possible.

Even now as her soul soars, the pain and holes in my heart are healed with the joy of her love and the light that shines forward.

John’s words resonated. They did so because, after half a lifetime spent in and around the arts and artist’s, I know I’ve met many people like Olivia. None had her global reach, which via her mediums and influence meant she touched millions, yet they shared a similar deep motivation and essence that propelled them forward in dance or song, which was to heal. As I write, there are so many beautiful, kind faces and glowing performances that spring to mind of dancers who at their deep hearts core, wanted to help heal, wanted to inspire, to bring a lightness of being and hope to others. It was at the deepest part of them; the need that drove them.

As I continued to reflect, I began to see that there was also another kind of artist that I’d met and connected with who also sought to heal, though their pathway was quite different.

Those artists sought to shock, surprise and wake humanity from stagnate norms and blind traditions, sought to inspire and energise the human spirit to want to see differently or further. Sometimes this was perceived as rebelliousness and there could even be a kind of violence to their energy that sought to destroy, tearing down cliché’s, stereotypes and conformity. Though it’s often less obvious, as it can be more confronting, this pathway seeking change is also strongly grounded in a desire for renewal, and to heal that which they perceive as broken or a cause of unnecessary suffering.

Of course, neither road is better. They are different pathways and humanity needs both kinds of artists. Sometimes we just need hope and care, to know we’re OK and that life will be alright, while at other times we need the energy to galvanise a shift that will make the required changes that, though they may initially be uncomfortable, will ultimately lead to a more equitable and harmonious life for all.

I see now that our dance arts community is full of people that carry a spirit like Olivia’s. And while I’ve been witness to that spirit in so many of the dance artists I’ve known over the years, I often see it now in many of the dance teachers I meet. Incredible individuals that give so much of themselves, sacrifice so much of a “normal” life to be that caring spirit for others; to energise the next generations of young people, giving them hope and joy, and instilling within them the confidence and creative power to move others, which lets them know that they have within them the potential to change the world. Or sometimes, it’s simply that they create the kind of caring space and build a community where someone has the time and confidence to express and find their true self in.

In our post-pandemic world, we need this guiding, hopeful energy more than ever. It is vital. For many of our young people have been made too afraid of the world outside their homes; told too often and for too long that it’s a scary place and they need to move about with caution. This is often coupled with having the weight of the future of humanity on their shoulders because of the inaction of past generations to ward of the effects of human induced climate change; or hearing of the potential for global conflict, or mass economic breakdowns etc. etc. all while being a frontier generation; the first to benefit, yet also having to learn to deal with the ubiquitous presence of the internet at their fingertips.

It’s too much. And so, rather than embrace and be excited by challenge, they’re more often content to sit on their couches, or beds with a laptop or smart phone interacting with the world from a distance and from within the walls of their comfort zones. When instead, they should be outside engaging with others, playing, climbing trees, riding bikes, exploring and dancing! Yes, dancing. Dancing for joy! Dancing as celebration of life. Dancing as exploration of their emotions and who they are. Dancing to heal both individually and collectively. Dancing to bond with friends and with a community. Dancing to remake and reshape the world. And again, dancing for joy. Joy that they’re alive and the world is new and there is always hope; that their very presence is hope.

Sometimes, calmness is an act of rebellion. Calmness in the face of a media landscape that often seems to seek to pull us toward fear, anxiety and polarising conflict. And so perhaps we all need try and better embrace Olivia’s courageous, energising, gentle and ultimately healing spirit and calmly bring our children out of their homes, into the world, into the dance studio, inspiring them to allow forth their courage and boundless energy and hope. We need them to act, sing, make music and dance. For when they do, tomorrow surely will be beautiful.

“I feel very passionately that we need to take care of the planet and everything on it. Whether it’s saving the rain forest or just being kind to those around you, we need to take care of each other and Mother Earth.”

Olivia Newton John

Dedicated in loving memory. May she rest in peace.

 

Written by Josef Brown

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