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Undo This Dance Prohibition.

There's a dance prohibition that has existed in my family for at least a couple of generations. Opa Dee, my maternal American grandfather, had polio as a child and walked with a limp all his life. In addition, he was a Methodist minister, and this was the 1940s and 50s. There was no dancing allowed in his household.

My mom rebelled, moved to Germany, had me and encouraged me to dance around as a baby. Growing up, she often told me of her own desire to dance as a child. However, when I became more seriously interested in ballet class at the age of six, she adamantly voiced her disapproval of me becoming a professional dancer. ("They work the hardest, get paid the least and have to retire when they're 30.")

Consequently, I didn't take my first dance class until I was in college. Since then, I kept dancing and became a quasi-professional dancer who even gets paid from time to time.

This week, one of my favorite modern dance teachers is in town from Toronto. Her name is Peggy Baker. She's twice the age of Mom's ballet dancers at retirement, and she still moves like a firebird. Peggy warms up the class with exercises that draw from Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, or PNF for short. It's a lot of counter-intuitive stretching in the hands, feet and spine that activate the neurological spiral pathways in the body. PNF was actually a therapeutic method developed in the 1950s to rehabilitate people with polio.

I love this class, and so does my body. The irony is not lost on me that the disease that greatly contributed to our family's dance prohibition is now at the center of my joy for dancing. With every PNF stretch I do, and with every muscle and joint I wake up, I imagine healing Opa Dee's physical condition and my mother's latent apprehension of moving. And I become grateful for this polio and the dance prohibition, both of which have now become so juicy to undo. As Peggy said today to an injured dancer: "Ordinarily movement is something that heals us."

And by healing ourselves, we heal generations.


Hello World (Cup)

In starting a blog about culture and identity, about exploring what makes up the Country of You, it's appropriate to seize this moment of the 2010 World Cup and reflect on what makes for national affiliation.

First, there's the question of which team you root for. I live in Philadelphia, USA, and for once there is an American national soccer team to speak of. Most people are excited; Anglo-Americans are finally becoming interested in the sport. However, in the German restaurant where I work there are as many fans rooting for Germany as for the USA, most of them Americans with some kind of German affiliation or fascination. My downstairs neighbors are rooting for Australia and South Korea respectively: the former based on his nation of birth, the latter on her parents' place of geographic origin. My best friend -- American born, with Argentinian mother, Danish father, Australian sister-in-law -- is cheering for all those countries *except* USA, because she wants to emphasize the global nature of her heritage. Some people align themselves with the team most likely to win; others with the underdog. It seems to be all a matter of personal preference; we support the nation(s) of our choice.

And while the World Cup is wonderful in the way it brings the nations of the world into the same fold, much is being said about each team's national unity in relation to its success in this championship. The French team is eliminated, for example, and some (many?) French are blaming this "national crisis" on the ambivalent affiliation of its multi-ethnic players to the Nation of France. ("They're not even willing to sing the national anthem!") So, contrary to our ever-globalizing and diffusing senses of national belonging, the myth of the Nation, our de facto tribal turf, is still put forward as the foundation of the success, health, unity and well-being of our "teams." How else can we be united if not with the mentality of "Us vs. Them"?

Our internal national landscapes are changing: in ever increasing numbers, individuals experience (or are forced to experience) their senses of belonging beyond geographic, national, ethnic and familial tribes and seek unity in certain commonalities of our collective human experience. If strict affiliations with nations are dissolving and expanding, what does it mean to create "teams" that experience playing -- and playing well -- as collective organisms, where the individual's sense of identity need not be bound by the straight-jackets of accent, ethnicity and nationhood?

And so I wonder what a post-national World Cup would look like... how we will collectively redefine our teams, tribes, and fan affiliations to match the continuing transformation of our internally expanding global identities. I am not singly (or doubly or multiply) identified with a national soccer team but rejoice in the opportunity to come together and cheer for any game well played.


LGBT TCKs: Let's Push These Acronyms Out Of Their Boxes

When you Google search support for folks who identify both as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and as Third Culture Kids (TCKs) or Global Nomads, there's a few links to individuals seeking peers in both categories, but that's about it. No formal support group; no formal research. Maybe it's a matter of too many acronyms. Or maybe gay & global people have it all figured out. Or perhaps there is more to discover here.

So let's unpack this intersection of identities for a moment.

TCKs are commonly referred to as individuals who grew up in more than one country, culture or location. These are children, teenagers and adults who have internalized the process of crossing cultural borders and are generally apt at negotiating cultural difference. I'm a mild example: I was born in Germany to an American mother and a German father; when I was 12, I moved with my mom and her second husband, who is Austrian, to Vienna; and at 18 I went to the States for college. Multiple worlds: different countries, languages, accents, customs, parental dynamics, and institutional expectations.

Sometimes, TCKs adapt to new environments so well that they completely blend in and can become part of a "hidden minority" - their geographical and cultural history remains hidden until they talk about it. So it can, too, be with individuals who identify at non-heterosexual. Both the themes of being taunted for being "different" and of hiding one's full identity are in some ways common to TCKs and to LGBT folks. There's a constant "coming out" process that needs to happen in order to be fully recognized in society (if one is, like me, so privileged to be able to do so on both fronts).

So what, if any, are the specific challenges and opportunities for people who've had the experience of being both? This is where is gets muddled. In my experience, people who could be considered TCKs refuse to adopt that identity, because they - rightfully - don't want to boxed into an arbitrary category. Why try to name something that is unnamable anyway? So then, do these box-refusing cross-cultural LGBT folks also hesitate to identify strongly with a socially constructed sexual identity? And if so, at what cost?

In this world where cultural and sexual identity boundaries tend to be fluid, a discursive vacuum starts to build up around the intersections of our malleable and hidden traits. And I'm wondering whether there are both kids and adults who could benefit from some formal language and research around this most peculiar experience. How can LGBT TCKs thrive, in full ownership and confidence about their unique identity? And what can all of us learn about "coming out" as our own agents of authentic change?

My research will commence March 17-19, 2011, at the 11th annual Families In Global Transition conference in Washington, DC. Follow me (@3rdCultureCoach) at the conference (#FIGTconf) on Twitter, and message me with your feedback!