This week’s Dance First Insight is from Melissa Michaels & Golden Bridge!

Greetings friends ~

Have you ever been through some kind of an initiatory experience that did not feel complete?

That certainly was my experience when I completed surgery and chemotherapy 5 years ago this September. As you may know, those treatments, along with my own integrative healing process, fully knocked out the late-stage ovarian cancer that had taken residence in my body. Yet, in my heart and soul, I was not the same person who had faced this life-threatening challenge. I felt like something was missing when the official treatment was finished.

You may understand. You face a major life crisis, navigate your way through it, but when it is “done,” you find yourself having difficulty landing all the way back into your life. You may even feel stuck somewhere along the “birth canal” of the journey. Perhaps you have passed through a normal human developmental cycle, yet it feels like the people around you do not see or understand the shift in your being. You sense that the full transformation and transition have not occurred. Completing life crises and life cycle initiations is both a science and an art.

Our fast-paced lives often have made it difficult for us to track the subtle intricacies of life’s natural passages. We also get so distracted that we forget to mark these moments of transition in ways that allow them to be honored, completed, and celebrated. How many of us unconsciously hold back tears from significant losses not fully mourned, leaving us disconnected from pieces of our life force tied up in unexpressed grief? How many of us completed a significant training, and no one was there to welcome us into this new stage of professional life, leaving us wondering if we really accomplished anything at all? How many seasons pass through the years of our lives without us ever seizing the potential of renewal that opens up when our children become adults and head out into the world on their own, or the gift of looking within that is available during the period of mourning just after the death of a loved one? How do we ever return to the ordinary after an unnatural disaster leaves us scrambling to make it out alive, as we also witness the loss of our home or lands?

Indeed we can find our way through and integrate life’s tender and tough transitions.

Thought leader Arnold van Gennep articulates in his seminal book, The Rites of Passage, that there are three stages found in all initiatory experiences. His blueprint includes releasing the old in severance or separation, the journey through the labyrinth of change in threshold, and integrating the change during incorporation. Each stage unfolds to different degrees, depending on the nature of the enacted rite. A funeral, for example, may include a significant focus on severance, the process of releasing the person, and the past. Adolescence, a long journey through many years of discovery and transformation, may have a stronger focus on the middle stage of rites, the threshold phase. A marriage ceremony may focus on welcoming the couple into their new life together, the stage of incorporation. Steven Foster and Meredith Little, innovators of The School of Lost Borders, suggest Van Gennep’s “schema may be seen as a metaphor for the dynamic of life itself: severance from the mother at birth, sojourn in the sacred passage world of life, and incorporation into the Great Mother at death.” 1

Webster indicates that the verb to incorporate means “to unite or work into something already existent so as to form an indistinguishable whole”; “to unite in or as one body”; “to embody.” Incorporation is, therefore, a time of reformation. The initiate must integrate all gathered during the threshold into their bones, blood, thinking, feeling, and deeds in ordinary life. The inner world has been ignited. Challenges and gifts are ripe for tending with ever more consciousness. The person has come home to the core of their being, aligning ever more with their true nature. The soul has been birthed into a new iteration of itself. There is now the ongoing conscious work of finding one’s refined authentic expression in day-to-day reality.

Just as the initiate must come back down to Earth, there is a mandate now to weave the new soul threads found in the liminal encounter into the fabric of one’s life. This takes time. The outer circle of community, Elders, mentors, family, and above all, the initiate’s physical body, all serve as the landing pads for this newly awakened soulful being. Ideally, all gather to witness the transformation: to honor, to celebrate, and then to practically support the consciousness awakening in each initiate.

For me, the incorporation phase of my rite of passage work was taken to a new level post-cancer. I discovered that sharing my story and having it received allowed my journey to deeply integrate into my being. I did not fully understand that my focused desire to make a film about my journey was my inner knowing that the process of story-telling would complete my healing and even inspire the healing of others. Intuitively, I created the film Twisted Gift sharing how I danced through cancer as a primary means of incorporation.

This coming season, I will be offering a number of moving journeys designed to support us all as we continue to sequence the past few years’ experiences through to completion. In the excellent company of community, our disciplined dances, dialogues, and creative ceremonies will guide us through developmental processes that are integrating and liberating. You are welcome to join us.

Friends, let’s fully digest and honor what is done … along with opening ever more fully into the new iteration of ourselves in these times.

Melissa Michaels & our Golden Bridge// Golden Girls Global Team

To learn more about Melissa’s Rites of Passage work, check out:
Youth On Fire: Birthing a Generation of Embodied Global Leaders
Surfing The Creative Film Short
Golden Girls Global Films


  1. Steven Foster with Meredith Little, The Book of the Vision Quest: Personal Transformation in the Wilderness (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998), 30.