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Mental Note

43 - Coming Out and Finding Recovery

By Ryan Walker Page

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Have you ever felt the need to hide your true self? Shame, fear, and self-hatred are powerful forces, and breaking free from them is worthy of the grandest party you can imagine.

In celebration of pride month and the joy of self-expression, we’re sitting down with choreographer and recovery advocate Ryan Walker Page to share his story of coming out, shedding shame, and finding recovery.

Along the way, Ryan invites us to reconsider the parts of ourselves we are the most ashamed to reveal. In fact, he counts those "imperfections" as the precious source of wisdom that catapulted his successful career into working with people like Lil Nas X, Renee Zellweger, Samuel L Jackson, and many many more. In Ryan’s world, coming out isn’t just a singular event, but a beautiful lifelong unfolding.

Ryan Walker Page is a choreographer in Los Angeles who has worked with Doja Cat, Kim Petras, Bebe Rexha, Charli XCX, Lil Nas X, and others. Recovery is a centerpiece of his life and is honored to be apart of the Recovery Ambassador Council.

Fun Facts:

  • He's an avid whale watcher
  • He's a Daria Fanatic
  • He does an amazing Miss Piggy impersonator
  • He's a bad cook

www.ryanwalkerpage.com

Transcript

Ryan Walker Page:
I would go outside to the lawn with a pair of scissors and be cutting the lawn and pretending like I was cutting Mother Earth's hair. I remember I would be like talking to her, like, "Girl, you look so beautiful, dah, dah, dah." There was this very live fantasy world, but I got the message very early on that that was mine and mine to hold and it was not safe to publicize.

Ellie Pike:
Have you ever felt the need to hide your true self? Shame, fear and self-hatred are powerful forces, and breaking free from them is worthy of the grandest party you can imagine. In celebration of Pride Month and the joy of self-expression, I've invited one of the most intuitive guides I've ever met to honoring yourself. Meet Ryan Walker Page.

Ryan Walker Page:
Hi, my name is Ryan Walker Page. I am a choreographer and movement teacher in Los Angeles, California. Recovery is a very essential part of my life, and I'm thankful to be many years out of symptom use but still really center this experience as a big part of my identity.

Ellie Pike:
As a sought-after choreographer, Ryan has worked with big names: people like Lil Nas X, Renee Zellweger, Samuel L. Jackson, and many, many more. Part of what's made him so successful is that he reaches into his past, the turbulent years of shame, disordered eating and fear and pulls from his experiences a sacred respect for people as they are. Through dance, he conspires to mythologize the parts of ourselves we are the most scared to share.

Ryan Walker Page:
Recognizing that a lot of people have had haunting experiences being in their body, so let's create our own mythology here. Let's make it more exciting than you looking at you and just auditing yourself and body for damage.

Ellie Pike:
Today, we'll discuss those past experiences, navigating recovery in the body-centric creative industries, and how coming out isn't just a singular event but a lifelong unfolding. You are listening to Mental Note Podcast. I'm Ellie Pike.

Ellie Pike:
Fantastic. Thank you so much for joining us, Ryan, and you have an incredible, incredible story I'm excited to share with our listeners. So let's just dive right on in. I'm curious what your childhood was like and if you could tell us about your coming out experience.

Ryan Walker Page:
Yeah, of course. I grew up in the South, so it was very baked beans, Bible study, bingos, barbecue, all of that.

Ellie Pike:
All of the Bs.

Ryan Walker Page:
All of the Bs, and I find this a lot with young queer kids. Definitely had an orientation to the feminine. I was obsessed with putting towels on my hair and commanded fantasy to bring to life some of these ideas of being elegant and over the top, and that was not a safe domain in the South. So I think I grew up with a pretty early sense of duplicity, of this is me and there's something going on out there that I don't really belong in. I think that's painful to inherit so early on. It's like that severed sense of belonging, especially when you don't have the emotional equipment to really process what that means or looks like. You just sort of take it on, you know?

Ellie Pike:
Absolutely. It sounds like the message you got was, "I have to hide," from a really early age.

Ryan Walker Page:
Right.

Ellie Pike:
Did you notice that you would start to overcompensate on the other side of things, of what you presented to the world?

Ryan Walker Page:
Absolutely. I found myself doing a pretty harsh turn of the wheel and going straight into sports and acting out all of this free-floating arousal and rage that was just pent up from all of this stuff that had happened before. And I was the kid on the basketball team that was getting penalties, and I was breaking rackets. I was so ready to go rogue because I think what was happening inside was just so overwhelming, and I couldn't really locate it on the outside world. So anger felt like my only Trojan horse to really express these things, and sports really safeguarded me from being bullied and teased and more profoundly coming to terms with myself that I am a gay man. So it felt like a safe coverup, and I enjoyed it. It wasn't all dark and pathological. I love throwing a ball in a hoop. I mean, come on.

Ellie Pike:
That's incredible, but yeah, it sounds like it was all under the guise of being hyper-masculine and using that as essentially a coverup for it seems like the shame that you were feeling inside that was really internalized by your culture. So how did you handle that on your own when you were carrying so much of that heavy load?

Ryan Walker Page:
I think I developed a really rich private world that became a cornerstone of solace, which is confusing when solace is so intertwined with secrecy. But I had to build that space for myself. I think it made a lot of sense to be using my body through all of this. I've always naturally turned to the body to run a life force that I feel and manage the sort of charge and discharge I'm constantly feeling emotionally. It helps equalize it or something, and then of course it matters to find kids your age that are like, "Oh, you too? Me too." In public school, that was harder to find, but I had a real great ring of power in these little girlfriends that I had that wanted to make up dances and wanted to sing songs about the dead cicada we found on the baseball field with me. You know what I mean? So it wasn't this dark corner of reality. I had some friends that could mirror back to me like, "I like what you do, and hey, I like doing that too," which at that age and at any age, I would argue, matters.

Ellie Pike:
Absolutely, and it seems so important to have those pockets of safety and self-expression and feeling understood, and somewhere in here, you also started dance when you were a teenager. Is that right?

Ryan Walker Page:
Yes. So as a result of the bullying, which was pretty ferocious, I was placed in a different school, and it was a Quaker school, which oh my God, was such a balm to the heart but it was also confusing because it was such a 180. Quakerism, at least in the educational environment, values community and passivity and integration and silence as an expression of God. It was just a much more inclusive framework in theory and practice. And so, I went there and suddenly I found boundaries that I had so depended on of I'm a 13-year-old guy, that means I like x, y, and z. And I felt really sold into that blueprint. Those started to dissolve a bit, and I remember the star of the soccer team also was taking dance. And so again, that really mattered to me because that felt like that could be my road to town. If he is doing it, I can do it, and I wanted to take dance.

Ryan Walker Page:
And I wanted to move my body based on how the trees were moving in the wind last night. You know what I mean? All of that had a sort of stickiness, an aliveness to me, and it felt really amazing when I got a more socialized permission to try that on. So yeah, that was my introduction to dance. It was very much creative expression. Didn't have a lick of technique, didn't really understand what that was. It didn't feel high stakes, and I think a lot of dancers come from a background of competition dance, which is challenging because you inherit this idea of dance as a practice that is steeped in hierarchy. It's like how bad do you want it? We're going to win. There's going to be a trophy.

Ryan Walker Page:
Yeah, so I started at this Quaker school, and it was very much like, how do you feel? Dance that way. I used to have a lot of contempt for the fact that that was my introduction to dance, feeling like I didn't have the skills, and now I realize that it's my leading edge, that that was my foundation, my root system for movement.

Ryan Walker Page:
Something about being there inspired me to audition for a really rigorous dance conservatory for the rest of high school. It was a boarding school. And so, I remember I showed up and everyone was looking beautifully groomed in their tights and shoes and what have yous, and I had long johns and an inside-out Grateful Dead t-shirt and purple hair and sticking out like a sore queer thumb. I remember it was first technique class, and I just sort of stumbled and crumbled through it and had no idea what I was doing. But then we got to do our own solo, and they liked it and they recognized a sort of raw enthusiasm that I had.

Ryan Walker Page:
So I got into that school when I was 14 with a note, mind you, saying that I was going to be one of the worst people there and that I was immediately on something called body probation and creative probation. But for some reason, that didn't feel in my way. I just had a more Labrador energy of, "Oh my God, yes, whatever. I'll figure it out."

Ellie Pike:
That's incredible that you were able to bypass that criticism from the start.

Ryan Walker Page:
Girl, totally. It's one of the most honest reactions I've ever had to anything in my life. You know what I mean?

Ellie Pike:
Well, it meant you were supposed to be there.

Ryan Walker Page:
Yeah, totally. And so, I go to that school and it is pulling out a whole new job description for dance. It is eight hours a day, mind you, with a cast of teachers that are still pretty much grieving the loss of their careers and reversal in their bodies' abilities, and they take out all of that onto us as our students. So it was really sort of this idea of classroom as projection of their unfinished business and grief, and we took the hit. It was brutal, and they were so mean and so draconian in their ways. That set the stage for some already existing but pretty heinous self-talk and ideas of self and specifically my body.

Ryan Walker Page:
I was still in the closet, hanging onto the last thread, and my roommate walks in the first day and it was so disarming. He was this gorgeous Danish boy, and his skin looked like someone took a piece of parchment paper and dipped it in milk and just slapped in on a skull. He was just so perfect, and I just didn't even have a precedent for understanding gay beauty and how it just really dropped all of my weaponry. And I just remember feeling in every inch of my body, "I am so attracted to this person, I'll do anything." There was just no way to de-tangle this surge of feeling. And so, he was my first kiss. I came out to him. My whole coming out process in a huge way was mapped out on this person, and it was existing in the context of secrecy, of just what happens behind these closed doors stays here or else.

Ryan Walker Page:
So that is a pretty nasty original template to take on in your first relationship of, "I'll do this but as long as it stays private so the world can't see." And I think that really translated as pretty heavy, heinous shame about there's something about me that is why this equation exists for him.

Ellie Pike:
You really bring up a good point of linking shame with secrecy, and I remember an old mentor of mine would always talk about shame and say, "Shame exposed loses all power." And it sounds like you were wanting that opportunity, but your story was also intertwined with someone else's coming out story and it became really complicated. That shame and secrecy, what happened to you personally as you experienced that?

Ryan Walker Page:
Oh my gosh, well, yeah, I totally agree that the conflation of that identity work between him and I made it really confusing, to be fair, for both of us, and I think like any sort of relationship, time away allows you to put the camera into focus. What's been beautiful looking back on it is just that sense of compassion for that 14/15-year-old self truly navigating this stuff with two hands over his eyes. But at the time, I felt so lost, and that was coordinated with some changes in my body and I was getting all of this feedback from the outside world that, "This is good. You're desirable now. This is your ticket to ride."

Ryan Walker Page:
And I think, as gay men, we're subject to take on this idea that our body is the thing that's going to make us indispensable and ultimately be loved in life. So really go for this Adonis archetype that a lot of us inherited through just looking at porn, which was for me my only hidden curriculum of what being gay meant because my parents are straight. I have no gay people in my family and no gay people around. So I turned to the closest thing, and all of that was just so much and overwhelming and I am such a sensitive person. In any organism, when someone or something is overwhelmed, you have to find a way to relieve yourself or discharge yourself of that saturation point.

Ryan Walker Page:
Bulimia really slipped in perfectly as this maladaptive behavior because it was really registering how overwhelmed I was, and it gave me something to do with it. My sense of wellbeing and my friendships, all of that of course falls collateral damage, but it really served a purpose for a second until it doesn't. You're giving your whole self to something that will never give back. It just will never give back, and it's like an abusive relationship. So I found that and was in the rip tide of bulimia at boarding school in a dance culture. So there wasn't any real eye on me because being a man with an eating disorder, you can hide in plain sight, and there's not really, at least at that point, a socialized precedent to say, "Hey, are you getting help with your eating disorder?" to a teenage guy. And it's just a huge blind spot.

Ryan Walker Page:
Of course, my friends were concerned. I started passing out. My body was being like, "Help," and I was going into these crisis modes physically. And eventually push comes to shove, I get kicked out of the school, and I go home. Three days later I end up in the Children's Hospital at University of North Carolina because there wasn't any space for men in any treatment center that had an inpatient level at the time. So no therapist. I was sharing this floor with pediatric oncology patients and just feeling more alone and freakish than ever before with all of these things strapped up to my heart, no one really asking me how I'm doing. It's all just sort of chaos and silence, which is absolutely the choreography of shame. Chaos, silence, push it underground.

Ryan Walker Page:
I remember this really specific moment I had this hard-ass doctor who had come in every morning. It was a teaching hospital with a round of people, students, and he'd be like, "Ryan's disease is what got him here." And I had never been in a recovery circle, so hearing things like that, it was just like, "Why are you punishing me?" But then I remember one day he came in alone. This was after a week of being there, and I remember the doctor put his hand on my shoulder and he was like, "You must be in so much pain." And I just broke down sobbing because it was just the first time I felt like someone recognized my humanity in this whole situation. My whole sense of self had been caught up in behaviors and crisis and secrecy and needing to... I just had not touched down with myself or anyone else, and that really became the gatekeeper to something a little more honest and me encountering me and checking in.

Ryan Walker Page:
So I would find myself taking on the same message that I've given myself of, "Your way to be loved is to define yourself as special and taking up charismatic space. And if your real experience falls as casualty, no big deal because this is the way people are going to love you." And I think that is a pretty signature thesis of gay shame. I, at my core, feel unlovable. So why don't I hyper-excel in these other areas and that is how people will love me for who I am, when really that's an arsenal that exists on the peripheries of just a come as you are statement and learning you as you.

Ellie Pike:
Well, that is so incredibly hard when you haven't been accepted for who you really are, and then you're grappling with is it safe for me to come out and would I really be loved if I'm truly honest with myself and authentic in this world? So you did. I mean, you've done that courageous walk, and it is a courageous walk. Gosh, what is the word? I just give you so many props really for channeling that and going through this process. That's way, way hard. So what was that coming out process like for you with your parents and then with the world?

Ryan Walker Page:
I think the coming out process happens in layers. First you have to come out to yourself, and then you come out to your friends. Then you come out to your parents, and then you come out to the city you live in kind of thing. I can really see my own experience mapped out in that sequence. I came out to myself around 16, and I say that with a sort of finger scratching my head because there has always been this underbelly of, "I know who I am, and I know this is true." I just developed this intense way to push it underground my whole life, but I've always been out to myself to some extent. I shared that first with my roommate because it was someone that again I could say, "Oh, you too? Me too." And the safety of that allowed for the first step.

Ryan Walker Page:
And then when I was 18, my parents... Oh my God, this is so crazy, and I think this is a family friendly story. But I was at home with this boy, and we were just fooling around in bed and we had a video camera up. Then my mom walks in, and she goes... I remember this so specifically. She was wearing this green boutique dress, and she just slammed her back against the wall and just started sobbing, crying down. And I just remember shouting out, I was like, "Mom, I was getting a massage. Relax." I still have that video, which is so wild. But for me, I'm like, "Oh my God, this is so precious," and I just flood that, (I think I was actually 17), 17-year-old boy with so much compassion because this was in broad daylight and still I felt the need to say, "Don't look, don't look. It's anything else but this."

Ellie Pike:
You're completely exposed and still wanting to deny what's happening.

Ryan Walker Page:
Oh my God. I mean it's just such an inside job, yeah. So then I came out to my parents, and my mom was just inconsolably sobbing about how she'll never have grandchildren. And my dad just sort of... I think he was trying to be fair, and my dad is a little more disengaged but ship in the night, pretty steady and sure. And he was like, "Why do you have to define yourself? You can just keep exploring," which in the moment felt like nice permission and quickly after, felt like you're not hearing what I'm saying. It's actually disavowing a pretty vulnerable moment of me telling you, "I am gay."

Ryan Walker Page:
And so, it's taken a long time with my parents. My mom was more volatile. I can remember two weeks after her upset, she joined a protest. I can just hear her saying, "Gay is okay, gay is okay." And then she saw me wearing a wig, and she just broke down into tears. She was flooded, and my dad, it's been a more consistent climate. At dinner, we were talking about craziest first dates or something, and my mom went and my dad went. My sister went, and I was delighted to hear about it. It was fun but fully not expecting to be asked, and my dad was the first person that was like, "Wait, I want to hear about Ryan's craziest first date." The healing and acceptance has come from unexpected places and people, which sounds about right. Nothing is ever going to be this fully-choreographed fabric. It's always going to get intercepted by surprise, and that's beautiful.

Ellie Pike:
That's an incredible story, and the way you describe of it the weave, it's in and out, in and out. It takes a lot of vulnerability from you and a lot of patience and a lot of invalidation and validation. And so, as you look back on that, I hope that you're able to see that you were incredibly courageous in allowing yourself to keep coming out.

Ryan Walker Page:
Thank you. I love what you're saying about keep coming out. I think a lot of us, straight, gay, however you identify, approach coming out as this one-time gatekeeper into someone's sexual identity when the reality is this is an evolving rapport with one's self that is about getting a higher reach into identity freedom. So if you need to come out every day of your life, girl, come out every day of your life. Do not be sanctioned off by the sort of performative one-time idea of what a coming out thing is.

Ryan Walker Page:
The idea is that you can take up space. It's a strategy of visibility. It's you getting to know you, which we know especially in the overlap of recovery, is never a linear thing. This is a trudge that moves in waves and circles and zig-zag and wiggly-dos, whatever, and you should allow yourself permission to reflect that in your own chewing and continuous expression and grappling with these things. You'll have more of a fulfilling time the more you talk about it and experience.

Ellie Pike:
You have such beautiful words for that. You just made that continual coming out feel vitalizing and beautiful, even though it can be extremely, extremely hard.

Ryan Walker Page:
Yes, totally.

Ellie Pike:
So you might have already answered this question. After you came out to your parents, you came out to the city of New York City when you moved.

Ryan Walker Page:
Yeah.

Ellie Pike:
What's one of the many lessons that you learned along the way, if you just had to pick one?

Ryan Walker Page:
I would say that the things that we have a lot of contempt for in ourself end up being our leading edge. I think about what I shared earlier with I had so much contempt for the fact that my introduction to dance was non-traditional. I felt like that was making me inferior and inadequate and behind the times, and with time I've been like, "God, I can walk away with my head held high and a beaming heart knowing that I..." But that was my inroad into movement, and I think the same thing can be generalized into coming out. Just these things that we apologize for in our body or our personality is actually, the world is starving for it and are the ingredients to your unique opening in the world. I know that sounds in the particular self-help rhetoric, but I've just seen it so much and I see the contagion of it. If you're not doing it for yourself, I promise you some 10-year-old isolated queer kid in Wherevers-ville, Nebraska is looking at you, being like, "You too? Me too."

Ryan Walker Page:
And so, that connection is more precious than diamonds, and you've got to trust in the alchemy of being yourself, even if it doesn't feel good. And there's of course this other side issue of coming out is not a neutral playing field. Different people in different situations with different demographics, coming out is rooted in structural issues of safety. So if it's not safe to come out, then this is a whole other conversation, but if it is, then there are people that can learn from you by you being you. It's like that Erykah Badu thing of keep doing you, someone's going to feel it. You know what I mean? I love that.

Ellie Pike:
And I appreciate the way you talk about it too because it seems like you have really embraced that perspective of just be you, and that's what the world needs is you fully alive. I really appreciate it.

Ryan Walker Page:
Fully alive and... Sorry, sorry.

Ellie Pike:
Oh, go ahead.

Ryan Walker Page:
Well, I was going to say yes, fully alive, and I see this too of it's really tempting and easy as a gay person to co-opt what we see. So I can imagine what's being circulated in mass media like Ru Paul's Drag Race and the vernacular from that. I see a lot of young gay kids taking that on as their curriculum for identity and start walking around being like, "Okay girl, dah, dah, dah." And I'm like if you're a grumpy queer who likes horror movies and making flower arrangements, that is beyond amazing. You know what I mean? The whole point of being queer is that we dismantle this idea of the norm. And so, get a leading edge into you, whatever it looks like. It's about putting yourself out there and building some power behind it.

Ellie Pike:
So I imagine that your story doing that, of finding that freedom and authenticity in the world, took time and it was a process. But when did you feel that freedom when you could fully embrace your identity as a queer person?

Ryan Walker Page:
Again, that is a journey in layers because there are times in my life that I can identify. I got hired by this dance company that had opera singers and drag queens and little kids and old people that I felt like this is a walking invitation to another way to be in society and a place that honors who I am. And I was still very sick and binging and purging 10 times a day, and I felt freer than I ever had in my life. So those moments are complicated for me to really digest in my life story, but I think it brings up an important point of just because you are wherever you are in recovery, if you are still struggling, that doesn't airbrush out your journey to freedom. You are still entitled and able to have beautiful, transformative, connected experiences and a little more patience with yourself. I fully never thought my eating disorder was going to fall off. It was so intense and heinous, and I had found a life to coordinate friendship and opportunity with dragging my eating disorder along all the way.

Ryan Walker Page:
When I think about freedom, I think about those really colorful expansive moments, but in this moment, my idea of freedom has much more to do with the fact that I can live an honest life now and I don't have to hide things. My house is clean. My car is clean. I just feel so much more in my life. And it doesn't sound as exciting, but watching my eating disorder fall off has been the most spiritual and freeing thing of my life and very much to do with me feeling free as a queer person too because it was healing that young kid in me that was a repository for all of the shame that was clicked off along the way and retrieving him back into my life and feeling like a whole person again.

Ryan Walker Page:
So there's not one moment I can feel being free. I mean, there's dancing in nature with other queer people, relationship, all these things I can identify, but it really is anchored in just a more honest go in recovery and having so much more of a sobering acceptance of what it does look like and warding off the need for some sort of precious comeback story. It's just me dealing with me.

Ellie Pike:
Well, and I appreciate that when you describe that, you really take away the idea that recovery or life or coming out or finding freedom is linear and that it's such a process and that there's ups and downs or cycle or layers, however you want to think about it. It's very complex. And so, for you to talk through it, I really appreciate that because you give the rest of us a lot of freedom to be in whatever process we're in and find freedom in those moments and then also freedom in the big things. That is incredible, incredible piece for our listeners to take away.

Ryan Walker Page:
And freedom doesn't always feel good. I remember someone defined anxiety as the dizziness of freedom. So I'm not talking about some cycle of idealism here with my freedom. Freedom was really painful and confronted me with a lot of grief and sense of emptiness in my life, but it's one of those things that just had to exist and now I can look back on it and be like, "Wow, that is the most freeing thing I've ever done for myself, even though it really felt like the dark night of my soul."

Ellie Pike:
So now, gosh, you are a dance choreographer in L.A. in the pop scene, and you're in recovery. Gosh, you have freedom. It's always a process. So how do you stay centered, balanced, grounded, whatever word you want to use, while you're in recovery in the dancing?

Ryan Walker Page:
It's tricky. I feel really lucky to be working with women in the pop industry right now. Working in pop music in this way has been incredibly special in the way that it ties me to me at nine years old because it wasn't some downtown dance theater performance that got me to dance at first. It was Britney Spears and the Spice Girls and Highbrow/Lowbrow, it's all good. And to be more directly supporting this new cast of women in the pop sphere feels really karma-caly amazing and is equally, if not more, exhausting.

Ryan Walker Page:
It's dealing with an exhausting maze in personalities that don't have a hand in dance and a lot of people who are trying to control women's public image. So being a really sensitive person, it's felt sad some of the times, and the beauty about movement is that it doesn't exact the sort of instant transformation thing. So you get to make it a patient game with these people. I listen more than I talk. I want them to feel that movement is something that is self-initiated and not something that I'm slapping onto them because in that fissure of I feel this way, but here, do this thing, that can be really painful and breed a lot of feelings of inferiority. And I feel that hyper sense of responsibility going through my own struggles with eating disorders to not enable problematic language or ideas around the body.

Ryan Walker Page:
Sometimes that is the nature of the job, that it's very hyper-sexualized, and what I'm talking about more is just that person's relationship with their own body because you can do a hyper-sexualized video and still have a home base to come back to. And I have no control over what the creative is going to be. So I try to focus on the slower burn of how do you feel about you? And regardless of what the music video or the performance looks like, what's that home base you're coming back to? What are your tools for being centered?

Ryan Walker Page:
So I start every session with a grounding practice and slow-motion movement, which is some of the most beautiful... To see these pop people who are so full on move with me to classical music for five minutes with their eyes closed has been some of the most beautiful memories and private memories I'll have for the rest of my life. It's just beautiful to watch people slow down in general, and to feel like a guardian of that slowing down feels like a gift for me too because I know in my process, when I slow down, that's when my clarity and confidence slides in.

Ellie Pike:
And that really leads well into my next question because for you personally, movement and dance has been an act of body and self acceptance, and it's not that way for everyone. And so, it sounds like slowing down is part of that. I know you've used the words expressiveness and free flow. So what does that look like for you?

Ryan Walker Page:
Yeah, I really try to approach it with this idea of chasing sensation over aesthetics. A lot of us are down to the mirror and in this visual era of does this look cool, how do I look when I do it? And you really have to put that on ice and go for how it feels. So I always try to approach it from imagery and sensation and mythology and just making the world of dance bigger than what's being fed back to you in the mirror. So a lot of my choreography I pull from references in Greek myths and medieval times, and the drama is real because the point is that let's create our own mythology here. Dance as possibility is what I'm after.

Ellie Pike:
Oh, that sounds so beautiful. I think one big piece of your story that stands out to me is how there was so much secrecy, so much shame, so much that you felt like you had to keep hidden. And then dance is so expressive, so outward, while it can still be a very personal experience. It's something that you invite others into. So have you found connection and the opposite of shame and secrecy along the way?

Ryan Walker Page:
Oh my God, totally. Dance is, at its roots, a social phenomenon, and I think capitalism really thwarts it in our head of just like, "I'm in it to win it, honey, and I'll do whatever it takes." It is important that if you're on that mission, you can balance it out with feeling in relationship to other people. I do auditions. I host auditions a lot for jobs that I'm doing, and I see dancers doing all their tricks. I remember at one of this last ones before COVID, a dancer tried to fit in this leap and hit the other girl in the face, and we had to have this big moment of there is no idea that is more important than the person next to you's safety. Even when you're by yourself, space is your intimate partner. The floor is your intimate partner. Fall in love with you in relationship to something else, not just sort of me.

Ellie Pike:
I really love the perspective of being intertwined and that dance is social, despite your own personal experience and expression doing it. Ryan, you are just an inspiration, and if people want to follow along with you and see what you're up to, what's the best way that they can follow you?

Ryan Walker Page:
Probably Instagram. My Instagram is @ryanwalkerpage, and my email is linked. I love starting dialogue with people, so feel free to shoot me a line.

Ellie Pike:
If you had one message that you would hope to give to someone who's exploring their sexuality or maybe struggling along the way, what's your message to our listeners?

Ryan Walker Page:
Became a researcher. Use the Internet to find people that are like you, and build that ring of power around for yourself. Loneliness is the rotten fruit of the tree and something that queer people are way too familiar with harboring. So I encourage you to take a risk, reach out, connect with people. This wild, lawless frontier of the Internet allows us to do things that social barriers prevent us from doing, so if you see someone that's inspiring you on the west side of Bangladesh, hit them up. Tell them that they're inspiring you. Keep the channel open.

Ellie Pike:
Fantastic. Well, thank you so much just for having this conversation with us and keeping that channel open. I think it's so important to share people's stories, and yours is beautiful and full of courage and vulnerability and connection and healing. So thank you so much, Ryan. I appreciate it.

Ryan Walker Page:
Are you kidding? Thank you so much. I'm so honored to do this. Happy Pride Month, oh my God.

Ellie Pike:
Yes, happy Pride Month, everyone. Please reach out if you need any support, and please follow Ryan too. I'm sure you'll be inspired. [singing 00:44:30]

Ellie Pike:
Ryan said a couple of things that really stuck with me in our conversation. First is the idea that there's a community waiting for you to be you. I love that he reminded us that the definition of queer is dismantling the idea of "the norm". By embracing these parts of ourselves that feel shameful, we're likely to find what makes us truly strong.

Ellie Pike:
As much as I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Ryan, I can't wait for you to experience his choreography. You've simply got to see it for yourself. Head on over to his website: ryanwalkerpage.com, or find him on Instagram @ryanwalkerpage.

Ellie Pike:
Mental Note is a creation of Eating Recovery Center and Pathlight Mood and Anxiety Center. Mental Note is a creation of Eating Recover Center and Pathlight Mood and Anxiety Center. If you'd like to talk to a trained therapist to see if treatment is right for you, please call them at 877-850-7199.

Ellie Pike:
Eating Recovery Center and Pathlight Mood and Anxiety Center are also hosting their annual conference as a virtual event this summer. Join hundreds of professionals on August 24th and 25th for the 2021 Pathlight Conference titled, "Transformative Solutions and Mental Health Treatment." It will include 10 research-based presentations on the complexities of mood, anxiety, and trauma-related disorders. Attendees can earn up to 15CE of credit hours as well as learn practical skills to identify, assess, and treat patients with mental health disorders. Sign up at pathlightbh.com/event/pbh-conference.

Ellie Pike:
If you like our show, sign up for our e-newsletter, and learn more about the people we interview at mentalnotepodcast.com. We'd also love it if you left us a review on iTunes. It helps others find our podcast. Mental Note is produced and hosted by me, Ellie Pike and directed by Sam Pike, with editing help on today's episode from Ian [Kelso 00:47:00].

[singing 00:47:01]

Presented by

Ryan Walker Page

Ryan Walker Page is a professional dancer and choreographer in Los Angeles. Ryan mines his experience in recovery to address the conspiring elements of healing from shame, authenticity, a...