Saturday, October 23, 2010

I Move Forward - Interview with Marc Kimelman

This fall EAP has had the pleasure of getting to know dancer and choreographer Marc Kimelman. Although the circumstances of our meeting are the result of his ongoing battle with cancer, we are so happy that we have gotten to know him and are huge supporters of his benefit concert scheduled for this Monday, October 25th.

Toronto born Kimelman, was living in New York and was working hard to break into the professional dance world, when he was sideswiped by the news that he had Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He returned to Toronto to undergo treatment. While doing so he was inspired to host a benefit in support of artists living with cancer. Marc joined forces with the Actors' Fund of Canada and got tons of local talent on board to be part of this event. I Move Forward. In support of the event, which has sold out, we recently did an interview with Marc to learn more about what inspired him, how he is doing, and what is next up for him. If you are interested in contributing to Marc's fundraiser or if you want to find out how you can be a part of this event please click the header for more information. Although the benefit is sold out, I Move Forward has become so popular that there is a satellite event being hosted at the College Street Bar Monday night at 8:30. The after party is at the Foundation Room and is open to all. Please donate generously.

Q: Tell us a little about getting sick. How did you know you were sick?

I was in New York, and I had been there about six months. I was dancing and teaching a lot. And in hindsight I guess there were indicators that something was wrong. I was feeling very tired and I would do combinations that were not very long but I would get winded. But you just kind of keep going, thinking it will pass... Then one day I woke up and my whole abdomen was rock hard. And, it is funny, but I thought, man I am really getting into good shape. I went to rehearsal that day and felt terrible. When I got home I slept for like five hours. In the middle of the day. That was when I knew something was definitely up. Actors and dancers have such an awareness of their bodies. I knew something was up but I just wanted it to go away. So, I waited two days to see if if would pass and it didn't. When I got to the hospital in New York, the doctor put his hand on my stomach and his face when white. I had a Cat-Scan, and then they told me a few days later that I had cancer. They wouldn't let me go home to Toronto, because my blood levels were all weird. So there were insurance issues, but within a day I was able to come home and two weeks later I started treatment here. It was a very scary time. At first they didn't even know what type of non- Hodgkin's I had, there are many strains, some which are curable and some not. Thankfully mine was. But it took ten days of testing to determine that it was curable.

Q: How did you get through? And what has the process been to get to where you are now, which is cancer free?

Family, and my support system has been huge. It is one day at a time and I never thought ahead.
You just endure it. You know, you have no choice. I became fascinated by the medical field. These people have been working their whole lives to help me survive. Having not had them I would not be here anymore. Because of these medicines I get to live again, healthily. You know now I am cancer free. And it has been a five month process, which is so fast. It felt like hell. I mean you wake up every morning and it hits you. This isn't a cough or cold it isn't going to be gone tomorrow. But when I think back it was not a very long time. I was really sick and now I feel better. I got so lucky. I met a lot of people who have to do chemo for years. Half way through my treatment I could tell the cancer was gone. I was still feeling the effects of chemo but I didn't feel like I had cancer anymore. That is also when they do a CAT scan to find out, they want it to be 50 percent gone, and I was 90 percent, which is already considered remission. Anything over 75 percent they call remission. And hopefully in my case this is it, and it wont come back. Now I will have quarterly blood tests. But I know it isn't coming back. It just wont...

Q: What is (are) the difference(s) in the way you feel about your body now versus how you felt before?

I instantly felt more human. I felt deeply rooted to my body and everyone around me. It was such a heightened sense of awareness. That was new. I definitely have a better sense of self and groundedness. And I lost twenty pounds. And my new weight is better, for what I do, I can move around actually better now. I definitely have a deeper understanding of my body. Through tai chi and yoga, finding the breath and all that...

Q: Are tai chi and yoga things you have integrated into your life now or have yo always done them?

I had tried tai chi before, but with all the time on my hands during treatment, and I needed to be physical. To not dance was a huge challenge for me. So I started doing yoga for cancer, which totally wiped me out. So I reconnected with tai chi. And my dance now is so tai chi inspired. My stuff, (choreography) always changes based on where I am at, but right now, having spent so much time just doing tai chi, it is very interesting how it has influenced my work and telling stories. And I have been teaching it to dancers, who have been having a really hard time with it. Because dancers are used to moving fast, and doing kicks and turns. tai chi is so slow and controlled it is very important for dance. The movements are small.

Q: What changes have you seen in yourself and your life now?

A different sense of fragility. Feeling mortal. Before I felt invincible, I was going to take the world by storm. Having fun and feeling passionate. I am thirty, why would I have been thinking about anything other than that? And then bam, you're human. I know now that I will die some day. But I am so happy to be in this place with this awareness. Actually, we have a video which closes the show, and last night I was watching it, and I thought, "wow did this even happen," it feels far away already. Which is a good thing, but it has changed my perspective entirely. I am so much more grateful now. I have always tried to be mindful, and stay in the moment. Not to stress about the past or the future, it has been an ongoing struggle. You have to make an effort to be conscious of staying in the moment. My relationships with people and the planet has been heightened, I am making more of an effort to empathise and be compassionate.

Q: What inspired I Move Forward?

The event is the result of my experiences of meeting other cancer patients. I was getting quite sad in the hospital, pretty traumatizing sad. Not because of my situation, but from meeting my fellow patients and hearing their heartbreaking stories. Being at chemo all day and hearing this girl who has to wait tables all night till one in the morning. And the very next day I had chemo next to this man, who had to drive to Newmarket to work on a farm all day, doing hard labour, to support his two boys in school. You can't get better that way, having to delay treatment, and getting sick. One woman I knew died of a heart attack... because you don't know what the drugs are doing to your body. I myself, almost immediately took on the body of a ninety year old man. I really felt like these people needed to go home and rest, but they had to worry about fiances. Luckily we have free health care in Canada, but beyond that, many people don't have enough support to survive... They don't have the basics, rent and food etc... so that was really what got to me. I realized many of the people who were dealing with what I was dealing with were not blessed the way I was. And I wanted to do something for them. Especially the arts community since that is my community.

Q: So how have rehearsals been for you, are you in rehearsals now?

Yes we are, but not all together. There are eleven vocalists and eleven choreographers, and I passed the vocalists along to my Musical Director, Wayne Gwillim, and I have been going to all the dance rehearsals... The pieces were up to the choreographers, how they wanted to do them. So there is a lot of variety. "Let it Be" for example is one twelve year old girl dancing her ass off... And there are tap numbers, and I am doing a trio. I choreographed the number. It is a mash up of "What a Wonderful World" and "Somewhere over the Rainbow." and Thom Allison is singing.

Q: And how are you feeling in rehearsal, health wise?

Great, I go to rehearsal whenever I want. It has been so much fun. And the show is amazing. I am so excited. And it sold out, which is great. I want to feel like I have made an impact. The experience of watching my family, and knowing what I put them through. Not intentionally but, you know. I want other people to have some of that sense of relief that I had, when I got the call that I was cancer free.

Q: For those that don't have tickets how can they still be involved if they want to be?

Well, there is the satellite event which is at the College Street Bar, and all of the proceeds from that are also going towards the Actors' Fund. And we are still accepting donations from anyone and everyone. If people want to make donations they can go to the website. and click on the sponsorship link. From there they can follow the instructions for making donations. Anything helps.

Please support Marc and the Actors' Fund. Cancer touches everyone of us at some point, and artists, who often struggle with financial security, are sometimes hardest hit but the financial burden of illness. Please join us in helping Marc move forward.

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