The Dance Current
Dance artist and registered massage therapist in Toronto
When speaking about her wellness journey, Lilia Leon, dancer and newly licensed registered massage therapist, says, “You name it, I’ve done it.” However, her massage therapist was who she most looked forward to seeing. With long sessions and a treatment modality that was purely physical and non-verbal, she felt relaxed and rehabilitated in a way she didn’t when visiting other practitioners. “The impact of having a supportive presence holding space for me and offering respectful, supportive, healing touch was really powerful for me,” she shares.
Leon is a Mexican Canadian performing artist with mestizo heritage. She finds her work is deeply connected to her experience as an immigrant and is influenced by themes of identity, home, ancestry, empowerment and social justice. She is currently working on a new dance-theatre piece with Sharon Moore and Irma Villafuerte that will explore the complexities of human connection through movement and spoken word.
While she was searching for ways to make her work in dance more financially sustainable, it was her massage therapist, an artist himself, who suggested looking into the career. After doing some research, she felt drawn to the profession because, “It’s about understanding the body on a deeper level. It’s physical,” she says.
Leon notes she has been “cultivating an appreciation of the miracles of the human body” throughout her nearly two decades working as a professional dancer, which has given her an “embodied knowledge of the body in motion.” This knowledge of and reverence for the body’s resilience provides a strong foundation for her work as a registered massage therapist.
Leon sees similarities between massage therapy and contact dance: “I use my physical awareness, my energy and my weight to interact with my client’s body,” she explains. There are also similarities in how she approaches each job; no matter what she’s doing, she always leads with “attentive presence, creativity, compassion.”
Leon says she couldn’t envision herself working outside of dance in her early 20s, but now that she is a registered massage therapist, she feels she is a “more knowledgeable, confident and resourceful person,” and she has been able to develop personality traits and skills that she didn’t have the opportunity to develop while working solely as an artist.
While she is less than six months into her new career, Leon’s goal is to be the support for her clients that she personally received. She has already learned that, similar to dance, the work required to be successful begins outside a session. She notes it requires energy to hold space for others. “I have to be mindful and careful of how I take care of myself,” she says. “It takes skill and energy. … I have to be calm.”