Sara Juli has enough to worry about.
A newly minted Mainer, the dancer makes her Portland debut this weekend with a performance piece she has never performed in public. She also put the word “vagina” in the title and wonders if that’s a little too out-there for her new hometown.
“Coming out of New York City where no one would think twice, I have had some reservations,” she said.
Nonetheless, she’s keeping the title and is eager to share her dance with the larger world. Juli presents “Tense Vagina” at 8 p.m Friday and Saturday at SPACE Gallery in Portland.
Part dance, part theater and part stand-up comedy, “Tense Vagina” explores the bladder-control issues that Juli experienced following the birth of her children, who are now 4 and 6 years old. The show explains her condition and the treatment she received to alleviate it.
“It’s fairly common, but it’s still taboo, because millions of women are walking around unfortunately peeing in their pants,” she said.
Juli studied dance in college and moved to New York with the intent of making her career in dance. When she realized she needed a day job, she began working in fundraising. She now runs a consulting firm, Surala Consulting, that specializes in arts and nonprofit fundraising.
Her passion is solo performance art. She has created about 10 pieces over the past decade. Other topics include money management, the death of a parent and promiscuity.
She makes art that’s personal. No subject is off-limits. She calls them her “healing dances. I take issues that I am struggling with and present them to the public. They are like my own little therapy sessions.”
Juli and her husband moved their family from Brooklyn to Falmouth in July 2014. Her OB/GYN referred her to the Pelvic Floor Rehab Center of New England in South Portland, where she received her diagnosis and treatment.
“Tense Vagina” moves between stories of physical therapy on her vagina to motherhood, which can be deliriously rewarding, lonely and isolating. She uses humor, audience participation, movement and song to tell her personal story.
She wants to tell other women they are not alone. “No emotion or feeling or experience that any one person is going through is unique to them. There is a universality to how we are traversing this planet,” she said.
The couple chose greater Portland as their home because they wanted to live in a small community with the good schools – and alternative performance spaces. Juli found SPACE Gallery on a general web search and appreciated the programming and its online character. “I thought, ‘I can totally move to Portland because of SPACE.’ I probably wouldn’t have come to Portland without SPACE because there would not have been a place to show my work,” she said.
She’s become the gallery’s defacto consultant on all matters dance and offers unsolicited advice about fundraising. She also helped the gallery acquire a dedicated dance floor.
This weekend will be her first performance in Portland, and she hopes people – women and mothers especially – pay attention to what she has to say. “I am going to share the bladder issue, as well as the sadness and isolation and loneliness that comes with being a mother,” she said. “That’s the crux of the piece, which is anchored in sharing my experience with the Pelvic Floor Rehab Center. That place put my vagina back together.”
She catches herself at the absurdity. “I received physical therapy on my vagina. It was so weird. I am a pretty weird gal, but that was so abstract, I thought I had to share it with people, it’s so ridiculous.”