In 2017, Maureen Pytlik graduated from Ottawa’s Carleton University with degrees major in both clarinet performance and mathematics. Her curriculum also included advanced music theory studies and West African drumming and dance. She describes her West African dance experiences as transformative. “I was quite happy to open up and be awkwardly uncoordinated,” she relates, “because it was something that created a lot of group bonding in a way. Feeling part of the group was very important to me because having Asperger’s means it’s not something that I experience easily.” African dance, and drumming too, helped Maureen to navigate a dichotomy which has been difficult for her to manage in her life, and one that she identifies closely with having Asperger’s: the conflicting pulls of competing desires for control and freedom. “I am pulled in these two different directions,” she acknowledges. “My modes of being can fluctuate between the two styles of having control and experiencing freedom, but I have a hard time (as with any polar opposites) hovering in the middle between them without gravitating toward one extreme or the other at any given time.” Music and dance, especially of the West African variety, have enabled her to move closer to achieving that elusive balance.
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