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I lived in New York City for nearly seven years. The experience had a number of side effects, one of the strangest being that I became terrified of dancing in public. Despite a childhood spent in dance classes and many successful moments on dance floors, I suddenly found that I would stand unmoving in the corner of any club judging myself for what I assumed would look like asinine movements, had I dared to do them. Though I could feel the screams from inside my body to move, the daily assaults of living in the Big Apple had left my body frozen in place.
I still am a little bit afraid of dancing, but I work through that fear by doing it almost daily. I dance when I am fearful. I dance when I am joyous. I dance when I am angry. I dance when I am sad. Most of these dances are private (except when I am dancing with my girlfriends over a video call), meaning it is for an audience of no one. This is what makes it easier, I suspect, to let loose the wildness of my limbs and hips, to allow the rhythms of my body to force my mind to stop.
Let Them Stare
About a decade after I left New York City, I moved to Mexico. Our first home had a rooftop that was a perfect sunrise dance floor — except that it was directly across from a large field where tourists took off in hot air balloons at the same time I liked to load up my playlist. At first I hid from the balloons, censoring my movements to avoid catching their attention. But the balloons floated directly overhead, and I quickly found it was impossible to stay out of view. I began to dare myself to think of them as my personal audience. I imagined them telling the story of the audacity of the woman dancing at sunrise, and it made me smile.
I was in a great deal of turmoil on that rooftop, so they were not always pretty dances, but quite necessary. I had just left a spiritual community, a job, and an island paradise, an experience marked by both boundless growth and horrendous starvation. In that time I had also been raising a suckling infant. I had seen my identity, plans, and body ripped apart by this tiny guru every day. Though lava was seeping through my skin, I had no choice but to hold it in my body because her life depended upon mine not turning to ash. There on that rooftop in our first weeks in Mexico, I let it pour out of me.
Melting Pine Sap
When emotion becomes stuck it feels sticky and cold, like pine sap frozen in a tree. Except for when it feels itchy and maddening, like a shirt made of hay. Either way, the body’s response is to become stiff, heavy, and eventually numb as a way to protect itself.
Emotion is many things, but it is not a keepsake. To lock a fluid and wild thing into a cage is to change its nature. Stuck sadness becomes lethargy. Stuck anger becomes bitterness. Stuck fear becomes jaw-clenching, breath-stealing anxiety. We all hold onto emotion, perhaps because there are so very many reasons to feel big feelings and so very little understanding of what to do with them. As children we are told, “stop crying,” “nothing happened,” “brush it off.” As adults we tell ourselves, “but at least I have my health,” or whatever version of the eternal optimism seems appropriate.
Our bodies are the container for emotion, so just like taking out the compost, it is our duty to regularly empty the bin. This requires witnessing the emotions that are there — behind the cobwebs, past the hardened bits, and down to the gooey, soft stuff — and saying, “Yes, you exist.”
To dance through emotion — any emotion — is to meet reality with honesty. Honesty for the sadness over what we have lost. Honesty for the joy of what we have. Honesty for the rage and indignation. We owe at least this much honesty to ourselves even if we never voice it to another person. Indeed, there is no way to lie when our bodies move freely. Dance breaks up the stagnation and weight that sits in our blood. Like spring sunlight on the pines, we smell of life again.
When You Are Afraid, When You Are Angry, When You Are Joyous
When the quarantine hit last spring, a circle of goddesses I am part of put together a daily online dance gathering. We shared the role of DJ so every dance party was a different expression. Some days were dark. Some days were silly. Some days required costumes and others were come as you are. All around us the world’s brakes were screeching and metal was crashing, but for 20 minutes each day, we gathered in a space to move through the terror, grief, disorientation, and anger. In other words, by dancing as a daily ritual, we activated our unique human ability to create problems and figure out what to do with them.
In our heads, we are not connected to our magic; we think ourselves into a brick wall up there. Move downward, to the pelvis, and we find our thrones. Here our cleverness, joy, compassion, and intuition somehow form a plan to manage life’s sloppiness.
Despite centuries of awareness that the pelvis is the seat of our power, or perhaps because of it, we have been raised in a culture that fears the power that lies in the roots of our spines. We are trained to distrust sexuality, discredit intuition, and hide our natural forms of release, such as menstruation and elimination. If you don’t believe that the culture fears the power in the pelvis, ask yourself why Elvis’s shaking hips were worthy of censorship (likewise for the Black artists from whom Elvis took his greatest moves).
To ignore the grace and wisdom of the pelvis leads to physical and emotional constipation. The only cure is to move. Move with full awareness of your sexual desires, your intuitive insights, your ridiculously buttressed ways to pretend that you don’t poop. Meet these with honesty through dance so that you can go on living despite all that life brings.
It doesn’t have to look pretty. Like the old Alcoholics Anonymous saying: It works if you work it.
A Playlist for the Times
Dance breaks don’t need to be long to be effective. My favorite is a three-song playlist. Load up these songs below and allow your body to move for 10 minutes without your mind getting in the way. Just find a place where no one’s gaze can get in the way of what you need to move through your body.
I would be honored to witness your dance (metaphorically or really). Sign up for one-on-one work with me here.