I felt a bit “oogy” this weekend…but that’s a good thing!

According to the Susan McCulley, founder of a mind-body movement practice called Dharma Dance, “oogy” is that not-quite-right (but not wrong!) sensation you feel when you do something slightly different than what you’re used to (ever try brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand?!).

Dharma Dance founder, Susan McCulley

Susan was in my area this weekend to lead a Dharma Dance workshop at a local yoga studio. I was originally supposed to be sitting in the stands at Citizens Bank Park for a Phillies game, but a day of torrential downpours led me instead to the dance floor. I was ready to boogie with my oogy!

I’m always game for any dance- or movement-based class, so I was excited to experiment with this new brand of conscious movement, which Susan describes as “a movement experience that encourages confidence, relaxation, and trust for body, mind, and spirit through movement, play, and investigation.” We were told to bring a journal as well. Dance and writing? Bring it!

One of the first things I wrote down in my notebook was the Chinese proverb Susan recited at the beginning of class: “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”

As someone who spends what feels like 95% of her life in a state of anxiety and tension, I immediately connected with this quote. It illustrates why every time I drive into Philly for a 5Rhythms class I am a giant ball of nerves and uptight super-seriousness, yet on the drive home (same route, just backward)–after 2.5 hours of blissful dancing–I feel like opening the windows and singing arias to the Delaware River as I cross the bridge back in Jersey. Tension says, “You are driving into the city, crossing a big and scary bridge, fighting with awful highway traffic, going through unfamiliar neighborhoods, scouring the tight streets for a parking spot.” Post-dancing relaxation says, “You are getting into your car and driving home after an invigorating dance class.” Relaxation eliminates all of those judgments, and I can finally just be!

Class began with some centering and a meditative focus on each body part, from toes to the top of the head. I was already feeling oogy at this point, because my body wanted to move! The inner dancer in me jumped around like a puppy dog desperate to go outside…which is a good indication that this centering, grounding activity was actually something I really needed. 🙂 Susan asked us to hone in on a certain part, something that was calling for attention. I decided that my pelvic/core region would be my focus; it’s an area I’m always trying to keep tight and aligned, because otherwise my hips get wonky.

Soon we were on our feet, and Susan led us as a group through choreographed movement set to about 3 or 4 different songs–Dido, Michael Franti…music that just made me feel loose, open, and free. Susan called this portion of the class “Body as Student,” a chance for us to break habits and train the nervous system by getting our limbs and trunk to move in ways it may not be used to. For example, one foot pattern she led had us stepping out to the side, back, front, back, front, back, side, together. Stepping out to the side first, rather than front, was definitely a challenge, and I could feel my brain working hard to integrate this new “oogy” pattern. Letting our hands flow like falling leaves was easy when we were told to do it with our fingers spread wide, but then trying to do it with fists felt awkward and, well…oogy, like if you’ve ever tried to switch your computer mouse to the other side. Susan continuously changed the pattern from right to left, unlike so many other dance classes in which you always start on the right and never wire the brain to execute the pattern in the opposite direction.

This portion of the class was very reminiscent of the dance modality Nia, which I’ve taken in the past, yet I seemed to enjoy this more. I felt like I had more liberty in my movement, more permission to interpret the choreography in my own way. I still followed the instruction, but sometimes I stepped to the side, back, and front with precision and power; other times I approached it with more fluidity.

Susan called the next part of class “Body as Teacher,” a time for freedance “focusing on integration and embodiment of movement guided by sensation and intuition.” In other words, let your body be your guide. This had many parallels to 5Rhythms: five different types of music that took the body from loose and fluid to precise to ecstatic to purposeful to still and quiet. I was surprised that this was one of my “better” (freer) moments of freedance, despite all of the 5Rhythms classes I have attended. I think doing the instructed portion beforehand geared me up and got me looking forward to busting out with my own thing. But you can’t have one without the other…a little bit of yin and yang, perhaps?

(See my T-shirt for the yin/yang connection!)

Class concluded with a long period of savasana. When we emerged from our cocoon of relaxation, Susan encouraged us to write any final thoughts in our journal. I was hoping to wake up from savasana with a major aha! epiphany, but when I grabbed my notebook, all that came to mind was a Mickey Mouse head, so that’s what I drew, along with the words “Dancing Fills Me Up.” But that’s one of the things I liked about Dharma Dance, that it’s “not about changing (although that may happen), it’s about getting out of our own way – and getting to our essence,” Susan describes on her site. “Dharma Dance is about becoming more ourselves.”

I am a Disney freak who just loves to dance. That’s me, my essence! (And I appreciate classes in which I am permitted to be myself, not told that I am, in fact, a goddess. Because really, I swear, I am human.)

The class did make me think more about where to “take dance,” or if I really need to take it anywhere at all. The achiever side of me feels like dancing just to dance is selfish and that I should take it to the next level, such as teaching, choreographing, or being some kind of leader. But really, what’s wrong with just dancing? I expressed this conundrum to Susan, who shared a great story about a friend who loved to dance but didn’t have the technique to do it professionally. Instead, he found a happy medium working at a dance studio, helping at the front desk. That way he was still involved in the dance world, felt a connection to what he loved, but just wasn’t on stage. I’ve already done the teaching, the choreographing…maybe it really is OK for me just to dance! Or–how wild is this– to dance AND blog about it?! How oogy–and wonderful!

So I’m still working on finding my dharma, but now I have a little more to chew on after the workshop. The class I took over the weekend was Susan’s last stop on her Dharma Dance introductory tour, and now she’s back home in Virginia developing it into something she hopes to train others in, so that Dharma Dance may one day appear in your yoga studio.

Until then, I’m going back to experimenting with some ooginess. First stop: Getting used to eating this yellow watermelon!?!?!?!

Not gonna lie...this freaked me the heck out when I cut it open!

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