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The photo above is a magnet I bought several years ago from the Japan pavilion at Epcot in Walt Disney World. It was a moment of Zen amid an otherwise less-than-tranquil experience in one of the busiest, dizziest (and most humid) tourist destinations on the East Coast. Who knew the House of Mouse could offer such sage wisdom?
“On rainy days, be in the rain. On windy days, be in the wind.”
I understood the maxim’s message right away, as I was still in my honeymoon phase of my yoga and meditation practice and was obsessed with perfecting presence of mind.
What the magnet means is that when you are standing in rain, see it as just rain. No judgement, no attaching “good” or “bad” or “miserable” labels to the meteorological phenomenon. When it rains, be present; see it at its most basic state: water falling from the sky. And then just experience it in all its wet glory.
Same goes for the wind: I feel a strong rush of air pushing at my body and causing my hair to whip around my face. Wind is neither good nor bad; it is wind, and I am standing in it.
The thing is … it’s really hard to master that philosophy, mainly because of something called feeling.
Feeling is something humans are really good at. We have a deep capacity to love and fear and want and reject.
When we’re presented with a simple phenomenon, be it weather or meeting a new person or watching an animal out in nature, the act of observing is usually upstaged by our tendency to want to assign it an emotion or metaphor.
There is nothing wrong with this, but making the leap from observing to feeling can be tricky.
As 5Rhythms® teacher and Open Floor co-founder Lori Saltzman said, “Adding feeling and making meaning is the part that can bring us together … but also the part that gets us into trouble.”
Perspective is powerful.
I and several other dancers got to play around with this concept recently with Lori at her “Write of Passage“ dance/writing workshop, which I attended in Charlottesville, Virginia.
For example, she offered: Imagine a young man in his 20s walking down the street in a hoodie. That’s the baseline, the observation. But one person may see this man as dangerous. Another person thinks, “Oh, what a hottie! I’d like to hook up with him.” And yet another person sees the same man and with a heavy heart thinks, “That’s my son.”
With that, Lori had us put on our “sacred reporter” hats, pull out our notebooks and pens, and observe a volunteer dancer posed in the middle of our circle.”Describe what you see,” Lori instructed, “but only what is right in front of you. I’m talking simple descriptions here—‘white legwarmers, tight ponytail.’ None of this ‘eternal feminine goddess’ stuff.”
We shouted out basic nouns and adjectives, phrases like “bent arms,” “aqua midriff,” “turned-in feet.”
The next step was to describe the volunteer dancer through verbs, action words: “sliding across the floor,” “reaching upward,” “undulating.”
A couple both dressed in purplish hues stepped into the circle. “Now, use metaphors to describe what you see,” Lori instructed. These dancers soon became “two loose grapes rolling around in the fruit bowl” and “grown-up children prancing outside on the playground.”
The final volunteer to step inside the circle was subject to four types of our reporting: basic description, action words, metaphors, and the delicate element of feeling. What type of feeling does this woman’s movement evoke in you? When you watch her move, what is she expressing?
Lori pushed us to be brave, to dare to be wrong in our interpretation. The human race in general can be so afraid to find feeling in another’s expression, because we are afraid of getting it wrong. Of thinking someone is sad when she isn’t really sad.
However, taking the leap and noticing that someone is mourning a loss or experiencing profound happiness—and letting him know that you see what he feels—can be liberating for that person. To be fully seen is a gift!
We drew a table with nine cells in our notebooks and as our volunteer danced, we filled each cell with one of those four types of observations. At the end of the exercise, we had a kind of “tic-tac-toetry” in front of us, short poetic verses compiled from a row of squares:
“Hard-soled shoes tapping on the wood / ball of tenderness yearning to crack open / eyes begging.”
Eventually, we all became the moving volunteer, dancing our dance in groups of three as the two other group members took notes in the same fashion, this time on index cards.
When I was done dancing, my fellow group members slid several cards my way, each piece of paper containing a description of how my classmates saw me. There was my dance—me at my most honest—spread out in front of me.
Lori gave us time to sort through the cards, rearrange them a bit, remove a few, and edit slightly. The result was our poem. Here’s mine:
Here I Am.
Rolling it out, shaking it loose.
I am integrated,
A wild child transformed into an aligned woman.
I Am Here.
The day’s lessons and exercises put me in such “sacred reporter” mode that my poetic perspective was in high gear, even off the dance floor.
When I returned to my host’s house that afternoon, I delighted in the fact that the blanket in the guest bedroom had been elegantly twisted and tucked into an abstract figure of the female form, a pear-shaped flow of fabric starting slender at the top and expanding into wider curves at the bottom.
I smiled and snapped a photo, thanking my partner for creating such a lovely work of bed art. He laughed.
“I didn’t do anything,” he said. “All I did was take a nap, and that’s how the blanket ended up.”
Rain can be rain and a blanket can be a blanket. But sometimes the blanket is an abstract goddess, and we shouldn’t be afraid to say it how we see it.
The power of perspective.
Back in March, I attended one heavy-duty Heartbeat-level 5Rhythms workshop with England-based teacher Adam Barley.
I haven’t blogged about any of it yet because I’m afraid.
Which makes sense, because the topic was FEAR.
This was not a workshop to take for shits and giggles. Like, don’t sign up for this if all you’re looking for is 15 hours of ecstatic dance. Adam is a fun teacher, and sure, we danced a lot, but it’s serious work. Adam wants you to get your money’s worth. Which means that when the workshop is being billed as “Fear,” Adam wants you to get up close and personal with that super-scary F-word.
One of the most valuable lessons I learned in this particular workshop is how the “shadows” of each of the Rhythms serve as obstacles to truly facing what scares us.
I’ve gone through each of these shadows in an attempt to blog about this very workshop. These shadows are familiar and arise often when I’m faced with something that’s going to make me vulnerable.
The beauty is that now I’m aware of these little mind games, and somehow knowing what’s going on behind the scenes makes the whole process a little less scary.
But enough of the esoteric introduction. Let’s get to the nitty gritty, shall we?
Adam split our class into 5 groups—one for each rhythm/shadow—spread out across the room. The direction was to fully dance in that shadow for some time and then—when prompted—move to another group, exploring the movements associated with that shadow. So on and so forth.
> Flowing became Sleepiness and Complacency. Instead of firmly rooting our feet into the ground, we allowed our limp bodies to topple into it, the earth as our floppy pillow rather than the solid foundation it is supposed to be. Half-open eyes, yawning—how easy it is to just rest my head here on this person’s back. Why stand up when I can just…lie…down…right…here Zzzzzzz.
This shadow felt all too familiar. I resort to it all the time when I’m afraid, because instead of facing fear head-on, it is SO much easier to say “I’m tired” and succumb to that “I-can’t-keep-my head-up” heaviness. Can’t deal with fear when you’re asleep, right?
Granted, there are times I am legitimately exhausted but how peculiar that every time I sit down to blog, I suddenly feel verrrry sleepy…
> Staccato became Anger, Rage, and Blame. When it’s too scary to step boldly into the empty spaces and be direct and honest, why not transform that intensity onto someone else? Bare your teeth, stomp in someone else’s boundaries, jut your head forward and invade their personal space. Suddenly Staccato begins resembling a kung fu movie, and no one is safe.
For me, this shadow translates to “It’s so-and-so’s fault I can’t write because he/she is [insert blame here]!!” or “There are just too many dance events, I have no time to write about them. The people who schedule every awesome event under the sun in June clearly have no respect for my schedule!!”
> Chaos became Loss of Control. Although it is important to let your head go when dancing in Chaos, it’s just as crucial to remember your feet’s connection to the ground. A room full of dancers engaged in an ungrounded Chaos will result in potentially dangerous collisions, driver-less cars hydroplaning in every direction.
This kind of movement is dizzying, exhausting, cross-eyed, flailing limbs striking others as you stumble from here to there to everywhere. A sense of panic arises—as though trying to escape a burning building—but you’re not even sure if you’re heading toward the exit.
Sometimes it’s easier to wear myself out then face anything challenging. If I mindlessly speed through a morning of working out, scrubbing the tub, pushing myself through a few sun salutations, running to the pharmacy, dancing a Wave, there’s no possible way I’ll have the time or energy to confront my fear. I’m a sweaty, exhausted mess in a matter of hours, most likely finding myself back at Shadow #1: Sleepiness.
> Lyrical became Distraction. Welcome to La-La Land, where all senses are on overdrive. You want to see, smell, hear, taste, and feel everything…but all at once and without being very mindful about what’s coming your way.
Movement is disoriented, eyes darting from one body part or person to the next, moving just to move but never feeling connection to anything you make contact with. It’s a blip on your radar, a quick Ooooh or Ahhh before something new distracts you.
I should refresh my Twitter feed. Have a bite of those brownies on the counter. Yes, I love this song! OMG, I can write my name in the dust on this table. What was that kid’s name in the movie about that monster? Lemme look that up on Wikipedia. Holy crap, it’s already 7 p.m.; I should get my work clothes ready for tomorrow so I’ll be all set, maybe make my lunch while I’m at it.
Before I know it it’s bedtime, and I’ve done everything but anything that really matters.
> Stillness became Blankness, Catatonia, Numbness. Nothing in, nothing out. When fear paralyzes you to the point of near-immobility, unable to emote in any fashion, unable to feel, locked in a state of physical and mental frozenness.
Movement is hardly movement at all, more like uncertain steps in no particular direction, eyes closed or gazing off into nowhere, moving solely because you are asked to move, not because you have any desire to.
That guy is raising his arm. Maybe I should do that too. … There, I just raised my arm. Now I will put it down.
This shadow is usually the last resort when dealing with fear, after all of the other options above have been put to the test. I’ve worn myself out, played the blame game, distracted myself into a tizzy, fallen asleep, and now have finally sat myself down at the computer, opened to a blank page, and … … …
Look at that white screen.
There is nothing.
I need to write words because that is what a blog entails.
I need to pee but I can’t even leave this seat. I am so parched but I will just sit here staring at this screen and allow my throat to get drier and drier. I can’t feel my ass now, but I will continue to sit this way and allow my legs to feel as heavy as my mind.
The computer screen is as blank as my expression.
* * *
In the heart of this exercise, Adam stopped telling us when to shift shadows and instructed us to move freely from one shadow to another when the moment felt right.
What we were really doing was experimenting with defense mechanisms, exploring the things we call “Anger!” or Sleeeeeepiness, which are really just masks for the bigger emotion: Fear.
When fear comes up–whether it entails heartfelt, authentic blogging; telling someone what you really mean; or trying out a new class/applying for a new job—the brain kicks in with excuses, overshadowing the fear.
Fear becomes blame. Fear becomes distraction. Fear becomes muteness.
Adam’s exercise was a valuable lesson: By observing these patterns and being aware of our habits, we can transform fear.
The next time you find yourself yawning at a friend or yelling at a partner, staring mindlessly out of windows or spiraling out of control, ask yourself: What is this really?
Is this fear? Am I afraid?
After all, the full title of the workshop was Fear, Power, and Beauty.
Own your fear. Give it the power to be heard and seen.
From that, beauty will emerge.
Week by week, my “blogging idea” list keeps growing. I dance furiously, take notes, ruminate, and then—just as I feel ready to transfer the experience to screen—the next event rolls along, and I am immersed in another moment of rapture. I am bursting at the seams with experiences to share (bet you didn’t know I completed a first-degree Reiki class last month!), with little down time to sink back into those moments and bring them back to life through words. And as much as my career as an editor helps me through the blogging process, it’s also a hindrance: I spend so many hours each day in front of a computer that the thought of another minute squinting at a monitor is often agonizing.
This past Sunday was supposed to be THE DAY. I had danced on Friday night and Saturday afternoon with minimal computer interaction. Apart from a morning coffee date, Sunday was wide open, and I had every intention of blogging my ass off.
(At this time, you may turn your attention to the title of this post, which indicates how well that all turned out.)
Sunday was rainy, chilly, and gray, the dictionary definition of an I’m-not-taking-off-my-pajamas kind of day. I had in fact gotten dressed that morning, but only for the coffee meetup with Carrol. Carrol is my 60-something “old lady friend” (her words, not mine!); she’s also an art therapist, and being in her presence always stirs something creative in me. A live jazz quartet accompanied our latte sipping and strata nibbling, and an exhibit by local artist Monica Joy Moran had all kinds of earthy works of mixed media popping from the walls.
When I got home, I was inspired to flex my artistic muscle—but not through writing! I wanted to use my hands more than my brain; I wanted to create! Despite the urgency of all the writing that was waiting to be done, I wanted to express my love of movement through images rather than words.
My first endeavor was to create a get well card for the producer of my 5Rhythms tribe, who was scheduled to have arthroscopic knee surgery the following day. Knee surgery for a mover/shaker/dancer is a pretty huge deal; it deserves a special kind of card!
As barbaric as it sounds, I began by dismembering the ballerinas and dancers in an old Alonzo King Lines Ballet wall calendar. Whereas zombies mutter “Braaaaiiinsss,” I was thinking more along the lines of “Legggggssss.”
I envisioned using healthy dancer knees as part of the project; I was inspired by the work I created for my friend who had pulmonary surgery over the summer. For that project, I had cut out a bunch of words and images from magazines illustrative of “breath” and “inhalation” and shaped them into a pair of lungs. However, I quickly realized that a knee wasn’t exactly as visually striking.
Change of plans!
The notion of making an actual card I could send in the mail fell flat when I realized the size of these dancer legs. Instead, I made a temporary exhibit on a yoga mat and delivered the image via Facebook. Thank you, technology! (Also, I don’t know what the heck Rebekah would have done with a poster-sized image of random limbs.)
I was now in the zone. My little yoga room upstairs had transformed into a paper-littered art studio; Zoë Keating’s cello music played on my laptop, the vibration of her strings moving me to vibrate along with her. The assembly of legs before me was calling to be transformed.
I then realized something needed to be done with all the poor floating heads and torsos left behind on my leg-less dancers. It was time to get serious.
I became a madwoman, gathering scissors, glue, poster board, and tape, spreading them over the wooden floor of my yoga room. From the kitchen, I brought up a bowl of mixed nuts, with some Reese’s Pieces thrown in the mix for a colorful kick. A gallon jug of water to chug on, to keep me hydrated. Lit a chocolate mint-scented candle, changed my music to the buoyant strings of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra.
I was ready for both hibernation and/or creation.
Delicately, I snipped the dancers’ heads and arms from their dark background, happy to be repurposing their poses and poise. The work became a Wave: smoothing down paper and paste to the music’s tempo; gliding my finger over wet glue, feeling the stickiness with the same awareness of pressing my foot into the dance floor and feeling the gritty wood fibers; slicing paper with a razor—careful not to get too Staccato—being mindful of the Lyrical nature of the razor’s work, thin cracks forming over an icy lake.
Finally, there came Stillness:
I’m still thinking of a good name for the piece. “Tribe and True”? “Us”? “Supportive Stillness”? The intention was to depict how a 5Rhythms tribe allows room for a heart to grow while holding a sacred, contained space for such development. The dance isn’t necessarily about contact as it is connection, the feeling of being part of a greater something even when dancing by yourself.
I can be standing on the outskirts of the dance floor by myself during 5Rhythms but never feel alone. It had happened just the day before at a class led by Peter Fodera; overcome with a profound appreciation and deep gratitude for everyone dancing around me, I was compelled to stand off to the side and simply witness the unraveling around me. I felt tapped into the buzzing circuitry, lifting my hands as though placing them on one of those plasma static electricity balls. My body started to heat up, not in a “I’m dancing crazily, I’m hot” way, but rather a radiating warmth from my core outward that left a fine sheen of perspiration over the surface of my skin. A healthy 5Rhythms tribe is very much like a flourishing circulatory system; my heart beats as the surrounding veins and arteries flood it with fresh nourishment.
I hardly touched my keyboard that Sunday but didn’t feel as guilty as I normally do when putting off writing for another day. Artistic expression had emerged in different ways that night; old calendars found new life; and I found that cutting, pasting, and assembling can be just as meditative as shaking, whirling, and twirling.
I’ve sat down at my computer so many times over the past week in an attempt to document the three-day “Fire of Love” 5Rhythms workshop with Amara Pagano I attended in late September, and each time my fingers try to translate movement into words, I get discouraged. The hard, clickety-clack sensation of my metallic keyboard feels so unnatural and sterile, a device more fit for writing about a tap-dancing or clogging class, not about a program created to explore the inner workings of the body’s most fragile organ.
“I wish I were a ballet blogger,” I say. “It would be so much easier.”
If I blogged strictly about ballet, I’d write about combinations we learned, steps that challenged me, the way I wobbled during my fouette turns or how I think my grand jete needs more height. I wouldn’t have to write about the experience of delving deep into the next level of 5Rhythms after Waves—Heartbeat—an act akin to going out for a run with a twisted ankle. I’ve already gleaned so much about myself during Waves practice, have faced questions that only present themselves through movement. My dance has already transitioned from mind to body to heart; dear god, did I really need to take it a step further?
If I blogged strictly about ballet, I’d describe the teacher by how tightly her hair was pulled back, the commands she barked, the feedback she offered on my lines and execution. I wouldn’t have to write about the way Amara Pagano could speak without uttering a word, how her fluid body conveyed more information than any encyclopedia, how her eyes connected with each and every student. I wouldn’t have to explain that when I danced because Amara said so, I was dancing for myself, not because I was trying to impress a superior. I threw myself into the movement because Amara was serious about self-realization; she didn’t care about appearance or rhythm or lines—all she pressed us for was authenticity and the courage to “let it go.”
If I blogged strictly about ballet, I’d post pictures of my bloodied toes, the result of being packed too tightly into pointe shoes. I wouldn’t have to explain how the purplish-brown bruise on my elbow was from throwing myself into a dance depicting grief, how the skin on the top of my foot was torn after dragging my lower body across the floor, my arms propelling my lifeless legs behind me in an exercise exploring our fear.
A ballet blogger’s description of “center work” would involve small jumps, turns, combinations of 8, 16, 24, and 32. I wouldn’t have to write about a group exercise in which we were told to trust no one but ourselves, to move as though you are suspicious of everyone. I wouldn’t have to describe how fear built up so intensely that when Amara told us to switch the fear to excitement, the outburst exploding from my body was manic, a throaty laughter I didn’t even recognize, wild, wicked, and somewhat lascivious. Back and forth we went—fear, excitement, fear, excitement—continuing the dichotomies with a partner, screaming, baring teeth, grinding pelvises, alternating from witches to whores, criminals to cat-nipped kittens. A ballet blogger wouldn’t have to explain how such “center work” pushed us into the concept of fearlessness, finding the euphoric midpoint between fear and excitement.
“I wish I were a language instruction blogger,” I say. “It would be so much easier.”
If I blogged strictly about language, every day I’d present a new word and translate it into Italian or Swahili, maybe use it in a sentence as well. I wouldn’t have to write about the surprise I felt after hearing a French-Canadian accent emerge from the mouth of a young woman with whom I engaged in an intense responder/revealer partner dance. Our movement was such a rich conversation of fear, empathy, support, and encouragement; I never once thought of her as a “foreigner.” If I blogged about nouns and adjectives, I wouldn’t have to write about how dance is a universal language; when one dances fear, you will understand it and respond to it, no matter what country you’re from or what accent you carry. I wouldn’t have to explain how when one dances love, it translates both as a whisper in the ear and a scream in your face—so subtle and personal, yet so loud and clear and public.
If I blogged about language, I’d describe how X means Y, how A means B, clear definitions for words, proper ways of constructing sentences. I wouldn’t have to write about the language of love, defined by Amara as awareness, being available. I wouldn’t have to write about allowing a partner to touch me, being instructed to just take in the touch, be receptive, before moving and responding to the touch. I wouldn’t have to go into detail about using the floor as a partner and then returning to my human partner to extend this “conversation,” or the disappointment I experienced when my partner’s movement felt tired and distant.
If I were a language instruction blogger, my post on pronouns would discuss nosotros versus vosotros, tu versus Usted, you, me, I, we. I wouldn’t have to write about the difficulties of retaining my “I” movement when dancing with a partner, the pitfalls of too quickly abandoning “I” for “you,” the connection that develops when the right amount of “I” (authentic movement) and “you” (a partner’s movement) equals “we” (a dance of revelation, response, and mutuality). If I were a language blogger, “we” would be just a two-letter word, not a concept involving a group of people ending a three-day workshop as an interconnected mass, limbs linked, hands touching, someone’s cheek resting atop my thigh, my fingers running through a woman’s saturated hair, a circuit of energy looping through our intertwined arms and legs, a current so strong that I swear I could feel the pulse of even those I wasn’t physically touching.
“I wish I were a dream blogger,” I say. “It would be so much easier.”
If I blogged strictly about dreams, I’d describe and interpret the fantastical images that play through my brain at night. I wouldn’t have to write about the stirring visions I experience on the dance floor, like when I closed my eyes and saw not just my classmates’ faces but felt their movement talk through my body, as though everyone had been squeezed into me and I into them, until we were simply a giant concoction of universal movement, no skin, bones, or muscle separating us. I wouldn’t have to write about how that experience felt like I was serving as a kind of medium for my classmates’ stories, experiencing not just their dance but the emotion behind it as well. I wouldn’t have to describe how the experience comforted me, a metaphorical experience for the realization I am not alone, that even after just a few hours of being introduced to these people, they now live inside of me.
“I wish I were a fashion blogger,” I say. “It would be so much easier.”
If I blogged strictly about fashion, a post about evening wear would discuss necklines and fabrics and hems. I wouldn’t have to write about how a little red dress serving as our installation’s centerpiece was the catalyst for my dance of fearlessness. I wouldn’t have to explain that, after dancing out “fear” across the floor—my movements heavy, reluctant, dragging, having to tug at my pant leg to propel me forward—I had no idea how I was going to follow Amara’s instruction to turn around and return down the floor with fearlessness. The resistance was overwhelming, and I stopped at the floor’s edge with no idea of how I was going to turn around and face fear in the eyes. I couldn’t. I was stuck. Expletives ran through my head, and I felt like a failure as my dancemates’ grimaces turned to smiles. If I were a fashion blogger, I wouldn’t have to explain how I stood against the auditorium stage in a panic, looked up, and saw that red dress before me—that was my cue. I want to be that lady in red, a voice inside of me said. I will wear that dress. Like that—BOOM!—fearlessness! I whipped around and returned down the floor in seconds with intensity, boldness, espresso in my cup. My speed down the floor wasn’t an attempt to evade the exercise but rather was me listening to the authentic voice that boomed forth. This fearlessness didn’t want to waste time, it wanted action. NOW.
If I were a fashion blogger, I’d write about which celebrity looks best in that little red dress. I wouldn’t have to write about metaphorically wearing that dress myself for the rest of the workshop, embracing fearlessness, stepping forward and dancing with someone who intimidated the hell out of me, being surprised at how much I gave myself to her, observing my emotions shift from fear to excitement to fearlessness in a cycle. I loved it, I hated it, I was scared, I was joyful. I was.
If I were a fashion blogger, the little red dress would be just a little red dress, not a symbol of sensuality and womanhood. I wouldn’t have to write about the way it touched me to my core, how when I observed two women in the throes of a throbbing, shaking voodoo dance, I stood beside them with my palms open, soaking up their energy, a gnawing, gripping, pounding desire to be in their bodies, feel the way that red dress enveloped their flesh, share their rawness, maturity, and wisdom.
“I wish I were anything but an overly sensitive dance/movement meditation blogger,” I say. “It would be so much easier.”
Wouldn’t it? But I am, and so I dance, and so I feel, and so I write.
Several months ago, one of my Kripalu yoga teacher training classmates, Kristen, asked me if I’d like to write an article about yoga dance/expressive movement for the local magazine she edits.
Asking a writer/dancer if she’d like to write a piece about dance? Um, yesplease!!
Here’s the link: Yoga Living, Summer 2012. (My article is on page 22.)
In the article, I give a brief description of some of the more well-known styles of yoga dance/moving meditation/conscious dancing/insert-your-descriptor here, a general primer for someone curious about becoming a real-life Nataraja but not sure exactly what goes on when the yoga mats are rolled up and the music thump-thump-thumps.
The fourth one, Journey Dance, I’ve only done a handful of times. I feel very fortunate to have danced with Journey Dance’s founder, Toni Bergins, while at Kripalu, but other experiences closer to home have been…different. Like the time we started class on our hands and knees, instructed to crawl around like cats, purring and everything, even guided so far as to brush up sensually against our fellow felines.
Getting people to do yoga is hard. Getting people to try some form of yoga dance is even harder. Instructing students right off the bat to drop to all fours and coo and purr and crawl like cats and tigers and lions (oh my!) may not be the most appealing selling point, in my opinion.
So it’s been a while since I’ve Journey Danced.
But that has all changed, because last weekend a new class started in my neck of the woods!
We started the class with sounds, but fortunately not those of animals. I used to be afraid of making noise but have grown accustomed to it over the years, especially after studying Kripalu yoga (which is ALL about audible expressions like sighs and ahhs and ooohs and haaaaa), and even more so now after taking Bobbie Ellis’ workshop, in which we rolled around on the floor whispering sa-sa-sa-sa-sa.
Wendy, this class’ instructor, started with three distinct sounds: Oooo, Sthhhh, and one that kind of sounded like J-zhow-J-zhow. The first, which sounded a bit like Om, was all about grounding. Finding that base, the foundation. The second, very snake-like, we did while lying on the floor, and I felt like it was filling me with air and breath and the beginnings of light movement. The third was the start of movement exploration, and Wendy encouraged us to move our bodies along to this somewhat unusual sound. I’m so used to music being the movement instigator; this time, using the breath inside of me, the vibrations from my throat, and the facial expressions on my lips and cheeks and eyes gave my first “dance” a more authentic, from-the-inside-out feel.
Once I was on my feet…well, it’s hard to remember the rest. There was a great group of women dancing, from fellow 5Rhythms dancers to someone who stuck to very private, internal movement to a girl who was off the hook with happiness and exhilaration; the smile on her face was something everyone should see every day, because there would never be any wars if people saw that expression. Her movement was pure joy, and I was amazed to learn that this was her first time dancing in public like that.
Wendy admitted that a lot of her music revolved around a “praise” theme; not about praising a specific god or spirit, but just praising our time together right then and there, praising the freedom to dance and express and be. We moved across the floor with our expressions of praise, sometimes grand (jumping to the ceiling! spinning in circles!) or very introspective and reverent.
Midway during class, the props were pulled out—this time, scarves. I selected a silky one with a summertime color combination of reds, oranges, and yellows. Wendy instructed us to dance as though the scarves were our hearts, and I was surprised to find my movement incredibly subtle at times, caressing and stroking the fabric so delicately as though I were a lab student in the middle of a dissection. Precise, exact, utmost attention, so careful with this fine piece of imaginary muscle. It surprised me because, well, give me a scarf and I am usually all over the place with the thing, flying it from corner to corner like it’s a kite.
But I didn’t want to be whimsical and ethereal in that dance; no, I wanted to treat that scarf like a beating organ on the operating table—chest open—veins, arteries, and, blood vessels expanding and contracting; me, the surgeon who needs to find the dance of life, the pattern of movement that will keep this thing beating. I felt like both a curious anatomic investigator—exploring this mysterious muscle in front of me—and a very dedicated surgeon, instinctually knowing all the right moves but just needing to build up the bravery to take the scalpel to the tissue.
During the post-class sharing, I mentioned this observation, the fact that this time my “heart dance” was very introspective and internally intense, not the usual “Put it all out there! Spread the love!” that I normally feel.
After class, another 5Rhythms classmate echoed my observation, noting herself that she noticed a difference in my movement. “You’ve grown a lot,” she told me. I think the last time we danced together was in April, yet even since then, she said, “It shows. Your dance has grown.”
This meant a lot to me, because emotionally I know I am growing; for that growth to be projecting through my movement and interaction on the dance floor is reassurance that my mind, heart, and dancing body are all the same thing. Tug on one, and they all follow along.
Journey Dance will be a monthly event at this particular studio, but my dance is a daily journey that is constantly in flux, an ink spot baptized by a splash of water: branching out, oozing toward the edges, growing.
During intermission of a dance concert I attended Friday night, I was asked when I started dancing. I responded that I was 3 years old, but that I did the standard ballet-tap-jazz combo that all little kids do when they first start dancing, as if dismissing my early involvement in the art. Small-town dance studio, nothing too intense. More concerned about what costume you’re going to wear for the summer recital, what cool jazz song your teacher is going to choose for your routine. Turns, splits, smiles, sequins. Ta-da! Jazz hands. Curtain call. Take a bow.
It was just my thing, I said. Some people played rec soccer. Some took piano lessons. I danced. Whatever. It was just an extracurricular to keep me occupied.
That’s what I thought Friday night, that dance was just “a thing.” I mean, it has obviously grown since then from “a thing” to “THE thing,” but why was I so quick to downplay my foundations?
As if guided by some spiritual guardian, yesterday morning—as I went into my closet to retrieve a shirt to wear for a 5Rhythms class later in the day—I noticed the program from my college graduation sitting on the closet floor; must have fallen when I was retrieving some old yearbooks last week. I picked up the piece of paper, thumbed through it quickly, surprised to see my name. Totally forgot that I had won a creative writing award my senior year. Hmph.
I opened a random box in the closet to return the program, but it was the wrong box. Instead, this one had a portfolio of writings from my past, essays and short stories and poetry from my youth, things I don’t even remember writing or items that I had thought went out with the recycling long ago. I found a myth I wrote in high school, a charming story about the origin of stars that my teacher said had potential as a children’s story. A horror “book” (15 loose-leaf pages stapled together) about a group of teens vacationing on a beach with a homicidal maniac on the loose. Stories I wrote when I wasn’t even an official adult yet that still speak to my 31-year-old self.
But, most important of all, was the handwritten poem I found. It was written when I was in 8th grade, 14 years old, braces on my crooked teeth and awkwardness in my gangly limbs. I may not have been the most graceful or elegant dancer at that stage of life, but—contrary to what I had just expressed last night about not considering my early dance a “passion”—dance meant a lot to me.
This has been tucked in a closet for the past 18 years; today is the day “My Passion” emerges from the dark.
Take me on a wooden floor,
Where I’m not human anymore.
My mind is far away, a distant place,
While my body is dancing in the same space.
My legs are moving; no thinking is involved,
I just keep moving; it helps my problems get solved.
The music is playing, the music I can see,
No one is around; just let me be.
I do all my turns, I stand on my toes,
I am lost in the Land of Sweets, but nobody knows.
Now I’m Odette, flowing along in a river,
And then I’m Aurora (who almost dies); I give a shiver.
My mind is not here, it is far away.
But my passion for dancing will always stay.
When I started this blog a little more than a year ago, my vision was to reach out and connect with other like-minded individuals but it wasn’t necessarily my be-all, end-all goal. I had been blogging about yoga, dance, and related mind-body activities for years, but I restricted my posts to a limited audience, and I always felt guilty for plaguing my friends’ feeds with my contemplative posts about Kripalu, kundalini, and chaotic drum circles.
So when yogi/blogger Liberez Vous contacted me to let me know that she was gracing my blog with the Liebster Award (German for favorite, dearest, or beloved) for inspiring her through my words, I did what makes me me: I stood up from the kitchen table and did the happy dance around the ceramic-tiled floor. I write mostly for myself, but I love knowing there are other eyes out there taking in my oftentimes quirky collages of nouns, verbs, and adjectives.
Even cooler, Liberez Vous digs me mostly for my musings on my month-long yoga teacher training experience at Kripalu, that weepy/emo/euphoric series of 29 posts that recounted each day of my wild journey to becoming a yoga teacher. Bless her for following along and not getting freaked out, especially when I discussed having visions of a garden full of eyeballs or the time I swore my yoga mat was turning into a Magic Eye book. It must’ve sparked something in her, because she’s applied to the Kripalu YTT program as well. Wish her luck!
What I’ve learned about the Liebster Award is that it is awarded by bloggers to other, newer bloggers who have fewer than 200 followers, to spread the word and help the “new(er)bies” gain wider recognition. The award comes with four conditions that each recipient must satisfy when accepting:
1. Choose 5 up-and-coming blogs (with fewer than 200 followers) to award the Liebster to.
2. Show your thanks to the blogger who gave you the award by linking back to them.
3. Post the award on your blog. List the bloggers you are giving the award to with links to their sites. Leave comments on their blogs so they know about the award.
4. Share 5 random facts about yourself that people don’t know about you.
That said, I’m ready to spread the Liebster love! Please welcome…
Eating From the Earth. Emma, one of my nearest and dearest friends from high school, is essentially a 21st-century Laura Ingalls Wilder. She’s a full-time pharmacist, wife, and mother of 2.5-year-old Gabriella (cutest toddler ever!), yet somehow finds the time to cook everything from scratch and make by hand nearly everything she wears. It’s sickening! 🙂 I once ate a meal at her place in which the noodles in the butternut squash lasagna were made at home, and the bread we broke started as yeast and water in her oven. Emma doesn’t post often, but clearly that’s because she is outside stomping grapes for wine or de-feathering a chicken or something.
VeggieVinyasa. I don’t know Angela personally, but her posts—usually about food or yoga—are refreshing (both visually and mouthwatering) and so clean and sleek, like a center spread out of Whole Living magazine. The inside of her refrigerator looks like a miniature farmers market, whereas mine is housing beer, leftover baked beans, and a box of tomato soup that I’m fairly certain has turned into a solid by now. Go read her recipes, and learn some Sanskrit while you’re at it, too!
Hour 23. Join California native Jessica for her touching posts about motherhood and learning the delicate balance of being a full-time working mama. I first connected with Jess via our old blogging stomping ground, and we actually had the chance to meet several years ago when she was in New Jersey to visit family. Jess’ posts about raising Charlie V are honest, hilarious, and chock full of photos, both tender (like the one of her son mesmerized by garbage trucks) or downright silly (like the one of her mom trying to take a self-portrait with her iPhone in the bathroom mirror).
Me vs. Mixed Connective Tissue Disease. I stumbled across Nicole’s blog after it popped up in my Google Alerts for “Kripalu,” because I love reading about others’ experience at the yoga center in Massachusetts. She had been there for a retreat with her husband, who was just getting acquainted with the practice. She writes openly and down to earth about the process of turning her solo yoga practice into a shared experience with her spouse. Nicole has a unique medical condition that she occasionally discusses in her posts, but for the most part she simply blogs about what keeps her sane—yoga—and the solace it brings to her often-aching body.
Adventures of Flapjacks. This little lobster has some big adventures, which all started in 2003 when my husband and I “rescued” him from a cruise ship gift shop. He’s became a 3-D version of Flat Stanley, traveling wherever we travel and always finding new ways to charm his followers (especially when he wears his miniature Mickey Mouse ears in Disney World). He’s been to Detroit, on ski trips, to Kripalu (twice!), both Disney World and Disneyland, the Jersey shore, the Franklin Institute, plus he’s run for office several times. His obsessions are Starbucks lattes/Frappuccinos, motorcycles, the teacups ride in Fantasyland, and operating the laser gun in Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. Flapjacks apologizes for all the random Cyrillic on his blog; he’s getting a bit frustrated with the LiveJournal platform and plans on upgrading to a WordPress blog soon.
Congratulations, Liebster inductees!
Finally, to fulfill the last requirement of being a Liebster blogger, here are 5 random facts about me:
• My sister and I both have mild forms of trypophobia, a “fear” of holes, clusters, and repeated patterns. For example, honeycomb, crumpets, and wasps’ nests make us want to hurl.
• I have never pumped my own gas. (I live in New Jersey, one of only two states in the country where it is technically illegal to pump your own, and anytime I’ve been in other states, I’ve had someone else with me who’d do it!)
• I’ve been to China/Tibet and Egypt but never to Canada, which we could drive to in about 8 hours.
• I haven’t eaten beef since I was 14.
• If I hear the Wishes soundtrack (fireworks show in the Magic Kingdom), it will take me approximately 0.64 seconds to start crying on the spot.
Although my birthday was just about a month ago, I have not forgotten about one of the best cards to enter my mailbox, and I think it’s only fair to publicly thank its sender.
Back in July, I posted about this year being the first without receiving a birthday card from my aunt, who died earlier this year. She was meticulous about addressing and signing the card, using a ruler to pencil in straight lines on the envelope. My friend Emma commented:
As much as I love Emma, I really didn’t expect her to follow through on her words. But, lo and behold:
Ruler and everything! Nice handwriting, too, which I imagine was a PITA for Emma, who works as a pharmacist and has most likely unconsciously adopted the scribbly scrawl of the doctor’s prescription pad. (The card itself was a Shoebox one involving jokes of laughter and pee and overall fun, juvenile humor.)
Along a similar note, I received a card on my desk the other day from a woman in my office. Her father had just died, and I had no idea why I would be the recipient of a card. Inside the little “just a note” card, she had thanked me for passing along the news of her father’s death to a former colleague, who in turn attended the viewing:
“Having [former colleague] at my father’s viewing meant so very much to me. It wouldn’t have been possible if you hadn’t shared the news with her.”
She could have easily told me this in person or shot me an e-mail expressing her thanks, but the added touch of paper and handwriting–especially during such a tough time–made the gesture so much more profound. I was touched that she was touched enough to go the extra step.
If reviving the lost art of letter writing and 3-D, tactile cards and paper is of interest to you, you should check out my YTT classmate Stephanie’s blog, My Year of Letters. She’s making a commitment “to write one letter a day as a way to practice mindfulness, to reconnect with friends and family, to spread a little joy and love around the world.” I think it’s ever-so-pertinent during a time when the government is studying the possibility of closing 3,700 post offices across the nation.
I used to carry around a set of small 2 x 2 cards in my handbag, to write quick little thank-yous or just-a-notes if the occasion arose, like if a cashier or salesperson was particularly helpful or kind. I remember writing out one to my manager when she took on some of my work assignments during a busy time, but I honestly don’t remember using them elsewhere. I think I’ve been inspired to refill my handbag–and actually put the idea into action this time.