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When I am dancing by myself, I tend to find “partners” in various inanimate objects around the house, throwing my body against the carpet during an episode of chaos, draping my leg over the back of a chair, grasping onto a door frame as though it’s two arms on either side of me, pressing my back against the wall like there’s another human being supporting my weight, or engaging in a pas de deux with a set of curtains during a moment of stillness.

The aftermath of clawing on the carpet during Chaos

Recently, I even discovered that I can balance my arms on the kitchen counter while walking my feet seductively up the back of one of our wrought-iron chairs. It’s my sexy dance that I do while waiting for my corn to heat up in the microwave.

While I enjoy my creative ways of turning the whole downstairs into a jungle gym, there is one big thing missing from my dances with furniture and flooring: connection. No matter how hard I press my hands into the archway dividing the living room from the dining room, I won’t feel a pulse in return. My skin makes contact with paint and drywall; any energy radiating through my palms stops where the wall begins.

Even the curtains, so wispy and balletic in nature, are unable to cradle me like human arms. They make for a beautiful prop but not a true partner.

Many times during a 5Rhythms class, we are asked to take a partner. Sometimes the instruction is to do nothing other than dance your dance while simply being aware of the other’s movement. Sometimes, especially during workshops, the instruction is more specific and requires some level of trust, such as the time I had to dance while blindfolded, depending on my partner’s energetic cues to prevent me from colliding with other dancers.

The beauty in this work is that–unlike dancing with a wall or a kitchen chair–there is now some level of connection. The energy/prana/chi emanating from my hands and feet has found a safe place to flow, and in return, my partner’s energy mingles with mine. It’s a dance of mutuality.

For example, during last week’s 5Rhythms class, I happened to be partnered with the studio owner, Rhonda, for the last 10 minutes of Stillness. Our connection has been growing stronger by the month, but this time it truly came through during the dance: We linked hands and arms, leaned on each other for support, rolled on the floor together, held the weight of the other’s skulls in our hands, ran fingers through hair. It required a lot of trust and a huge opening of the heart. It’s not something everyone can do right off the bat, but that night it felt like we were conversing on an emotionally deep level that words would never be able to justify.

To end class, we stayed with this partner for an eye-gazing meditation, in which each person stares into the other’s left eye. This was the Stillness to end all Stillnesses, because, really, what act is simultaneously so still yet so moving? On the outside we may have been motionless, but it’s darn near impossible to look someone straight in the eye for 5 minutes and not feel things stirring inside. After class, we were both a bit weepy.

In this type of work, you may not know your partner’s stories or have an answers to their questions, but you can offer your unbiased presence. Likewise, the mere acknowledgement of your existence by another can be so comforting, a silent yet powerful dance that surpasses any exchange between human and home furnishings.

Remember late last year when I took a Let Your Yoga Dance (LYYD) class with Nikki to help her fulfill her practice teach requirements?

One of the other students in the class was Suzie, who just so happened to be in the same LYYD training program at Kripalu. Suzie was a super-fun classmate, but I couldn’t wait to be one of her students. Like Nikki, she had a demeanor that just exuded Teacher. And, seriously, how cool is it to have not one but two LYYD teachers in my neighborhood?!

Friday night, in honor of the Go Red for Women campaign, Suzie held a heartwarming LYYD class where all proceeds went to the American Heart Association. It was a perfect tie-in: Raising money for charity by coming together and dancing our hearts out, getting our own cardiovascular workout through something as simple as dancing freely and openly.

I came into the class a bit tired and very cold. I felt like I was carrying weight of the work week on my shoulders, and I was afraid I would (a) just not have any energy; and (b) be a popsicle the entire time. When I am cold, I live with the fear that I will never warm up. Luckily, a few minutes of shaking around to Michael Franti’s “Say Hey (I Love You)” took care of that. 🙂

The thing about being a teacher is that you have to be ON, because you are the lighthouse for the rest of the class. If you begin to fade, the class energy fades with you. Suzie had some factors working against her: only a handful of students (one of whom [me] was sleepy and shivering) and the fact that we were dancing in the phys ed room of a small parochial school, surrounded by unflattering overhead florescent lighting, worn gray carpeting over a concrete floor, and hideous bright blue/yellow walls. She’d have to work extra hard to get us motivated!

Luckily, Suzie never let the conditions get to her and remained naturally ebullient throughout the entire class. It was hard to be grumpy when dancing with someone like this:

Those hats were used during our Broadway routine to “One” form A Chorus Line, when we strutted, shimmied, and kicked our way across the room. I have to say that was one of my favorite routines; props + musical theater = Happy Jen. It reminded me that as much as I love free-form dance, my past experiences on stage are still very much a part of me. (Maybe next time Suzie can play one of the songs from 42nd Street, with the tap-shoe sounds? Because how seriously fun would that be to pretend we’re tap dancers?!)

Our other props were scarves, which we moved fluidly and tenderly to RENT‘s “Seasons of Love” and then whipped around joyously to the Charlie Brown “Linus and Lucy” song. The colorful scarves were a great addition, and they helped add some vibrancy to the otherwise drab room. During the first song we were all inhaling and exhaling our scarves together like an opening and closing flower, and then when the Charlie Brown music came on, the scarves bobbed up and down with us as we shook around like cartoonish Peanuts characters.

And what’s a LYYD class without partner work? One of my favorite partner routines–not just of the class but, like, EVER–was standing in front of another person, eyes closed, and having their touch guide me into spontaneous movement. So the woman behind me tapped my right shoulder, and I moved from that touch. Then she touched my left knee, my right hip, the back of my head. Suzie instructed the “mover” to pretend as though we were in water, and that each touch from our partner created a kind of ripple effect. What made me love this practice so much was (a) the spontaneous factor, not knowing where I was going to be touched next; and (b) the “controlling” effect of being the toucher. It was like being a puppeteer in a way, me tapping my partner’s shoulder and watching her respond to that touch. I could control the speed I offered my touches and decide where my touch would go. And yet the movement she presented from that touch could never be predicted: Sometimes she rolled down over her knees, other times she reached up to the ceiling. What a seriously great practice in the dance between spontaneity and control, and also how one’s action can be so influential. The world continues to move via ripple effects.

I left class warm, both physically and emotionally. I wasn’t ready to be all Ya-Ya Sisterhood with my other three classmates, but I did feel more connected to them than when I first entered the room an hour earlier. I guess stuff like that happens when you roar like lions in each others’ faces and then later dance palm-to-palm, a la the Romeo and Juliet masquerade ball.

As much as I tried not to let the external environment get to me, I do wish the setting could have been a little more welcoming, maybe less harsh lighting and just a tad more visual warmth. I know the essence of yoga lives within us, but trying to cultivate it while standing under institutional lighting on a shabby gray carpet was a bit challenging. I joked that for her next class, Suzie should ask everyone to bring a small lamp or camping lanterns so we can shut off the overhead lights.

If not, though, I’ll just try to dive more into my practice and keep calm. 🙂

About the Author

Name: Jennifer

Location: Greater Philadelphia Area

Blog Mission:
SHARE my practice experience in conscious dance and yoga,

EXPAND my network of like-minded individuals,

FULFILL my desire to work with words in a more creative and community-building capacity;

FLOW and GROW with the world around me!

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