Saturday, November 12, 2011

Dancing Liberation

Moving into Mind-Body

A friend at Ecstatic asked me why I haven't blogged about dance yet.  I made up some excuse, and later realized I was just being defensive.  In the last few years I've awakened a loving spirit, confronted old demons, and taken a hundred risks on the dance floor.  Maybe I thought my dance journey was too personal.  But even in the personal realm, we share a lot more than we know.

Conscious dance
Imagine a giant DJed playground for grownups, where hundreds dance day and night.  Nobody is drunk on anything but water or coconut juice.  Nobody really cares or stares if you do something crazy.  Some dance with their eyes closed, others lock in sensual embrace.  Ballerinas meet capoeiristas, all intent on awakening.  There is a rule that noone talks on the floor, so you can only communicate through grunts, eye contact, and your body.  Welcome to the emerging conscious dance scene, embodied beautifully by Ecstatic Dance (and now also Mass Transit), voted best alternative religious event of the Bay Area.  You may have also heard of the more structured 5Rhythms, founded by Gabrielle Roth, grandmother of dance consciousness.

Listening to body
I began focused on connecting with my body, expressing the unexpressed.  At first I just combined things I had already practiced: capoeira, yoga, West African, reggae, hip-hop, etc.  I often danced with eyes closed, avoiding the gaze of others to focus on what I was feeling.  Over time, anxiety over technique and appearance gave way to body expression and experimentation.  I opened my eyes more, although there were days when holding eye contact with someone was an act of heroism.  Sometimes I danced with the floor, playing on the ground for the first time since I was a toddler.  I created new dances, evolving an "airbender meditation" from snakelike movements of arms, shoulders, and hips.  

I became aware of new sensations in my body, surfacing nostalgia, joy, hurt, fear.  Physical flexibility sometimes improved in step with emotional flexibility.  My right hip opened up recently -- a few yoga teachers say that hip tension stores unresolved exes.  At times I surrendered to a spontaneous space beyond mind - allowing my mood to change, my body to alter, a dance to end, a song to begin.  Other times, I took a break and meditated.  Combining action and reflection, I found a different way to bodily understand grief, anger, and stress.  I became conscious of dances where I was fearing, performing, or trying too hard, because my neck carried tension immediately afterwards.  I still remember the exhilaration I felt after my first night dancing free of tension and pain I had in the past.  I took some of this freedom off the dance floor, too.

Ardhanarishvara, synthesis of the
 masculine (Siva) and feminine (Parvati)
energies of the universe
Pushing boundaries
What does it mean to be a man?  Does it mean you aren't allowed to shake your booty at 100 RPMs?  Over time I got the chance to experiment with moves sometimes considered "female", reclaiming more of my humanity.  As a counterpoint to my acrobatics, I tried Bharata Natyam, a dance who's subtlety had eluded my appreciation.  Doing contact improvisation, I experimented with what it was like to be totally vulnerable in the arms of stranger -- man or woman.  When I brought a girlfriend, I practiced compassion from both ends of jealousy.

Why is it we fear certain things?  There was one particular woman I could never dance with.  Even holding her gaze for more than a few seconds was difficult - I would look away.  What was it she represented that was so threatening to me?  I told myself that when I can successfully dance with her, I will "graduate" from some emotional immaturity.   What is a successful dance, anyway?  Does it mean that you grooved with someone, you learned something, or something else altogether?  

Being love
What does it mean to be beautiful?  I cycled often between my culturally learned, objectified view of what is beautiful in a woman (or man) to a more present, intuitive, and expansive definition of beauty.  When I could stay in the expansive definition, I fell in love again and again, with everyone I danced with.  I experimented with the idea that my true nature is love.  To love everyone and everything in front of me, without expectation or consequence, despite fear.  And then the dance floor really opened up.  Subject and object dissolved.  Our tired analogies from dating and clubbing displayed their emptiness.  When you are love and only love, the whole world exists for you.

Listening to now
Many who've danced with me over the years have seen an acrobatic, sweaty, frenetic style.  I get down.  I catalyze.  I'm a Chinese horse, and I've got a lot of energy to release.  But I've had limited luck dancing with partners, in salsa, in ecstatic, you name it.  I told myself, "Well, that's because I am a truly unique dancer… few really get my vibe."

While there is uniqueness in my dance, there is also an elaborate defense mechanism.  I thought that if my partner couldn't dance with me, it was because she couldn't understand me.  Au contraire.  My crazy dance was actually an excuse not to listen.  Because if I listened, I feared hearing rejection.  But I might also hear my partner, my body, and the moment, and create a meaningful partnership among them.  I might lose myself in love for a while, which is scary unless you can detach from expectation.  My approach had been sabotage, explained away by self-exceptionalism.  I was protecting my own little inflexibility.

So for a few weeks, I told myself I was going to listen at all costs, even if it meant I stood still like a deer in headlights.  It was a scary at first, because you think people expect you to move to the beat, to "do" something.  You think your partner will think you aren't enjoying yourself if you stop.  But when you stop, you can finally start.   You can listen and learn to move from the present.  So suddenly I found I could dance with lots more people, even, to some extent, the woman who I'd defined as my "graduation." But what was I trying to graduate into, anyway?  Was there really anywhen I'd rather be than now, awakening through dance?

I first arrived skeptical of all community, content to relate entirely through physicality and grunts.  But then I risked a bit.  I opened, tentatively, engaging in fits and spurts, playing with my comfort zone.  Each new risk offered a beautiful reward, a human reciprocity, an acceptance of emerging parts of me.

After a particularly awesome dance, a Latino man called Siva came up to me smiling and asked my name.  I told him, but he couldn't quite pronounce it.  He asked if there something simpler he could use as my name.  For some reason, an Iron and Wine lyric from "Me and Lazarus" came to mind.  Lazarus, named after the guy Jesus raised from the dead, lives a carefree life full of ebb and flow.  I told Siva that I wanted my name to be the same as Lazarus' description, "He's an emancipated punk and he can dance."


Donna said...

Your story rings so true for me as well. I love how you describe the pause, the meditation and 'reset' that happens when we allow ourselves to be still, and reengage from a place of present awareness. I've found it amazing the different people I dance with when I change the pace of my dance (usually by slowing down). Thank you for your vulnerability to share so much of yourself, and your journey awakening on the dance floor!

eudae said...

@donna - thanks! my pleasure to put it into words. for me, slowing down (in so many ways) has been continually useful. thank you for helping to create the space for all of us to explore!

mgel said...

very well written, describing a very conscious inner journey. valuable to hear what actually goes on inside the consciousness of our fellow dancers. I can relate to the "graduation" of dancing in flow with that woman... i have had such marker-friends, intimidated by their beauty and not wanting to be either intrusive or "not present enough". and dancing as love, embracing whomever and whatever shows up in view. listening, pausing, feeling into what is... organic,... places us in the now of the dance. i like your word plays too!

harmony said...

Your journey contains so many of the elements of my own. And you language it so beautifully and accessibly here. I especially resonate with: "in CI being totally vulnerable in the arms of a stranger"; "when subject and object dissolve"; "when you stop you finally start." Exploring relationship (with self and others) through the vehicle of dance has tremendously helped me to stay present to myself while connecting with others. I fall in love with every partner I dance with, subject and object dissolve, and my giving is my receiving.

eudae said...

thanks @mgel! glad to share the dance of fear with you. "flow" is such a beautiful thing, and it's great to feel it's dynamism in the context of listening loving, and pausing.

thanks @harmony! glad to share self-dissolution and vulnerability with you. may all of our giving be receiving!