Movement Inspires Life
I’ve recently been filming and sharing spontaneous dance collaboration videos, to spread the belief that anyone can dance. I’ve learned a lot just by capturing and seeing us on film. I'll let you in on a little secret: I think dance is our superpower. Dance integrates us into reality, our bodies, and an interdependent world. Seduced into the present, we lose ourselves in the music. Step by step, we move our way to an inspired life.
Dance is so fundamental to our humanity that it’s hard to differentiate from human experience. When we see a new painting, nobody tells where to stand in order to get the best view. We just go to the right spot. In conversation, our body automatically brings us to the culturally optimal distance to engage. Sensation and movement are bound together, from neuron pairs to muscle groups. We effortlessly perform sensitive movements like shifting our entire weight (not just our finger) away from a burning stove, or gripping an egg without breaking it. We are not super-computers with passive cameras and microphones, we are dancing around to get a maximal grip on our environment. As we learn about a painting or a fine wine, we actually see and taste new things, as experience is incorporated in our body. As we move, we see things we have never seen before.
Most of us don’t pay attention to our body until it gets in our way. Missing the subtle pains that might have prompted us to stretch at our desk, we are besieged by back or neck soreness. Our culture systematically encourages insensitivity to pain, as it is the enemy of discipline, the hallmark of delayed gratification. Dance, on the other hand, requires connecting to all momentary sensations. Pain tells us we should change what we are doing. Pressure tells us how our muscles are acting on our weight. Joy tells us we are touching our emotional center. Through tension and release, we continually remap our changing body structure, as children with growing limbs must do. We learn where we are carrying muscle tension, and how to release it. Connecting to body wisdom, our cognition improves and aging slows. We awaken our natural art. Our body provides the inspiration for movement, the tool of expression, the limits of our canvas, and the witness of our creation. We move awake what fell asleep long ago.
We can’t help but be shaped by dance we see. Mirror neurons are said to engage whether we do an activity, or observe it. As similar neurons fire in us and the dancer we watch, we guess how their movement might feel in our body. We feel the emotional context of posture, “body language.” We learn new movements by imitating. Seeing an expert sports play on TV, we jump up and repeat it. Even before rising, we are rehearsing the movement in our brain. Watching and trying more movements, we evolve greater physical freedom, and with it, emotional freedom. Posture by posture, we move into freedom.
Feel it All
We can recognize when an inspired group of dancers is expressing a single feeling, whether it’s playful, dark, or delicate. We might see the same group body language in threatened gazelles. Perhaps only one of them saw the looming lion, but all of their ears perk up in response to the spotter. Seeing our animal nature, we expose subtle opportunities for connecting with others, interacting with groups or spaces. We see the intersubjective nature of the reality we inhabit. As John Muir said, “try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe”. We begin to allow that our mood itself may be an emergent dynamic of our environment, as much a reflection of the world around us as a feeling we thought was “in our head”. We see the universal in our feelings and deepen our compassion for other beings. We move into connection with all being.
When we dance with another, we open up a new level of vulnerability. We allow the possibility of being compassionately held or creatively engaged. We are naturally confronted with our body’s impulses, be they innocent or dangerous. Simply allowing these sensations into our consciousness is liberating. Even if we don’t act on them, sensory awareness is a foundation for art, healing, and self-awareness. As we work with our impulses in dance, we are forced to find a higher wisdom, through practice and repeated failure, that respects our body and the bodies of other dancers. It can be done in a fun way, though. Even the most devilish impulses can find a safe playground. Like children, we play act our way through big traumas, frivolous romances, dangerous cravings, lifelong fears, and daily frustrations. We create our own boundaries for safety in each dance, an emotional safety we take with us off the floor. We move parts of us that have long been stuck.
Dance improvisation challenges us to fulfill our highest calling: We must create a contagious artistic lifestyle. First, we must overcome some roadblocks. We redefine art as something we can access, and see ourselves as artists. We suspend judgment and shun objective beauty. We practice sensing our body’s impulses to root us in the present, the flowy space between thoughts. We show up in each moment and trust a dance will emerge. Slowly but surely, we are moved to believe:
Art is not something other people create.
Art is something we create in each moment.
Every movement is holy,
Every movement is inspired,
Every movement is art, and
Every movement is shared.
Moving from the inspired moment, we inspire others to move.
As we share our art, we birth new artists.