I came “late” to dancing in this lifetime. I was nearly 40 before I discovered the joy that moving my body to music could produce in my Being. This discovery took me on a path of developing my heretofore very nonathletic self into a fairly competent, fit creature who did amazing things like bench press 2/3 of my body weight and swing on a full sized circus trapeze. I became adept at single-ski water skiing and even tried barefoot skiing a time or two. My body changed before my eyes and my love of dancing insured my continued tone and fitness for the next 20 years or so.
During those early dancing years, I made a promise to myself that “I would have a 25-year-old body by the time I was 40.” I kept that promise and celebrated my achievement by participating in the famed San Francisco Bay to Breakers 7.5 mile run that actually happened on my 40th birthday that year.
Once I reached that goal, I set another one for myself: “to have a 35-year-old body by the time I was 70.” Thirty years to accomplish that goal! It seemed like a safe and reasonable marker to set at the time. And for the next 15 years, I continued to dance, water ski and lift heavy boxes during my years as a personal organizer. I kept my level of fitness mostly by doing Life with enthusiasm.
Then — I took a detour! Or perhaps I returned to a path begun in my early 20s. My life became more inward. I still walked miles at a time but instead of the focus on my physical body, I put more attention on my mental and spiritual bodies. I practiced Presence, Awareness, Mindfulness, Compassion. Sadly, the dancing that had brought me so much joy, fell by the wayside.
Fast forward to December 2016: Tomas and I had just arrived at Lost Valley Community and three days later, we experienced our first First Saturday Dance!
It was a kind of dancing I had not done before, a combination of Ecstatic Dance (with and without partners) and Contact Improv. A dim flame within me was rekindled. I watched, spellbound, as dancers of all ages flowed around me. At times, it seemed that the whole mass of bodies became one organism, pulsing to its own heartbeat. At that particular dance, toddlers walked right out into the middle of the swirling forms without fear and the dancers never even came close to them. Awareness, presence, mindfulness combined with great energetic expression — even acrobatic at times.
I began to assist the production of the dances — setting up, cooking, breaking down the sets afterwards. I always had the intention to dance and sometimes I attended for a half hour or more but truthfully, I was afraid of getting injured. So I sat on the sidelines and watched.
Until April, that is. There is a “dance lab” for an hour just before each dance begins. Finally, in April, I attended my first lab. I got a taste of what this particular dance phenomenon was all about. The instructor stressed safety and awareness — how to protect one’s own body and thus contribute to everyone else’s safety on the dance floor. I couldn’t wait for the May Dance to happen. But we did something different in May. No First Saturday Dance! Awwwwww!
Instead ,we hosted an entire weekend of dance workshops, produced by the very man who had run the lab in April. He master-minded 72 hours of FUN that included several sessions of dance instruction, singing, even a song-writing lab! And to top it off, he arranged for the participation of many local musicians to play live music for us to dance to. Usually, this dance genre is done to recorded playlists, provided by DJs.
I realized that this Dance Event, hosted by our own Community was the Universe’s invitation to ME to “enter the pool.” I signed up to work-trade my tuition and planned my participation so I could attend the dance lab sessions that were mostly held in the morning when my body is most fresh.
I entered the weekend with my intention set: “To discover what forms of joyful expression this body could have through movement.” Saturday morning I added “and stillness” to my intention, as I became aware that I hadn’t given value to that component before. Suddenly, I understood how to keep my body in balance: I needed to appreciate my expression through stillness, as well as the more dynamic expression through movement. I’d been searching for this balance all my life: gift #1.
Our circle was full of experienced dancers. I was one of the few “novices” in the group. I wondered how the veterans would feel dancing with a rookie? I stated my “position” and asked for compassionate support to learn, discover and explore while keeping my body safe.
I needn’t have wondered or worried. In one of the first partnered exercises, I happened to pair up with one of the most experienced dancers in the room. With palms facing each other — not even touching — sensing each other energetically, we began the guided exercise. From there, following our facilitator’s guidance, we gently brought our fingers together and then gradually applied more pressure, until we were pressing quite firmly into each others’ hands.
And then we left the exercise and began to dance! We moved over the entire dance floor, connected at times only by one finger, our elbows or our wrists! I was completely present, entirely absorbed, moving with another being as “one skeleton with two sets of bones” as our instructor likes to describe the dynamics of contact improv. A couple of times my feet even left the floor! When we finished, rivers of sweat were pouring down my face. I looked into my partner’s eyes with radiant gratitude: gift #2 — a huge doorway opened. I could see it would require a significant lifestyle change; I was willing.
On Sunday morning I expanded my new skills by dancing with several other partners, both men and women. One of those partners was a young man who lives in community with me, a person who is not much older than my granddaughter — almost 50 years’ difference in age! I have enjoyed working with this youth in many capacities over the past five months but we had never danced together. Gift #3 was the understanding that my Being is ageless — that there is outrageous fun to be had for the making with anyone, regardless of age. I had seen this young man dance, spinning his partners around and lifting them off the floor with ease and grace. Now I was that partner and he spared me nothing. We totally “went for it!” and amazed each other in the process. As a result, we now share a deeper level of connection with each other in community.
As the weekend drew to a close, I remembered the promise I had made to myself when I was 40. I realized that as my 70th birthday drew nearer (still one year away) I was feeling a sense of powerlessness to keep that agreement. My mind was asking: “Is it really that important?” “How do you intend to do this?” I did not have an answer to either question but they niggled at me.
The biggest gift of the entire weekend came almost anti-climatically. On Sunday evening I suddenly realized that I have a clear pathway to keeping my promise of a 35-year-young body by the time I turn 70 in May 2018: just keep expressing my JOY through movement and stillness.
What had I lost in the last 12 years that I did not dance? Muscle tone and physical endurance.
What had I gained during the years of inward focus? A much greater capacity to be present with myself and others and spiritual endurance. With that foundation, it’s only a matter of time until my muscles catch up. The Dancer Within is still alive and well and Kickin’!