Late one night, not too long ago, I was slogging away in my office when I was struck with the inexplicable desire to dance. Normally I would get up, stretch, eat chocolate, and sit my ass back down, because I’m serious and never frivolous. But for some reason, today, I decided to listen.
I closed my door, put on my ear buds, played (yes) the Byrds’ Chimes of Freedom and started dancing. As you remember from Part One, I’m not an especially talented dancer. But I wanted to dance, and dance I did, in my own spastic way. I threw my hands up in the air, jumped around, closed my eyes and whipped my hair around. When the song was over, I lay on the ground, feeling a little cheesy, a touch crazy, and totally content and refreshed. The space I was in felt renewed. A new intention had sprouted…the intention to stop pretending, to live and sing and dance like no one was watching.
This much is for sure. I am not first person to discover the power of dance. Thousands of years before dancing was profane, it was sacred.
Across time and culture, dance has long been revered for its power to heal body, mind, and soul, strengthen the bonds of community, and to commune with spirit and nature allowing us to discover deeper aspects of who we are as human beings. Dance is also used as a form of worship, celebration, story-telling and myth-making, and to commemorate important rites of passage. We can glean some of the significance dance held in ancient tribal life, for next to hunting, it is the second most common activity shown in cave paintings. —Karen Berggren.
I did a quick Google search to see whether there were people that practiced sacred and ecstatic dancing today. I found a website…Ecstatic Dance Seattle. The site featured pictures of people whirling around with their eyes closed and stories of healing and community and free-to-be-you-and me. I started passing judgment immediately, but decided I would force myself to check it out anyway.
I showed up awkwardly early on a rainy Sunday and found a fairy-light decorated dance floor. It was just like any other dance studio, with a springy wooden floor and mirrors and barre, but for this class there was a richly decorated altar and drums and tambourines and the lights were turned down low. People started to arrive–older people, a young woman with two adorable little girls, a few college-age women, ladies in belly dancing hip scarves, couples of all ages and sexes, a beautiful woman with cascading dreadlocks. Women and men of all ages and sizes.
John, the facilitator, put us all in a circle and explained the rules. You don’t have to dance with anyone else unless you want to. Don’t run over the little kids. Have a beautiful experience.
And with that, the music started. Slow, “earth beat” music. People started moving. Some swayed, alone or together, some took yoga poses or just moved on the floor. I went to a corner and panicked. I am an adult and I’m supposed to dance around with all these people watching me? And I’m not even drunk or at the club? I felt like an impostor. In no time everyone would figure out that I wasn’t really an open-hearted, free-spirited, new-age person; I was a corporate hack in an overpriced yoga outfit who couldn’t even dance in a dark nightclub after three long island ice teas much less free form dance totally sober on Sunday Morning with a group of strangers!!! I was convinced they would carry me out the door and throw me in to the icy gutter.
I lay down, closed my eyes, and decided to continue panicking in the prone position as this seemed to be an acceptable pose to adopt. The music surged on and little by little, my panic subsided. Everyone seemed to be into their own dance. No one was making fun of anyone, much less throwing them out. I listened to the music a little longer, realizing how beautiful it was when I didn’t judge it. Slowly I stood up.
Still not ready to dance, I knelt by the altar and picked a card out of a spirit animal tarot deck. It was the otter. A book on the altar explained that the otter symbolizes playtime, primal feminine energy, joy, playfulness. I decided that making like an otter and being playful and joyful would be a lot better than leaving or spending the whole time in misery and shame.
The music had picked up a little bit and people were dancing more energetically. Some were belly dancers or classically trained dancers, and they were doing that. Some people were just jumping around. Some were playing drums and tambourines. The little girls were running back and forth giggling and occasionally tackling the lady that brought them.
I started swaying and stomping my feet. The reverberation of the wooden floor felt fantastic on my chronically-injured achilles, so I kept jumping to the drumbeat. A beautiful song started playing, and a kind looking man came up to me. We danced for a little bit, and that was fun. He looked like he was having a great time, and after a little bit, so was I. After a little bit, he folded his hands and bowed and thanked me before dancing away. I did the same.
After that, I didn’t stop dancing. I joined a group of women shimmying and twirling. I joined a raucous conga line, which dissolved into flat out sprinting and laughing across the studio. People danced together and separately in a million different ways, with scarves and tambourines and big skirts, spinning, whirling, leaping, laughing, crying. What I thought would have been embarrassingly awkward, I found joyful and majestic.
The embarrassment and stiffness didn’t leave me, but they didn’t keep me from dancing. Shame, awkwardness, and inability to dance, I realized, didn’t live in my body. They lived in my mind. My body has always known how to dance.
As of this writing, Ecstatic Dance Seattle holds dances @ Dance Underground Studio (downstairs), 340 15th Ave East, Seattle, WA, one block north of Group Health Hospital on Capitol Hill, between East Thomas Street and East Harrison Street 98112. Every SUNDAY morning from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm. Every WEDNESDAY evening from 7:30 pm to 9:30 pm & The Final FRIDAY evening of every month from 8:30 pm to 11:00 pm. I’ll be going back & hope you will too.