Category Archives: Dance

LadyPantsDance Part II–No standing, only dancing.

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(
  Read Part One here.)

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.

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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.

Paint Dancing

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As part of my ongoing exploration of all things daring & dancy,  I decided to check out Seattle’s monthly paint dancing party.

Paint Dancing is a painting party that devolves into a dance party.   Paint dancing parties rock 13 different cities, but the original was started by abstract artist Matt Jones at Gasworks Gallery in Seattle.  For $15 you get tempera paints, brushes, paper & snacks. For an extra $5, you get wine (but don’t let people dip dirty brushes into your wine.)  Proceeds go to MashedPotatoes.org, a non-profit that gives potatoes & other easily stored food items to food banks around Washington.

There are a lot of primary colors,  party songs everybody knows, and friendly people of all ages.    People make everything from finger-paintings to masterpieces, and everybody dances!  There are paint-brush-armed conga lines,  people decorating each other’s faces and clothes, and even limbo (scroll down) Verdict:  Highly Recommended! 

Here are some shots from my paint dancing experience.

December’s Paint Dancing Party is December 9th from 8-10pm at Gasworks Gallery.  It’s  Crazy Hat Night.

Lady Pants Dance Part I (Or, how I miraculously learned to dance & got a part in a sweet movie)

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I can’t dance.

Dance offended me.   As a chubby little kid, I used to have weeping fits before, during, and after ballet class.  The ballet teacher would just scowl at me and tell me my ass was sticking out all the way out the door and across the street.   As a teen, I was embarassed and self-concious about being a Latina with no natural rhythm.  Being asked to dance, whether by a cousin whose fancy footwork I couldn’t follow or by my homecomeing date who wanted to bump and grind filled me with dread.  In college, I took dance as my PE elective (because it was indoors and didn’t involve homework) and just about flunked out of Jazz-Dance for Dummies.

When I thought of dance, I felt rage.  How could someone ask me to move like that,  move my body in a way that was so vulnerable, embarssing,  unnatural?   I thought there was something seriously wrong with me….either that or I was an awkward white boy trapped in a curvy Latina body.

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After college, I moved to NYC.  One night, at about two am,  I met a guy on a street corner  (this kind of thing happens in NYC.)  He told me he was making a movie, about a forgotten Pagan tribe in Eastern Europe.   They were filming in the woods next weekend…it involved dancing around a bonfire, beautiful costumes and beautiful people.  They were still looking for dancers.  I thought it sounded fantastic, so I told him I was a dancer.   Of course I was.  He gave me his card.  I made the call.

Two days later, I showed up at a bustling Brooklyn apartment-cum-production studio.  It was full of impossibly cool actors and producers and make up artists gorgeous costumes–furs, feathers and headdresses.   I spent a few minutes waiting, and a few minutes chatting with the producers.  I  forgot about the dancing part until it was time for my dance audition.

We crawled out the apartment window onto a huge rooftop.  It was fall.  It was cold.  There couldn’t have been stars visible in Brookyln, but I always remember that  scene in my head, with stars.  The music started.  Pulsing, earthy, liquid music.   For that one moment, I forgot that I couldn’t dance, and I danced and danced and danced.    I don’t remember what I did.  I just danced, like I was possessed and nobody was watching but the stars.

When the music stopped, the producer said, that was good.  We’d love to have you.

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I spent that weekend shooting the River of Copsa Mica, dancing every night around a fire in a forest grove with a tribe of belly dancers and fire spinners and artists.

For three enchanted nights, I danced with them, not missing a step, or a beat, or worrying or thinking, even though I danced barefoot on frozen ground,  and was surrounded by professional dancers.   I just danced.

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I didn’t dance for a long time after that.

(Photo is a still from the River of Copsa Mica.)