Why Don’t We Dance? On Joy, Resistance & the Human Spirit

Why Don’t We Dance? On Joy, Resistance & the Human Spirit

Why don’t we dance?

When I was a small girl, about 5 or 6 years old, my grandmother took me to a wedding. I wore a pretty dress and white patent leather shoes.

I remember it very clearly: the tall cake on the table. The bride in her long, white gown. People of all ages, most of them strangers, milling around the room. Children playing at their feet. And I remember the music. Of course there was music. It was a wedding, and people would dance.

But nobody was dancing.

The image sticks in my mind. Through my six year old eyes, I am looking out across the bare wooden dance floor that glistened in the dim lighting. I am thinking, “Why isn’t anybody dancing?” I wanted them to so badly. So I started to dance.

At that age, before trauma or shame had set in to guard me against what we adults call “making a fool of myself” I was the embodiment of completely unbridled joy. We all are.

I danced like I danced in my living room when father DJ’d classical music sets for my sister and I. I danced like nobody was watching. Though I knew they were.

Not only did I know, but I was glad about it. I watched as their eyes transformed. I could see the joy I was feeling in my body spread across their faces. Some of them got up to dance. Some just egged me on. It didn’t matter really. We could feel the same thing. And I never wanted to let it go.

It’s funny how a child’s mind works. I was dancing; they were joyful. Therefore I should keep on dancing.

As the story goes, I danced for hours that night. I don’t remember the length of time. But what I do remember was feeling that it was my job to keep on dancing so that others could feel alive.

Years later, as I reflect on the state of the world, I’m struck by the larger implication of my discovery as a child. Growing up in the Western world, I was soon introduced to a very different set of norms: doing things right, pursuing a career, chasing success, being important, looking good.

The magic of the simple, joyful action of dancing has all but been lost from day to day life.

Not long ago I watched an incredible jazz band at Lincoln Center in New York. The unexpected African percussion, blended with jazz piano and mellow sax had me squirming in my seat. Yet, sitting in the back row, I noticed that not one person in the audience was moving to the music. Really. How is it we allow ourselves to feel?

“I’m not a dancer,” I hear people say. As if it were only PC to move your body if blessed with the appropriate certifications and credentials. But travel to any “developing” country and your body will quickly remember that music and dance are an integral part of the human experience.

Today there are so many reasons – individual and collective – why breaking through and just dancing requires a herculean effort. Yet I guarantee, if you pull down the wall and let yourself have it, you’re in for an delicious and deeply nourishing treat.

What would it take to have you dancing for joy?

This week I invite you to soften any judgments, hesitancy or reluctance you have about dancing and just try it on.

In your movement practice,

Notice how dance itself is a craft, but it’s also a metaphor for how we choose move. Whether you’re a skilled dancer or an absolute beginner, find a risk that you don’t usually take – a place of additional vulnerability, or a version of authentic self expression that you might not otherwise include in your physical movement – and let yourself go there. For you, that may indeed look like taking a new dance class, or learning a new dance step.

If you’re ready and willing… just dance.

Or, if your body isn’t getting onboard with dancing per se, check in with your spirit. What has it been longing for? What would it look like for your spirit to dance, as you move? For you, that may mean inviting a greater spring into your step as you jog on the treadmill to your favorite song.

In life,

Try on the same translation. In the Nia Technique discourse, we use the expression “dancing through life” to denote a more connected, present, alive and joyful way of moving through our days. Honoring the longing of your spirit, can you allow your desires to guide you? Can you set down for a moment all of the rules of right and wrong that you learned in years past, listen to the music of life, and engage with openness and curiosity?

On my practice room window sill sits a small black box with painted white letters that remind each day: “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass. It is about learning to dance in the rain.”

This week, ask yourself… what would it be to live your own life, love and work informed by the metaphor of dance?

Hey… why not?


2 Responses to Why Don’t We Dance? On Joy, Resistance & the Human Spirit

  1. LeeAnn, this is a beautiful piece! I can relate to your Lincoln Center experience. I’m a classically trained musician, and it is amazing how we teach students to move just enough to play the music. After all, we can’t draw attention to ourselves by moving! As a vocal coach, I work with people all the time who are afraid to be heard singing because (fill in the blank with whatever shaming statement comes to mind), and yet they are LONGING to burst out in song! Ah, western culture… I appreciate the freedom so many other cultures have when it comes to singing and dancing. I’m one of those people who “can’t dance,” but I think I might have to find a good song and give it a try this week — in private, of course!

  2. Great reminder of how tall the walls are around us that keep us from experiencing all the great things in life. Walls that we built to “be normal” or “to fit in”. Life’s too short. It’s time to start coloring outside the lines.

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