Category Archives: Dance

Being in the Body

Photo by Leon Liu on Unsplash

Last night we danced. I’m patiently and persistently attempting to root a dance group into this community. It’s taking time, but I hope in the end to have a healthy core of four or five women to share this sacred practice with.

As I danced, I remembered an old friend with whom I danced in Colorado. She used to often say, at the end, as we sat in a circle holding hands, “It’s so good to be in the body.”

Not in the head, where family and other relationships, financial and political complexities, expectations, rules, to-do lists and all our internal voices reside, but in the body, right now.

Our bodies contain a childlike innocence and a wisdom beyond words. They communicate to us the truth about how things are with us via feeling and sensation. Patiently, they carry us through our lives, our most loyal and faithful companions. Persistently, we neglect, abandon and abuse them.

Somewhere along the way, we’ve learned to reject, be ashamed of and hate our physical being and experience. Now we’re to the point where bodily functions tied to being biologically female are a matter of political incorrectness and a hate crime. Social pressure is increasing to eradicate the very words that define female physical experience.

But dance is for everybody in every body, and the spiritual practice of dance has taught me to honor, protect and care for my physical self in new ways. There are no labels in dance, no gaslighting, no power-over that seeks to diminish or limit my physical history or expression. Dance is wordless, so there are no language police. Dance is the freedom to belch, to fart, to wiggle, to jiggle, to giggle, to cry, to shout, to play and to sweat.

Allowing my body to be and joyfully inhabiting it has been a powerful act of self-love. It means allowing my hair to grow as it will, where it will, in the color it is. It means moving with dignity and pride. It means gratitude, for my life is a journey that maps itself onto my flesh. Every mole, freckle, stretch mark, scar, lump, bump, line, wrinkle and vein holds part of my story, and I honor story.

Being in my body is a powerful act of surrender, not to what the culture says I must be or not be, not to what I think I should embody or not embody, but to what I am. Simply that. The unique, miraculous complex system of genetic material, living tissue, viruses, bacteria and chemical processes that I am.

Allowing my body to be is a peace treaty. My body is not for the pleasure or evaluation of others. It’s not for sale. My body and I owe nothing to anyone, not explanation, apology, conformity, obedience and especially not shame. I refuse to go to war over gender, sexuality or political correctness ideology. I decline to support or participate in self-hatred or hatred of other bodies. The power of my body transcends the judgements, criticisms and opinions of others.

The deepest language I know is of the body. Words are inadequate to my passion, to my love, to my creativity. Spoken and written language fails to convey the richness of my body’s capabilities.

The tick crawling high on the nape of my neck along my hairline, the feel of its tiny claws stirring each hair as it seeks a good place to fasten on, gives me a physical experience so vivid and visceral it cannot possibly be conveyed in words. My skin shrinks, telling me what the sensation is before I examine the cause with my eyes. Undisturbed hair around its path rises, quite automatically, in response to the small but ominous trespass. It feels solid and smooth as an apple-seed between my thumb and finger as I pinch it off. It hurries up and down a bookmark, chestnut colored, as I transport it down the stairs, almost as though it knows it’s been seen, recognized and a death sentence passed.

We come out of our favorite restaurant after a meal on a hot, humid day and find a snake clothed in brown and green, voluptuously twined around our right front tire. My partner stoops and grasps it and it curls and writhes as it dangles from his hand, twisting between the newly-laid black tar and the heavy sky, glaring with sun, humid as a steam bath. My partner takes it into a nearby field and as he comes back he holds out his hand with a rueful expression, showing me beads of bright red blood, dazzling as rubies, on his finger, and two parallel shallow cuts that sting, he says, like paper cuts.

Photo by Leon Liu on Unsplash

I danced with the tick, the snake, the rasp on my knee from falling on the front cement steps, their uneveness hidden by the encroaching hostas, blooming now on thick, fleshy stems, their lavender flowers plundered all day by bumblebees.

I danced with the rattling air conditioner lodged into a window of the recreation center activity room. As usual, we traded the rise in heat and humidity in the room with the lower and quieter fan setting.

I danced with a dead fly on the wood floor, trying to avoid stepping on it with my bare foot. I danced with a living large black ant, bewildered, crawling across what must have seemed like acres of flat, featureless terrain, also not wishing to step on it, but too involved in the flow of the music to stop and take it outside.

I danced with my breasts and belly and thighs, with my feet and elbows and wild hair. I danced with trickles of sweat and a wet upper lip. I danced with my tattoo and swaying earrings and sliding silver bangles. I let myself go. I let myself be. I let myself sink into my body as though sinking into a lover’s arms, for I am its lover, and it is mine.

I danced, and remembered again how good it is to be in the body.

Photo by David Hofmann on Unsplash

All content on this site ©2017
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted

Dancing Home

Last weekend I took my own advice and surrendered to the now of my life. Two big, heavy wooden doors opened like wings and I came home to dance between them.

New England Barn

One of my dearest friends introduced me (kicking and screaming all the way) to dance more than ten years ago.

“No,” I said, “I can’t do that.”

“No,” I said, “I don’t know how.”

But she, in her infinite female wisdom, nagged and niggled and poked and prodded until at last I agreed to try it. Once. Just to get her to shut up about it!

So I tried it and found myself there, waiting. I rarely missed a dance for years and years afterward. Ours was a small group of dancers, ebbing and flowing over the years, but the core group remained remarkably the same. Sometimes there were only two of us. It didn’t matter. It was a safe place, a place to be with myself in candlelight, a place to be in my body without thought, shame or responsibility. Everything happened at dance. We raged, we sobbed, we hurt, we lay on the floor. We shouted and clapped, farted, belched, giggled, played, pounded on the walls and danced until we drooled. It’s one of the few places in my life where I’ve felt I belonged.

Leaving my dance group was the most painful loss when I left my old life and came to Maine. I knew I could never replace it, but I hoped to find another place, another group, another dance.

The farmhouse I live in is more than a hundred years old and that means the ceilings are low. I don’t need a lot of room to dance by myself, but I do need to be able to move freely. I did dance a couple of times the first winter and spring I was here, but I had to make myself small so I didn’t scrape the ceiling with my hands and my mind was filled with what I’d left behind. It was so painful I didn’t want to face it again.

In Colorado we danced in a yoga studio. It was a beautiful space—clean, high ceilinged, wood floored. Perfect. Our little town was safe after dark. The studio was easily accessible, heated, had a bathroom available, and for most of us it was less than a five-minute drive to get there.

Since I’ve come to Maine I’ve searched for a local group. I’ve talked to several women about dance. Some have been intrigued, but they’re busy, or they have partners, or we don’t live very close together, or there’s no place to get together and do it. You know.

Here, the nearest town is twenty minutes away in good weather. I’m sure there are places in town we might use, but I don’t know where. Or who. Or how. I’m intimidated and overwhelmed and it seems ridiculous to try to find a suitable gathering place when there’s no dance group to use it.

So I stopped trying. Too painful. After all, now I have a partner to hang out with in the evenings. I told myself I’d keep thinking about it, look for openings, and eventually, maybe, be able to start another group. Or even find one. One day. When we had more money. If we moved somewhere else. If we had a better car that could actually deal with driving on winter nights.

But this summer there’s a lot of movement and change, not all of it comfortable. I’m learning a lot. I’m feeling a lot. Writing is good, and so is swimming, but dance accesses something deeper. I’ve known for a few weeks now I need to find a way to get back into those depths for my sake and for the sake of my loved ones.

So I decided to quit playing games with myself and figure this out.

Naturally, an old farmhouse in Maine comes equipped with a barn. Ours is a total of New England barn in winterfour stories, a typical New England nineteenth century barn. There’s a bat colony in the top of it and it’s an apartment house for rodents. It’s constructed of gorgeous beams and posts with high ceilings and huge blocks of stone in the foundation. Windows look across the tops of the trees and over the river valley, most of them without glass now. We have six cords of hardwood stored in the garage level and miscellaneous stuff on the top two floors. The spirit of the building is in the bottom, though, which is accessed through two huge heavy wooden doors that are permanently propped open in the back of the building. This area is mostly underground and the stone foundation can be clearly seen. There are old pens and animal stalls built by hand from the plentiful wood here; not boards, but logs and saplings, rough cut. The mowed area in front of this lower floor is not visible from house, driveway or road and is surrounded by trees.

So, I built a playlist of good music, a mix of old familiar dance tunes and some new discoveries. I swept and raked, picked up trash and got rid of some impressive spider webs. I found an old rusty tin can, filled it with dirt, and stuck incense in it. I put on a skirt and some jewelry, found a pair of light shoes I thought would work (I’ve always danced barefoot), grabbed a yoga mat to sit in the grass and stretch on and went to see what would happen.

They were all there, my dancers. It seemed to me I could almost reach out and touch them. They mingled with the ghosts of animals who once lived in this barn, long dead; generations of birds, now flown from empty nests in the rafters; and the dirty lace of old cobwebs. My feet felt clumsy and heavy in shoes and it wasn’t night, but my body remembered how to move and my brain remembered how to lie down and rest. The music swept me up, pushed me with sharp elbows and knees, shook me by the scruff of the neck, played with me and soothed me. I danced with my expectations, my stories, my fears and limitations and loss. I danced with my disappointment and grief and rage. I threw down my rigidity, refusal and denial and danced in their blood. I danced with the joy of coming back to myself.

I danced in an old barn, in a new life, but not alone. The past is still with me, the dancers I knew green and supple in my memory. The pain of change is not, after all, too great to bear. I don’t need money. I don’t need a better car. I don’t need anything that hasn’t been here all along. I don’t need to wait for anyone else or anything else. I just needed to surrender to what is now.

So this one’s for you, my dear Bobbi; for you, Jill, in all your beautiful sensitivity; for you, Rena, who taught me so much about strength, courage and being real; and for you, Pat, who brought essential balance to our group and allowed us to dance with a playful small boy.

Half a world away, you all still honor my dance with your presence.

**************

The experience of dance is a hard thing to convey to someone who’s never done it. I’ve written extensively about it, however, in my book. Please see ‘The Hanged Man’ page for a new excerpt.

We based our dance practice in Colorado on the work of Gabrielle Roth, and I still follow this template.  Please see my web resource page for links.  Also, here’s a wonderful piece about the power of dance.

All content on this site ©2016
Jennifer Rose
except where otherwise noted