I started dancing in 2007. My housemate offered a Barefoot Boogie dance every Sunday in a nearby church hall. As a friend, I went along to give her moral and financial support. An artist and free-spirit, she had a great love for music and an aversion to any type of authority. The dance was unstructured. Very little instruction was offered and a small group of people moving in a spacious semi-dark room were invited to follow their own impulses.
For the first year, I danced with corners. When I was tired or didn’t like a track, I perused notices on the walls. I was terrified to turn and face the group, lest someone wanted to dance with me. By then I’d been hurt so many times that even though I longed to belong, my fear of life and connecting with other people was much stronger. With time, I started making friends in the group, and letting down my guard.
‘We are going to a Five Rhythms’ class,’ my housemate said one evening as she and several other dancers were heading out of the door; ‘Do you want to come along?’
I was tempted. They always raved about this Five Rhythms practice and how amazing Dawn Morgan, their teacher, was. She detected my hesitation.
‘Come on, it’s half price tonight. And there is an extra seat in the car.’
Without thinking, I grabbed my coat and ran after them. The dance was held in a huge room. It was the sports hall of a local school in Moseley. As we arrived, about 30-40 people were stretching and warming up for the dance. My head span from overwhelm, but I decided to give it my best shot. I’ve come this far. What could possibly go wrong?
I closed my eyes and tuned the room out, focusing on my own movements. Every now and then, the teacher asked us to take a partner. I floated in the room, dancing with people I had never met before. Some were amazing dancers and I felt the urge to match their tempo and moves. Others were awkward and clunky, and I felt somewhat superior and played down my moves. I found myself oscillating between craving connection and shying away from it.
As the energy in the room peaked, the music got faster and faster. I found myself partnered with a gorgeous young man. He had a toned muscular body and danced like a god. I pulled out my best and sexiest moves and plunged myself into the dance. As soon as the track ended, I drifted away in sheer terror. What have I done? What did those people think of me? I was practically thrusting myself on that man. Shame and fear were so strong that I ran away from that class and did not dare to return for a whole year!
I came back in late 2008 and since then attended many weekly classes, workshops, retreats and even an ongoing group for a year. I had many wonderful teachers, including Dawn Morgan, Sue Rickards, Andrea Juhan and Lori Saltzman. Through a myriad of exercises I learnt more about myself and my connections with others and the world than through years of therapy. The practice helped me transform my life in more ways than I can cover in one post. Here are a few lessons I’ve learnt through Five Rhythms, which inform my writing today.
- Learning to recognise my impulse to mirror other people’s moves. It took me a long time to learn to stay true to myself on the dance floor. Today, this learning is at the heart of my writing. There are many amazing writers out there. My job is not to find the best and copy their ‘moves’. My task is to stay true to my authentic voice.
- Letting my voice to be heard. In early days what freaked me out most about dance was some people’s tendency to scream or to let out some sort of sound. As the energy on the dance floor built up, it felt that some dancers released it not just through moves, but also through sounds. Growing up in an environment where raised voices usually translated into violence, loud sounds in the room greatly unsettled me. As for me, I was ‘mute’ during the dance for many years, until I have finally let my ‘voice’ out. It was not a scream. It truly felt like a trapped energy, all the unexpressed things residing in my belly. I could tap into it if I moved long enough and dropped deeper into the dance. The release felt satisfying and the experiences of being able to express myself both through movement and voice were empowering to say the least. I took my time with letting my voice be heard in writing, but I am finally finding satisfaction in my ability to express myself publicly.
- The value of a supportive community. Although weary of people at first, the practice softened and opened my heart to connections. Beautiful friendships blossomed in the years I went to my weekly classes. Attending a class felt like a homecoming. For the first time in my life, I could be ‘me’ and be fully accepted by others. As I let myself melt into a warm embrace of fellow dancers, I joked apologetically that I was a ‘hug junkie.’ In truth, as a PhD student leading a fairly recluse lifestyle with no family and a few friends, this dance floor was the only space where I felt safe enough to have any physical contact with other people. This experience taught me to seek out like-minded people. I do not have to go against the flow and attain my dreams against the odds as I’ve done most of my life. Instead, in a supportive environment, I grow faster and more organically. Today, being a part of a thriving writing community feeds and supports my creativity on a daily basis. (My deep gratitude to Writing West Midlands’ Room 204 project which enabled it this year.)
- The last point about the dancing practice I want to make is the way in which it helped me to move through writing blocks. As a PhD student, I often found myself staring at a blank computer screen and despairing at not being able to move through my fears. Until … It took me a long while to notice that my writing flowed freely after I’ve danced. Once I made the connection, moving physically not only got me though writing blocks but also enhanced the quality of my writing. So much so that towards the end of my PhD, I did not even conceive of sitting down in front of the computer without first allowing my body to release the tension and anxiety by moving to a couple of my favourite tracks. These days, if I feel stuck or uninspired, I know the antidote is to ‘move’ the block physically, whether by dancing, walking or painting.