Revitalization: Shifting Perspectives in Dance

It has been a fabulous weekend. I don’t often say that, but I really do feel as if this is how life should be. It was Midwest Lindyfest, a weekend of dancing. I’ve had bad experiences with too much dancing and lessons and stress and emotions in the past, so this year I chose not to buy a full pass and just went to a couple of the evening dances.

Having the pressure off utterly revitalized my dancing, and I feel like I’ve been completely reminded why I dance at all, and in particular I can see why I want to put more energy, time, and dedication into dancing in the future. This switch in perspective has been a long time coming: I’ve struggled with feeling good about dancing and with incorporating it into my life in the past. But as I’ve gotten further in my treatment for depression and my eating disorder, I’ve started to feel things change. There are some essentials about the way that I approach dancing that have shifted.

Part of this is obvious and easy: I have more energy, I have more coordination, I have more focus, I have more confidence. All of these things will make dancing easier and different. Just like any major change in diet and mood, getting treatment for my mental health and making adjustments in my life has impact most areas of my life. But some of the dances that I had this weekend really helped me finalize a different kind of shift, one that gets more to the core of how I approach dancing rather than simply my abilities.

For quite some time, dancing was an escape for me. Following was a very easy way for me to let someone else take control of my body, to not truly inhabit it, to let that space between self and physicality grow. I suspect that there are many people out there (particularly women) who look for ways to distance themselves from their bodies. One of the major things that has shifted in my self perception has been my ability and desire to be present in my own body. The impact on my dancing is amazing.

I feel like a person again instead of a body that’s being manipulated from afar. Now that my mind and body have connected again, my dancing is utterly different. I believe it’s better, because I think that the best thing about dancing is being really present with another person and with yourself. This ability to be present and mindful has helped me in ways I didn’t even think it would, one of which is to seriously improve my basics.

It’s easy to interpret “being present” as something abstract and spiritual and utterly unhelpful. But there is a hugely physical component to it: feeling where your weight is, holding yourself steady and balanced, being settled in your body without unnecessary tension, understanding how you fit into space. These things are the building blocks of dancing. If you don’t take the time to know your own body, how on earth can you move it effectively? Another part of this is the ability to trust my body. I have had a…stormy relationship with my body for quite some time. There were a few dances this weekend that were so fun that I just let myself go a bit and stopped trying to control everything. I found that most of the time my feet ended up under me and sometimes my “I almost fell down” turned into “wow that actually looked and felt cool”. It’s an amazing realization that my body may actually know what it’s doing.

There is something of a contradiction in this realization though, because in large part it has involved paying less attention to my body. For much of my dance career I spent a lot of time wondering and worrying about how I looked and what my body was doing and whether it felt right for the other person. This was unhelpful. I second guessed everything, I was self-conscious, I was always trying to catch glimpses of myself in the mirror to ensure that I didn’t like stupid (and usually felt that I did anyway). Those dances recently that have helped me to stop paying attention to how I look and start paying attention to what I feel have left me thoroughly convinced that thinking about my body too much is a sure way to guarantee that I will look worse and not connect as well to my body (and if I can’t connect with my own body how on earth am I supposed to connect with someone else?).

Another piece of this realization were the moments that leads really gave me space to express myself. Now normally this freaks me out and I freeze up. I compare myself to how others insert themselves into the dance, I compare myself to the abilities of others. I do this all the time really. When I’m not dancing, I’m watching others and finding myself wanting. But during a few of these moments of time for myself in dance, I found that thinking not about comparison or myself means that I get to think about my way of doing things. It probably doesn’t look quite like anyone else’s, it might even look weird. But if I explore all the ways that my body moves, I will find a whole variety of fun things I can do in my dancing.

I still have a lot of jealousy. That probably won’t ever go away. I still feel sad that I will never reach the level of many of my friends and fellow dancers. But it isn’t consuming anymore because I have had those few dances where I brought something to the table and so I know that by being myself I can contribute something unlike anyone else. This is true for everyone who dances: none of us dances the same, none of us moves the same, each of us will bring something to the dance floor. The recognition that I am utterly unique in my dancing is quite a good reminder that I don’t need to live up to other people, just myself.

Another kind of amazing thing that I did this weekend was remember names. Usually I’m shit at names. There’s at least one person that I’ve danced with for at least a year whose name I only now can remember (I swear I tried). But this is indicative of a bigger shift: a shift from self focus to other focus. Depression is self-centered, just like unhappiness and eating disorders and negativity. It’s easy for people to slip into thinking about themselves and their own needs and feelings. But I was legitimately interested in other people this week. So I remembered them. I talked more. I smiled more. I laughed more. This often leads to more goofy/fun moves because it means you can amplify what your lead is doing in fun ways. It is a complete change in perspective that utterly revitalizes my dancing. It makes me excited to ask someone to dance rather than nervous and uncertain. It’s like every person out there is an entire world unto themselves and when I dance with them I get to experience a little piece of it. Yum.

Dancing feels good again. I can feel confident. I can feel like it doesn’t matter who I walk up to and dance, I’m in control of whether I have an enjoyable dance or not (with the exception of leads who yank and hurt and creep). It isn’t exactly about choosing your attitude, but it’s about choosing your actions and choosing your reactions to things. It’s the ability to see other people again, which is joyful, especially in the context of dance.

And the best thing about this is that it’s partially the result of some really damned hard work on my part, but partially simply a result of dancing with people who are giving. It’s the moments where something goes wrong and one person goes with it and it turns into the best moment of the dance. It’s the sproingy feeling at the end of a swingout. It’s a really juicy hip swivel. It’s finding yourself at the end of a swingout hitting a pose right with your partner (not quite knowing how you got there but knowing it’s right). I may be an introvert, but these moments of communication and togetherness and energy and joy are what I want in my socializing. They’re what I want in my life.

It feels really good to be reminded why you love something, and to figure out that it will just keep getting better.

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