I remember the weekend that everything changed.
I was in a Reiki Healing Dance workshop in Portland, Maine on the weekend of February 4 and 5, 2006. There were only 3 students, and of them, I was the only one with any kind of dance background.
Up until this point, I was a technical dancer to the core. A “failed” technical dancer, since I had stopped taking class, but still a member of what I viewed as an elite, or a slightly-superior species. I didn’t know there was anything beyond steps and techniques.
Not only was I a technical dancer, but I was an uber-judgemental technical dancer. There were two ways to be: good, or “the rinky-dink recital time” (as my old teacher called it).
I don’t blame myself for this…it was how I was trained, and it was motivated by an intense fear that I wasn’t measuring up. But what it meant was that I was ready for those other students to be ugly and uncoordinated and “bad dancers.” How could they be good if they hadn’t ever taken class? They were going to suck.
Only…they didn’t. The first day of the workshop consisted of ecstatic dance sessions coupled with Reiki and meditation, and it wasn’t long before I realized that everything I thought I knew was wrong.
It didn’t matter that their feet weren’t pointed or that they had never taken a dance lesson in their lives. The steps that they did weren’t important. They were grounded in themselves, centered in their bodies, and they moved with such fearlessness, such openheartedness that it cracked my heart wide open.
I, who had trained so long and so hard, who still had residual strength, flexibility, and technique even after years of only dancing sporadically, I was jealous of them. It was a struggle for me to cut through the external consciousness of “how do I look? am I doing this right?” and get inside the dance, while they made it look so easy.
That was the beginning. By the end of that first day, we weren’t “a trained dancer” and “non-dancers,” we were women. Just women with different life experiences and similar interests, forming deep bonds of caring in that one small studio. We circled, as women have done since the beginning of time, and it was magical.
On the second day, we sat in meditation for our Reiki Healing Dance attunement, and I fell into a dream-vision. As we sat in a row and our teacher worked around us, I envisioned a woman…a goddess…standing behind me.
She was beautiful and solemn as she looked down at me. Her naked body glowed with swirling colours. I wrote afterward that she “seemed to be made of light. Multicoloured light (like an oil slick) streamed out behind her like flames or waving banners or solidified smoke curls…just rushing out behind her as she stood behind me looking down at me. Her eyes had an expression of great love.”
“She told me that her name was Tara. And she told me not to doubt the path I was on, that I would soon be able to move beyond a set dance technique that others saw for me and develop my own dancing. For me, dancing was always an emotional experience not to be boxed in by forms or rules. To embody emotion, the body must be free.”
“Dance is a physical expression of a spiritual state,” I wrote later, “What I’ve thought of as dance is just steps that someone arbitrarily codified because they happened to like them. But Dance, real dance, is bigger and more ancient than that. We have always danced.”
As the attunement ended, Tara stepped forward and merged with my body. And I felt her streaming banners of light flowing out of my spine. I felt it for the rest of that day, as we finished our workshop and as I drove away with my husband and friends. When I’m truly centered in my body, I still feel it.
That’s when everything changed for me.
And I’m not going to lie and say that the road from that moment on was strewn with roses and empty of obstacles. I have journals full of writing that proves otherwise, as I struggled to undo all of the limiting beliefs my dance training left me with, and I still face those beliefs when I dance today (though not as much, thank goodness). But behind all of the struggles lies the memory of this experience.
It was the beginning.