My favourite poem in the entire world begins with this stanza:
We have come to be danced
Not the pretty dance
Not the pretty pretty, pick me, pick me dance
But the claw our way back into the belly
Of the sacred, sensual animal dance
The unhinged, unplugged, cat is out of its box dance
The holding the precious moment in the palms
Of our hands and feet dance.
I’ve always loved the poem (the entirety of which you can find here), especially the first line, which is repeated throughout. The words “We have come to be danced” have always made me want to shout “YES!” with my voice, my body and my soul.
I thought I understood how it felt to “be danced,” to feel my thoughts melt away and let my body move on its own. But in hindsight…I see that I didn’t. Not really. Until now.
Two weeks ago, I posted about the 5Rhythms and why I had stopped dancing them, and I made a commitment to explore them in a new way.
I said that I would show up on the dance floor, tune into my body, and let it speak to me. Nothing more, nothing less.
There was a reason for this: I finally understood that this preliminary tuning-in process was the most important part of the entire practice. It was also the thing I had forgotten about in previous attempts. Somehow I never realized how vital it was.
I guess the whole “5Rhythms” part distracted me…I treated the bit that came before the Rhythms like just any old warm-up. But it’s so much more than that. Tuning-in is what separates dance steps from ecstatic release, what turns exercise into meditation. It’s the heart and soul of the entire practice. And I skipped it. And it showed.
Even in the 5Rhythms sessions where I totally kicked ass, I was going through the motions:
Warm up part by part, check. Flow, check, dance Staccato, check, Chaos-time, done, Lyrical, OK, Stillness -time to stretch.
I moved my body, but I never let my body move me. I couldn’t figure out how to let my body dance on its own. My head was always in there, telling me what to do, or evaluating how “flowing” or “staccato” my movement was, seeing patterns, or mentally writing blog posts about the movements as I was doing them.
I find it comforting that I’m not the only person who’s struggled with this. Gabrielle Roth herself writes,
It takes discipline to develop attention and awareness. For me, this discipline is part of my dance. One of the biggest challenges is to keep my awareness in my body, not in my head where it can distract me in a million ways.
(Sweat Your Prayers, 29)
I’ve read this passage several times over the years, but I never truly understood it. When she talks about keeping her awareness in her body, she doesn’t just mean paying attention to the body, she means inhabiting it with her consciousness. That’s a big difference. If you do the former, your head is still the puppet master, pulling the strings and orchestrating the dance. If you can manage the latter, then it’s as if your body has a life of its own, and the entire game changes.
Want to see what I mean? Give this a try:
Move your hand. Just do whatever you feel like. Wiggle your fingers or flex them or tap them or wave them slowly…whatever.
There. You just danced with your hand.
OK. Now close your eyes and mentally place your awareness into your palm. Imagine that you’re no longer thinking with your brain, but with your hand. If it helps, imagine looking out of your hand with your eyes, as if your entire consciousness has been transplanted there.
Now…let your hand move. It might take a couple of tries, but see if you can let go of the brain-work and fully inhabit your hand. Let it move. You’ll know when you’ve managed it —it feels different.
See? Your hand just danced you.
Try it with another body part: your head, shoulders, spine, elbows, hips, knees, or feet. See if you can feel the difference.
Ever since I wrote that 5Rhythms post, this has been the sum total of my practice: I show up, I close my eyes, and I mentally slide my awareness into each body part one after the other, starting with my head. I see how that part wants to move in that moment. I let myself be danced. You can do this too.
I’m starting to be able to tell when my body’s moving me, as opposed to the usual “me moving my body.” My movement patterns, my “home moves” are disturbingly absent. The movements change completely from day to day. It feels so foreign to allow my body to have control, to feel my awareness down inside instead of up in my head. I’m pretty sure this is the entire point of the practice.
One day last week I was tuning in, and I suddenly found myself folding down into a forward bend. I was genuinely surprised —I hadn’t consciously planned it! It was a revelation.
There are moments in every practice when I lose focus and feel my head kicking in. But that’s OK. I take a deep breath, I close my eyes again, and I consciously move my awareness back to the body part. I think that, with practice, I’ll be able to hold the awareness in my body for longer and longer periods of time. In fact, I’ve started practicing it when I’m not dancing at all.
I did get results from the Rhythms before this. But I also got frustrated and injured because I really wasn’t in my body. In spite of my best intentions and all my effort, I was still up in my head, and viewing the practice as an exercise or routine or choreography: analytically, judgmentally, and from an outside perspective. I can only imagine the effect that the 5Rhythms could have if I managed to actually go inside and let my body do its own dance through the entire wave of rhythms. That’s my goal…but I’m taking my time getting there. Tuning in is enough for now.
I can’t emphasize enough how much of a Big Deal this is. I feel like I’ve uncovered hidden treasure or discovered the key to a mystery. I’m jumping-up-and-down excited about it. The words of my favourite poem have new meaning for me. More than ever, they express my deepest desire:
We have come to be danced
Where the kingdoms collide
In the cathedral of flesh
To burn back into the light
To unravel, to play, to fly, to pray
To root in skin sanctuary
We have come to be danced
We have come.
…YES. This is how I want to move. And now I know how to get there