Try this at home: The next step(s)

Happy Friday!

Yesterday I was having a terrible morning. My son was volatile, I was stressed and cranky, and things were bad. It could have spiraled into all-out Suck, but I did three things that fixed it (OK, four…I made hot chocolate, and I did these three things).

First, I wiggled my toes.

Then I grounded myself.

And then I took the next step. Literally. I walked.

A little back story:

The last time I performed onstage I was 24. I had already discovered Reiki. And I knew about how important grounding was. So when I had a truly hideous technical rehearsal for my pieces, I suddenly realized that the problem wasn’t being onstage again, being under-rehearsed, or even being nervous, it was not being grounded.

I was so not-grounded that I wasn’t even in my body at all, and I couldn’t get grounded by doing my usual visualization. So I spent the next few hours (when I wasn’t rehearsing or doing make-up) doing the following thing, and it worked so well that I ended up feeling more comfortable on that stage than I ever had before.

Sound good?

Here’s the magic walking exercise:

Focus on the pressure of your feet on the floor. Actively feel your soles pressing down into the floor as if you were walking on something slightly spongy. Hug the floor with your toes (this is sort of a combination of toe wiggling and grounding). Keep your knees slightly bent, and really feel your weight pressing down.

Now walk around like that.

Seriously, go about whatever you were doing, but keep your feet pressing into the floor. Hug the floor. Pause periodically to actively press your weight down. (You can make this into a dance…but that’s a whole other blog post)

I don’t know why this works so well, but it really does.

This would work even better if you were outside, but it does work, even on the second floor of a concrete building.

The problem with pirouettes (a ballet parable)

Back when I was a bunhead, I developed a huge block when it came to pirouettes. They were the bane of my existence. I could do a single turn with very little trouble, but when it came to double turns, forget it.

I couldn’t get enough momentum for multiple turns while still keeping the correct form, and when I did make it around, I would be so startled that I would fall out of the turn.

My teacher, obviously, wanted me to be able to overcome my block. She was training me to be a professional ballerina, and multiple pirouettes are a basic requirement. She found my block intensely frustrating…

…and she let me know it.

“Single turns are unacceptable!” she would snap, “DO IT AGAIN.” I would try, and fail, and she would sigh in a way that made me feel about 2 inches tall. “No. Do it again,” she would growl, seeming to tower over me.

…It occurs to me in hindsight that she was actually several inches shorter than me by this point, but she seemed very, very tall.

But no matter how much she yelled, how many hundred times we did the exercises, how frustrated we both got, my turns, if anything, got worse.

When I went away to study at Walnut Hill, I was astounded. My teachers sensed my desire to improve, and they empathized with my frustration and self-criticism. They offered suggestions based on their experience, and if their initial suggestions didn’t help, they thought outside the box. For example, one teacher suggested that toning my core muscles and my arms would help my turns, and that made a huge difference.

Their approach slowly helped me realize that, while pirouettes were definitely a problem area for me, that was OK. Dancers have strengths and weaknesses. It didn’t mean I was hopeless, it just meant that I needed to work on that particular area even more. It was OK to fall, so long as I got back up and tried again.

The best teachers know that yelling and threats only make a challenge seem more scary. Instead of losing patience and screaming, they say something closer to “It’s OK. I see that you *insert problem here* Why don’t you try again and this time *insert possible solution*?” I’m not just talking about ballet here either.

I did manage to do consistent doubles (on the right side, at least) by the time I’d spent a year with the teachers at Walnut Hill. Their multiple viewpoints and corrections -coupled with the fact that not one of them ever lost patience or yelled at me- helped me to work through the block and make progress (although I admit that I dreaded pirouettes for the rest of my time in ballet class).

I’m telling this story for a reason, of course.

When you’re trying something new and you can’t quite get it, what approach do you take with yourself? Do you mentally tell yourself off, shaking your head at your own incompetence and your sub-par performance? Or do you dust yourself off, acknowledge your feelings of frustration, try to see the problem from another angle, and try again ?

So often I find I’m stuck in Option 1. The kinder option is always the better one. We just need to remember that it’s there.

The Weekend That Changed My Life

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).

(…so…much…judgement…so…much…anxiety)

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.