I’ve been feeling a bit lost of late, perhaps for some time – I’m not sure when it started. As a consequence I’ve been looking for the things that help me feel more coherent and recognisable to myself. As a young person, I danced a lot. Ballet lessons from age four to fourteen (I couldn’t handle the point work) tap lessons, ceilidh dancing through my teens, goth night-clubbing and jumping up at down to bands. I danced a lot, and I could, and would, dance all night. Slowly, the spoon shortage (which also began in my teens) kicked in. Pain, tiredness and lack of opportunities have combined for some years now and I stopped being a person who dances.
The year I was pregnant, I carried so much water I could barely waddle, and as the inflated mother of a young child, the scope to dance disappeared, and I let it go. There have been odd occasions of dancing, but it stopped being a reliable feature.
This winter, dancing was on my new year’s resolutions list. Thus far I’ve not done a vast amount – I danced a bit at a Roving Crows gig and it was clear that my older, stiffer, under-spooned body could no longer tolerate jumping about like a demented pixie for hours at a time. I was going to have to relearn, and do something different.
I’ve been experimenting a lot with how I move my body. In the past, I mostly danced from the feet, a lunatic faux-Irish-jig if you will. The rest of my body following where the jumping and stomping led. So I’ve started thinking about all the areas of my body that can dance – knees, hips, spine, arms, hands. I don’t move my head about much, as there are balance issues there. My moshing days are clearly over, and anyway that stuff hurts too much. If I let go of the idea of dancing as rhythm, and treat it as making shapes sympathetic to the music, everything opens up for me, and I can move in ways that don’t wipe me out after the first song. If I want speed, my arms can express that.
With a background in ballet, and a few terms of studying Tai Chi in my distant past, I have some habits of movement. It’s all about soft curves, and there are all kinds of rules from those traditions that I default to, so I’ve been challenging myself to move differently. I wouldn’t previously have stuck any part of myself out in an angular way – elbows and knees, stomach and arse. I’ve previously danced with soft hands, but I can use fists, flat palms and spiky gestures for expression, and again this opens up the range of movement available to me, so I can make it interesting. If my body is very stiff, then a less smooth approach is easier.
I’ve found running harmony singing groups that one of two things can happen. Either you get safe, comfortable, affirming harmonies, or you get spiky exciting ones. It’s dawned on me that the same is true of dance – that I can have safe, graceful flow, or the challenging spiky stuff, but nothing wrong, nothing bad. Being taught to dance, for me, meant growing up thinking about moving my body as something for other people to watch and judge, but that simply doesn’t have to be the size of it.
Not only am I re-dedicating to dancing, but I’m shooting for once a month now. I have a better sense of self when I dance, it releases me emotionally, and I feel like someone I can make sense of. It doesn’t have to hurt, or exhaust me, and, it turns out, I can go into a dance space already sore and tired, and move in ways that do not leave me feeling worse. It’s a set of discoveries I’m very excited about.