Tag Archives: dance

Dancing in the dark

Dancing plays many roles in my life. It’s a way of engaging directly with music, for a start. It enables me to do all kinds of emotional processing without having to slog it out by thinking everything through. I can just dance with what’s going on until my body has dealt with it. There’s a Pagan aspect to it that I’ve written about recently – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2019/06/08/the-temple-i-am-building-a-poem/

In summer there are usually a few opportunities to dance outside and, even better, to dance in the dark. For me this creates an intense sense of connection with land, sky and season. My usual trick for this is to be near the venue rather than in it – I’ve spent a fair few evenings outside marquees at folk festivals, and being outside other venues can work for me, too. I don’t do well with very loud music, and I’m not always inclined to dance where I have much of an audience. Dancing where I am not supposed to dance, and communing with the summer night is always a powerful experience for me.

Some of the time I dance for, or with Tom, but much of my dancing is more solitary even if other people are around. Most of the time I don’t do it for the entertainment of a viewer. I certainly don’t do it to be sexy for the male gaze – I’ve spent a lot of time exploring dance that is deliberately about avoiding sexualisation. I find my elbows play a big role in that. I dance with my whole body, and I dance to be in my whole body.

Sometimes, if I like the performer and it feels like the right thing to do, I dance to raise energy for the music. I will be the first person to get up of an evening. If there’s a big crowd on the dance floor later on, the odds are I won’t be in it, I’ll have sauntered off into the night to do my own thing.

I am perpetually confused by how long it takes many people to make it to the dance floor. How many other people have to get up first and how much alcohol they need to feel brave enough to move about a bit. People who, by the end of the evening will be having a great time, but don’t jump in sooner. Sometimes I dance to create permission – by getting up early and dancing outlandishly I can guarantee that anyone else following in my wake will look far more sensible. I tend to find if I get up and dance, other people are not far behind me.

Without a doubt, the dancing I love most is undertaken for myself only, in summer nights, outside, where it is not reasonable to expect a person may be dancing.

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The temple I am building – a poem

The temple I am building

 

There are no temples I can dance in

And while I glimpse in myth the names

Of women who may once have been

Goddesses of land, I can only guess

At whose temple I should dance

And there is no sacred music for me

And the steps are entirely lost

If they ever existed.

 

There are no temples I can dance in

But I will honour the call of music

With passion embodied. I will dance

The imaginary steps for a nameless Goddess

Wherever I can, I will shake my hips,

Open my thighs, raise my arms in salutation

In spiritual offering, make sacrament

Of rhythm, make sacred the energy

Of limbs and loins.

 

I make temples I can dance in

The width of my open arms

Any tune is my holy ground, any beat

Or song so long as there is sweat

And presence, breath and pulse,

Where there is desire I will build my temple

In the shadowed edge of your stage

In your club, your field, your kitchen

Summon ancient magic

And dance what enchantment I can.


Dancing Awkwardly

Dancing has been important to me for most of my life. However, as I frequently struggle with pain, stiffness and low energy, it’s also a bit of a challenge. This is something I’ve been deliberately working on for a few years now. I can’t throw myself about like a lunatic pixie anymore, so finding new ways to dance that my body can sustain has been necessary. Here’s what I’ve learned.

I’m using my arms more – I can create an impression of speed and energy with my hands for far less effort than using my feet. Also, big, slow arm movements look really dramatic, but don’t even raise my pulse. I have the energy for those, reliably.

Jumping up and down on two feet at the same time jars everything and is way too labour intensive. However, a bouncy shift between feet with one foot on the ground at all times takes far less effort and jars nothing. I can feel like I’m making a lively response to the music without wearing myself out too quickly.

Dancing from the hips and not moving my feet very often takes less energy than moving my feet.

I can share the motion round my body, if I have one or two bits of me moving I can be creative without getting too tired. I am learning to think more about my body as a whole when dancing, and how to use every part and spread the motion around so I don’t strain anything.

I can work with my own awkwardness. There’s interest and drama in not being smooth and graceful. Sometimes it is better to dance more with my elbows and knees, to embrace the stagger, to flail a bit and let my body do what suits it. Overtly not-sexy dancing can be emotionally liberating as well. I don’t have to be sexually performative or attractive, I can be messy and punk and feel better about myself for dancing with what I’ve got.

I don’t have to go with the most obvious rhythm in a piece of music, there are always slower currents in a song that I can get into. I can dance with different melodies and instruments. It doesn’t have to be all about the drum speed. Again, I have the scope to do something more interesting by resisting the obvious and co-operating with my own body.

My limitations are obliging me to be a more creative dancer. Amusingly, from the feedback I’m getting, what I’m doing looks high energy. It isn’t. I can dance while barely raising my pulse, if I want to. I can dance without hurting myself, not overloading joints or tiring my muscles too much. I can dance with my own limitations and by doing so, I feel better in my body and better about my body.

 


What does it mean to dance?

I was sent to dancing lessons from early on in life. I’ve always thought of dance as being about the music, especially once I got to the point of being able to improvise. I’ve danced as a performer, but more usually I’ve danced amongst people with no audience.

This weekend I had the experience of watching dance – some I realised I’d not done in a long time. I’ve watched morris dancers in the last few years, but it’s not the same as sitting down quietly in a room to watch something that isn’t about repeating patterns. The dance I watched – Without Measure – had no music. Some of the pieces were performed in silence, some had spoken work soundtracks. In the absence of music, it had me thinking about sound and bodies in some unexpected ways.

When you dance in silence, it is the sound of the movement, and the sound of the audience, that occupies the space. Small sounds that would normally disappear under the music become intense and important. The breath of the dancer becomes part of what you experience. Watching anything in silence is normal, but when there is so little constructed soundscape, you become really aware of the smallest sounds you accidently make. This is not a performance in which it is easy to cough.

We normally dance to music. We normally have the speed, rhythm and mood of the dance shaped by the music playing. We’re used to the sense of dance coming from this relationship with sound. Take the music away, and a whole host of questions arise about the nature and purpose of dance.


In search of a lost, manic pixie

There’s a concept in a lot of shamanist traditions, of soul retrieval. The idea that bits of us get lost along the way – often in a context of trauma – and that we need help to bring those parts of soul back. I’m not a shaman. I’ve felt for a long time that I had indeed lost vast swathes of my identity. Go back six years or so and I had no idea who I was, what I felt, or thought, wanted or needed. I’ve spent years rebuilding, and looking for tools for rebuilding.

One of the things I’ve done is to look back at who I was at a time when I felt that I recognised myself, and made sense to myself. I can’t be who I was at any point previously, but it gives me some guidance for working out what I need to explore.

As a teenager, I danced. A Lot. I danced like a wild and demented pixie, with a shameless joy in my body, and the movement of my body that I also felt when swimming, and playing musical instruments, but not in much that involved other people. A lot of the time I felt really awkward in my body. That stayed with me, and the times of feeling good in my body reduced.

I started dancing again this summer. Awkward on my feet at first, not confident of my balance, and trying to work with a sore, stiff body that couldn’t dance like I used to, and needing to totally re-learn how to move. It was not easy re-starting – I felt very exposed and it also meant dealing with all the emotions tangled up in my messy relationship with my own form. My dancing was not what I wanted it to be, and I accepted it, and did what I could.

I’ve put in a lot of time – primarily working on my balance, so that I can be easier on my feet. Working with each part of the body in turn to find out what can move, and how to move. Working out how far I can push in terms of energy use, how not to jar myself, how to work slowly when the music is fast. I re-learned that one of the things dancing does for me is to give me a space to express and process the kind of complex emotions that cannot be dealt with just by thinking about them.

Dancing in spaces with other people, my confidence improved. I started feeling safer, and acceptable. Part of the block to going back to dance had been a sense that my body would not be acceptable to other people – too fat, too awkward, too ugly, too ungainly… I have a lot of body-image issues and tend to project them, imagining everyone else is going to see me as I do, and as a few people in my life have been very explicit about seeing me. But, I can go to a space where people dance and not face shaming, humiliation or anything like that. I’ve found accepting, nurturing space. I’m learning how to feel acceptable.

As a consequence of this, I’ve got easier in my own body, more willing to experiment and push my own boundaries with how I move, and it has done me considerable good.

Then, at the last session, a magic thing happened. I pushed just a little bit harder, and found that in small bursts, I could dance like some sort of demented pixie. It doesn’t matter that I can’t now do that into the wee small hours, it doesn’t matter that I have to do little flurries and take breaks – because for minutes at a time, I can still dance with my manic pixie self, and feel something like what I felt as a much younger human.

I can’t change my history. I am only going to get older and weirder with this cranky body of mine. But I can still dance.