Tag Archives: dancing

The Temple I am Building

I have known for years that there is a temple I am called to dance in. It does not have a name. When I see it, it is a place of cool stone, quiet beauty, shafting sunlight, comforts and pleasures. I have been dancing there most of my adult life, but it isn’t something I’ve talked about much. I dance where I can, and when the music, the atmosphere and my dancing are just right, I also dance in the temple.

Of course it is a Goddess temple. But there has never been a named Goddess, or any sense of presence or interaction. I dance in the temple because it’s what I do, and there is a sense of sacredness and significance, but not of specific deity. I’m not very good at deity, or at belief. Aside from some distant experiences in my late teens, this just isn’t part of my life. But the temple has a kind of reality for me.

There is no physical temple I can dance in, and I do not have the resources to build a temple. There isn’t a suitable space I could hire. So the question of how to make the temple a bit more real, how to honour it and work with it, has been on my mind for years.

In recent weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about the kind of music I dance to and why. I realise that some of my sense of the temple comes out of the goth nightclubbing experiences of my youth. I started putting together a playlist of songs that gave me a sense of the temple dancing. Most of them are goth tunes from that time in my life, but I’ve found other things along the way and there are a fair few steampunk bands with songs that fit. It has a definite tone – passionate, sensual, deliciously, shamelessly a bit sleazy. Sexy and totally in control of that. Active, not passive. Playful, expressive.

I dance because I want to. I dance because this is my body and I am entitled to enjoy it. I dance to delight others, but I get to say who I dance for, and I get to say what happens around that and dancing most assuredly is not consent. I dance as an act of rebellion because this body is not the sort of body my wider culture considers sexy or appealing – which is true for most of us. I dance as an act of reclamation.

I have built a temple playlist. It may be the only temple I ever build, but for now, it will do.

Dancing my way back

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.

Druid camp faerie tales

Thursday at Druid Camp, and there was to be a masked ball in the evening. I had nothing to wear – I don’t own many dresses and as nothing in my wardrobe would do for a glamorous Druid ball in hot conditions, I had brought a few things in the hopes I could cobble them together, apply face-paint and get away with it. However, Thursday turned out to be busy, I didn’t stop until gone 8, by which time everyone else was ready while I was hot, tired and painfully sore.

This may be starting to sound a bit like a familiar story shape. I was definitely not going to the ball, because by this point my lower back had locked up and was painful enough to make me cry. Dancing would not be an option. Everyone else set off, aside from Tom, but Ferdiad returned, taking on the ‘faerie godmother’ role (which I think should be generally understood more as a job description than an identity). It took some time and energy to get me out of the worst of the pain and return me to a state I could bear.

I did not go to the ball.

This is where it gets really interesting, because on Friday the suggestion was mooted that it might be worth getting me in the sauna, to alleviate pain and tension. I can’t cope with being naked around people, and while I’m better with other people’s nudity than I was, it’s still tough. At Rainbow Camps there are often naked people. A quiet window was found where I could have sauna time without anyone else, and various people accompanied me to help me feel secure as I did this more communally again in following days. However, on that Friday we discovered that in terms of pain and stiffness, a sauna is pretty much an instant magical cure. As I don’t normally believe in instant magical cures, this came as a surprise. It doesn’t fix me forever, but it quickly returns me to a viable state.

On Friday night, I was sufficiently pain-free to be able to dance a bit while the band was on. Not much, not too energetically and not for too long, but some wafting about to music was viable. This cheered me greatly. The not being able to dance aspect of not going to the ball had been gutting – I love to dance, but these days it’s not always so feasible. If my body is stiff and awkward, liveliness and grace are not an option.

On Saturday at the market, there was a dress. Black bodice, dark green skirt. A glorious, outrageous sort of dress compared to the kinds of things I more normally wear. I tried it on, and it was an uncannily good fit. I tend to self identify as  scruffy urchin, but this dress managed to both look rather fancy, and look like me – I did not appear to be trying to be anything or anyone I am not. I wore it barefoot and with no makeup, and that was fine. On Saturday, I went to the eistedfodd in said dress, and people said nice things about it. I spent a lot of the evening at the back of the marquee, in the fabulous frock, listening to the music whilst sewing up stretches of scarf for Wool Against Weapons. I also managed a bit of dancing.

Faerie tale outcomes tend to fall together neatly so as to make a good narrative. Life can take a lot longer to come up with good outcomes, but just sometimes, when we look out for each other and enable good things to happen, there are moments of magic. Thank you everyone who made that possible, it meant a great deal to me.