I was recently gifted with a small reminder of my mortality which included several fairly complex medical procedures and two hospital stays. It was less than fun, parts of it were quite scary, but I got through it. Life resumes – but, as always in such cases, it doesn’t exactly look the same.
I returned to dancing full of doubts, feeling weak and shaky and inadequate. Everyone was very supportive, but I was still terrified of letting them down, and I arrived at the studio full in equal parts of relief to be there and fear that my body would fail me.
And then class began...and my body remembered.
I’m not saying it was easy. Even if you’re in peak physical condition, if dance is easy that’s usually a sign that you’re doing it wrong. But there is a physical memory, ingrained by years of discipline, the ritual repetition of all the hundreds of tiny things which make up technique. Your body remembers. It comes home to itself. Taking class is like tuning an instrument, and the moment when mind and body start singing in tune again, even if the song is a little tentative, is a beautiful one.
Dance can be many things, many of them seemingly paradoxical: strength and vulnerability, physicality and emotion, artistry and athleticism. Dance, movement, is the antithesis of stagnation. It pushes through grief and fear and doubt (all very debilitating, isolating, stationary afflictions) and into an open inner place with a wider horizon. I think most dancers would agree with this. Through dance we achieve peace. We find calm through motion. It’s like meditation for the hyperactive. For me, dance brings healing...healing of mind and body and spirit.
I have danced through all the major events of my life: cancer, pregnancy, widowhood, motherhood...Always, coming home to dance, returning to the studio or the stage, brings healing. Always, it brings clarity. Martha Graham said that movement never lies. Of course she was right. At its heart, dance is unimpeachably honest. As a dancer you hide nothing...not from the audience, not from your fellow dancers, and certainly not from yourself.
I never know myself so fully as when I am dancing. It can be both terrifying and liberating in the way it makes self-deception impossible. Sometimes it is the surgeon’s knife, revealing and cutting away the parts of me that are weak or lazy or cowardly; sometimes it is the soothing balm to the wounded soul; sometimes it is a jolt of energy stronger than caffeine. I am a single mother. Sometimes I walk into the studio feeling like I just want to curl up in a corner and sleep...but in those moments I can still dance, and inevitably I walk out of the studio refreshed and rejuvenated – physically weary, yes, but inwardly renewed.
When I dance, I am free. When I dance, I am strong. When I dance, I am whole. I am me.