Return to paradise–or how dancing saved my life

Bird of Paradise Flower
Bird of Paradise Flower

It takes a long time to grow young–Pablo Picasso

This morning I danced to Paradise, while playing a Qoya video. In it, Rochelle Schieck (creator of Qoya) talks about paradise as the state we long for when we imagine life feeling really good. I spent an hour moving, dancing, finding the place where it felt so good and noticing where there was resistance or mind chatter distracting me from the sensation. Having access to that inner paradise, which to me is a feeling of freedom–well, it’s simple now and it was simple as a child and yet I’ve worked fucking hard to find it again. That degree of innocence and pure joy in making circles with my hips, or shaking my booty like a happy pup, it’s something I had to reclaim so that I could know it from the inside, not just intellectually.

I think much of our work as women now is about re-orienting toward what feels good, and that is a revolutionary act. 

To re-orient our compass toward what feels good means that we make it just as important to feel as good now, in the process of getting to our dreams, as we’re hoping we will feel when we get there.

Sounds easy enough. “Follow your bliss” and all that, but unless you’ve deliberately chosen a practice where there is an emphasis on pleasure and enjoyment–which isn’t most people out there, then this notion might feel pollyannaish or even infuriating! I mean, you have shit to do, bills to pay, and important things to attend to. And when someone comes along and says you ought to prioritize feeling good, maybe you think “who is this hippie anyway and what does she know about my life?” There’s a part of me that still, after years learning to trust the feeling of pleasure and aliveness as a sign that I’m on the right track, recoils and gets resentful at the idea that it’s really ok to, like, feel good. Usually, the bitchier I get the more I need a dose of feeling good.

As women, we’re raised to bond around our complaints. We’re kind of suspicious of people who feel “too good”. It pisses us off, which is a clue. And when we dare admit that we want it because we’re burnt out and hungry and dying on the inside, then we wonder how! How do you make the time? How do you decide that it is ok to put yourself first? It’s a huge question to which I offer a simple medicine. Move. And find a way to do it that feels good to you.

Here’s a little story about movement and dance and how it saved my life.

When I was thirteen and beginning my teenage obsession with NOT GETTING FAT! I used to do aerobics. There was this show called the 20-minute workout. It was super eighties–leotards with panty-hose and leg-warmers. Big hair. These chicks moved like smooth barbie automatons. They didn’t seem to sweat but they all had skinny, toned bodies like I dreamt of having. Ah, the irony, because I wasn’t even chubby. But that’s not the point, since in my mind anything less than idealized perfection meant I was a disgusting pig and who needed to work harder and strive to be better at denying myself. I was starting my training in numbing out hunger and pushing my body like a machine. I would hop on my bike after school and do endless loops of the neighborhood, or get on the stationary bike at home and pedal away. The thing was to clock miles and keep the ugly fat at bay. This was not about enjoyment!

But there was a time before all this self-flagellation. As a little girl, before the self-consciousness and worry about getting fat, I remember climbing trees and tumbling on the grass with my little brother. There were afternoons doing cartwheels with friends, and days at the beach splashing around and waiting for the next wave. Moments where the joy of pure play was simple and completely mine. My family lived in Costa Rica and Nicaragua. The cliches about tropical places and paradise exist for a reason. So in my memories of playing on the beach where the world around me really did look like “paradise” are also where I experienced the inner freedom of being totally at ease in my body. But that didn’t last very long, just a few sweet years before puberty.

I’m not sure when exactly I discovered that I actually liked moving and that it felt good? There were the times in eighth grade after school, doing silly interpretive dances with my best friend in her living room. There were those times in college, dancing all night at the little club where I used to go with my friends, or going to shows in New Orleans and getting sweaty to down and dirty blues. Through all the years of body hatred, of obsessing over every calorie, of doing my best to eat the least possible amount, through all of that there was always something in me which remained intact–the part that loved moving! I’m not saying that I embraced pleasurable movement with open arms. I didn’t have such a concept. Back then I put in my time. I walked, ran, pumped iron. But the thread of pleasure through movement was never totally severed. And bit by bit I found my way back. There were those very first yoga classes where simply breathing and paying attention to breathing was a revelation. A return home. It’s not that I discovered that I liked moving but rather that I re-discovered it as I grew up.

So why do I say movement and dancing saved my life? It wasn’t one particular incident where I danced out of the way of a moving train or any such literal thing. But I cannot tell you here the countless times when I found my way home to my self and my own heart through dancing and movement. When my ex-hubby and I divorced, I found connection and passion and a healthy obsession through tango. I became a regular at Triangulo studio in New York City. When I lost a baby after a tough and complicated pregnancy, I found my strength again and let myself move through the grief dancing in the forest in Costa Rica with Parashakti and her Dance of Liberation. Those were some big transitions, but movement has also been there for me in quieter, slower ways, like learning how to do walking meditation or getting to a 5rhythms class and sweating my prayers. Whenever I feel “off” or when I feel great and want to celebrate, I move. No matter what else is going on, the body is home, and moving and dancing is a direct way to connect with self and soul.

Here’s the video, in case you feel like getting up and shakin’ it:

What’s your idea of paradise? Where does movement and dancing figure into it, if at all? I’d love to hear your comments. (Comment at the top of the page).

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/41510540@N03/5080052040″>Bird Of Paradise</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

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