On Wanting to Dance (or reaching for Happy)
In a bit of a funk and reaching for some way to be happy the other day, my eyes fell on this purplish skirt hanging in my closet. It was like recognizing the face of a friend in a crowd on a lonely day. I eagerly grabbed it. Wearing it, I feel graceful. I feel free. I feel…like sweeping my legs in a battement tendu, or throwing myself into a grande jete. Even though I’m not a dancer, and had no idea, until a moment ago, of what a battement tendu was (thanks Google, and “Ballet for Dummies”).
At least, I’m not a dancer in the common sense of the word.
I took modern dance my freshman year in college. That sounds misleading. I took “Intro To Modern Dance” in college. I’d never had real lessons before (well, that’s misleading too..there was mandatory aerobics in high school, and the occasional church sponsored dance festival for All Youth, including dilettantes), but I’d always wished I could dance…and it seemed to me, from the little I had seen of modern dance, that I could slip in and learn a few basic moves unnoticed in the general chaos. Since modern dance wasn’t really Dance dance, but rather a sort of amorphous free-for-all.
I learned better, of course.
In “intro to modern dance”, since I was lucky and actually paying attention, I had just enough time to begin to grasp the concept of “center”. Which is not only the dense space just behind the belly button, where the gravity of both corporeal and ethereal self converge, but is also the act of balancing around that space. Also, I learned (at least conceptually) that graceful movement takes into consideration the fact that one’s feet and the floor are in communion, even when they are estranged. This is a very intimate, potentially happy relationship, the feet and the floor one.
And hands matter. They are extensions of…well, that dense space behind the belly button.
I also had to allow myself to be seen in my awkwardness, without the camouflage of trendy moves. A test meant dancing, alone, in front of the entire class. Actually, even attending the class meant being seen…my teacher was very perceptive. And disciplined, and regal; I craved her approval. Her class was one of my first opportunities to recognize that I had major inhibitions. And it was one of the first times I tried earnestly to move past them. I wasn’t entirely successful. Not then, not yet either. But the effort set a marvelous precedent for my happiness, created a personal touchstone. And honestly, now, modern dance is my favorite dance to watch, to actually feel. It is Real Dance. It is my favorite dance to be wistful for.
I’ve tried other dances, mostly in college (though recently, I gave zumba a whirl). I was best at clogging, ironically. Maybe because it seemed the most attainable to me? I don’t know. It is kind of sad that in our culture, there’s an expectation that if you don’t start dancing young, you’ll never be good (and you might as well forget it). But Intro to Modern Dance taught me that whatever my age or experience, joy of movement is the point, and well within my reach.
Does dancing make you happy?
PS: Originally, I meant for this post to be all about the skirt. But as I considered the pictures and began to write, I found I really just wanted to talk about dance. However. The skirt truly is a favorite…a longtime favorite, and it honestly does make me feel as liberated and lovely as just about anything I own. I made it several years ago, using a McCall’s pattern (McCall’s 5430) and simple cotton calico. McCall’s claims the pattern is easy (a “1 hour skirt”), and it is…but I’ve never, ever made a skirt in just one hour (this one took an afternoon). For the same reasons I guess that clogging is easier for me than zumba (that doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but me).