~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Dancing Through the Dark

December 18, 2020

When I log on to my computer just after lunch, the dance has already begun. Bodies sway and bounce to the beat all across the checkerboard tiles that fill my screen. The instructor smiles and shimmies from her own makeshift dance floor, while others move in their bedrooms, their kitchens, their offices and porches. First there are 40 and then 120 and finally more than 200 people logged on from all over the world, here to share in this strange and lovely stay-at-home pandemic dance party.

I've come to this class to learn more about healthy movement. I've read about Esther Gokhale for years and am eager to learn more about living in a body with strength and ease. It's the dance, though, that intrigues me most. I suppose you'd say I'm a closet dancer, happy to turn up the music on my own when life feels like it's ready to burst out of my bones, but puritanically shy about dancing with others.

I scroll through the Zoom screens like a voyeur. I see a mother dancing with children. I see an older man exercising with weights while swaying to the beat. I spy a grey-haired woman who looks so very familiar dancing in her kitchen and an older couple in their living room who seem to move as one. My eyes land on a tall fellow dancing alone with such elan that he must have been a samba dancer in a former life.

I close my bedroom door, turn up the volume, and begin to dance. Shyly, at first, but curious. My feet tap. My shoulders sway. And then I begin to let the music carry me, growing bolder in my movements. I skip. I spin. I sing. My brain grows quiet, my body leads the way and my spirit begins to lift. For the first time in a long while, I smile.

Our free-form, no-rules dance party lasts 15 minutes, and then Esther guides us through the day's movement principle. She explains why strong muscles support a healthy back, she shows us images of healthy bodies with long and spacious spines, and she offers up a few movements that can cultivate ease and stability in the body. Then the music returns and we strengthen our muscles again on our virtual dance floor.

I've tried this class on a whim. The world feels so claustrophobic right now, with winter darkness settling in like a shroud and the pandemic driving us all to our knees. I walk, I meditate, I practice yoga and qigong, but still my footing feels unsteady and my fears are vast. I'll try anything to keep my heart afloat through the dark tunnel of winter ahead and into next year's promised summer sun. Dancing suddenly seems like a not-so-crazy way to shake off our sorrows and perk up our souls.

And strangely, it works. After my first class I find myself moving lightly through the house, a little more chipper and cheery than I've felt in months. My body feels refreshed and renewed. My spine feels longer. My legs feel steadier. The troubles of the world seem a little less difficult to carry. My shoulders feel more willing to bear life's heavy load.

And so I return the following day. And the next, and the next. In short order my lunchtime dance party becomes a bright light and an anchor to my days. You could say I'm hooked.

I keep my computer camera turned off, because I'm still a little shy about this unlikely COVID survival strategy. But I am so thankful for my fellow dancers who keep their screens on as the music plays. They fill me with a sense of community and shared movement. I follow their leads and imitate their moves. I learn their names and begin to recognize them by their trademark footwork and signature shoulder shimmies. 

My dance partners and I have never met in person and likely never will, but I feel such kinship with these lovely souls who show up with me, day after day, to shake off the world's heaviness and reclaim our freedom and light. Dancing alone just wouldn't feel the same.

This happens every single day. At 12:45 I leave my kids to their algebra and American history and walk away from the work of the day. I slip upstairs to my bedroom and log on to my computer to dance. I leave my COVID thoughts at the door and let the rhythm of the music transport me to a clean and wide-open space. I stomp my feel and flail my arms and for a little while, at least, forget about masks and stay-at-home-orders and the latest round of test results. I feel like a kid again, as light and carefree as I was so long ago when I sashayed around the house and carved out cartwheels in the summer sun.

In these moments, dancing seems like the most natural way to keep life flowing even when the outer world comes to an icy standstill. Every once in a while in my body I catch a glimmering of a whirling dervish or an Indian dakini or a child stomping through the mud. Occasionally I even slip into a place of utter absorption where my sense of self melts away entirely into the greater flow of life. In these moments my bones tell me that the secret to this strange time is to keep moving to the beat, whatever it takes, refusing to let life freeze us in our tracks.

Our daily dance parties aren't going to make COVID disappear or keep the hospitals from overflowing with patients. They aren't going to cure hunger or cancer or racism or global warming. We could do worse, though, in this strange and lonely time, than to strengthen our bodies and our souls, to cut loose every once in a while and turn again toward joy.

We show up with whole body and unfettered heart. We swing to the rhythm of the beat, shaking off our sorrows and shimmying to our unlikely delights. We strengthen our spines and our lungs. And then we carry our fancy footwork and unburdened hearts back out into the larger world to cast a little light into the darkness so that others, too, may find their way to the dance.