Friday, September 12, 2008

In the sane asylum, I learned I was an African queen.

I was moving on tip toes, lifting one bent leg, thrusting it to the right and squatting down. My arms came down to the floor and swooped up, springing my body back on tip toes. I twirled myself around and around, my arms outstretched to the sides. I began running like a ballerina would, legs turned out and feet landing lightly at an angle. My arms made outward swimming strokes to push the brush out of the way. I was deep in the jungles of Africa. And as I ran, I could see the others. One woman stomping her feet, waving arms in the air, head bent forward, thrusting from side to side. Her black hair covered her entire face.

It was a Saturday morning in the Candler Park neighborhood of Atlanta. We were in Joan Toder’s expressive movement class, which she calls Dance Meditation. Like all expressive arts, the concept is simple. You let the art form take over, letting it get deep inside of you and pull out some amazing bits from your deepest core. All of a sudden, you’re a dancer, a writer, a painter and you’re learning from those very bits that the art form has brought to light. In Joan’s class, you simply listen to music and move. However, wherever you want. As others in the class do the same.

For the first part of the class, I danced in a corner of the room, not wanting to stray too close to others, focusing on myself and whatever movement came out of me. I heard hooting, grunting and whooping come out of the other participants. Some rolled on the floor, others danced. I couldn’t help but take in some of the energy in the room. Liberation, freedom. It entered my body and made me giggle. It reminded me of Paulo Coelho’s book, Veronika Decides to Die, in which sane people decide to remain in a mental institution because it’s the only place that’s acceptable and easy to be non-conformists. Was this what Coelho’s sane asylum was like? Full of freedom and joy?

After 45 minutes of this, Joan asked us to move intentionally close to others while continuing our own dances. The group gathered in the center of the room and began to move. Now I had no choice. I had to get close to others. At first, I danced on the outskirts of the group, around those on the outer edges. Sometimes it was difficult to maneuver around a person, especially if arms were flailing about. But as I continued to focus on my own dance, I let it take me through the middle of the circle when it was time. The same fast-tempo salsa tune elicited some to move slowly, others to move quickly. So many ways to interpret one song.

And then my favorite and most challenging part of the class. While we danced our own dance, we touched others lightly as we moved by them. Remaining unaffected by their movement. Some people danced together for a bit while their hands touched, each moving in their own world. I saw them connect for a second and then move on.

Joan’s class was such a beautiful metaphor for living a creative life. How we each have our own very distinct dance. How we need to trust it to take us where we need to go. And remain focused on it even while other energies swirl around us. Hopefully, we can. Hopefully, in the bliss of our own dance, we can accept another’s touch. Hopefully, we can offer one to someone else. This is the meaning of true freedom.

Years ago, I would have been too shy to come into a class like this. But now, I look forward to seeing what different art forms can bring out of me and what I’ll learn about myself in the process. If I hadn’t tried the sane asylum of expressive movement, I never would have known that an African queen lived inside of me. Though I did suspect it.

Something to consider:
During times of transition, it’s important to try out lots of new things that push you outside of your comfort zone, like different art forms. Expressive arts not only bring creativity into your life in the least intimidating way, but they teach you about yourself. Things come out of you that you didn’t think you had in you, and those who didn’t think they were creative may be surprised to find they had a writer, painter or African dancer queen living right inside them all along.

2 comments:

aart hilal said...

Hello!

I'm a big fan of Paulo Coelho! You will love this! He's the first best-selling
author to be distributing for free his works on his blog:
www.paulocoelhoblog.com


Have a nice day!

Aart

It feels like flying! said...

Hi Aart –

Thanks for the info and thanks for visiting the blog!

Rita