I have to stop dancing so that I can dance.
After a year of deliberating about it, I told my dear soul sisters of Anam Cara Dance Co. that I’m leaving the troupe after Elevation, our big performance this coming Friday. I’d been sensing in my knower all year that I needed to make this decision, but it wasn’t until after I finally gave in and did it that I figured out why. I need to stop dancing so I can dance.
It’s kind of like music for me. I was trained in classical music, piano and flute, for most of my childhood and growing up years. I’m deeply grateful for that training, because I learned something I now know as ‘deep practice’, the discipline of holding the correct version in your mind as you repeatedly try to produce it yourself. With classical music, I could hear what I was trying to play long before I was actually able to do it. Athletes now are taught to use this technique of imagining themselves doing their skill/sport ahead of actually doing it. I am so thankful I learned how to do this in childhood because the ability to go into deep practice has served me well in many areas besides music.
But there was a down side to my classical training: I was so worried about doing it right that I squelched my ability to express. As I got into high school, my flute and piano teachers were always telling me to express the music, but how the heck can you express when you’re worried about playing it all perfectly? And honestly, I don’t really get excited about classical music, so it was difficult to express within a style I didn’t really like. And besides, how do you express when it’s someone else’s music anyway?
There was a lot of music inside of me, but I was so bound up in the concept of doing it right that I couldn’t get my own music out. I didn’t actually break free in this until I was in my early 30’s, and in a Christian worship band where we did a lot of improvisation. Finally, finally, after a lot of trying and with a ton of support from the band, the music inside of me started to come out. At first it was just a few notes at a time, a few little licks and flourishes. But I kept trying, and begging God to set me free, and it really did happen. I finally was able to get into a place that was beyond all the musical rights and wrongs that were so ingrained in me, a place where I just heard the music inside myself and around me, and flowed with it.
But do you see the dilemma? I NEEDED the classical training with all its rights and wrongs to be able to play my instrument well enough that I could play in a band and finally be free to express MY music. But the process of breaking free felt agonizing.
I think that same thing is happening to me with belly dance. I’ve LOVED the process to learning to dance in this style, and it’s brought me more joy and fulfillment than I ever expected. I love being part of a troupe that moves in union – there’s such incredible power and energy in the unity. But the better a dancer I’ve become, the less frequently I’ve just put on some music and danced. Lately, I’ve so often danced while watching myself in the mirror that I’ve ended up dancing from outside myself. I’m losing touch with dancing from inside of me. And as much as I love the choreography of tribal fusion style dance, and I’ve loved the big pieces I’ve been part of, it’s not MY choreography. I’ve lost touch with dancing in my own ways.
I need to bring dance back into the place of MY expression, my playing, my joy. So as much as it’s breaking my heart, I need to leave structured dancing with a troupe, at least for a while, and find my way back to my dancing heart. I know she’s out there, waiting for me. And maybe, after I’ve danced from inside myself for a while, I can dance with a troupe again…