Dance Is An Expression Of Life
Updated: Jan 1, 2021
Beauty is not necessarily something that is pleasing to behold. Beauty is honesty.
What holds me back from achieving a sense of authentic wholeness is my resistance to be with what is. As an artist, being with "what is" means taking the tangible essence of an experience and expressing it as something great. Dance uses movement, gesture, music, space, colour, texture, words, feelings, images etc. to language that which can't be fully articulated in conventional ways. Beauty is not necessarily something that is pleasing to behold. Beauty is honesty. The most grotesque thing holds beauty in its sheer willingness to be fully expressed. That's art.
We are all dancers to some degree because we all express ourselves through movement. From the moment we are born to our last dying breath, we are in motion. Our bodies are the medium, the dance floor is the canvass. We dip the gestural paint brush into our souls and we tell our stories to the world.
I am a dancer. I always have been a dancer and I always will be. My experience and understanding of dance has changed and evolved throughout my life. When I was younger, dance was about technique, steps, choreography and the structure of a performance art piece (ABA). The main intention was to create a work of art that was unique, skillfully executed and that conveyed some kind of meaning to the audience. The relationship between myself (dancer/choreographer) and the audience was of the utmost importance. Secretly, there was always a desire and need to be appreciated and understood. When the crowd loved my performances, I was elated but when they didn't, I was disappointed and discouraged. Thankfully, I have arrived at a point in my life where that external approval no longer drives me. My view and expression of dance has radically shifted.
What interests me now is far more simple- I dance to be well. I dance to be whole. I dance to be me. My physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being is synonymous with my dance practice. In other words, dance has become a metaphor for my life.
What makes me unique is the same thing that makes me the same as everyone else- it's my longing to go home; my longing to be loved. Dance is an expression of love because it is through dance that we merge with our souls, with one another and with God. This universal desire to merge is at the root of all that is sacred. For me, when I dance, I experience a profound sense of inner joy and an opening of my capacity to hold the entire universe in my breath, in my movement, in my interpretation of the music and in the subtle and overt nuances emoted through my body. I am never so alive as I am when dancing be it on stage in front of an audience, at a public event or alone in my basement.
When we give ourselves permission to dance for the sheer joy of it, we connect to that ungraspable essence of who we really are. We dance in order to bring consciousness to our sorrows, our pain, our sadness, our grief, our anger, our joy and our uncertainty... We do the evocative dance of "what is" and suddenly we become more alive- more present- more human.
To dance consciously, requires a certain amount of focus and fortitude. This type of dance shifts away from the performative and is more about hearing the inward music which is both simple and radical. It involves connecting to our authentic inner impulses, feelings, emotions and physical interpretations in order to fuel expression. This requires getting out of our heads (and previous conditioning of what is acceptable) and dropping into our hearts. The body is simply the messenger. Conscious dance invites us to use whatever our present life experience is and to draw from that as inspiration. Rather than being stuck in a feeling such as depression or grief, the movement helps us to get it out- to move it out (and sing and yell and punch and scream). While this practice is cathartic, it is also creative and artistic because we strive to elevate the base, human experience and transform it into something else- something great!
In many communities, there are social gatherings of free-style dance events where people gather to move to a structured pre-arranged musical playlist that follows an arc or thematic journey. Typically, a gathering is 1.5 hours long and is semi guided by a skilled facilitator, and mostly, it is an opportunity for folks to dance however they want to dance. This is truly an important occurrence because participants are given permission to delve into their own unique movement style and utterance. They can be true, honest, vulnerable, playful, unpredictable and real. They can dance alone or with each other. They can explore time, space, rhythm, direction, weight, impulse, quality and all the nuances that trained dancers utilize- and there is no judgement or expectation. This practice helps us develop the skills to become more connected to our bodies and feelings. We become more expressed, more aware and more confident. There's something supernatural about it- holy and bad-ass at the same time.
Conscious dance elevates people, (no matter who they are or what they look and move like), to a sacred realm of truth and freedom. It is a permissive opportunity that builds confidence and community and is truly an exhilarating experience!
In Guelph, where I provide monthly Conscious Dance events with my partner Scott Krayenoff, there is an open floor policy that welcomes anyone who wants to attend. Typically scheduled for the 4th Friday at 7:30pm, people arrive at 42 Quebec Street Dance Studio and begin with laying down on the floor to stretch. By 8pm, we gather in an opening circle and Scott and I welcome the group. A well crafted 1.5 hour long music playlist (created by both of us) begins and from then on there is no talking.
Throughout the evening, dancers move to the music playlist that is organized and structured into contrasting rhythms/themes that build and resolve in an arch-like fashion. I sometimes use the analogy of the 5 elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether as a movement metaphor. Usually we start with slow, grounded movement, then flowing, continuous circular movement, then choppy, percussive, traveling through space movement, then crazy, wild, explosive movement, then playful, celebratory, uplifting movement, then expansive, large sweeping, evocative movement, then slow, internal, sacred movement and finally stillness. When the event ends and we gather in our closing circle, the room is filled with a feeling of reverence, love and joy.
Conscious dance also invites us to follow a journey that's a bit like our life cycle. In this sense, the dance can be very therapeutic as we process certain experiences and rights of passage. We start in the womb; safe and protected and then we are born- how can that be expressed and communicated through our movement? We venture out into the world and move and explore and go in our own direction, breaking through barriers and confines- how does that translate on the dance floor? We experience love, loss, tumult and devastation- we crash and burn- how does that translate on the dance floor? We give birth and are reborn over and over. We fall apart and rise up like the phoenix rising. At times we are open, at times we are bound, at times we are discombobulated, at times we are victims and at times we are tyrants. As we playfully dance-out the emotional and physical aspects of these different life experiences, we come to see that everything in life is juicy material screaming to be processed and transformed!
When we use dance as a practice for moving through both joyful and difficult times, it takes the charge out of the drama and seriousness of life. The burden is often lifted for us because WE are making the effort to heal through dance expression. As we do this, we automatically become more self aware, more courageous and more self assured. We take care of ourselves and that's important.
It takes courage to own and express our humanity. It takes discipline to become free. It takes a community to heal self and others. It takes art to elevate the mundane into the realms of the sacred. We must be willing to be the clown, to take the risk, to be exposed, to see ourselves in others (remember that what makes us unique is the same thing that makes us the same). Home is where the heart is. Home is in the ineffable natural beauty of our honest willingness to dance and to be witnessed in the dance. Let's call it, "coming home" to the true self.
We are ALL dancers at heart. Through dance, we all speak the same universal language in which there is no misunderstanding. Perhaps, there is some interpretation but ultimately when we harness the essence of movement, that is, to simply to express ourselves honestly, we understand that we are all One. And that's a beautiful thing.
"Dance, when you're broken open. Dance, if you've torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you're perfectly free." Rumi