Like Audrey Hepburn unfurling her wings in an intellectual jazz bar in Funny Face , I have been reuniting with my body and mind by making them dance. Quite literally in the case of my body, at my boyfriend’s band practice or to Beyoncé in my car. As for my mind, pirouettes twirl in the form of words and symbols. Reading, writing, creating, listening to music, and observing art all set my soul dancing.
I quit ballet rather suddenly the winter I was 12 years old. I had just graduated to full pointe classes and was at the studio for instruction or rehearsal three days a week. I received new leotards and permission to shave my legs as early Christmas gifts. The whiteblonde leg hair grew through the holes in my black tights and contrasted starkly. Thanks to puberty, my period, braces, circular Harry Potter glasses, and a new resurgence of migraines, my 12th year was crappy enough without the embarrassment of a leg-hair-ballet-tights situation. Luckily my mom was merciful, and I am not as easily embarrassed these days, so you get to hopefully find delight or commiseration in my awkward middle school self.
Dancing these days is much more relaxed – the dancing of a few beers, old friends, and a clear night sky. Or to an afternoon breeze through an open window, no witnesses to my lack of rhythm except the noisy hummingbirds outside. I watch monarch and mourning cloak butterflies in my garden dance, twirling around each other like in water. I twirl myself sometimes, around my nephew, his young friend, and a full shopping cart, trying to wrangle the three irrational beings. The music and din of market conversation is always so loud, the lights so bright, the experience such a dizzying rush that it feels like a dance performance. But we are rewarded at the finish with fruit instead of flowers.
Meditation reminds me of dancing. The attention to your breath, the connection with your entire body, the ears hearing acutely every note of the music around you and inside you. I am not the only one to make this connection. Alan Watts, one of the most famous mindfulness meditation writers and practitioners, also saw a clear connection between the two joyous activities. From his “Guide to Meditation,” “…Why, we could say meditation doesn’t have a reason or doesn’t have a purpose, and in this respect it is unlike any other thing we do except making music and dancing… Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment; and, therefore, if you meditate for an ulterior motive…if you’ve got your eye on the future, then you’re not meditating. “
Like mindfulness, dancing is done best by letting go. Focusing on the dance, on the moves, invariably makes them awkward and ill-timed. Only by giving oneself up to breath, music, and movement can one truly dance. Only by giving oneself up to breath, music, and movement can one truly meditate. Only by giving oneself up to breath, music, and movement can one truly heal. It is not easy, much like every other worthwhile goal. But the end result is something remarkable, strong, dynamic, and truly beautiful.