November 5, 2016

dance (n., v.)

I’ve taken many a leap in coming here - to London, and to every unfamiliar experience and mysterious space that I’ve explored over the last year. But tonight was the first time that I consciously realized what it is to have leapt not in a singular direction, but simply, outward. It’s what I’ve done here gradually, and it really hit me today.
I just came back from my second 5Rhythms class, what I foresee becoming a Thursday night ritual that begins and ends with a thirty minute walk to and from a lovely church in Holloway. What occurs in between, I’ll venture to describe as a kind of reverie of movement.
I won’t get into specifics (you can google it), but I will share some reflections, having just come out of a class, glowing with sweat, tired and empty yet quite full and very much alive.
We hold emotions in our body; that’s something I’ve slowly come to realize in my mindfulness practice. When we’re still, we become aware of this and vipassana has taught me the benefit of observing the physical manifestations of emotion to help us detach from it. When we move - consciously - through yoga, any meditative exercise, dance - I think we allow this energy to be released, harnessed, expressed and given form; shaped into something that is more than just ourselves - and that too, helps us detach a bit.

The 5Rhythms class isn’t really all that structured, yet there is a method to the madness as about forty people of all ages and sizes flail around freely in the open space in all sorts of contortions and shapes. The movements - whatever the movement - fall into one of the 5 bodily rhythms (what I think are intrinsic and quite natural for us to dance to when we let go): flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness - and these give the mess of bodies a form. We move as separate beings, often with eyes closed, usually not touching, yet we manage to fill the spaces in between each other - with our energy.
I recall my first class last week, when I first walked in to the dim lit church, the high ceilings punctuated with strings of small lights hanging across from each wall. I admired the space. And it took some time, as people started moving to the undulating music playing, to admire not each dancer, but the group as a whole. As the music picked up, and the movements became more pronounced, it was a welcome challenge for me to drop judgment, of others and myself. To stop caring what it all looked like but instead dance with the passive intention to fall into the wave, be carried by it, until all I could is just feel it. 
The music plays and we move along to the crescendo, uplifted and lifted and further lifting until we give way to the gradation of rhythms that brings us back to stillness as the music slows down. 
One thought I had, as I sweatily rocked from side to side, my arms limp until I had stopped moving altogether: Even stillness is movement, it is the essential pause between one action to the next; except we are more conscious of it. Dancing, I think - when we shed the vanity and the tempting performative aspect of it - is really a tuning into the stillness that creates a rhythm. Sometimes the rhythm is too quick for us to meditate on it, but it’s there. And when we dance, we are aware of it, just not as actively. Perhaps that’s what eventually leads us to fall into trance (from Latin transire “cross over”, associated with the word transient) - when we can follow along deeply enough that we not only dance to the sound but to the silences in between, bridging them with our body.
I found it somewhat odd that the word dance itself - from Old French dancier - is of unknown origin, posited to have come from Low Frankish dintjan, “to tremble, quiver.“ Somewhat melancholic an etymology, but perhaps not surprising given (says google result from Live Science): “dancing was a way for our prehistoric ancestors to bond and communicate, particularly during tough times.” 
Previous to “dance”, the word sealtian (Old English) was used, from the Latin salire, “to leap”. Interestingly, this is associated with the word salient, whose denotation of describing something "prominent, striking” was first recorded in 1840, from “salient point” (1670s), which refers to the heart of an embryo, as it seems to leap.
And there it is, what I felt all along. A leaping out of myself, a cognition of my centre, my heart, which with each movement found its way to beat more outward, seemingly synchronised with the music. Sometimes as the music played and I moved with it, it was hard to tell whether it was me dancing along or the music responding to my movements. A sort of mirroring to the point that it’s hard to separate the two. I searched further on google on the origins of dance and quickly learned that our ability to dance to a beat comes from our unique ability (that we only share with some birds, not even apes) - to mimic sound.
And last but not least as I go further down my wormhole…. a beat in music is defined as “a transient grace note, struck immediately before the note it is intended to ornament. The beat always lies half a note beneath its principal, and should be heard so closely upon it, that they may almost seem to be struck together.” [The British Encyclopedia, London, 1809]
And there you have it. A bunch of chaotic ideas that thanks to a burst of momentum, I’ve wrought into flowing form through the interconnectedness of words, a lyrical dance of sorts, slowly coming 
to stillness.

[originally published on]

shorthand (n.)