A winter and some change ago, I decided to take a dance class with a good friend at a studio on 9th Avenue in New York City. And because we were feeling a bit stagnant, she and I chose a form that was completely and utterly out of our skill set, and even further out of our realm of knowledge. Shake things up. Afro-Brazilian acrobatic dance fighting? Yep. What else? Capoeira it was.
My co-hort was running late, so I walked into the studio by myself and began to work some body kinks out, warming up my muscles from the freezing slush of February. This process is one of my favorites- sadly enough, the chronic injuries feel like old friends re-visited. They remind me of where I’ve been, who I’ve met, and who I would not like to see again. I dive into plank and quickly say hello to Mr. Scar Tissue surrounding the back of my ribs who hails from my thesis choreography semester. I lay on my back, pulling my knee gently to my chest, rotating Miss Hip clockwise, then counter clockwise, then back again and remember the thousands of high kicks that led to thousands of ice packs. I like to be cordial, so I greet them as I always do, “Hey there fellas, good to see you all again; glad you could make it.” Once they are dealt with, I lay on the wooden floor with my eyes closed, my Old Friends whispering my name from the past- and I don’t care- because as I breathe, another gang shows up: Focus, Calm, and Presence. These guys I like, and I am getting to know better. Everyone makes nice, and after a few minutes, the Old Bones take a back seat.
I open my eyes as dancers start to stream through the door all wearing white on white. I’m in black on black (yep, research would have been a good idea), and the next 60 minutes were spent in warm-up and conditioning, smoothly transitioning into partner work. It was… athletic. I spent the entire time in a lunge, a plie, or a transition between the two. Think of an hour-long wall sit; that’s what this felt like.
When your legs want to fall off in the first 20 minutes and most everything in front of you is foreign, there is a decision to be made. Are you going to check out, muscle through, or put a smile on your face and push past the pain to the good stuff, to the new stuff? That Friday night, I chose to smile. My friend and I spent the last hour with a room full of experts (is there anything more humbling?) circled around each other, creating rhythms, playing instruments, clapping and chanting, while two at a time, dancers would move to the center of the circle. And while maintaining complete eye contact, they playfully and energetically improv their time together, communicating completely with their bodies about what was coming next. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and you couldn’t have dragged me out of there with the promise of Kevin Bacon holding an ice cream cone.
People made mistakes, and connections were missed, but you were in it with your person center ring, engulfed in the music, wrapped in the rhythm that your community was creating around you. I didn’t have to force the smile anymore. I found energy that I thought was a long time gone and began to laugh, And then I started to cry. Honestly, it was soul- stirring. I woke up.
As a dancer of any degree, you can spend a large quantity of time in a self-contained universe, orbiting others but rarely connecting. There is a difference between staring at yourself in a mirror for two hours aiming for perfection– being separate and alone in a room full of people– and simply facing another human being in a circle with no perfection in mind. This chasm of perception, it is wide. To turn your Old Bones to face where the music is coming from, having to somehow find an unspoken connection with another human being, and trusting each other in every movement, provided me a moment of clarity that I’m not sure I had ever felt. I was in a room full of strangers, most of whom spoke Portuguese or Spanish, and I felt as though I could read them. Scarily enough, they could read me! Vulnerability took me by surprise.
That slush-covered New York City night hosted a heightened spiritual experience that was definitive in my heart. I walked away remembering the communication that goes beyond the verbal and is sometimes the only way to get to certain parts of the soul, because you have to be honest–the body doesn’t lie.