I had just moved back to Santa Barbara from Australia. I was super serious about health and had pretty much forgotten how to play and be silly.
Actually, I'm not sure that I had played much at all since I was about seven. Life to me was an ongoing task that needed to be completed, like some arduous school assignment that I needed to perpetually refine in the quest for that ever elusive perfection, or happiness.
Ughh… the thought of returning to that level of seriousness feels very uncomfortable to the current version of me, and fortunately, very unlikely :)
Shortly after moving back to this beautiful town I now call home, I was invited by my fairy landlady (Sarah) to attend Dance Tribe with her. She painted me a mental picture of a space of free dancing playfulness where bodily expression was welcome and judgment was checked at the door along with your shoes. It felt like a stretch for me, but I went along and in the process began a love affair that, categorically, saved my life.
The trajectory of my life before my introduction to Ecstatic Dancing was heading toward a grim, determined progress toward ever more accumulation of knowledge, rigid judgment, joyless perseverance of the pursuit of ‘health’ and a soulless disconnection from the childlike exuberance that open hearted play brings forth in even the most surly of grown-ups.
Needless to say, I'm heartily grateful!
My first dance at Dance Tribe was filled with fear and amazement. I spent the entire two hours doing my disco shuffle in a small space at the edge of the room, gazing at the weird, wonderful and terrifyingly free way that these ‘crazy people’ were dancing. The following week, I forced myself to return and expanded my dance space by an extra foot or two. I felt timid and exposed as I awaited the sneers or heckling from the whirling dancers surrounding me, although it never came.
All I experienced was delighted smiles from playful grown-ups that seemed to care less about anything else in the room than their own wild gyrating expressionism.
And it freed something in me… A little version of myself that always watches from behind my Mother’s skirts. The cheeky one that wants to play but is always too shy, or too afraid to come out and reveal himself.
In the following weeks I learned to dance more with my eyes closed and my heart open. I learned to meet the eyes of others with playful silliness. I watched how some people would dance in an improvised style of contact with each other that looked so foreign and enticing, and I found the courage to try it myself. I played and sweated. I jumped, pranced, twirled and boogied. It was amazing, fun and freeing!
During this honeymoon phase of dancing I met a young couple in the form of Natalie and Aaron who have since become the dearest of friends, nay, family. They both entranced me with their deep embodiment of playful abandon on the dance floor. My experience of them was that they had attained a level of the realization of pure freedom of physical expression that I longed for. I still held parts of myself in reserved control for fear of the judgment of others calling my dancing ugly, silly or simply too much. But in witnessing them in their dynamic reverie I chose to dig deeper into my own inner desire for liberation.
Enter ‘Just Dance Free’, a weekly silent disco style ipod dance party in the middle of downtown Santa Barbara at Alameda Park.
Dancing with a group of people in a park all listening to the same music was the next level for me in claiming my right to be playful and silly. Being in clear view of passing cars and people picnicking or walking in the park was edgy. What were they thinking of me. Did I look stupid or weird? Well, at least I was in a group of other weirdos!
Through all of this dancing revelry and exploration I noticed some profound changes to my world other than just being able to dance in joyful freedom. I noticed that my life seemed to be getting richer in nearly every way. The friends I was attracting were healthy, happy and playful people. My seriousness began to fall away and my inner critic took more vacations. I found myself appreciating more the weird and wonderful in the world rather than seeking to denigrate it outright. I became a happier person, a more playful person that was more accepting of others.
I was learning how to reclaim my innocence.
Since learning how to dance from my heart, I have also stepped on the path to a simple, ever present joy. To be enjoying myself, or more specifically to be ‘in joy, in myself’ is becoming a more consistent reality that is so dearly welcome and encouraged to remain.
You see dancing saved my life… not from death, but from dying slowly while still being alive. Dancing opened the door for me to a life of embracing the weirdness, the fears, the opportunities and the mystery. It showed me how to gaze upon the world in simple wonder and childlike innocence. It may just be the greatest gift I ever offered myself.