Many People Believe, I'm Not The Sort of Person who Dances.
I remember watching robot dancing on telly when I was a kid. My friends and I would practice being robots. It was a lot of fun. Around the same time we also tried Michael Jackson's Moon dance. I preferred Robot Dancing. Now that I'm an adult, and there's an App for everything, and a computer system everywhere, I dance to remind myself I am not a robot. Dance is an amazing why to recapture the freedom you knew as a child. When you did things out of curiosity, for the thrill, or for no real reason at all.
Curiosity keeps our minds fresh and young. As the Tao Te Ching says:
“Men are born soft and supple; dead, they are stiff and hard. Plants are born tender and pliant; dead, they are brittle and dry. Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible is a student of death."
Curiosity, and the desire to be 'supple and tender' brought me to The Southampton and New Forest South UK, Contact Improvisation Dance festival in Ringwood. I danced, had fun, and shook my 'stiff and inflexible' body until it was 'soft and supple'. But that's not all! I love asking people about what inspires them, and how they overcome fear. So I was delighted with the opportunity to interview dancers and teachers at the festival. I asked them about their earliest memories of dance. Kate Sabin told me:
Dance was something other people did. My first encounter with dance, was at a school disco- I felt awkward- on the side-trying to decide if I should dance- being horrendously self conscious. Then much later, in my 30's I had a lodger who was studying dance- a mature student. I thought- she can dance. That's not something I can do. But then I remember a half hour in the kitchen- I copied her and moved like she did, and so I thought-maybe I can do this, maybe I can dance.
For many people that's where dance, singing, acting or sports end- in a feeling of awkwardness and embarrassment. Nobody wants to feel weak and vulnerable, especially in a group. Children can be cutting with their put downs. I remember as a boy singing Grease Lightning. Another boy said: "You can't sing. Shut up." There was sudden panic- I froze on the spot. Thankfully another friend rescued me. He said he liked my singing. When we're children these little moments can be black holes. Our creativity can disappear into them. Lost to the universe for years. Until, like Luke Skywalker we use the force, and overcome our fear. Some of us wait many years before we are ready. For some, a shock of some kind forces change. And they wrestle back whatever they lost in the black hole. Sadly, many never bother- but stay stuck, living lives of 'quiet desperation'. It takes courage to try something different. But as Yoda teaches:
Named must your fear be before banish it you can.
Many people come to Contact Improvisation afraid of dance. And this is the first step. They have named their fear. That's when the magic begins- a gradual recovery of the parts of themselves that were lost: curiosity, adventure, courage, sensuality, playfulness. Dancing with a supportive group can help uncover these lost treasures. Kate told me:
I dance to express the parts of me that I cannot put into words. To shift the things I've been holding on to. Dancing helps me to know how I'm feeling. It shows me how to embody. Being witnessed/witnessing opens the door. It's in this seeing and being seen that the layers come off- in the safety of a non-judgemental space.
A common dance practice is called witnessing. It's where you fully observe and receive the dance of a partner. You sit and watch- don't say anything, or respond, but give your full attention to the dancer. Then you swap over. As Kate told me:
Being witnessed non judgmentally enables me to see deeper inside myself.
It's like being listened to- when somebody has given you their fully attention. Often with this comes a softening, a breathing out, as we sigh- I'm here, in my body, it's O.K, I'm part of something bigger than myself, but I'm still me. I'm supported. I asked another dancer, Jane Skillington how she overcame fear when she first encountered Contact Improvisation:
I saw it at Buddhafield- I was impressed but also repelled- by the intimacy. I longed to participate, but held myself back. But then I went to a workshop. My friends were there, so I had the confidence to dive in- it was startlingly excellent- amazing connections-kept it bubbling. There's a flow- you're in your body, but part of a group- in flow- time goes quickly. And although I'm still new to this. There's a big contrast- from feeling excluded by barriers- to actually doing it.
Life is full of surprises. And we end up in unexpected places, doing things we never imagined. Which is why it's a good idea to stay 'supple, pliant, soft and tender'. 5 years ago I had no idea that I would be interviewing people at dance festivals and making short films. And maybe this is what distinguishes people from robots. You see- robots can't be surprised. As Kate told me, just before we said goodbye:
I'm still getting to grips with the idea: I'm somebody who dances!
What a wonderful surprise.
To see my short film about the dance festival click here. For more information about Contact Improvisation : https://www.facebook.com/richardparkercontactimprovisation/
With thanks to Richard Parker for bringing people together and the Ringwood Waldorf school for letting us use their beautiful building.