When I close my eyes..
It was near midnight, I’d danced with every lead in the room, some I’d danced with two or three times. The number of dancers on the floor had dimmed like the lights had over time. And as I scanned the room, I found there were no leads not taken. But I wanted to dance, and fuck it if I wouldn’t be just as happy doing it alone. “A dancer loves to dance” right? So says the Chorus Line song I love from long ago.
This was a new venue, a new country. I was in Vancouver visiting a friend I’d met a few weeks prior, and I had that traveler’s high of wide eyes and embodied light. When my friend and I arrived at the daytime fencing studio turned nighttime fusion venue, I was taken aback. Swords, shields and helmets hung like knick-knacks plastering the walls. From the double tall ceilings medieval flags and banners hung high. But one wall doubled it all up in giant dance mirror. The soft threat of danger sat in the background like the intro soundtrack to Game of Thrones. I felt like I’d walked into a Renaissance Fair – which was fine with me.
In the past weeks I’ve been sifting through the tension of wanting to settle into a city and grow roots, and wanting to keep traveling. Travel opens you up to divine intervention, magic, and connection. But consuming so much experience without digesting it can feel hollow. The true goal is a stable home and community, and a shit-ton of travel built in. Maybe that’s why I love dance – on one floor, I take a good twenty trips per night in the arms of different leads.
But the musings are a bit academic. To stay put, to move? At the end of the day, money rules. And I’m almost out. I’m going to have to find a way to dig in somewhere and get paid for doing the things I do well. Which of those things I’ll get paid for is still a mystery. Can I get paid to dance? To prattle on about god, myth, embodiment, rapture, philosophy and mindfulness? To read the books I love to read? To be silly? To hand out permission slips for people to be broken, and heal on their own terms? Who knows.
Anyhow, I took this trip to explore a connection, and to get out of my mom’s house in Seattle. I’ll save this connection for later, as it’s doing just fine thankyouverymuch. But I’m growing weary of being a long-term-temporary resident and succubus at my mother’s home. It’s not who I am— lazy and distracted— but who I am in her house. We’ve been navigating our space, well, her space, and enjoyed seeing each other as adults in new ways. But also, I’m a grown ass woman. I want to act like it, it’s hard to do when I set none of the rules.
When I came back from a week at Breitenbush Hot Springs, where my 6 month Yoga Teacher Training had ended a few weeks before this, I told her I felt amazing, and I did. But she asked me what that meant: What was the plan? Where was I moving? What kind of work was I going to do? And all that juicy faith and hope plummeted into malaise. I had no clear plan. Despite two interviews I had lined up, I had no clear income stream. One interview was to teach yoga in New Orleans, another to teach grades 9-12 English in Seattle. Neither was exactly what I wanted. And my confusion wasn’t just mine. It was affecting her. It is.
And that’s the question, how do you keep the faith when there’s no sign of delivery? How do you carry a question mark of hope, when it looks to others like the metal appendage on Captain Hook’s arm?
A few weeks before this I went into Center for Spiritual Living, my new hippie church in Sand Point Seattle, and I stayed after for an affirmative prayer session. If you don’t know what that is, you’re not alone. I still don’t understand what it is, but I loved it. I said what I’ve said a thousand times. The swarm of questions landed with it’s million stingers: How do I do this thing? How do I choose a job when I feel a calling? How do I answer a calling if it doesn’t pay? How do I use my knack for creativity to manifest the vibrant life I dream of? How do I build relationships when they distract me from my work? How do I do my work if it’s about relationships? How do I sing the song that’s unique to me? How do I stop trying to figure it all out?
My prayer practitioner, a woman in her early 60s with a hearing aid seemed to have heard me better than most. She said, “Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. All you have to do is wait.”
Wait? I can’t wait! I thought. It didn’t occur to me immediately that I was, in fact, waiting, that I am still now waiting. I’m doing the thing I need to – it’s just a question of how. I’ve made these choices difficult for myself, and forgotten the faith that lies within. In my entire life, in all my geographic moves and career changes, I’ve clipped my courage to align with what’s outside. I talked to her about going back to secondary education, taking jobs in real estate, sales or marketing. She didn’t say yes or no, she said, “ Slow down. Wait. You have all the answers within.”
“It’s selfish!” I said. “Selfish. I am relying on the generosity of people I love, and it’s not fair. It’s time to make some choices.”
She smiled at my verbal jabs, and asked if I have ever been generous to anyone I love. Yes. Fo course. It’s sometimes easier to give than to receive.
But the bottom line of all this, the same thing I tell my friends and students is simply, trust yourself. Discovery is a creative process, and perfectionism is a pause button I know all too well. Dorothy didn’t know Oz existed, and couldn’t set it as a goal. But it was her travels through Oz that set her free.
So there I was in this medieval dance hall swaying in my backless jumper, dancing for myself in the company of others. I was in my body, in my flow. And the strangest thing happened. Suddenly, I had an invisible partner, I was no longer dancing alone. I’m not speaking metaphorically, spiritually, but in the world of flesh and bone.
As I stretched my arms horizontal, away from my body, I felt a set of hands reach around my ribcage from behind. Startled, I said, “Ok, wow… Hello!” The hands glided up my sidelines, pulling my arms up above my head. And then, as my hips pulsed left and right, these hands held my wrists together above my head. This was some bondage scene from an art film. But I was in the moment, in my body, and I went with it. I had no idea who this was. I knew it wasn’t the friend I’d come to visit. But like him, this lead had hands clear with directives, and a familiar scent.
I have never, in my four years of fusion dancing, began a dance with someone whose face I hadn’t seen first. Usually both partners shuttle out, “Hi, what’s your name?” This follows with, “Do you like to lead, follow or switch?” Sometimes I get a verbal request for close embrace. Not this time. And I want to make it clear, this wouldn’t work for every follow, nor would it have been okay if it was a different lead. But for me, at this juncture, it was a gift. I never doubted this lead, or myself as his follow. After a minute he lowered my hands, and I leaned back. I told him I’d never done this, danced with someone so blind. The only response I heard was his breath. It sounds sexy. It was sexy. But it was something else, something that relates to why I love dance so much. It’s not a power play; it’s a magical improvised conversation done without words. It’s an arena where I stop trying to figure things out.
We continued the dance, and I followed his hands, arms, feet and hips. I learned early that a skilled lead makes his (or her) follow look good. Lately I’ve garnered that a skilled follow does the same. This lead, standing behind me for most of the dance, knew every possible extension, torque and pull to keep me dancing, faced away from him. He made me look good, and feel good. I was led into slides, Zouk fashioned spins with a downward neck roll, micro isolations, standard dips, and even a full floor drag. He could have dropped me. He could have expected me in his bed that night. But not for one minute was I afraid. I was so utterly trusting, I felt like a living incantation.
When I began fusion dancing four years ago, I made a commitment to myself that I would only do it for fun. I didn’t want to get academic, get competitive, or pursue it with the volcanic passion that sometimes squelches my loves. Case it point, all these questions about how to live my life. It was a hobby, I thought, just a hobby. What I didn’t foresee was how much my body would crave it when I was away from the dance floor. And while I haven’t clocked in a 6 class training in West Coast Swing, Salsa, or Kizomba, I’ve picked up a few moves in each from leads I’ve danced with over the years. As a dancer, I am intuitive, spontaneous and free. Who doesn’t want to be that? Fusion allows, and in fact, invites that. I don’t care if I look good, I’m just present, in my body.
And in that strange medieval dance hall, for this song, I was more than present. I let go. As the tempo changed, l leaned my head back into the support of my lead’s shoulder, slowing with the song. Our breaths rose and fell together. We transferred weight from right to left foot in unison. I closed my eyes because I didn’t even want to see him. And then the song stretched out for a long low note, and stopped.
My lead circled around and stood in front of me, smiling. He had never done this either, danced with a follow keeping her (or him) blind. Earlier in the night I had both followed and led this man, and it made sense that he felt familiar. I learned later that he’s won various dance competitions. But at this point, both of us stood there grinning, in awe of what we’d done. Maybe I’m just speaking for myself. I’m not sure.
What I am sure of is that this was more than a dance to me. This was a reminder from the universe of the kind of flow and trust I need to cultivate in the rest of my life. It was an echo of what my prayer practitioner told me a few months back – Wait, the answers are all within. It was a direct link to the feeling I had leaving Breitenbush weeks before, a knowing, a balancing act in life’s uncertainty. This dance felt like a threshold, something to pass in my heroic quest. Let go, leap big. Joseph Campbell said “we must let go of the life we have planned so as to accept the one that’s waiting for us.” I got it. With nothing for my mind or eyes to grab onto, I had followed inklings and cues to step into grace. I knew that I’d move as far as my body allowed, and my body knew better than me anyway. Knows.
I’ve been digging through my mind for months trying to figure out where I’m going, as if I was glued to the ground without a clear destination in mind. With so much in the air, I have felt like a whirling dervish turned Tasmanian devil.
I may be destined for a life of asking more questions than I answer, but that’s my truth right now – albeit an unusual one for a woman over 30 (home-free, jobless, single, no kids). But I tell you what, right now I’m good with it: Uncertainty. None of it is permanent, that’s part of the point.
I walk out onto the dance floor and move because I like to, because the music asks it of me. I may have a partner, I may not. I may see where things are going, or I may not. I give no fucks. When I question my future so aggressively, I never inhabit the moment I live in. In dancing blind, I saw more than what the world shows me every day. And the things that matter most are always invisible.
I can’t remember where I picked it up, but I love that spiritual metaphor that you can drive from Los Angeles to New York City at night with nothing more than your headlights. You don’t need to see more than 20 feet in front of you. That’s about as far as I can see right now, but I am happy to drive. Happy to see what I do.
Sure, I’ll have to make some important life choices soon. Sure, many of these choices will test my values. I will go off course, more than once. I’m not the only imperfect one here.
I don’t know if I’ll go back to Vancouver, if I’ll dance with this lead ever again. But I trust that it will all work out fine. I can see it when I close my eyes.