Being a typical “stiff Norwegian” and shy to boot, dancing did not come naturally to me. I never took any dance classes as a child and never really had any interest in dancing – dancing makes you stand out. Dancing means not being afraid. And I’m nothing if not afraid – and a control freak. Dancing – real, joyous, life-affirming, spontaneous dancing, is all about losing control. Or rather having faith in your body and its ability to let music and rhythm transport you into the moment, into pure being.
In my teens and early twenties I went out dancing on the weekends a lot. But it was more sort a drunken scuffle around an overcrowded, sweaty dance floor in some club or other. As long as I had had enough (or probably more often than not – too much) to drink, I had no trouble with dancing, and even enjoyed it. At that stage of my life, though still being shy, I craved attention. And dancing on a Saturday night was a relatively low effort way of getting attention – plus I got to hang out with my friends and get drunk – it was all good.
Music – and by extension rhythm and dance – has always spoken to me deeply; it touches something in my soul. Few things can make me spontaneously joyful like hearing a song I really love. For some reason I have repressed this side of myself for most of my life. It probably has something to do with lack of confidence and fear of standing out. I went through the usual rigmarole of playing various instruments (though my first choice – the harp – was perhaps a tad unusual) for a while when growing up, but never managed to stick with anything for more than a few years. It’s something I now regret (imagine how good I could be at playing the harp or the piano by now if I’d stuck with it), and I’m not sure why I always ended up quitting. Apart from the fact that I am, in general, a quitter. In areas of creative expression I can brook very little resistance.
J is amazed that I’ve been able to lose a lot of weight and stick with a somewhat intense exercise regime for years – something I don’t particularly enjoy (sometimes even actively resent), whereas I seem to have so much trouble persisting with the things I do enjoy, such as writing and drawing, music and dancing.
I don’t think I myself fully understand this, but I know a part of the puzzle. Exercise is easy in the way that you just start running, and then you’re exercising. Sure, it may be physically exhausting, but not intellectually or emotionally. I don’t start running and after a few steps stop because I don’t know how to run anymore or because I’m uncertain of the quality of my running, or because I’m afraid to discover that I can’t run. Creative expression requires a completely different kind of determination, persistence, bravery and faith. It’s just really hard. But it’s also really rewarding and satisfying, which is why I keep trying.
I think I made my way back to dancing in part because the weight loss and exercise had not only given me more confidence, but greater fitness and control over the way my body moved. I started longing for the times I went out dancing when I was younger, only I didn’t see myself enjoying a crowded dance floor at a club anymore, and I definitely didn’t see J coming with me. One of the few differences between me and J that I’m actually sad about is that he has absolutely no interest in dancing (and according to himself no ability, but I don’t think he’s ever tried).
So I started by dancing around the living room by myself. Which can be great fun, and which definitely brings me joy, but there is nevertheless something missing. I think dancing is in essence a communal act.
I went to my sister-in-law’s wedding in June. I was honestly kind of dreading it – I’m not exactly a party person, and I don’t enjoy engaging with groups of strangers and making forced small-talk with people I may never see again. But it was actually lovely. It helped that it was set partly outdoors and that the weather held up. The ceremony was beautiful, intimate and touching. And later on there was dancing. And I danced. And danced, and danced.. And I don’t mean cautious, don’t look at me, white man’s overbite dancing. I mean joyous, loosing yourself in the music, all-out dancing.
I didn’t feel self-conscious, and I wasn’t worried that I looked like an idiot. And I didn’t look like an idiot. In fact J said he had several people come over to him and compliment my dancing. My brother-in-law later said that I was “made to dance”. I’m honestly not saying this to brag (though it does flatter my vanity), but as a way to illustrate that if you let go of fear and just do, and go all out, it often turns out there was no reason to be afraid in the first place. I truly believe that the ability to dance is something that most humans innately possess – it’s just that a lot of us are too shy or awkward to actually give it our all.
On our way home from the party I was totally wired and couldn’t stop grinning. Dancing was a drug and I kept thinking about how I could get more. As I already established I’m not a party person, and no longer a club person, so I turned instead to something my mother had been pestering me to try for at least a year:
5 rhythms is dancing and movement as a devotional practice; a form of meditation which leads the participants through the wave of the 5 different rhythms – flow, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness.
While I’ve definitely become more confident in last few years, I am still very much the stiff Norwegian, and it was with some trepidation that I approached my first 5 rhythms session. I was after all preparing to dance in a room full of strangers. Sober.
I need not have feared. All participants were there for their own purposes, and just to dance. The atmosphere was very open and inclusive. You could do as much or as little as you wanted without being judged. And though I started out with my usual caution, at some point the music, the rhythm and the spirit of the gathering just swept me along and I felt pure joy and ecstasy as the wave took root deep inside me. I just danced. I just was.
This was in July, and I’ve been going to gatherings semi-regularly (every 2 weeks or so) ever since. And while I cannot claim that every time is like that first time (I think my emotions were also heightened by the relief I felt that I was able to to just “go with the flow”, so to speak, whereas with time this is something I’ve come to expect), I always feel as if it does me good. It touches something inside me, it makes me feel happy and relaxed.
So, in short, I think there is a direct correlation between dancing and happiness. I think we could all do with dancing more often, and more self-assuredly. I fully recommend letting the rhythm take you over once in a while, and dance like nobody’s watching.