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dancing with myself

I didn’t really want to go anywhere that Friday night. I wanted to put on my pajamas and curl up on the couch with David and Birdie and Thomas. I wanted to eat something containing unnecessary amounts of cheese and melt into a movie-watching puddle.

Still, I’d had the event on my calendar for six weeks, and it had been too long since I’d made it to one of Corey McLaughlin’s JourneyDances.  JourneyDance is not your typical dance. The nature of the experience is exploratory, improvisatory. There are no right or wrong moves. It’s basically a group of people who’ve taken seriously the injunction to “dance like there’s no one watching.”


I arrived at the dance with my heart like a pulsing mound of sludge in my chest. I knew that my energetic mud would be the fertile ground of new growth, but I wasn’t feeling any crocuses or daffodils peeping out. Fortunately, JourneyDance doesn’t require as much of a social veneer as most events. You can move through the evening in whatever way you want. If it were otherwise, I wouldn’t have shown up. I had no interest in being vivacious and chatty.

The moment I walked into the sanctuary I noticed a young woman standing by the altar. What a skirt!

She turned toward me and we realized that we knew each other. Miranda is a yogi; we met when I guest taught for Willa’s yoga teacher training in December. Miranda’s energy is so sweet that she almost seems to come from another world, like Amy Adams in Enchanted.

Our conversation was warm but mercifully brief. I wasn’t interested in talking; I was especially wary of any conversation in which I’d be expected to be a “teacher” type, facilitating self-discovery and spiritual growth. Yuck.

As the dance began, Corey guided us to explore the space around us, moving in whatever ways felt authentic. Some folks immediately started to glide, prance, or spin around the open sanctuary. I stayed within a small area. I kept my eyes in my own space, disinterested in exchanging smiles or interacting with other dancers.

I found that I wanted to move with my hands shielding my chest. I strive to live with an open heart, but tonight I sensed that all my open-heartedness might require the occasional retreat. I was gathering my energies back in, the way I might pull a cloak around my shoulders.

After a few pieces of music, Corey invited us to find someone near us and then to stand back to back. I could have opted out of this, but dancing back to back sounded safe enough. I didn’t need to expose my heart or light up my eyes for that. Miranda stood close by, so we lined up our heels.

Corey didn’t give much in the way of instruction. The music began, and we simply started moving. Our legs basically stayed still, which isn’t common when you dance, but it turned out there were plenty of other movement possibilities.

Sometimes I turned to the side to see Miranda’s arm movements; sometimes I looked ahead and merely felt her presence.

Even though I couldn’t see her face – perhaps in part because I couldn’t see her face – I began to sense a powerful connection to her. I could feel her exuberant energy – just nineteen years old! wearing that skirt! she might as well have been dressed up like a princess for Halloween.

Part of me wanted to caution her. Her heart seemed so open that a rough wind might blow it to pieces. A voice in me said, It’s not safe to float through the world on a wave of spiritual bliss. But I’ve ridden that wave. I wouldn’t trade that in for a life of caution, no matter how much heartache it has entailed.

As we turned to our sides – halfway towards each other – I found her mirroring my arm movements. Her body was following mine, just as her life was chronologically following mine. I paused and let her take the lead, her arms moving as though in water. I found my shielded heart beginning to open. Her bright energy was reawakening my own.

Something shifted, and there was no longer leader or follower. Our arms spiraled and interweaved through the space around us, moving with a grace that neither of us possessed on our own.

I realized that while I was dancing with Miranda I was also dancing with myself.

Madeleine L’Engle wrote:

I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be… This does not mean that I ought to be trapped or enclosed in any of these ages…the delayed adolescent, the childish adult, but that they are in me to be drawn on; to forget is a form of suicide… Far too many people misunderstand what “putting away childish things” means, and think that forgetting what it is like to think and feel and touch and smell and taste and see and hear like a three-year-old or a thirteen-year-old or a twenty-three-year-old means being grownup. When I’m with these people I, like the kids, feel that if this is what it means to be a grown-up, then I don’t ever want to be one. Instead of which, if I can retain a child’s awareness and joy, and “be” fifty-one, then I will really learn what it means to be grownup.

Miranda’s 19 years are half of my 38; I wonder what it will be like to dance with myself when I’m 76.

The night of dancing continued, and I found myself alternately turning inward and opening to others. I felt how I belong to the ocean that is this life. At 38, I know better how to draw myself into the depths. But like Miranda, I still know how to float.