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dansent.

I am humbled by surprise, and I have no shame.

Last night, my graduate program was introduced to a practice with the embarrassingly unblushing name of authentic movement. I’d had a vague notion of what the exercise entailed; we’d been already well-steeped in the verbal equivalent, in the sort of radical community building in which a group of adults sit together in a circle with no agenda and no direction, and speak – honestly – only when they felt personally moved to do so. I’d known full well the intensity of that form of relating, and, too, the excitement of such an unpredictable situation. Still, the prospect of exploring the same realm without the use of language seemed ridiculous. I had dinner with a few of my classmates before hand, and commented cynically that I didn’t think I’d be “moved to move” that night. I thought, frankly, that the whole notion of dance therapy fell within a bubble of pretentious exhibitionism.

The description of the exercise served only to solidify this belief. We sat as a group in a dimly lit room, and were told we would be split into dyads. We would take turns at moving and witnessing the movement, with half the class first taking center stage, closing their eyes, and exploring what they felt, while the other half watched. The movers were instructed only to stand, or sit, until they felt within themselves the impulse to move, at which point they could follow that impulse; the witnesses were instructed only to make sure their partners didn’t inadvertently injure each other.

It sounded stupid.

I volunteered to move first.

I stood, eyes closed, limbs relaxed, and waited, and waited, and waited, and because standing in one position cannot be done for long, I eventually felt a pull, a tug, a plea: some tension in my body was asking to be released. And so I started moving, tentatively at first, and then with more assurance.

There is nothing more I can say; the experience was incredible. I don’t remember exactly how long our sessions were, but my own exploration led me from a tense prowl – imagine being blindfolded in a room, surrounded by other moving bodies, and you can get a feeling of how alert one’s senses become – to the oddly luxurious sensation of rolling, cat-like, on the carpeted floor, with all manner of utterly unforeseen motions and rhythms and moments of relaxation in between. I felt like laughing; the entire experience was ripe with indulgence and relief. My body felt amazing.

And so the time spent moving was over too soon. The bell rang and I reluctantly opened my eyes. Half the class reluctantly opened their eyes. I felt exhilarated, but it was time to watch, and I took a seat at the edge of the room. Those who had been watching stood within. I waited.

I’ve never seen a dance more elegant, or more raw, or more true. It sounds like an overstatement, but the looks on the faces of this collection of persons were so peaceful, and so self-contained, and so utterly and blissfully alone; it was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. It sounds like an overstatement, but the intricacy of the movement, the way in which this collection of blinded individuals moved and circled around each other, looked like nothing less than brilliant choreography. I wanted to cry at how beautiful it all was. I wanted to cry at how wrong I’d been.

We talked a little, after the exercise, about what we’d felt, but this discussion, while wonderful, paled in comparison to the practice. I wanted nothing more than to come home, to sit as in meditation, and instead of directing my body’s gestures, to allow them to direct me. I couldn’t believe how fascinating such a thing could be. I couldn’t believe how out-of-touch I’d been.

I’d thought I’d danced before. I’d taken ballet for years. I thought I’d danced before; I’m not unfamiliar with clubbing. What I’d done before was not dancing.

I write this only as a reminder. I don’t know whether I have the courage or the commitment to make a practice of this – it’s a frightening and bewildering and uncomfortable exercise to explain – but I want to remember how lovely it was. I want to remember what it was like to be, creatively, in my body. I want to remember how different it was than running or yoga or swimming. I want to remember how free I felt, and I want to remember how grateful I was when my cynicism so easily dissolved.

I had no idea.

Close your eyes. Flood your body with attention. See where it wants to move.

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