The Dance of a New Perspective

photo by Paul StumpfThose of you who know me personally know that in addition to my yoga and meditation practice, and my study/lifestyle of nutrition, wellness, and healthy cooking, I take ballroom dance lessons. My husband and I have enjoyed doing this as our hobby for 5 years now. It’s great exercise for both the body and mind (remembering steps, patterns and techniques, plus moving your body rhythmically, sometimes fast, sometimes slow).  Plus it’s a great exercise in mindfulness - especially as the female in ballroom and Latin dancing - if you’re not present (paying attention), you won’t feel the lead from your partner and you won’t know what to do next!  So it falls in line with many of my lifestyle philosophies, which is one reason I am attracted to this practice.

But during our recent dance (performance) showcase, I found myself mentally focusing on how the practice of this style of dance is so very different from my yoga and meditation practice. In this pause, this analysis, I tightened. And in that tightening, I lost my sense of presence. I pushed away the similarities and sank into a rigid perspective of what my journey is "supposed" to be.

I thought of my meditative trip to Costa Rica, where I wandered around in nature, with no makeup, no fixed up hair or fancy clothes. It was about the spirit, about a sense of connection - to people and to nature. I felt free and exuberant, while at the same time peaceful and still. This, I thought, is where my life needs to be more, in this place. I don’t mean in Costa Rica, specifically, but I wanted to integrate that feeling of simplicity, connection, peace, and presence and bring it into everything I did. After all, I knew in my head that that’s what life is about - taking what you learn in these eye-opening moments, in these meditative moments - and merging that into your daily activities. In other words, if you sit in your meditation practice peacefully, but then go yell at your kids, you’re missing something. We need to integrate.

When I dance, I have experienced that freedom and exuberance, that inner sense of being centered and joyful. But on the outside, a ballroom dance performance seems much more than that. It seems to be very much about outward appearances too. You’re dancing for other people. And on the outside, it’s very showy - fancy costumes, fussy hair, red lipstick, and an obsessive awareness of “is my hand in the right place, should I point my toes more, and oh, I need to smile.”

At this past dance showcase, I tightened, and in doing so, I focused on the outer, instead of the inner dance. I thought of how this outward facade didn’t match my perception of what is “important.” Looks don’t matter, clothes don’t matter, it’s the feeling on the inside, it’s who we all are on the inside that matters. Yet I was surrounded by glitter and fringe, satin and spandex, and that’s all I could see. I wasn't integrating. After fixing my own face with much more makeup than I ever wear, I felt myself tighten. I didn’t like this “outward” me. I wanted to get away from it. But as a wonderful friend has quoted to me, “what we resist, persists.” The more I focused on how I didn’t want or like this “outward performance” experience, the more I lost my connection with any sense of what was happening inside. All I could see was the glitz and glam - the “show.” And to my greater dismay, I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t get to that still, centered, joyful place, and I stumbled in our first few dances.

At one point, in between dances, I stood still - I paused and closed my eyes. I felt my feet on the floor. I breathed. In this place of softening, I opened my eyes to a new perspective. This is LIFE! It is the balance of yin and yang, of integrating the peace on the inside, regardless of what is happening on the outside. In our very human experiences, we must learn to accept our perceptions of “good” and “bad” and just start to view things with equanimity. Only then can you begin to truly believe that “it” (whatever “it” is for you in the moment) is not good or bad, it just “is what it is.”  

On this day of dance, for me, I needed to learn that “it” was actually more about my inner experience than my outer performance or the way I looked. Through the grace of my meditative pause, I saw that it was my reaction to my outer circumstances that caused my tightness, my resistance. And so I softened, let go of my rigid ideas, opened my heart, and danced with a new perspective. And just like that, things changed. The rest of my dancing felt more effortless, because I was present, feeling it from the inside.

The next time you find yourself tightening, with judgment or resistance, take pause, breathe, and see if you can open yourself to a new perspective. And even if you don’t study dance formally, allow yourself to experience the dance in your heart, the dance of yin and yang, of peace amidst anything life throws at you, even if it’s covered in sequins.