When the music started, I lay on the hardwood floor. Heaviness spread from my abdomen to my chest. I’d come to dance class to begin mending my heart, aching from a recent loss. But I wasn’t yet ready to move.
At the corner of the room, a friend yelped. And as the beat quickened, another dancer stomped and grunted. I realized I wasn’t alone. This was a venue where all feelings—and a variety of expressions, no matter how primal or odd-looking—were welcome.
So I closed my eyes, connected to my physical sensation of grief, and played with all of the ways it wanted to move (and not move). Noticing the tears in my eyes, peers stepped near and around me, smiled and bowed, then allowed me space to process my feelings on my own. The group provided emotional support and a container for my emotions. With each song and successive rhythm, I experimented with tightening my body to resist the pain then expanding and breathing long, full breaths to allow it more space to be felt.
“I see dance being used as communication between body and soul, to express what is too deep to find for words.” —Ruth St. Denis
Most of us know the physical and mental health benefits of dance: it stimulates the release of endorphins, thus reducing pain, lifting our mood, burning calories, increasing metabolism, and prompting our lymph system to flush toxins. More intriguing to me as a licensed therapist and psychospiritual healer is the opportunity authentic movement affords us to reconnect with our spirit through somatic (or body) awareness. In a culture more inclined to process life challenges through the mind or to approach personal growth via intellect, dance offers a deeper, more transformative experience: aligned with our true selves, we can transmute thought-induced suffering and shift long-term our limiting beliefs about ourselves and the world.
Human beings need time for self-contemplation, meditation, or any sort of activity that helps us get in touch with our subconscious or inner process or to see how or where we get stuck. Through mindful movement, we can meet ourselves in a new (and perhaps more enjoyable) way, noticing the postures and gestures that hint at our deeper patterns. We can also decide where we’d like to break free or choose a new way of walking in the world.
A ballet teacher pointed out to a peer when we were younger dancers that she tended to move along the sidelines or fold her shoulders shyly when in the center of the room. In a 5Rhythms class years later, she explored why it was important to stay small and noticed what happened as she experimented with taking up more space by making larger, more dramatic movements. Memories buried since childhood surfaced, and she reconnected with her younger, more creative self who once believed in her greatness. In time, her style became less rigid, more expressive, and thus began years of positive transitions for her in her career and relationships.
Movement Medicine, a transformational dance class starting Thursday, February 16, in downtown Lancaster, will encourage you to connect with what within you longs to be acknowledged, healed, and transformed. We’ll center and become present to ourselves first, noticing where in our bodies we experience our emotions. We’ll then go deeper, aided by carefully chosen tunes and rhythms, and dance with the parts of ourselves that are afraid or feel unworthy and the parts that long to thrive and align with our full potential and higher selves.
No previous dance experience is required and is in fact preferred, because you won’t have to unlearn any rules. If your aim is to look professional, graceful, or even “good” at it, you may perhaps reconsider your deeper motivation for this approach to inner alchemy. For, as a professional who is trained in body-centered depth work, I invite you to come as you are, with all of your shadow, your light, and everything in between. Allow genuineness and sincerity to guide you.
We’ll meet every first and third Thursday of the month at Mulberry Art Studios, 21. N. Mulberry St, Lancaster, PA, 7:15pm to 8:30pm. Off-street parking is available behind the building.
Drop-ins are welcome! Bring a new participant, and you each pay half so we can grow our community. To pay by credit in advance, RSVSP here. Cost is $20.
I look forward to meeting you on the dance floor.
— Allison Brunner, LCSW, Body Talks Therapy