Office Diaries

An insider's guide to success in the workplace

A Dancing Life

What dancing can teach you about you.

Dancing saved my life, or at least it seemed that way at the time. I was a kid in school struggling with dyslexia, which had gone undetected. My parents, concerned about my self-esteem, enrolled me in dancing school hoping to find something in which I could excel and that would also offset the negative effects of being immersed in a system that made no space for kids who literally saw things differently. What happened as a result was that, at that very young age, I fell in love.

I shied away from performance. I preferred behind the scenes. I didn’t like a lot of people staring at me and I didn’t like to compete with other dancers. What I liked was learning how to dance – and then dancing. Still, to this day, nothing brings me more peace than an empty room with hardwood floors, mirrors, a piano and a barre.

Now that I’m older - much older - gone are the days of my leotards, tights and bun. I have in me not the ability to jump, turn and kick the way I used to. But, I do have a relationship with my body that I’ve come to deeply appreciate – one I’d never have, had I not danced. And that’s because dancing teaches you to communicate without words. It teaches you how to feel, not only what’s in your body, but what’s in your heart and soul too.

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In a world that values cognition, where the mind is almighty and thought rules, people learn to navigate life almost exclusively from the neck up. But it’s hard to learn about life, impossible to connect with others and an opportunity lost to understand ourselves if all we do is think. The heart still pounds and the spirit still breathes, but not if the mind has all the control. That is why dancing is such a wonderful opportunity for anyone at any age. It forces the brain to relinquish control and share its power with the body, which in turn makes for a much more full and dimensional human experience.

I hear people say all the time that they don’t want to dance, or even try, because they think they can’t. Mostly, they are afraid they will look foolish. But dancing is not about looking beautiful. It is about feeling something – whatever is inside you - and expressing it. It could be beautiful, or not. There are dances that are dark and ugly and others that are light and pretty. There is anger, joy and sadness. Movement can say anything. That’s what makes it so wonderful. It let’s us feel what the mind won’t allow, and with the mind out of the way, amazing things can happen.

There is truth in our bodies that extends beyond the physical. They are able to express the kind of honesty the mind will never know. From tribal rituals to the therapeutic use of dance, dancing has long been employed to free what lies within. Many believe it creates an opening for the spirit to emerge and if you’ve ever experienced it, you are likely to agree.

Whatever it is, whatever we call it, moving, dancing, being free in your body, puts you in touch with what it feels like to be you. Bodies are intelligent. They have their own personalities with likes and dislikes, proclivities and deficits. They know and remember things. They learn, they suffer, they work hard. And sometimes, often times, they operate on their own accord. And because of that, they deserve our consideration. They deserve our respect, for the more you know your body, the more you know yourself.

However, whenever and if ever you decide to visit this part of yourself, whether you dance in company or alone, to music or in silence, day or night, the beauty of dance is that it is always there for you. It, like other art forms, was built from, and reflects the basic rhythms of the earth, the universe, and life. Any time you move, wherever you are, you have the ability to tap into a world that explores the spectrum of human emotion.

So, here I am. What started as a way to extract me from a system that set kids like me up to fail, turned out to be the greatest gift of my life. It’s never too late to bring the pieces of yourself together through dance, or movement and expression and in the process learn what it feels like to be you, which in the end, is what real freedom feels like.

 

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Donna Flagg is the author of Surviving Dreaded Conversations and a New York City-based dancer.

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