Find your center.
This expression was common in every dance class I ever took. Roughly translated, it means getting balanced. Being balanced is essential for executing complicated dance moves, poses, turns. When you find your center, you can spin forever, leap out of bounds, deepen flexion.
When you find your center, you find ecstasy, and can leave your own body.
Or something like that.
The center is elusive.
Many dancers can pirouette endlessly or do a Russian straddle-split with ease, but struggle with other things.
Addictions. Eating disorders. Loneliness.
Our bodies do amazing things for us, yet we become majorly unbalanced as we berate ourselves for not being thin enough, not being bendy enough, not having enough stamina. While we may find the center to balance on the tips of our toes, other areas in our hearts experience the imbalance of suffering and sadness.
It has been 15 years since I danced. I did it all– ballet, pointe, tap, jazz, modern, African, belly– you name it, I tried and loved it. In the end, I gave it up because I hurt myself and couldn’t dance anymore.
I left dance sour and resentful. I stopped going to dance shows. It was depressing to see others onstage use their bodies in ways I no longer could.
A spurned lover, I walked away and didn’t look back.
It has been 15 years since I danced, but I have a recurring dream. In this dream, I find the center. I twirl with joy and wild sweetness. In this dream I have that centering, a delicious, orgasmic balance of simultaneously self control and letting go.
From this dream, I wake devastated as I realize my aching 40 year old body, weighted from age and bearing children, laden with gravity. It is after this dream I look back on those dancing days. Enough time has passed, and I no longer grieve my lack of motion in the way I once did.
Additionally, I’ve been practicing mindfulness, or a non-judgemental awareness in the present moment. Be here now. Usually it helps. They say dwelling on the past leads to depression, and thinking too much of the future breeds anxiety. It is supposed to foster peace to focus on the moment at hand, accept it, and celebrate its unique function and flavor.
Or something like that.
Much like the center, mindfulness can be elusive.
I recently had the opportunity to reconnect with some former dance friends. We met at a pub, shared some drinks, and laughed.
Prior to meeting with these dear, old friends, I rummaged in the back of my closet and found a stack of photos from those days. I quickly sorted through them to find ones pertinent to my dance crew.
It was like seeing my life flash before my eyes, or at least going 20 years back in time and seeing six years of my life flash before my eyes.
There was my first dog, who we got in college because I was suffering from depression and we thought having a pet would help. It did help, but seeing his face transfixed in a photo, realizing he had been born, lived his life, and died shook me.
There was my grandmother, dead now for 16 years. There was my father, looking young and thin. There was my brother years prior to his break. There was my mother, the age I am now. There were all my friends.
And there was me, frail, beautiful, and full of self loathing.
I was running late and didn’t have time to be stricken, so I shoved the parcel of pictures in my purse and chose a happy face. As I embraced friends for the first time in a decade and a half, the happy face became happy feelings. We all talked about being working moms, our kids’ quirks, and how our bodies have changed. My face hurt from smiling, as we giggled over the photos of ourselves.
For days after, I luxuriated in the anesthesia of memories. Sometimes I felt sad for time perceived as wasted, but mostly it just seemed like my life had flowed in a series of channels that felt right. I didn’t really miss dance, or have regrets, but it was a bizarre head space.
The gift of it was it allowed me to look back with fondness on those days.
So much in life threatens to knock us off our feet, swipe the rug from under us. Time can pulverize, but it also can soften. Looking back so happily on that time in my life made me remember a quote from a Grateful Dead song, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”
When we find our center, we realize we are strong and solid, while also soft and fluid.
Maybe I am always in the center and just don’t realize it. Maybe I have been dancing along, each moment perfectly balanced as I pick up a child, wipe a tear, cook a meal, drive to work.
The center is delicate and small. It is water and breath. It is bearing and being blown away by children. The center is ridiculous, and can be felt when we laugh, or cry, or retch. The center stands alone in a crowd. It is fleeting. It is the beat of wings on water.
The center is the core of the dream, and the dream is us.
The other night, I had a dance dream, but this one was much different. In this dream, I was a spectator in a large auditorium, watching auditions on a bare stage. I contemplated the dancers before me- some lithe and lovely, others powerful and bold. I was thrilled to be just there, and I woke with a smile.