Typically, after a 5Rhythms class I make a few journal notes right away that I can expand on at a later time, when I tease out themes, follow the threads of narrative, and connect what has arisen in dance to the world off the dance floor. This Friday, however, as soon as I got home, I set about wrapping and finishing a series of small artworks to give as gifts to family and friends. I did not make any notes at all until just yesterday. I hope my memory will serve me, but I ask for your forbearance if I lapse into generalizations—an unfortunate tendency many of us display around the holidays.
Tammy Burstein’s 5Rhtyhms Friday Night Waves class on December 23rd was less packed than usual, presumably because many were already traveling for the holidays or were involved in holiday preparations. I arrived on time and in reasonably good humor. A friend greeted me and asked how I was, “No complaints,” I said, then just a few moments later, said to the same friend, not noticing the irony, “My back is hurting a little tonight.”
I don’t remember very much about the first wave, except that I found movement easily, and that there was notably more space between bodies, owing to smaller-than-usual turnout to Tammy’s usually jam-packed class. One man, who I often find friendly and pleasant, seemed aggressive in his extroversion for the second week in a row. Last week he had stepped on my foot without even noticing while running in a fast circle around a group of dancers he was involved with. As I have written before, it is often helpful to have dancers who move through the entire room and don’t become quickly rooted to one place. Lately, I have been noticing (for myself) when I go too far with a seemingly skillful behavior to the point that it becomes unskillful, for example moving around so much and so fast that I lose mindfulness and start bumping into people. The man who seemed aggressively extroverted stepped happily into dances with nearly everyone in the room, but I wasn’t feeling receptive to him. He really seemed to insist, though, stepping emphatically up to me and trying to make eye contact as he moved. I wasn’t angry and I didn’t insist, but this time I didn’t consciously share a dance with him. It was interesting for me to reflect on my own behaviors, especially times when I have been ecstatic, moving through the room in bliss, feeling porous and unbounded. I hope I was able to respect the people who were having a different experience than mine, who might have needed space and privacy, though I felt so connected to them.
It is just 4.15pm and the sky lights with sunset. I am reminded of the last stretch of driving before arriving to my parents’ house for the holidays a few days ago. Orange-red light in horizontal bands lit the winter trees that lined the road. The places that were hidden from the light by trees on the horizon at the other edge of my vision remained dull grey, exacerbating the glow everywhere the red light touched. I said to my six-year-old son, Simon, “Can you believe how lucky we are? That we get to see this beauty? It is incredible. We are so lucky.” Simon expressed agreement, though I can’t fully know what the experience was like for him. Tears streamed down my cheeks. I didn’t say what I was also thinking, “This world might not be so beautiful for much longer. This might be a memory someday, maybe in the near future. I can’t imagine a more beautiful world. Even in the mundane nature of the roadside, with the blue of sky, the green of grass, the white of snow, there is exquisite beauty.” As I stepped into my parents’ home, I was still choked up as I walked in to find my sister and brother in the kitchen.
Sometimes I think of an original Star Trek episode, when one of the crew members is on a planet where dreams and fantasies are enacted. The world he projects is of a pastoral, green scene by a small river. His expressed nostalgia for the beauty of earth touched me; and I have occasionally looked at my surroundings with that frame, as though I were far from earth, or perhaps in a bleak industrial future, imaging how much I would long for the lush green that is all around me now, even in New York City.
When Simon was first born, I spent countless hours sitting on the deck of my parents’ house, watching shimmering trees and dense green vines while he slept or nursed. Once, a hummingbird came to drink from a flower on the deck just a few feet from me. The grass, though patchy in spots, quivered with sugar. Clouds gathered themselves into forms and drifted by, in constant motion, except during rare moments of seamless blue. Even then, the breeze moved the leaves, insects clambered, the baby shifted softly, and birds threaded in and out of each other’s paths of flight.
Tammy, apparently noting a flavor of inertia in the room, invited us to follow someone. Personally, I love following people. When someone rushes by, I might get swept into their current. Sometimes, I step into the wake someone creates and experience what it is like for them to move through a room full of bodies. The teacher Peter Fodera is particularly delightful to follow, as he moves through the room with both delicacy and force, seeming to majestically part the seas. As the following took shape, there was some open-ness and I slipped around, smiling. Soon, though, it turned into several chains of bodies. Tammy said something to the effect that though some enjoy the season, for a lot of people, the holidays aren’t all that great. For some, they might be painful, I reflected, thinking of someone close to me who all but shuts down every year at least between December 23-26. Inertia gripped even the chains of moving dancers. Instead of pressuring us to cajole ourselves into joy, merry singing and grandiose generosity, making the not-joy even more painful, Tammy encouraged us to investigate the what was actually coming up in that moment, as we followed the person directly in front of us, perhaps in their “holiday slog.”
Moving briefly with this dragging conga line, I soon peeled off from the group with one friend, and we entered an enlivened Flowing in one corner of the room. I don’t know if there is any metaphor in it, but when each person is trying their best to follow the other, sometimes each person winds up both leading and following, in a tight little tangle of forces. In this case, the dance became delightful. We approached and spun, dipping and rolling in and out of one another’s orbits. It felt like when you are little kids playing in the grass and you hold hands with your wrists crossed, then spin around and around and around with your head thrown back and your mouth wide open, laughing.
I wondered if my friend loves the holidays like I do. I am very much in the minority, but I have always loved the winter holidays and found true, imperfect joy with family and friends, despite the overwhelming pressure for fake, perfect joy that causes so many to suffer. I even enjoy the lead up—this year, in particular, I planned ahead and had a number of presents I was excited to offer.
Flowing opened up easily for me again. I knew I had to leave a little early if there was any hope to complete the series of small artworks and prepare gifts in time for a morning departure from the city. I stayed just a little longer, then a little longer, then a little longer, finally leaving as Staccato transitioned into Chaos in the second wave of the class.
I am surprised there is so much to say this time, given that I had no notes and many days elapsed between the class and the writing. Just as in stepping in to a 5Rhythms room I never know what will happen, so, too, in stepping in to the creative process of writing, I never know what will arise. There is a long list of sad items I could dwell on at the moment: my grandmother has just entered hospice care, many near me are suffering with depression and various issues, and, of course, the alarming state of the world. Despite all of this, joy has visited me in glimpses. I am happy to be able to receive it, happy that sometimes joy can arise even independent of external circumstances. To disdain my own joy would be as much a mistake as trying to force myself into it. It seems that lived experience is always much more interesting than the expectations I set up for myself. Living itself is much better than a happy cliché, even when it is messy, even when joy is a risk.
December 29, 2016, Broad Brook, CT
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.