My dancing tends to be an exploration of my inner state. So often I go through life barely acknowledging the things brewing within myself. I am working toward the next goal, getting stuff done. I think that this state of being was who I am long before I moved to NYC, but it is an attitude that is well matched to this city. When I put on my jazz shoes and there is music and a floor, everything changes. I, the massive klutz, become graceful. I slow down and my mind stops planning every little detail of the upcoming week. Suddenly I am aware of my own inner life.
At different points this has been a curse. I deal every day with unusually high levels of anxiety. For the most part I ignore it until I need to take medication for the tension headaches, and then I push on and ignore it more. Dancing breaks that down and I feel it viscerally. There is no ignoring and no getting away from myself. When I first began blues dancing this inability to ignore my own state, and my desire to be good at this thing while being just a beginner combined into a terrible spiral. I was doing something to provoke anxiety. I was feeling all of the anxiety all at once for the first time. I didn’t know how to handle it. I learned that I would become more and more stressed as the night went on. Stress would make my muscles clench and my body rigid, which ruined my frame and my following. Knowing that my following was worse than normal would cause me stress and this would become a repetitive loop. It took a few panic attacks where I shut myself in the bathroom to hyperventilate to learn that there would be nights that I would have to pull myself out of the dance. I could go home even if it meant that I had only danced half an hour.
As I’ve improved, both at dancing and at managing my anxiety, things have shifted. Sometimes I would have a moment where everything was shut out but the sound of the music and the feeling of my body. I could focus so clearly on where I was and what my partner was asking that there was nothing else. These moments were addictive. Beautiful shining moments that kept me coming back. Eventually they would get longer; from a moment to a phrase, from a phrase to a song, from a song to a series of songs. I’ve recently begun mindfulness meditation, and when I’m doing well with that, it is not unlike those moments.
This weekend past was a triumph for me. I’ve usually taken a long time to resolve my anxiety once it is the state I am in. For me it is not as simple as something anxiety producing being done, I usually spend some time still being wound up and worried for a while. I had a week of finals and a last looming final on Monday. Yet I was able to go to the Saturday late night and have perfect amazing moments of dancing. Moments that I was perfectly in tune with myself and my partner. Moments that make me happy and soothe. I had a night filled with these moments, entire songs with new partners and familiar partners. If all dancing felt like this, I would never need a break for it is so refreshing on its own.