Sunday, December 25, 2011

Dance to Your Own Tune

If you don’t like the song, it’s really hard to dance to it.  Some people leave and take their pee break, water break, blackberry check, etc. during songs they dislike.  I get it.  I am also miserable in a dance class (or any class) if I hate the music.  I can’t choreograph any song unless I really love it. 

In class, there are ways to deal with music you hate.  You can try experimenting with different ways of moving or you can leave. Leaving is an absolutely acceptable way to deal with the situation, at least in my class—although there has been music I initially hated, but changed my mind about once I danced to it.
Just as we follow the music when we dance, we follow the flow of life within us and around us.  As the choreographer chooses a movement from an infinite store of movements, we choose our reality through the lens of our perceptions, from an infinite number of possibilities.  In our lives we choose our “tune” and how to dance to it in every moment. 

You can’t dance to someone else’s tune, but sometimes you can make that tune “your own.”  You can infuse the music with your own meaning.    

Sometimes the music you have been using no longer “fits” your dance.

For example, when you are used to a certain amount of neglect, you think it’s normal.  If you are lucky enough to learn that it isn’t, you outgrow that acceptance.  What I used to think was acceptable behavior is no longer tolerable.  I feel embarrassed sometimes when I remember what I put up with without voicing my feelings.  But then I realize that instead of shame, it is more appropriate to feel gratitude that I am not still in that place. 

My mother’s song for me was certainly born out of her love for me, but the tune was not one to which I could “dance.”  It was just not me.  Her tune did not reflect who I was, but rather who she wished I was.  My mom wanted me to marry a doctor because, to her, that was the best life you could have. When I was 16, my mom (who was from Georgia) thought I would like to make a debut (or “come out”) at the Southern Club in Pittsburgh.  She was being kind, because she really couldn’t afford such a thing, but clearly she didn’t know who I was. Instead of white gloves and tea, I was torn jeans and Iron City beer. I said thank you, but no.  If I'd made a debut, I would never have been able to show my face in my high school again.  A deb, I’m not.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with that!)

We can appreciate the dance of others and marvel at how the tunes complement each other, or make beautiful contrasts.

We can choose to make variations on our tune, or choose a new song altogether.  Sometimes the old song no longer fits us.  We have to find our own music, make our own dance.  Just like we go with the flow of life, we dance best to the music that resonates with us, one moment at a time.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Gift Yourself

Sometimes when you are dancing, instead of staying completely with yourself, you can also be too focused on others.  It’s good to be aware of others in the class because then you won’t bump into anyone. But sometimes focusing too much on another person can inhibit you.  For example, when you really know a song, you want to go for it—you want to leap and try a few turns and get the most out of it.  But what can happen is that you hold yourself back because you don’t want anyone to think you’re showing off.  The same thing happens in reverse, when you come to class tired after you had a bad night.  Sometimes, instead of honoring the feeling that makes you want to just take it easy, you could feel compelled to force yourself to do more than you really want to do.  This can happen because you are too worried about what others might think about you.  I also see this kind of thinking when a potential client says, “I’ll come to class after I lose 20 pounds.”  This client is too focused on others and what (she thinks) they might think rather than what would be good for her body and spirit. 

In class, when you really let yourself be in the dance the way you want, you give everyone else permission to do the same.  When you become aware of someone really putting all their energy into a dance, or staying at the simplest level, you think to yourself, “If she’s doing that, I can certainly do this!”

It really goes back to the idea that what you do for yourself, you do for everyone else as well.   We are all One.

Countless times when I was in school, the teacher would say, “Does everyone understand?” and when I didn’t I would never, ever raise my hand.  Then, almost always, there was a person who would verbalize pretty much what I was thinking.  And I would relax and think, “I’m not the only one, whew!”  When I saw someone else being “brave” (yes, it seemed brave to me), it made me think that maybe I wasn’t so stupid after all and that a question I might ask could actually be useful to me and maybe somebody else, too. 

When you allow yourself to be authentic in any situation, you are giving others permission to do the same.  You are honoring and nurturing yourself.  You are giving a gift to yourself and everyone else. 

In this holiday season, practice gifting yourself by expressing your own authenticity.  

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Capra or Bergman?

I can look at a video of myself dancing in class or even in a performance and think, “Well, that could have been a lot better.  Why didn’t I do this or that (fill in the blank) better?”  Being hard on yourself—(okay, you teach what you need to learn—I get it—I’m hard on myself, too) can raise the level of your expectation so high that you could start to wonder, “Who do I think I am?” Not a good or constructive thing to ask yourself, especially in that tone of voice!  Once again, you must focus on what you know is true.  Think about what you know you can do, use that as your foundation, and learn more from that point.

Often holidays with my family growing up could be emotionally brutal.  Because you expect Frank Capra (“It’s a Wonderful Life”) (Why?? Are you new here??) but instead get Ingmar Bergman (”Cries and Whispers”).  It makes the tension all the more difficult to handle. Somehow I always thought that each year might be different—maybe my parents wouldn’t crack open the gin (it makes a sullen drunk).  We would back away.  (“Save yourself!!!!”).  We hoped they would stick to champagne (a nicer intoxication).   It wasn’t always as bad as that sounds, but sometimes it was.   

Sometimes we, the children, blamed ourselves.  We weren’t sure whether we were powerful enough to be responsible or not. 

The holidays bring too much pressure on just about everyone. The expectations are always really high.   Are we having fun yet?  In my family of origin, we could all make dog poop look like a birthday cake, so it always looked really good.  We had to go to church and every single Sunday, Christmas, and Easter, my white gloves were rolled up in a ball at the back of my drawer, and I could never find my shoes.  I can still hear my dad saying, “How the hell can anyone lose their shoes?!?!” I always found them and straightened out my balled-up gloves.  We always looked really good, but no one knew what was going on in our hearts.

I really do not blame my parents; they did the best they could.  They were generally kind and though they didn’t like each other, they loved us.  And that’s really something to treasure.  This is what I know to be true:  If they had known how to do better, they would have.  (So would I, in the many mistakes I have made.)  The truth is love, and love is the foundation.  I can build from the truth and just keep trying to learn more.  I choose Frank Capra.

Sunday, December 4, 2011


I hear this a lot from new clients after their first class: “I look around and everyone knows what they’re doing and I’m so uncoordinated!”  If I can talk her down, I try to get her to change her perspective to this:  “I’m new at this and I’m sweating and I enjoyed it—I did really well considering it’s my first class.” This doesn’t mean that you lower your expectations or standards for yourself, only that you understand the truth of the situation and give yourself a break.  You’ll get there.  You’ll learn just like everyone else in the class did at one time.  You’ll do it in your own time and in your own way.  Reframing those initial thoughts will make you learn with compassion and love for yourself rather than through angst.

I was once in a relationship with a partner who was insidiously emotionally abusive.  It was the kind of abuse that when I called him on it, he said I was “too sensitive” or that I hadn’t seen or heard what I thought I had seen or heard.  I started to question whether I was magnifying very small things into huge issues.  After a time, being with him became intolerable.  Even though I was afraid, I felt I had no other choice but to leave.  The choice was between a life where I subsumed myself or a life that was unknown, but where I could be me without punishment.  There really was no choice.  I left.

Many years have gone by with no contact between us.  Now I understand that what I saw as cruelty in that partner was really the expression of his deep wounds.  That does not excuse abusive, manipulative behavior, but it makes me reframe my thoughts about him.  It also makes my anger subside and compassion surface. 

Weirdly, he did me a big favor.  If he had not been so extreme, I would not have been forced to change my way of being so that I could pursue happiness. I would have thought to myself, “Well, this isn’t really so bad.  I can take it.” Change is so difficult.  If I had any wiggle room to stay, believe me, I probably would have.

I can see that the people who have given me the biggest heartache are the people who were catalysts in my own growth and in finding joy. 

This brings me to unconditional love.  Yes, real love is given without condition.  However, just because you love someone doesn’t mean you stop loving yourself.  To continue to have a relationship with someone who is cruel to you, serves no one.  You can still love unconditionally while refusing to submit to abuse.  Because you love someone doesn’t mean you have to stay.

When we can adjust our thinking to realize that our and others’ faults are really wounds, it can give us a whole new way of reacting and interacting.  I am not suggesting that anyone put up with cruelty, but realizing that abusive behavior comes from wounding can take the anger away from us.  That’s a good thing. 

Changing our perspective can replace our anger with greater awareness.  In this way we are choosing to learn and grow, not from angst, but through love and compassion. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dance Lessons or Everything I Know I Learned in Dance Class

Start at the beginning.  Do what you know you can do.  The rest will then come to you.

Don’t hurt yourself or others.

Move, sweat, have fun

Stay in the moment.  Don’t think about what you just did or what’s next.

It doesn’t matter what it looks like to anyone else.  It matters how it feels to you.   

Stay with yourself.  You don’t have to do what everyone else is doing.  Do it your way.

There are no mistakes, only opportunities to learn.  Sometimes mistakes lead to new avenues of creativity. 

Take chances, especially ones that make you uncomfortable.

When you make a choice, own it.

That person who continually pisses you off (the one who takes your space, crowds you, ignores you) may not be your rival, but your teacher.  She could be telling you something about yourself you might not otherwise think about.  (See “The Mirror,” posted 9/25/11)

Making room for others gives you more room, too.

Remember, we are pretty much all the same.   At some point, we've all been "the new kid."

Focus on the joy, not the struggle. What you focus on is what you’ll experience.

And most important:  trust yourself—and follow the music in your own way.

In other words, dance with life.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Trying can be so trying (Part 2)

When you dance and you let your body just go without judging yourself, or trying to be perfect, you can truly relax. 

When you relax and let go of the struggle, you create the space for what you already know to come through.  “What you already know” can often be something that you don’t consciously understand that you know.  Relaxing causes stillness of thought.  It allows the words to go away.  In that stillness, you find the truth of who you are. 

I wrote about knee jerk reactions in another blog.  What I have found, while attempting to make major behavior changes, is that my body is the last thing to let go of a behavior and the last part of me to integrate a new behavior.  So when I’ve tried to change knee-jerk reactions that don’t serve me anymore, even though I KNOW the change is “right,” my body is reacting with, “NO, STOP, THIS IS WRONG!!”  And I have to calm myself, take a breath and just go ahead with what I know is right in my life.  It’s like my body is my unruly child that doesn’t want to change anything because she doesn’t feel safe with the unknown.  So I have to soothe her and take charge.  I really hate to be in charge, but I don’t have a choice if I want to be unstuck.

What I have found lately is that the more I allow myself to be in silence, the more my body falls in line with new, healthier behaviors.  She has fewer tantrums. (A tantrum really is, after all, fueled by fear.)  By silence, I mean letting go of the constant chatter in my mind.   I don’t mean sitting in meditation for hours.  (That can be daunting and difficult.) You can drop between your thoughts while you are dancing, running or washing the dishes.  Even if I periodically take a deep breath, as I exhale and drop down behind the words, I feel much steadier.  Dropping between your thoughts connects you to the truth of who you are--although you can’t ever be really disconnected, anyway.  If you think about it, the space between your thoughts is the part of you that you can remember from your earliest memory.  It is the part of you that is eternal, that is behind the words. 

My point in all this is that if we really trust that there is something more to us than blood and bone, we can find a guide within by relaxing (or dancing) to stillness.  We can trust that our bodies and minds are in alignment.

When you discover the truth of who you are, you can fully be and express that truth in your life.

I love this quote:

“When you are confused and perplexed and looking for answers from the universe, if you will just turn off the part of you that desperately wants to figure things out and turn on the part of you that knows it has access to every answer—if you will stop trying to decide what to do and start choosing what you wish to be, you will find dilemmas dissolving and solutions appearing magically right in front of your face.” ---Neale Donald Walsch, “Home with God in a Life that Never Ends.”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Trying can be so TRYING. Part I

When I try too hard to remember choreography while I’m teaching, it eludes me.  I cannot, in the moment I am trying, find what I know I already know. 

I was having a mental block about a combination in another teacher’s class. I had done it the week before without any trouble at all.  The more I tried, the worse it got---by focusing on what I couldn’t do, I created more of what I couldn’t do.  The more I focused on that combination, the less room I had in my head for anything else, so I wasn’t getting the add-on choreography either.  It was like a traffic jam in my head.  I ended up creating confusion and mental blocks because that’s what I was focused on.

Anyway, I came back to class the next week and that combination was no longer a problem.  I simply decided to let go of being perfect, relax and trust that I knew what I knew, without trying.  (Trying really can be trying.)  This created the space for what I already knew to surface.

We were watching “60 Minutes” and I was marveling about how Steve Jobs, in his relatively-modest-compared-to-his-wealth lifestyle, could be so not----what?  I was trying to think of a word that I knew but couldn’t remember it.  I knew the meaning of it was between presumptuous and ostentatious, but I couldn’t think of it. I knew it was in my brain, but I couldn’t find it.  My husband and I were wracking our brains---“it’s like presumptuous, but that’s not it—it’s like ostentatious, but that’s not it either.”  I finally decided I was going to run upstairs to use the thesaurus on my computer.  I had given up—as I got up off my chair to go upstairs the word popped into my brain. As soon as I surrendered, there it was: pretentious.  Letting go made room for the word to surface---my holding on to TRYING to remember the word blocked any chance of it coming to me.  By letting go, I created a space to let what I already knew come through.

Sometimes we stumble toward the “right” answer (if there even is such a thing.) 

This makes me think of the times that I have been so hysterical over trying to make something “right” that I prevented any rational thought from entering my brain.  I created a huge wall where nothing could penetrate.  I was frozen.  But after the storm was over, it turned out that doing nothing worked out really well. What if, instead of getting crazy, I calmed down and realized that I had done all I could do and that, since I had no other ideas, maybe the “right” thing really was non-action?

What happens when the storm comes and you just let it rain?  If you don’t know what to do, maybe the best thing to do is nothing.  Maybe it’s best to just let it go, let it wash over you.  Resisting too much can create more of what you are trying to resist—what you focus on is what you experience. 

When we allow ourselves the space to make mistakes, we make fewer of them.  We have unblocked the traffic jam in our heads. Allowing inner spaciousness is allowing flexibility of thought.  We don’t realize how much we know.  We know a lot. 

Trust yourself.  You know what to do.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Just Say It.

The first time I taught in Westport, people were vocalizing during the class.  I didn’t know what to think.  Did they hate it?  Did they like it?  I asked Carla (who has a third degree black belt in karate) and she told me that vocalizing is a way of letting go and also of finding your breath.  In karate, the “kee-yi” helps with breathing and puts more focus and power behind the movement.

I notice that some of my clients don’t like to use vocalization.  It does feel weird at first, and it certainly isn’t necessary to vocalize during a class.  But vocalizing is a way of letting go, both physically and emotionally.  When you dance, you are absolutely stirring up energy and emotion, positive and negative.  Using the voice can help you release what you do not need:  anger, tension or frustration.  It can affirm what you do want: joy and freedom.  Also, it gives you space to breathe.

Finding your voice can make you “unstuck.”

In life, vocalizing how you feel will often dissipate uncomfortable feelings.  It’s like the monster in the closet.  The more you pretend he’s not there by not opening the closet door, the scarier he becomes.  When you open the door, he disappears. 

I used to read a Sesame Street book to my kids called, “The Monster at the End of This Book.”  Through the book, Grover is flipping out and trying everything he can to stop you from turning the pages.  At the end of the book, he realizes that he himself is the monster.  There was, of course, nothing to be afraid of.

Once when I was hanging around with my friend who is an amazing Shiatsu/Cranial-Sacral practitioner, I was having one of my attacks of “not good enough.”  I said to her, with a sigh, “I wish I had a skill.”  She fell off the couch laughing at me.  Vocalizing the fear that I had no skill made me realize that it wasn’t true. 
When I first started therapy, I remember telling my therapist that therapy was like throwing up, but, you know, in a good way.  When you are physically ill, you feel really nauseated and sick and you try to keep it down but once you barf, you feel much better.  In therapy, there are words you are afraid to express because they are scary or they make you look petty or crazy.  But once you spit out the words, they generally are not nearly as bad as you thought AND you feel much better.

Whether or not you feel comfortable vocalizing in class, saying what you need to say in your life can empower and free you.  The people you need to speak truth to are also empowered and freed because now they know how you really feel.  That is a gift.

So just say it.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


If there are two violins in a room and a string on one of them is plucked, the other violin’s string will start to vibrate on its own.  Or if there are two metronomes in a room set at different rhythms, they will eventually match each other and start to move in the same rhythm.   Quantum physics has shown that everything is made of the same basic substance and, further, particles that seem to be separate are intimately connected on a level that is beyond time and space.

When clients enter a dance class there is an agreement, consciously and unconsciously, that the teacher is the leader.  The group follows the teacher and becomes “one.”  They are individuals that make up an entity: the class.  This means that even though an individual has her own experience, she is a part of a greater communal experience.

As the music starts and the class starts moving, all the individuals become synchronous with one another.  When I am teaching and I realize I am not breathing, I can bet that half the class is also holding their breath. When someone allows a latecomer space, she has also, paradoxically, made more space for herself.

When we stop defending our “territory” we often find that we don’t need to defend our territory at all---that it was a situation created and sustained by our own thoughts and mirrored back to us.

Have you ever had an argument with someone and you decided to soften and own your part in the disagreement?  Frequently that causes the other person to soften, too.  Then an issue that seemed like a huge obstacle diminishes and sometimes disappears altogether.

The saying “what goes around comes around” takes on a new meaning; It is not some cosmic punishment/reward system.  It simply means that since we are all connected, what you do to or for another, you do to or for yourself.  When you give a person a break, you’ve given yourself a break, too.

I realize it is a fantasy to believe that everyone will respond positively to our realization that we are all connected.  But if we can try to keep that thought in our minds, we would start treating each other and ourselves with more kindness.

Every time we give another person encouragement, we are encouraging ourselves. 

Every time we acknowledge another’s beauty, brilliance or achievements, we give ourselves the space to recognize those qualities in ourselves. 

Every time I say, “I love you” I am reminding myself that I too, am loved.

It’s the Golden Rule in a single word: One.