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.