dance church

sticker graffiti of a dancing yellow Ganesh (Ganesh is the remover of obstacles in the Hindu pantheon))

Ganesha, remover of obstacles

Good morning to you — how is this new day holding your body so far?

My body is a bit achy this morning, stiff and singing, after a dance party yesterday afternoon during which I barely stopped moving. That is, for me, the very best kind of church. I continue to reverberate with gratitude for the love in the room yesterday, for the people who came out to celebrate (early) my birthday with me, for the people who sent their love over even though they couldn’t join us, for the space (thank you Carol & Robert & CSC!), for old friends and new, for readings and listenings and witnessings and constant, aching growth.

I am ready for forty now, especially if it means I get to keep bouncing like I did yesterday. I haven’t danced like that in ages, so up off the ground, so both near flight and rooted hard to this tender gravity.

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I’ve said that to people often, that the dance floor, for me, has been church, and this morning, I want to say what that means, what the word church has meant for me (particularly since now I’m going to a church-church, where dancing might happen sometimes, but the focus is a little more traditional.).  I’ve written this story before, and will keep writing it, because it’s so integral to these twenty years of healing and survival.

Here’s what I say: dancing saved me, was a necessary part of the constellation of friends, lovers and practices that kept me away from the edge when I was just beginning to imagine what it might look like for me not to live under my stepfather’s control. The dance floor was the one place where I could be in my body–be sexual, even–without any expectations other than big joy. I’d danced in high school, hadn’t I, gone to those all ages parties where I wore tight dresses and flat shoes and moved my body in ways that I thought would look sexy and provocative, just barely finding a place for myself in or against the music. One guy I danced with at that party — held, of all places, at an amusement park– asked something like, Is that really the only move you know? There I was with my side to side step, swing the hips: keep it together. I was embarrassed, indignant, but aching somewhere inside, too, to know what it would be like to do more. I looked at the girls around me, some of whom moved with more abandon, but I had no idea how to let myself do that.

More came when I went to college, got 1000 miles away from home, quit wearing the skintight dresses to the dance parties, started wearing clothes I could really move in. And then, of course, it was the early nineties, and oh, I discovered house music, a beat big enough for me to entirely lose myself in, for me to submit to. Is this what church means: this feeling of being carried by something greater than myself, of being moved and held, of joyous fellowship and a both singular and shared experience? This music, this place, was my only experience of someplace safe where being in my body meant power and celebration only — and that was a revelation. I never drank when I was dancing (and began dancing less when I started drinking more heavily), because the alcohol got in the way of the feeling, of that sense of release (and also it fucked up my feet, made me trip, which irritated me. I didn’t understand the people who said they had to drink to get loose enough or comfortable enough to dance — drinking wasn’t ever a way to get in to my body. It was a way to get out. But that’s a different post.)

What I mean when I say that the dance floor saved me is that I have always had a place where it was safe to be in my body, where my body was both deeply gendered and not at all gendered, where my body was about reach and enormous smiles and deep desire and mine and also offered out to the room as connection — where, simply, it was not just ok to be in my body but desirable to be in my body, where it was not scary to be in this body. That, for me, has been a gift, sometimes the only line back into this place that otherwise has felt like a battleground and crime scene and confusion, a place to step up into my head to escape.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been doing work to come back into my body all the way, to reconnect with the child self who loved to move, who celebrated her body (without having to name it as such — this was just what you did in this human existence), who swam and played basketball and rode bikes and ran as fast as she could as often as she could. The day before yesterday, on a little run-walk with the dog (after I’d had dinner — this is not the ideal order in which to do such things, btw; better to have the run-walk, then the dinner. Also another post.) I had a moment where I ran as fast as I could down one little rise and up the next, stretching my legs out to their full stride, pulling hard at the ground, feeling exactly a six-year-old Jenny in me, going hard, loving the feel of all of our strength going into just this work, for no other reason than that it feels really, really good. Today I feel like crying at the thought of it, being able to touch that part again, being able to be right here.

And then yesterday, I was up off the floor as much as I could be, bouncing just exactly the way I did back at college, in those little dance rooms, when the music was better than I could bear, and the only possible response was to pop up off the floor and into the air, giving every muscle in my legs a chance to lift us, lift us, lift us.

If church is about survival and love, about holding one another, about sharing in an experience of connecting with something utterly of and also greater than ourselves, then I can say for sure that dancing has been the place of church for me. One definition of church is an occasion of public worship — and I have found that on the dance floor, when everyone around me is sweaty and smiling, connected and internal, witnessing and showing off, sharing in the experience of being profoundly in our bodies exactly as they are, celebrating our messy humanness, our stumbles and our perfect beat.

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What has dancing meant for you? Are there places where you are in or want to be in your body? Want to let those be writes for today? Give yourself 20 minutes — take that for you on this Sunday — and follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for your good body today, for the creativity that lives in every cell. Thank you for the breath that you allow in, and that you release. Thank you for your words.

3 responses to “dance church

  1. I am stuck and can’t move, no flow at all, no freedom. Feel like I have on the lead blanket they put over you when you have dental xrays. But… this post makes me want to jump and run and turn up music very loud until I can wiggle a bit, maybe let it take me away for a moment or two. Thanks Jen.

  2. I truly resonate with what you are saying, and thank you so much for saying it. I won’t be able to write about my own experience today, but I know it will keep percolating in the back of my mind until it’s ready to come out — maybe at the workshop in April?

  3. Oh thank you Jen for these words.
    All I can say in this moment is yes. Dancing is joyful abandon and freedom and the feeling of yes and more and okay- it’s okay to move your hips like that, it’s good to let the music move through you, push you up and out and beyond. All the way in the body and out through the top of the head to move in the music that fills the room and every part of me in it. .