Monday, January 23, 2012

On Dance (and lemons)

(Lemon magazine photographs proudly displayed here!)

One of my resolutions this year (or "yearly lies" as my social worker friend's clients like to call them) is to exercise at least three times per week. Now personally, I hate gyms. I hate feeling like I am exercising for the sake of exercising. It seems like this strange commodification of movement - I will exchange 45 minutes of my time spent sweating while moving in place on this machine, for 120 calories which I watched accumulate, one by one, and which I can then apply towards a scoop of ice cream or maybe towards eventually getting into that smaller pair of jeans that I've been hanging on to which always make me feel bad to look at them but I tell myself it's motivational so I keep them around.

Pardon if you love gyms. Some like the convenience and regularity, the ability to target specific muscle groups; I totally get it, I used to coach people towards exercising more, and if it gets you moving, then yes, please please do go to the gym. Whatever it takes, seriously. For me, I love movement and I love doing things. Hiking. Biking. Jogging. Swimming. Yoga. Taichi. Dragon boating. Dancing.

I consider myself quite lucky that there are not one but two dance studios within 4 blocks of my little house here in Oakland. One that I've been attending teaches a fusion of bellydance, aerobics, and cardio weights (depending on the class). It's a bit crowded, but I always love learning new things and challenging my body. I also really love that the classes are filled with woman of all ages and all different body types, many with bodies that society would not judge as "beautiful" but who are stunningly gorgeous conveyers of the medium of bellydance. I feel totally awkward and stiff, but they are lithe and graceful, expressive, flexible, and you can tell that the women absolutely love it. They're confident and playful, they have fun, and their attitude makes them beautiful.

I think what I love most about my time there is that dance is "me" time. I spend so much of my life in my head, doing analytical things ... even though I'm somebody who does best when she stays true to her heart, engaging with creativity and empathy. Dance is very physical, very creative. Depending what you're dancing to, it can also be quite empathetic as you work to feel the music, express yourself through your body movements.

When I go to the studio, I don't ask anything of myself. I don't push myself to be bubbly and social, I don't expect to nail the steps and I don't judge myself if I don't work up a sweat. There's a flow to it and I just allow myself to sink right in. Time does a funny thing when I dance. There's a rhythm to each song which marks time in clear intervals, yet time also stretches out forever in front of me, almost as though the rhythms create their own version of infinity. It's like that when I run - there's a steady beat of my footfalls and my breath which I time to my footsteps, and within that steadiness time develops the most elastic quality. The "tension" between art and craft in writing and sewing and knitting is similar I think - the technique of craft creates an infrastructure within which an infinite number of creative possibilities emerge.

I think all the activities that I truly enjoy, like sewing and knitting and cooking and jogging and dancing and gardening, share some common features. They're tactile, they're physical. They're rhythmic, which lends itself easily to meditativeness. They have their own flow, by which I mean that they possess a repetition that can tends towards mindless, but they can also be challenging enough to be engaging, but not so challenging as to be frustrating.

I once had an Anthropology professor who pointed out that the notion that therapy must come from "talking through our issues" is a very Western-centric notion, and that in many other cultures the norm for working through difficult emotions is actually to engage in ritualistic, meditative and repetitive activities. I think I've found that a healthy balance of both is what keeps me most sane. And to me, they aren't activities that ought necessarily be reserved for moments of crisis. What's wrong with regularly spending time with your inner self? To quote the terminology of my professional field, it's like little doses of prevention ... which still carries negative connotations, because why can't it just be about peace and stillness and joy?

Anyways. I know this is a crafting blog, but in my mind there isn't actually much difference between crafting and physical activity, not in terms of how they both possess meditative qualities and sometimes the ways in which they can be creative. Truthfully, sometimes for me the creative and the meditative feel like two sides of the same coin, that coin which is a vehicle for bringing me closer to who I really am.


Alessa said...

That rings very true. Beautifully written. Peace and stillness and joy. :) Yes. Exactly.
Also, lovely lemon photographs. :)

Ali said...

This is stunning, Jessica. I could live my life by these words:

I think all the activities that I truly enjoy ... share some common features. They're tactile, they're physical. They're rhythmic, which lends itself easily to meditativeness. They have their own flow, by which I mean that they possess a repetition that can tends towards mindless, but they can also be challenging enough to be engaging, but not so challenging as to be frustrating."

So eloquent and true. I've been trying to get to the heart of why I love some things and not others and this is spot on. Just gorgeous (even though I want to love but hate running, but I get it, I do!) And I do think doing is so much more effective than talking, or doing both, as women have done for generations before us.

Roberto said...

Excellent post. It makes me think that creativity is a state of being that has to be sought everyday.

gypsybiscuit said...

Wow. How succinctly and delightfully you've expressed so many of my own thoughts and feelings!

I too, have pondered the relationship between active movement, still movement, creativity, meditation, and balance of soul. Your brand of meditation and self-therapy seem to me so much more healthy & sustainable & affirming than medication and the typical talk therapy.

I have followed your blog for over a year and I don't even knit! But something about your fashion styling, your use of color, and revelations of yourself have kept me following. This post more clearly defined what I had been glimpsing.
Continue the path of truth to self; I'll continue reading what you share. :-)

Minnado said...

A beautifully written post Jessica. I agree about the flow and rhythym of exercise and dance. I also like the way my mind can switchh off the usual patterns of thought during exercise. 2 dance studios near your house? I am jealous! x

Sigrid said...

This is so truly written. I have danced through some of the hardest times of my life, and what I loved most was that even as it grounded me in my body, it took me out of my head, and shook those pesky monkeys off my shoulder. Searching to find that one muscle in my leg or that rhythm in my feet moved me out of my usual thoughts and then onto the flow of just concentrating.

I guess this is often what I like about walking, gardening, craft and cooking too. Sometimes this is when I actually feel fully aware of myself as an integrated person. And then, ultimately, this brings up a much bigger idea about the meaning of life-how do we live our life fully.

And what the heck are you doing with all those lemons?

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post. Thank you for your words and pictures. I think you illuminate really well a number of different issues: the tension between what we want to do and what we think we "should" do, the value of finding that sweet spot where we feel at ease, have flow and yet are still challenged, the power of creating and of movement. Just lovely. Thanks again.