Dance music takes you straight down the toilet, and out into a big, dark space at the center of the earth, if you let it. I suggest you let it. Ride that slippery lady-voice, that insinuatingly erratic bass beat straight through the hips feet & back, down the toilet. Go on! What else were you planning on doing, here in this place where March is still snow and sheets of ice, in this world where so many invitations to freedom turn out to be only more goody-goody evasions of your own power?
In my memory, there's a man in full cowboy regalia, long hair, leather chaps, bolo tie, the whole ridiculous nine yards. He's Italian, or Serbian, so in other words, a zealot cowboy convert. He's behind an elaborate DJ mixing deck and amps, and behind him is the sea. OK, no: immediately there are boulders, and then the sea. Serbian Cowboy Guy is not actually doing anything to the mixing deck, or the amps. What he IS doing, is exhorting a thin blond person, an androgyne in a black nylon jumpsuit that says DJ in stylized Thompson Twins lettering, front and back. Open! Let the music in! The dancer/DJ is wearing thick headphones, connected to nothing but the sea air. There is no way he/she is hearing any of the cowboy's exhortations. There's only this weird deep dance, this sort of tectonic pulsing through the hips back & knees, limp mohawk flapping, feet rising and falling in the swim of riding the dance beat straight down the toilet, straight out to sea, straight to the middle of the earth.
And, God! The whole thing is massively silly & at the same time (& I recognize I write about this a lot), it is transcendent. Cowboy Man & the Sea & DJ Androgyne are getting into it with the Universe & with this song called Poison Lips, that owes a lot to Donna Summer. They are leaving a lot of baggage behind. They are stepping into and at the same time destroying role after role, without any sense of patrolling the edges of their artifice. I know, I see it's nonsense, and at the same time, I am moved.
I am moved by people turning up to dance to whatever playlist I cobble together from the Sea & the Mongol Hordes & the California yogaheads & all the scraps & tips & hunches that come visit at playlist time. People come & they dance. Sometimes they come & they wind up sobbing in the lobby, and that's OK. Once I'm engaged with the space in the middle of the earth, my job is to keep that connection open in the room & let it take the forms it will take or won't take, for each person.
One flies around the room in beautiful Broadway form, kicking and twirling with inexorable energy. One stomps deep enough to resonate through the hardwood floor through the basement & into the permafrost under the building. Two bop around like polite wedding guests. One re-finds her ballet training, and another is the gypsy of her pre-motherhood. The space is open. Come on in.
Dance music gets a bad rap - silly, frivolous, hedonistic, not as serious as "real" rock or jazz. But I think the real discomfort some people have with it is that a lot of dance music gives your thinking mind exactly zero to engage with, and demands, in a straight-down-the-toilet way, that you move your body. Dance music insists that you take the risk of seeing where your hips take you when your brain finally lets go of the reins, and you might not like that insistence. You might put up some aesthetic defense to protect yourself from being exposed in public, flailing around hips-first on a trip down the toilet.
Like anything, dance takes time and practice and trust. Last year, twice, I really hurt my knee, dancing with abandon. Some part of me mourned - how sad to be incapacitated, just when my self-consciousness has finally ebbed enough to throw myself wholly into movement. Following the best advice we could fine, my pup and I underwent twin knee surgeries, which meant no dancing for several months. I waited, nurtured, and listened. I gimped. And then one day I realized my knee was back online. I could spend an hour dancing on tip-toes, spinning, jumping, stomping, without pain. Initially my feet took a beating - puddling up in blood blisters & peeling back, but week by week I know this body is becoming a stronger and more resilient container for dance.
For me, dance doesn't stand in isolation. Tai chi helps to open, strengthen & stretch. It gives dragon-body, anchored to the ground, the better to sink and jump. It teaches to move energy fluidly while always coming from the center of the earth. Meditation opens the space of dancing - so the experience is not just this one constrained body moving - it's the room, the walls, everyone, the deep stillness at the heart of every movement.
I know it's in some sense deeply silly to sit at my laptop getting stiff-necked, writing about the wonders of being embodied. But there are experiences I want to give voice to, saying: the sacred and the silly are one. If you are hoping for the Kingdom of God, ride some slinky disco beat down the toilet. Go on. There's good company down there, and you won't ever have to worry about progress again.
Writing from a NH Spring that looks like sheets of ice and micro-spikes, I can feel the blood pulsing in my chest, and the anticipation of gathering the dance together tonight. I know nothing could be more essential to opening heart mind & body, here in this warm & active place, here in this winter without end, this quiet space, this noisy space.
Even as a child I knew - hearing Blondie waft up from the campground disco on the beach - that dance is part of what it means to move beyond the rules and limits and unsaid blocks of the world, and into something large & pliant, elegant and dangerous, welcoming and elusive. I leaned my cheek against the wooden slats of the sliding door and promised myself I would dance, when I could, as much as possible, in the dark.
I shake my joints loose.
I shake my patterns loose.
I become a black crow, a ronin, a storm.
Hair flying, moving awkwardly, moving gracefully, moving not to be seen but to be.
I'd Rather Be, says my friend Molly's minivan sticker.
Yes. I'd rather be.
I want people to see in this way what I see, which is the end of all silos, the seamless monument. How shall I remember you? asks the student. Build me a seamless monument, says the teacher, such that there are no unimportant people or places, no sacred & no profane.
Dance twits are like yoga twits, meditation twits, running twits, and diet twits. They don't help. There's no way to talk someone into dance-as-practice.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.
108 Names of Now