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Reclaiming your inner dancer

Updated: Sep 28, 2023

Think about children. How much freedom they express with their bodies, spontaneously breaking into songs and dances, jumping up and down, spinning till they become dizzy and fall down. Screaming to be swung, tossed, lifted and flipped in the air. Begging their parents, DO IT AGAIN! DO IT AGAIN!

That was you once.

So what happened?

Ugh. Too much ‘Adulting’. Too many responsibilities. Too many stresses. Not enough time. Not enough money.

Really though? Is that really what happened?

Sure. There’s no question that lack of time and resources and too many responsibilities can get in our way of trying new things. But I suspect when it comes to dance or play what really got in the way, started long before you were an adult. It could have been the subtle or not so subtle messaging from our body shaming culture that you weren’t fit or slender or coordinated enough to dance? Or perhaps it was the forces of capitalism, colonialism and commodification that turned dance in to an elite practice that seemed to demand you be the right size, the right age or the right kind of person for. And as a result of all that messaging you felt rejected or simply lost interest, your inner dancer went dormant and you got on with ‘adulting’.

But what’s the truth?

Dancing? Playing? Feeling free in our bodies? This is just part of being a human. Truth is you are and you were always a dancer.

But maybe you already figured this out? Maybe you’re one of those brave souls that took yourself back to your dancing roots and signed up for a hip-hop class or ballet class for adults - just for the fun of it. If so, I’m celebrating you.

But what if I told you that dancing could feel even freer? And that there is a safe way to roll, slide, twist, bend, kick and jump just as joyfully as when you were kid? Sure, if you're 60 it won't look the same as when you were 6 – but it can feel just as liberating.

Since I was 19 years old I've been training in a dance practice called contact improvisation. It was the most complete training I could get that would allow me to master my craft as a professional dancer. And I was lucky, I had a rare opportunity in my hometown, Vancouver BC, to practice almost daily in the form at EDAM Dance. So for 30 years I practiced and practiced.

Eventually I started to realize (as most people who practice it do) that this was not just a dance practice, it was an awareness practice, a relationship practice, a community building practice… an embodied listening practice etc.

Why? Many reasons.

Firstly, because it’s experiential and improvisational – it’s an inclusive practice. Whoever is dancing it is creating their own version of it, each time, you could say. Secondly, much like Hatha yoga or martial arts, it’s a mind-body practice. A dance practice that draws your attention to what’s naturally occurring. You see, you don’t learn steps in front of a mirror, and mimic a teacher until you can ‘do the moves’ properly, like a traditional dance class. Instead, in a guided exploration you experience rolling, walking, running, slipping and spiralling around the room. You are encouraged to get curious about what you’re noticing in your own body. You get familiar with the movement pathways you already have – you bring awareness to how your body folds and opens, where it bends, where it doesn’t, you practice moving from up to down and side to side. Then, eventually, you make contact with another body. You lean in. Literally. You share weight. You learn (remember) the way two bodies bend, fold and coordinate together, and slowly you begin getting more proficient at the way you respond to the ‘information’ of touch, i.e. direction, weight, pressure, force and momentum. You learn how to trust what’s enfolding and your ability to respond to it – to be ‘response-able’ to it. You listen to what’s emerging and let the rest be. Before you know it, you’re moving free and uninhibited. You are dancing – and everyone and everything else is dancing in connection with you.

And to do it, you don’t have to be the right body type, the right gender, the right ethnicity – you just have to be you.

There is one condition though. You have to be brave.

You have to be brave enough to try something new and let go. Let go of control, the striving to ‘get it right’ and instead, surrender to the joy of play again.

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