Dance: My Panacea of Choice.
As a psychologist, I have signed up for an interminable quest to learn everything I can on the subject of human growth and healing of the heart, mind, and community.
One day, about five years ago, in the thick of my manuscript-ridden stupor of graduate school, my wisest teacher unexpectedly emerged. While I had immersed myself in textbooks, lectures, data, seminars, and conferences, my greatest revelation came where I least expected it: in the sweaty fervor of my Thursday night Afro-samba dance classes.
Most clichés contain some glaring, undeniable truth that compels us to repeat them over and over, no matter how obvious they seem. So, here I go, repeating the mantra that so many before me have uttered. Dance saved my life. It can probably save yours too.
Once you get past the front door of any dance studio, and into class, it’s merely a matter of moving with enough intensity and duration to override that self-conscious voice that stands between you and your deliverance. Not to be mistaken, it’s more difficult than it sounds. It could be that you become intimidated with self-comparison, like I sometimes do. Or the teacher lacks the warmth or inspiration to carry you through the class.
Perhaps you don’t like the music, movement, or the style of dance. There can be obstacles. But, ultimately, by the time you are done with the class, most people inevitably walk away convinced that this is some of the best medicine our world has to offer.
Those of you reading this, totally unconvinced, who might never imagine walking into a dance studio, who have been telling yourself that you don’t know how to dance (in the absence of alcohol and over-based club music), you are the exact people who would find the greatest healing from this most fundamental, affordable, and effective medicine.
For it is in those moments, when one insists on standing stoic and self-contained in the midst of a dynamic, ever changing world, that we are most vulnerable to mental and emotional fragmentation. Let’s take a cue from all the animals in the natural world that know the value of shaking it off. When life bombards us, when fear threatens to seize the body, our greatest power lies in our ability to release our burdens, advancing ever onward.
In a world full of computer screens and disembodied interactions, where everyone is simultaneously playing the role of the eavesdropper, the celebrity, and the stranger, dance is our perfect antidote. Dance requires only your fullest attention to your own body.
Having spent much of the last decade in a dance studio, I have witnessed countless transformations in the grown men and women who find humility, strength, and self-worth through dance. But there is never a simple path to transformation. Many begin terrified, many never get through the front door of a dance class. Many are carrying years of shame, inherited from our families, televisions, and computer screens.
We have somehow convinced ourselves that we are not the experts of our own bodies, that only real dancers have the right to this form of expression.
It does get easier the moment you stop trying to save face. If only you can allow your body to learn in its own way, getting stronger, more nimble, as you intuitively recall the language of movement that is your birthright. So long as you keep showing up to dance, whether it is at your local studio or just your vacant living room, eventually you will find yourself transformed by this practice.
Before you know it, you are paying more attention to the songs that coax and activate that natural, unabashed grooving.
Maybe you’ll be like me, and shift from downtrodden shoe-gazing to suddenly meeting eyes with your own reflection in the mirror. Maybe you’ll even find an uncontrollable urge to smile at her. Or better yet, one of these days you may find yourself dancing wildly, but directing your focus inward, glimpsing into that reservoir of joy and energy that Don Cornelius so eloquently identified as Soul.
It doesn’t take years of training, you don’t have to quit your day job, lose weight, or even point your toes. All you have to do is get out of your own way and let your body do what it naturally wants to do. Dance.
Dr. Arezou Ghane is a doctor of Health Psychology, dancer, aerialist, and founder of Auteur. Her work bridges her passions for the science of psychology and creative movement as tools for mental and physical well-being. Connect with her via Facebook or Instagram.