I am a dancer.
It only took me about forty years to realize that! Yet, when I think about it, it’s always been the case.
Since early childhood, I have loved to move in response to sound (including the sound of silence). Yet, because I never had formal training, and because when I would explore movement deliberately in a way that my body enjoyed, it never matched the forms I saw around me that were called dance, I was always sure that what I did was in some other category, something that “didn’t count.”
I have now been working with the Feldenkrais Method for five years. This work has re-awakened the sensations of pure joy in movement that I experienced as a young person through soccer, skiing, running and, yes, through the years, “dancing.”
I have often told people that I was “raised atheist.” Not only did I not go to church, but I grew up skeptical of anyone who did. But, as confident as I once was that my family’s “scientific” understanding of the world was the right one, something was missing, something today I might call “spirituality.”
And somehow I knew it. My solution was to tell myself: “music is my religion.”
One of my first religious practices was to turn off all the lights in my room, turn the music all the way up, close my eyes – and dance. Sometimes I danced so wildly that I even crashed into things. One of my favorite teenage “prayers” was the instrumental track “Any Colour You Like,” from Pink Floyd’s classic album, Dark Side of the Moon.
Ten and twenty years later, I still loved to move freely to music of every imaginable variety in the privacy of my home, but I rarely allowed myself to do so in public where others could see me.
Dancing where no one could see me . . . until now!
Yet, slowly I realized what it meant that the music moved me. Coordinating body movements with the rhythms and textures I heard made me feel more in tune with the sound and brought a freer feeling in my body. While still refraining from identifying as a dancer, I shared with musician and dancer friends an idea I had that had grown into a strong conviction.
“I think that dancing is the highest form of listening,” I would say.
But, although I took an introduction to dance course in college and was invited into creative movement experiences on various occasions over the years, my creative path instead became defined as a musician, composer and improviser. I played the stand-up bass, wrote music for small and large ensembles, and experimented with my voice, learning to throat sing, beatbox and experimenting with speaking in tongues. Eventually, I even invented my own imaginary language, Beeayboll, to recreate the musical pleasure I always derived from hearing foreigners speak a language that I couldn’t understand.
But later twists and turns in life, including a transformative trip to socialist Cuba, led me to drop my active involvement in music and become a social activist. During this period, I worked for nearly a decade in meat production facilities in New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. I learned to speak Spanish in factories where I was often the only English speaker. After work I marched against police brutality and deportations, for a woman’s right to choose, and in solidarity with workers on strike, among many other things.
I was no longer a performer, but music continued to live in my body. And as I worked with my hands, standing on my feet for eight hours (or more) per day, I began to rely more and more on rhythmic, musical movement to get me through the boredom of unvarying repetitive tasks.
I can remember some nights, working third shift in a provisioning house in NorthEast DC, cutting up bones on an electric band saw, jacked up on coffee and absolutely in the zone: generators whirring, my co-workers laughing, cursing, and singing in three different languages, and my fascination with the sequence of sounds and bodily movements involved in my job as I worked hour after hour with hundreds of pounds of product. Sometimes I smuggled a microphone into work to try to capture the experience, but the recordings were never the same as my direct bodily experience.
(But a couple times I even smuggled in a camera – yes, that’s me! Maybe this gives you some idea of the world of sound and movement I used to live in . . . and, sorry vegetarians!!)
But eventually, my factory experience would also run its course. Among other things, I was destroying my right shoulder, so I quit that line of work in order to move on to . . .
. . . something . . I wasn’t sure what!
Yeah, for a while there, I was a “lost soul.”
Eventually, I would find the Feldenkrais Method, the path I have followed until today, the discovery that began to weave together the disparate threads of my previous lives. That discovery was the result of a search that began with a very simple idea: that improving my life had something to do with improving my health.
In my final factory years, I began running regularly. But instead of thinking of this activity as “exercise” (which bored me to no end), I saw running as a laboratory where I could conduct musical experiments with my body. I used to count all kinds of different numerical patterns as I ran, using the asymmetrical durations to synchronize my breath to the rhythm of my feet on the ground in non-habitual ways. As time went on, I began to compose mental melodies that matched the number patterns in order keep track of the durations when I got sick of counting. This produced a new series of experiments where, for example, I got curious about differences in sensations that I felt when moving in relation to a high pitch vs. a low one.
(At one point, I described these experiments in detail in a lengthy three-part series of blog posts on a previous site. If you want to slog through it, please – be my guest: Part one . . . Part two . . . Part three )
Later, when I began to work with the Method, lying on the floor to do Awareness Through Movement lessons and doing hands on Functional Integration sessions with clients lying on my table, I understood everything I was doing in similarly musical terms. The sequences of movement explorations reminded me of musical compositions, and as I studied the experience of my internal sensations, I was always aware of bodily rhythms and a sense of whether or not I was in harmony with my movement or the person I was connecting with.
Today, I work with people from many walks of life, but it gives me special satisfaction whenever I can show someone that movement can be an expression of creativity.
And, regardless of whether one identifies as an “artist” or not, I believe that each one of us is naturally creative.
There was a time in childhood for each of us when walking and dancing were not so different than each other. Revisiting that sense of ourselves in a playful way as adults can often provide the key to unlocking rusty joints and routine patterns of thinking that limit our lives unnecessarily. And this is one of the central ideas of the Feldenkrais Method.
In the past year, I have become increasingly clear with myself about this focus of my practice. This is why it also makes more sense to me today to recognize my own joy in moving creatively and openly share it with others.
In the DC area, three wonderful safe spaces I have discovered where I can express myself this way are the Five Rhythms events led by Ann Kite, Ecstatic Dance led by Atticus Mooney, as well as the DC Contact Improv Jam, led by Ken Manheimer. (If you are a reader outside of DC, you can likely find something similar in your area by searching under these same titles).
The basic rules of most of these events are: no alcohol, no shoes and no talking on the dance floor. And, so long as you respect the right of everyone else to do the same, there are no rules – and no judgement – about how you “should” move.
So, If you feel a creative energy inside that you haven’t given the full opportunity to bring to life, I’d like to encourage you to come out to one of these events and see what happens . . .
If you want to experience how the Feldenkrais Method could help you deepen your experience of creativity in motion, I hope you’ll join me on the morning of Sunday February 26 at the Dance Loft (4618 14th St NW, 2nd Floor) for an Awareness Through Movement lesson to be followed by Ecstatic Dance. To receive the announcement for this event and others like it, you might want to join this Meetup group or sign up to receive my newsletter.
I’m also excited to be collaborating with local dance legend, Michelle Ava, founder of the Joy of Motion dance center, to offer a series of creative PLAY-shops where the Feldenkrais Method will often intersect with improvisational expressive movement. These events, on February 4, March 4, April 21 and June 23, are leading up to a collaborative multi-media performance at the Jack Guidone Theater on July 16, 2017.
(If you are a creative mover or musician and curious about getting involved, please send me an email: sethbdellinger [at] gmail.com)
If you prefer to explore your movement creativity on your own first (I still do that too!), I’d like to offer you one other way to do this. Since I have spent so much time collecting music that has, for me, the quality of inspiring movement, I recently decided to start creating playlists on YouTube to share some of my favorite tracks.
I have made four lists so far and there will be many more. The styles will vary a lot, but I will try to always give you with a thematic title and description so you can have some idea if you’d like to explore it or not. The first four lists, “Slow Build”, “Serenities”, “Can’t Stay Still”, and “Transporting” can all be found right here.
So please – don’t be afraid to move!!
Your creativity, no matter what form it takes, begins in your body, but it doesn’t have to stay trapped inside. Give it a chance to come out into the light of day!