About a year and a half ago, I began blues dancing.
Like most people of my age and nerdiness, I had traumatic experiences in middle and high school that put me off ever exercising again, ever. I’d rather starve myself to be thin than join a gym and work for it. I took a yoga class in college, but daily sun salutations (or monthly sun salutations, which is what it turned into a few years later) don’t require other people, so I didn’t have to face the stares of trim regulars with rippling muscles. The most exercise I’d had in the years between college and blues dancing was running for the bus — which I could do at a slow pace for about a block.
Then, out of nowhere, someone I’d met through theatre was teaching a blues dancing class, and needed more follows. Assuming the gender binary inherent in partner dancing, I went. And I had a blast.
I haven’t kept up on my blues dancing, although it always makes me feel better when I get out and do it. It’s not that it makes me feel sexy, and unlike a lot of dancers I know, I actually don’t go specifically to meet people and flirt. It is a really sexy dance, but I’m happy with the number of lovers I have in my life right now, thank you. What I love so much about blues dancing is that it gets me in touch with a creative part of my brain that I rarely use.
This is also part of what encouraged me to take the Movement/Biomechanics class this summer.
Skip up to 00:57 to see the Throwing the Stone etude, which is what I learned in my movement class. Not the best version, but you can get the gist.
That class settled it. I could be physically creative — blues dancing wasn’t somehow confusing my lizard brain with cues screaming “sex sex sex!” that my frontal cortex then rationalized as creativity. I was, in fact, using an area of my brain that I didn’t normally use — one associated with physical creativity. Moving was making me more creative.
As an artist, this is incredibly valuable. This is why I am, as often as possible (which is pretty sporadic, unfortunately), going to butoh classes. And the power of my body and subconscious mind working in concert is consistently astounding.
I lost a little weight over the summer, but naturally I gained it back as soon as the wet season settled in. Rain makes me less inclined to move, since that often involves going outside.
Of course, understanding your body’s movement, its truly amazing agility, even if you don’t have much flexibility or strength, creates confidence. I’m finally catching up on Margaret Cho’s blog (she’s my favorite comedian!) and a couple of her posts about “Dancing with the Stars” caught my notice.
I think that this entire DWTS experience has forced me into my body and I am loving it. This is what people must feel like all the time. I don’t live in my body normally. It’s like there is a sign up, “Back in 5” – with a little clock equipped with movable hands, but I never actually come back. I live in a small space above, deep in my head, like I am renting the space but don’t own it. Well, it’s time to come downstairs.
It’s weird to be in your body. I usually try to escape it as much as I can. If I have to sit somewhere for a minute, I need a book or my computer or my blackberry or my ipod. When I am eating I want to watch TV. When I’m here, I want to be there. To me, ‘autopilot’ is ‘on.’ I can easily be tattooed for hours because I am not feeling it. I am not in me. Even when someone else is in me. Isn’t that sad?
I think a lot of us go through that. One of my cousins was a naturally active kid — he taught himself to do amazing tricks on his bike, but he earned several trips to the hospital for stitches in the process. I was never that kid. I was the kid who survived boredom and emotional emptiness with my imagination, which is a great refuge, but never totally satisfying. Social interaction is important too, of course, and social pressure from that interaction is what makes so many of us retreat into our heads in the first place. It’s a really terrible cycle. But I think it’s so important for all of us to have that link between our brains and our bodies, so that we can have that confidence once we grow up. And not just because confidence makes us sexy, but because confidence helps us go after what we want, and figure out what we’re good at.
Being a woman, I was also interested in Margaret’s post about unsolicited comments — she’d heard a lot about how good she looked since she was on DWTS.
It’s true, I have changed the way I have been eating and exercising, trying to stay in my body as much as possible, after having abandoned it time and time again for almost an entire lifetime, but I am not trying to lose weight, I am just trying to lose the feeling of being unconscious, trying to jump into my skin out of the ether every day, plunge into the depth of being. I feel that I deserve this, I owe myself the time and commitment it takes to be healthy. I am so sad and angry at my young self, because I was such a beautiful kid and I never appreciated it because I was convinced I was fat. Now I look back and see that I wasted so much time hating my body, when it was really truly lovely.
There’s no excuse for our culture’s focus on how we look. It is an unhealthy obsession that plagues all of us, and forces many women and gay men (including people I know) to do whatever it takes to force themselves into a shape they wouldn’t naturally have and that doesn’t suit them. This obsession makes our bodies our enemies, when our bodies are really part of who we are.
You can’t be human if you don’t have a body, and your body has so much more strength and talent than most of us give it credit for. You can’t be an artist without your body. You can’t be a lover without a body. You can’t really do much of anything without that lump of flesh that houses your brain. So you should do what you can to explore your range, to make your body better because it is part of who you are, not the deceptive and grotesque mask that makes people misread you.
This is an especially important topic for me as an artist, because it’s one of my tools (even if I’m not a performer). But I think it’s basically true of everyone. Our “selves” are divided — our minds from our bodies — and that’s not right. Our bodies do not exist for others to oggle, they exist to carry us through life. And they’re very interesting toys, instruments, and/or vehicles, depending on what the situation calls for, so we should use them, selfishly, as such, and screw what popular culture thinks.