The birds have been downright rowdy this week. It still looks and feels like winter, but the birds seem to think spring has arrived.
I went to Jacob Riis Beach today, as I have on countless Sundays since the start of the pandemic. Part of me wondered if it was time to let go of my weekly practice of dancing with the sea, to clear space for other, perhaps less solitary practices, possibly to make more space for activism and community action.
I had to keep the windshield wipers on the second highest setting on the way, and I wondered if it was worth getting cold and wet. I had faced bigger obstacles to dancing with the sea in the past, including snow, ice, sub-zero temperatures, and heavy winds. These challenges gave me the chance to choose practice again and again, to remind myself that practice means you do it consistently, even when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable. That’s when a practice really gathers traction. But I started wondering if all the heroics were really necessary.
Sometimes it’s time to soften and allow a practice to shift and change. The biggest clue is if it’s starting to feel rigid. Finding the right zone for a healthy practice is always a balance between giving up too easily, and clinging on too tightly.
Discipline is essential, but rigidity is death.
I made my way across the wet sand, noticing several species of birds – soaring, tottering along the beach, criss-crossing each other in the sky, screaming each other’s names, and bobbing on waves just past the breaks.
I gathered a few objects and bits of beach glass as I crossed the wide beach, shifting back and forth between looking down to panning the wide horizon.
I passed the spot where I had seen a snowy owl earlier in the winter, and scanned the dunes in case she was there again.
I used the objects I’d gathered to set up a small altar, then drew a giant circle around it with a long stick, and walked around it two more times, defining a space and setting the intention to listen on every possible level.
Beginning to move in Flowing, I wandered all through the circle I had created on the packed sand closest to the water. There was a slight incline and I let this help to pull me into circling, almost a kind of swooning. I noticed a slight pull of inertia, perhaps of general exhaustion, and kept bringing attention back into the sensation of the bottoms of the feet again and again. I softened and let in, pulled and swirled by any current that swept through. My feet felt curiously gentle, almost stealthy. I imagined that I was moving with the snowy owl, that she was teaching me to move through the woods at night, teaching me to see what is invisible to most eyes.
In the past I’ve associated the rhythm of Lyrical most strongly with spring, but lately I’ve been interested in exploring the staccato qualities of spring.
Spring isn’t just about joy for me. It’s also about action. It can feel like a damn of energy that breaks and then is gushing out everywhere – sometimes in the form of “spring fever.” It can also be the push toward light that comes after a long period of waiting, contemplating, and gathering strength in darkness. It can be very directed.
Even so, when I’m dancing alone, sometimes the spark of Staccato is slow to ignite. Today I moved through a body parts practice, beginning with the feet, then the knees, hips, spine, head, shoulders, and arms. For each body part, I experimented with internal and external rotation. I saved the elbows for last, knowing they could lead me directly into Staccato.
Given the rain and chilly weather, I was mostly alone so I could sing, growl, coo, and groan as much as I wanted to. Today I found definition, engagement, format. Partway through Staccato, I noticed a person in a yellow raincoat watching me from far away. Soon a lone walker crossed the top of my circle, too. I tried to avoid eye contact and dug deeper, cutting and stepping back across myself, staving off Chaos until I could again be alone.
I thought back to an in-person class I had attended the previous week, and of all the new ways of moving I brought into the group dance. I had found a new way to shake my head free, sinking low and finding the flinging momentum of diagonals. I brought it into the studio, and it visited me again on the beach today. In Chaos I also tottered downhill, skittering at the edge of balance, and hopped from side to side until the rush of manic chaos whipped me into wild spinning again.
Lyrical passed like a patch of sun moving across the sand and expanded the spaces between my ribs. Then I moved in Lyrical Stillness for a long time, with whispering feet – interior space merging with exterior space.
I think I will keep this practice for now, but perhaps hold it a little more lightly to make space for new possibilities and new priorities. To make room for the coming spring and all that it offers.