I had to pull over to take pictures. The entire hillside outside the rear fence of the Brooklyn Botanical Garden was covered with tiny purple crocuses, almost blurring completely together.
Spring is actually happening. It’s like how I feel about singing. For so long, I couldn’t sing at all. It was clipped, awkward, soundless. But now this miracle happens. I open my mouth and sound comes out and it’s a song. It might not be perfect, but it’s alive. In much the same way, spring trots out, inevitable and miraculous at once.
I feel like the entire past year has been winter.
The pandemic isn’t over, and in fact the more virulent new strains of coronavirus are extremely concerning, and may even be impacting people who have already been vaccinated. People who are close to me have recently tested positive, and I’m praying hard for their swift and complete recovery.
And yet, the earth is coming back to life, irrepressible ebullience in every corner and urban hillside.
Yesterday I went running and paused not far from home. Drums. I danced on the sidewalk, then decided to follow the sound. It was a latin collective, with a drummer and standup bass, throwing down on the sidewalk. Scores of people were smiling, eating, and dancing. I sidled close to the band and danced too, stepping back hard and sinking into the hips. Their set ended and I continued on my run, feeling grateful to be alive, grateful for spring, and grateful for my home, Brooklyn, New York, where you can go for a run and find drumming and dancing, and be right at home, dancing amongst total strangers.
Today I danced with the sea. For months, I’ve bundled up in parka coat, snow pants, ski gloves, balaclava, boots, and thermal underwear to dance with the sea at Jacob Riis Park. Today, I needed only a few layers.
Given the lovely March day, the beach was crowded.
Instead of crossing the wide beach directly to water, I made my way down the wide paved boardwalk, hoping to find a little more solitude. Instead, there were people as far as I could see, so being alone, like I was during the the frigid temperatures of deep winter when the parking lot was in deep snow and snow even covered the beach, was simply not available.
The tide was maximum high, leaving me a relatively small dance floor of packed sand. I put my bag and coat down where it was safe from the waves, took off my shoes, and moved into Flowing. I started by rocking side to side, syncing breath and movement, letting the divine smell of the ocean in, letting more and more breath in, and finding weight and momentum. Before long, my rocking found a curve and I began to move in circles. At times, the soles of my feet were cold. I let the swaying pull of the ocean lead me, and found myself pushed and pulled, casting downhill, dropping and turning, attentive to the sea’s magnetic forces.
This went on for so long, this attentiveness to pushing and pulling, to curving and dropping, to forces shifting direction. I used to think I would maybe stay in Flowing all day and never move into Staccato, but now I know the wave just unfolds in its own time.
As anyone who dances the 5Rhythms well knows, once Flowing is well founded, Staccato is likely to naturally arise. And soon, I was breathless, dropping and cutting, finding direction and expression. The packed sand I could move easily on was relatively narrow, so I was closer to the waves than usual, sometimes dancing at the very edge, moving along it diagonally, dancing back into my hips, then dropping, changing direction and moving forward.
I noticed a new detail – the saturation line. There was the edge of the ended wave being pulled back into the sea, and right behind it this saturation line, where the sun still reflects on the wet sand before the water is fully absorbed. When I stepped below the saturation line, it felt cold. Above it was totally bearable. In Staccato, I paid careful attention to this jagged saturation line, sometimes below it and sometime above it, noticing the vast difference in temperature on the soles of my bare feet.
When Staccato emerged the energy of movement grew more lively. A staccato song I love replayed in my mind, and before long I was leaping and pausing, leading with my knees and elbows, and finding new ways to express spring’s enlivened vigor, still very engaged with the sea’s edges, sometimes casting down and backward, uphill, stepping across, then moving up and into open gestures with legs extended and hands outstretched.
When Chaos finally started to emerge, it felt like relief. I had long given up on the baseball hat and now released my head further, tossing it at the end of a big gesture starting in the hips and curving, folding front and back and side to side, coiling and twisting through the spine and throughout my entire body.
I didn’t growl or scream-cry as much as I did in the dead of winter when I was often a lone dancer on a frozen beach, but the mild weather and bare feet made up for the lack of privacy.
In Lyrical, the section of packed sand that made up my dance floor opened into endless space, the sky, the horizon, the seabirds soaring over with great racing shadows, and the wide open beach. I moved with all of it, slowly transitioning into the whispering feeling of Stillness, where all sound meets and drops out together as no sound, one great booming tone from deep in the belly of the sea.
It feels like it’s been winter for over a year – a time of turning in, introspection, reflection, adversity, and challenge. And although COVID is still wreaking havoc, the emergence of spring this year brings me some sense of optimism and motivation.
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
The car’s thermometer said it was 18° Fahrenheit. It didn’t seem that cold, but it definitely wasn’t a busy day in the park.
Today was a holiday for my work but not for my just-turned-11-year-old son Simon’s school so I had the day to myself. I considered doing some work and handing personal red tape, but my body was vibrating, wanting to move. Sitting at the computer was the last thing I wanted to do.
I pulled ski pants on over heavy leggings, put on wool socks, a heavy army-green coat with a hood, boots, and a hat, then packed a balaclava, ski gloves, and extra socks. I didn’t doubt that it would be frigid at the beach, where I was headed.
Since the start of the pandemic New Yorkers have gotten much heartier when it comes to cold. Soccer practice is still happening in the park, brave diners are gathering with friends on snowy outdoor restaurant patios, and kids are chopping up playgrounds that would normally be deserted when the temperatures take a dive – it’s not just me who’s been pushing my limits.
This year, I’ve been dancing with the sea a lot, including in light rain, snow, and in extreme cold like today. It’s actually become a practice of its own, and has allowed me to deepen my relationship with the ocean, and by extension with the depths of myself.
Arriving at Riis Park to the south of Brooklyn, I was surprised to find the gate to the massive parking lot barred and the lot in significant snow. It’s normally open owing to a year-round golf course that you enter from the beach walkway. I was able to drive in through the exit, and there was a narrow, plowed corridor down the mile-long, mile-wide parking lot, so I drove along it, stopping briefly to ask the operators of the only other vehicle there – an official NYC van – if parking would be ok or if I would be towed.
This was the most deserted I’ve ever seen it. I stuffed what I needed into the pockets of my coat and zipped the car keys in, then headed toward the water. To my surprise, even the beach was in deep snow. I’m not sure why I didn’t expect that, but it looked like difficult going. Instead of walking straight across the wide beach, I made my way along the cleared boardwalk to gain easier access.
As I stepped off the walkway onto the deserted beach, two officers who were leading morgan horses approached. I tightened, assuming I would be told I had to leave the beach. “Can you take a picture for us, please?” a female officer requested. I agreed and she introduced me to the horse, smiling. Both officers and the horses stood handsomely posing, the sun in their eyes and smiles broad. Handing the camera back, I took off quickly, still imagining they might decide to send me away.
The beach was a vast white expanse. During the winter, workers make little mountains of sand, presumably to protect the boardwalk structures from being pummeled by winter storms. These man-made dunes were also covered with snow, with patches of beige sand poking through at the top.
The tide was high and the waves were crashing ferociously, but there was still enough packed sand for a dance floor. I took off a glove to answer a call from a 718 number – hoping it wasn’t a tow truck operator in the parking lot calling because of the note I’d left on the dashboard, “Pretty Please don’t tow! Call and I’ll come right away if you need me. Just at the water’s edge.” My hand got cold, so I put the glove back on and spun my arm quickly around the shoulder, using a skier’s trick to bring blood into the fingertips.
I knew I had to get moving or get cold, so I started to circle, in heavy boots and the big winter jacket tight around me with extra gloves and wool socks tucked into my pockets.
Today Flowing was sensual, despite these encumbrances. I dropped my weight low and let myself be pulled by the ended waves that were washing back into the sea. I patiently circled up a sandy incline, then circled back down it, feeling the weight of gravity – my own core feeling its home with the core of the earth, pulling me toward it, magnetic, dense, bringing me low, in sinewy gestures and arcs.
My feet were wide awake today despite the boots and heavy socks; and I kept bringing attention to the sometimes minute shifts of angle and pressure on the soles of my feet that gave rise to every other movement; and I surrendered all of me to these tender moving feet.
Before long, my hands felt warm. I took off the heavy coat and placed it on the sand close by.
Feeling lighter, I tracked the receding waves and the waves that arrived to counter them, dipping low and reversing the circle as a wave pulled back out, sideways.
I told myself that if I wanted to stay in Flowing all day, that was just fine. That there was no need to force or to rush. That I could be patient and let the body show me its truth.
Staccato began in tiny hits, then fell back away to Flowing again and again. I moved through my body parts in Flowing then came around to the elbows, and enticed myself into the rhythm of Staccato, before long involving the tail bone, the entire spine, and releasing the head so it wouldn’t stop the powerful through-gesture of the body.
I brought attention to a hovering wave and the moment when it gathered itself up and reached its full expression before crashing apart. And again, thinking of drawing energy in, and then of holding, of containing the energy in a certain part of the body, of a wave taking full form before letting it cast down the other side and leave my body again, finding it in my gestures.
I’ve often felt the impulse to stave off Chaos – a place I am very comfortable – when I first start to feel it, but as I write I find new language for why. Holding energy in Staccato and letting it find form is a way to work with power, a way to conduct energy, to build systems, to bring things into being. Gabrielle Roth, the founder of the 5Rhythms practice, said, “It’s not like you’re just flinging yourself into the beat!”
Finally letting it blow itself to bits as I began to spin and dip and blind myself with motion was a sigh, and the dramatic, crashing ends of waves came to my field of attention.
Though I was sure there were no other cars in the entire gigantic parking lot, a lone person came striding up the beach. I was once again sure it was a police officer and that I was busted, so I avoided eye contact, hoping in some way to hide on the open beach.
Lyrical had already been tempting me, and I walked right into her arms, expanding my radius while trying to avoid eye contact with the passerby, who no longer appeared to be a police officer. Relieved, I briefly performed for this other lone beachgoer, leaping into the edges of myself, prancing and smiling as she passed without looking back.
Soon I passed through the rift of Stillness, scanning the horizon for 360 degrees, sensing the ocean’s deepest densest places, and seeing the thick darkness outside of the protective rim of sky blue that gives us breath.
I couldn’t move slowly for long without cold taking me over, so I made my way, pausing to climb one of the sand dunes and survey the beach before heading back up the boardwalk to the car.
I drove home, feeling full and grateful.
I toyed with the idea of working or writing for a few hours, but knew before I parked how I wanted to spend the rest of this precious day.
Pausing only to wash my hands and take off my winter clothes, I created a playlist, adding a few songs I’d heard on traditional radio during the car ride home from the beach.
And I danced for at least two more hours, pressing and flipping myself into the wooden floor ground, growling, finding form and release, sinking deep into the hips, delighting in Flowing’s sensuality, delighting in Staccato’s ebullient expression, delighting in the sheer power of Chaos, and lifting off in Lyrical, for song after song after song.
I thought I was alone and that my roommate had left during a dark, wild, 150 bpm chaos song, but he saluted me on his way back from the bathroom as I picked up a microphone and plaintively sang a Lyrical Stillness tune, a song that made my heart ache.
Self-consciousness paused me, but only briefly, as I continued to move in Lyrical and in Stillness.
My computer battery died and ended the music, so I sat down to write, grateful to have physically exhausted myself for the first time in weeks, grateful to the 5Rhythms and to Gabrielle Roth, its creator, for opening the world to me. I was also grateful to myself for showing up, for being self-generating, and for finding new capacities, even as we face obstacles, even as the pandemic slowly starts to leave our bodies, and in many ways slowly begins to release us.
February 12, 2021, Brooklyn, NY
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
Today I danced a clean wave.
A wave – in the 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation practice, that’s when we move through each of the five rhythms: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness – might feel heavy, spastic, reluctant, spacious, inspired, cathartic, precise, or any other way.
Today it felt clean.
The heat stopped working in my car yesterday, and I debated if I wanted to go to the beach to dance – a personal practice that has emerged in recent months – in such frigid temperatures. I was afraid I would be uncomfortably cold when I arrived, cold on the beach, and cold when I got back into the car to drive home.
Since the start of the pandemic, many of us have gotten a lot heartier about cold. All over Brooklyn, friends are posted up dining at plein air restaurants, kids are playing outdoor soccer in January, and people are meeting up on park benches to laugh and commiserate together.
I put on my son Simon’s bib snowpants, a heavy coat, balaclava, winter hat, wool socks, and ski gloves and made my way.
Arriving at Riis Park Beach, the wind was strong at my back as I headed across the vast beach to the water. The tide was extremely low, and the water was unusually calm, with the waves moving almost parallel to the beach. I was delighted that this revealed a huge section of packed sand – a much larger dance floor than usual.
Beginning to move in Flowing, I noticed that it was easier than usual to let go of thoughts as they arose and drop my weight down, settling the body as the slope toward the water pulled me into circling. I felt dragged by the ending waves, as they too were pulled by gravity, and I dipped and curved with the waves’ contours. In my heavy coat, my arms looked stiff in the shadow cast on the sand, so I unzipped the coat and softened my shoulders, allowing the arms to rise, fall, and circle along with the rest of me.
Often when I dance with the sea, it takes a really long time for Staccato to spark, if it comes at all, but not so today. A staccato song I love came to my head and I played with the energy of it, though the only soundtrack was my own breath and the gently lapping waves. A seagull came close, standing on the strong wind with her wings up, probably hoping I would toss out some Taquis or french fries or something. Birds don’t usually bring Staccato to my mind, but this one was literally suspended in a pause ten feet from me, eying me directly, in my mind wanting to connect. I dropped into my hips and played with her, moving my own elbows and shoulder blades, open to her message, willing to share mine.
After this spike of Staccato, I sank back into Flowing again – the river under every rhythm – with a deeper ability to luxuriate in circling.
I took off the heavy coat and put it down on sand. The wind kicked it over, also picking up little rivers of sand, looking like the ancient spirits who were accidentally released in the 80’s adventure movie Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Before long Staccato came back and I beamed, playing with small, tight movements then bursting overtures, before long adding crossovers, stepping one leg back across the other and leaping into spin, crossing one arm over the other and finding a descending angle with a hip sharply to the side. As I turned the planes of my body, there was a precise fulcrum when the wind faced one side of me, then shifted onto the other side of me as I turned.
I noted a man walking two big furry dogs a short distance away, and a family with two kids on top of the sand hills that the beach rangers erect in winter to protect the park buildings from being battered.
This distant potential audience gave me a tiny push to get bigger, and I shifted into a relaxed Chaos. I expanded to a wider radius, noticing rolls of Lyrical, drops back into Staccato, and the easy, sustainable momentum of a patient Chaos that’s fueled by both the underground river of Flowing and the heat of Staccato.
Chaos with a flavor of Stillness visited, as I raised my eyes to the horizon and followed a soaring bird with my gaze and gesture.
By now I was sweating and breathing heavily, but there was no sense of exertion.
Lyrical emerged right on cue, taking me to an even wider radius, casting me down and up again. A tiny bird scurried by and I followed her, sinking low and shimmying my hips along the edge of the water, then leaping up into the fingertips and stretching my chest with each soaring opening of the arms, one at a time, then both, casting down and rising up, extending into the farthest reaches of me without dropping my weight, relying on a different kind of balance.
Stillness called me; and I felt the sea’s depths and the wide horizon. I closed my eyes and moved with wind and breath. I emerged on the other side of this wave feeling cleaned out, and ready for the next wave.
January 24, 2021, Brooklyn, NY
(Image from bridgeandtunnelclub.com)
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
Today I danced with the sea.
I seriously bundled up with a heavy coat, sweater, wool socks, ski gloves, and hat since the last time I danced at the beach it was frigid. But to my surprise it was relatively mild. I was able to dance in just a sweater, and before long I also took off my gloves.
The week has been another rollercoaster. During the work day, I usually ignore news, so on Wednesday it wasn’t until 4pm when I turned on the radio that I learned that a mob of white nationalist Trump supporters who refused to accept the results of the US democratic election had invaded and looted the US Capitol building, in an act of terrorism and insurrection.
It was only later that I learned that Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff both won runoff races for Georgia’s two Senate seats, shifting the balance of power in the Senate to the democratic party. But this was even bigger.
Before the election the two Republican Georgia Senate incumbents joined forces, one of them saying, “We are the firewall. Not just for the Senate, but the future of our country.” No one misunderstood what they were trying to say.
Georgia, like most of the US, has a history of suppressing the votes of Black people to shore up white supremacist power, through a host of mechanisms. Leaders like Stacy Abrams and legions of activists went all out to analyze and combat voter suppression tactics. These tactics include the propagation of false narratives that certain people’s votes don’t matter. But Black voters turned out in droves, proudly cast their votes, and had a massive impact on national politics, in the process dealing a blow to white nationalism.
Like many, I expected that Trump supporters, stoked by his racist rhetoric and ongoing lies, would resort to violent action. There is a debate about whether he has amplified white nationalism or if he has just brought it out of the shadows, but for his supporters to actually take over the US Capitol, for the National Guard to be so slowly dispatched, for lawmakers to be huddling in fear, and to watch gleeful terrorists ransacking desks and cavorting through the halls of the US Capitol, at least one brandishing a confederate flag, and the lynching platform they erected outside, was horrifying. And perhaps the most bitter pill of all, the knowledge that they got into the Capitol, when people looking a different way than white would never have made it up the steps, and would likely have been shot on sight if they had entered and tried to ransack the Capitol.
I listened to the ongoing coverage, dismayed, and at once furious that Americans who are happy about the historic outcome of the Georgia Senate races – like me and like the people who worked tirelessly on the campaigns and who dared to hope that their vote mattered, and then found out that it really did – didn’t even get one day to celebrate.
I had been dancing all week, but was eager to bring this matter to the sea.
The tide was rising but there was still a wide section of packed sand to move on. I settled in, also removing my shoes and dancing in my knee-high, polka dotted wool socks.
There were barely clouds and the sky was endlessly blue.
I turned my attention to the waves, feeling especially the pull-back of ended waves, and the pull of gravity as it drew my body down the sandy inclines and into circles and loops. I thought about a book I’m working on and different phrases and ideas drifted by, occasionally catching hold for a brief time, then dissolving again with the ending waves.
I really settled in, wishing I was totally alone but avoiding eye contact with passing beach strollers, at least during this period of settling the body.
One thing I love about dancing with the sea is that there is no external soundtrack telling me what to do with my body, no external prompting. It is just me, and I can be as patient or as manic as I need to be. On this day, I felt like I could stay in Flowing for a very long time, sometimes attending to gravity, feet, and circling; and sometimes shifting attention to the ocean to inspire my weighted gestures, breathing its power in, letting its lowing depths sigh right through me.
Staccato sparked when it was ready, reminding me to move my truth, to speak my truth. I thought the book I’m writing was going to be about teaching mindfulness to teens. In the chapter map, there was one chapter dedicated to racial justice and reparations, and I knew racial justice would make its way into other chapters, too. But when I sat down and started to write, the book tore itself out of me. I wrote seven chapters in seven days between Christmas and New Year’s Day. And as it turns out, much of the book is about racial justice and injustice, white supremacy, and oppression, and what I hope are ways to combat these complex, interconnected systems, on the granular, implementation level of an individual classroom.
I’ve been on fire and in agony, contending at once with my own complicity, my own white privilege, and contemplating my small trajectories of activism and how to amplify them.
Staccato came and went, shifting before long into Chaos. I took off my hat and placed it uphill with my coat and sneakers so it wouldn’t fall off and go tumbling into the icy sea. I let my head flail around, getting an eyeful of sun, then seeing red afterimages everywhere I tossed my spinning gaze.
The only Lyrical that seemed likely to emerge was in tiny pockets inside Chaos. I could already feel Stillness pulling me and accepted its invitation.
Just when I’d accepted that Lyrical might not fully emerge, I shifted fully into it, opening up my radius, rising onto my toes, rolling my arms high and out, beaming with my face toward the blue sky. I stayed in Lyrical and in Lyrical Stillness for a long time, whisper dancing, and at last coming to a grounded stop, feeling the vast horizon, the endless curve of the sky, and the mysteries of the ocean’s depths.
Gazing outward, preparing for the work ahead.
“History will rightly remember today’s violence at the Capitol, incited by a sitting president who has continued to baselessly lie about the outcome of a lawful election, as a moment of great dishonor and shame for our nation.” – President Barack Obama
January 10, 2021, Brooklyn, New York
(image from dw.com)
Dancing near the humble Scantic River today, language rolled through me.
Out on a run, I was drawn to a smooth beach, its surface wrinkled with recent currents. It had poured on Christmas and nearly a foot of snow had melted in a single day of warm temperatures, and the river had overwhelmed its usual path. The water had since receded significantly, leaving me this perfect dance floor.
I began to move in the rhythm of Flowing, using the shore’s incline to pull me into circles. At the edge of the water, the frozen mud gave slightly, making a subtle crackling sound.
My ten-year-old son, Simon, and I are staying with my parents for two weeks over the holidays, on a short hiatus from our lives in Brooklyn, where fears about COVID continue to impact our lives significantly.
Being pulled along in the direction of the river, I rose up onto a walking path where it was easier to see the surface of the water. I observed that although the main gesture of the water is pressing in a curving line toward the sea, there are infinite sub-gestures. The closer to the edges, the more coils and eddies and interruptions.
I let this be my musical score, dropping my hips low to spin and loop back, catching the drift of a different current, slowly making my way by curving around fallen trees to greater space on the other side, then getting caught inside another eddy where I whirled for who-knows-how-long before a floating branch came by and shifted me out of my spin.
I reflected on the passing year. On the slow crushing roll of the pandemic and the toll it has taken, on families, on communities, and on the fact that it has killed nearly twice as many people of color as white people. I reflected too on the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubery and so many others, and on the protest movements these events have catalyzed. I thought about Simon and his learning pod, a group of four students who meet every day to learn and connect, and of the many challenges of establishing and sustaining this construct. I thought about the six months Simon and I spent living with my parents, of our thriving vegetable garden, of dancing every day in the woods or the yard, and of our nightly dinners, where all four of us lingered long after the food was eaten, talking about social justice and its despicable enemies and challenging each other’s assumptions. I thought about washing floors every day, opening boxes with gloves, masks, alcohol pads, facial shields, and hand sanitizer. I thought about teaching remotely and the challenges and insights it has brought. I thought about sleepless nights and then the explosion when Joe Biden was declared the winner of the US presidential election, when I personally went bananas, and New York City exploded with a brief interlude of unbridled, uncaged, untethered joy.
Flowing, I knew that whatever language came I could watch with curiosity as it passed through my mindstream. That there was no need to write it then or to try to capture it, that whatever arose that was needed would still be there later, when it was time to write.
I smiled, remembering a canoe trip during summer 2020 on this same river with Simon and my father, where we encountered obstacle after obstacle, but were able to work through them, a relief after so many grueling months of daunting uncertainty and countless challenges.
Staccato touched me between the river’s undulating coils, decisive expression arising periodically, then settling me back into circling. It took some time to notice that I was in Chaos, coming so quietly today as it did. I spun and dipped with bits of stories, a softly released head, fragments to write later like bits of broken mirror, watching bits of psyche flash by in the process.
A creative project that knocked at my door for years has found its voice in me, and I’ve been swimming in it for the last several days, in the process of giving birth despite periodic, crippling self doubt and anxiety.
Lyrical had me rising up onto a slight incline, arms raised high and moving around a bigger radius.
Stillness brought me back to the river, and to every river, feeling its currents pass all the way through my body. I remembered another time when I danced with the majestic Hudson River near Garrison, New York. I was on a meditation retreat, and still made time to practice the 5Rhythms every day. On this day, I was going through the motions, uninspired, until something in the river beckoned me, moved me into a different space entirely, dancing with the cool, black density of the river’s deepest channels.
May you thrive in 2021 and always.
May you give and receive many gifts.
And may your river carry you to freedom,
In every way imaginable.
December 30, 2020, Broad Brook, Connecticut
I was meditating when I heard horns honking and loud yelling. At first I thought it was teenagers playing around. But it wasn’t just coming from just one place, but from all over.
I picked up the phone and searched “election results 2020” and blinked. I had checked hundreds if not thousands of times between Tuesday and Saturday. On Tuesday, as results rolled in, my body grew tense, and I curled up into a ball on the couch, struggling even to respond to the questions of my ten-year-old son, Simon. Waking on Wednesday, I took a deep breath as I picked up the phone, terrified of a repeat of 2016 when I woke to a surprise election upset and a national nightmare for many, myself included. This time, votes in several key states were still being counted, and a nation bit its nails and tossed in its sleep for days.
But now Biden was finally over the needed 270 electoral votes to win the presidency! I ran to the living room, where Simon was playing a video game with his friend. “It’s over! Biden won! Biden is the next president!” Both kids jumped up and joined me in dancing and jumping around the room.
We set out shortly after to meet friends in Prospect Park. I stopped at a corner liquor store, “Do you have any champagne left in this place?” I joked. “It’s a good day today,” the shopkeeper answered, beaming.
We drove down Washington Avenue, beeping enthusiastically at every car and passerby. Every time someone beeped, a host of horns responded, and a cheer went up. I caught the eye of a woman at a stoplight in the opposite direction, and we both started beeping, cheering, smiling, giving the thumbs up sign, and bouncing up and down. Someone zoomed by on a bike, rattling a cow bell.
I kept thinking how powerful it was that Simon and his friend were experiencing all of this.
Traffic was heavy and there were street closures, but for once I didn’t care at all.
We found a parking spot near Grand Army Plaza. A band was playing and a huge crowd had assembled. We paused to dance before moving on to meet our friends in Prospect Park.
The main lawn in the center of Prospect Park was more crowded than I have ever seen it. The weather was warm and the sky was clear. People were dressed joyfully, some in glitter and bright colors. An Uncle Sam wandered by, and a Statue of Liberty. There were open champagne bottles on many picnic blankets.
We found our friends before long and immediately opened the champagne (and kid-friendly fake wine) and shared a toast. It was too crowded for soccer or other sports, but the kids began to rove and wrestle.
Joy swept the park in waves. A cheer would start and then swoop across the entire big lawn. When a new friend arrived I ran to them, threw my hands up into the air, yelled with joy, and in some cases threw pandemic-caution to the wind and hugged them. I kept filling people’s cups with champagne, and often it bubbled over the top of the small plastic cup.
Someone wheeled a speaker into the middle of the park and started a dance party. I moved toward it along with another parent friend, throwing my arms up and dropping my hips low. A small child started breakdancing, so we opened a dance circle in the middle of the action and clapped and cheered for him. I couldn’t resist, and jumped into the center after he got tired, taking the opportunity to express effusive, uncontainable joy. Others stepped in after, and I cheered and jumped and held space for each of them.
A Black man I’m very close with shared a glimmer of hope, then bitter disillusionment, believing that a new leader would likely mean more of the same broken promises and hollow politicking.
I watched the video of Black Emmy Award winner and CNN contributor Van Jones fighting back tears and speaking with heaving words, of how much this election means, of what it means for so many people. “Well it’s easier to be a parent today,” he sobbed. “It’s easier to be a Dad. It’s easier to tell your kids character matters,” he said, wiping tears with a tissue from under his glasses. “It’s vindication for a lot of people who have really suffered,” he managed to get out, with considerable pauses, attempting to control his powerful emotions.
The next day, Sunday, I danced again.
This time it was at Henya Emmer’s 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation class outside in Battery Park.
I arrived early, eager to move with new possibilities, and to release the toxins of four painful years.
I had attended Henya’s class in Battery Park three times already, so I knew exactly where to go, just to the East of Castle Clinton, and West of the Staten Island Ferry terminal. The site is a round, paved area in view of the harbor and Statue of Liberty, with trees curving overhead, and the tall buildings of lower Manhattan not far behind the trees.
As with the previous day, the weather was unseasonably warm and pleasant.
The class is silent-disco-style, which means each person wears a pair of headphones that pick up the teacher’s music and microphone. Before I even picked up headphones to tune into Henya’s music and teachings, I began a wild, joyful jig with a friend, to the music of some street performers who were installed nearby.
A friend I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic appeared. She had battled a serious illness but is now recovering. “Are you ok with a hug?” She asked and a sob ripped my throat as we embraced tightly.
Putting on the official headphones, I found Henya’s music subdued at first. I really wanted to let the bubbles overflow, and periodically removed the headphones to dance to the music of the street performers. I recognized the importance of slowing down and finding ground, though, and reflected that I was lucky I hadn’t hurt myself or anyone else, that for the last 24 hours I had been in Chaos-Lyrical without much sense of ground.
I continued to move in and out of dancing to the street performers’ music, and moving with the group.
I spent some time stretching, hesitant to put my hands on the ground in this era of Covid, but finally settling in, sinking low inside my hips and finding weighted balances as I moved my biggest muscles into stress to protect them from later injury.
I was a little concerned about my knees on the concrete surface, so moved beyond the edge of the circle to a soft gravel surface, where I could move with more abandon.
I went into the circle again, and joined with one friend who was visibly moved. We both vocalized, moving with grief, rage, and joy. I briefly wondered what it seemed like to Henya and passersby, but did my best to put it out of my head. In the past, I had been hesitant about vocally expressing the depth of emotions, but today that was not the case.
I thought about what it was like when President Obama was elected. When the streets in Brooklyn were streams of dancing bodies, when I cried for days. When we danced in a 5Rhythms class a few days after his election, the entire room was three feet from the ground. It was the most powerful collective joy I had ever experienced. I wasn’t even sure I could stay with it. It was almost too much for me.
This weekend had the same quality of shared, wild, uncaged, roving joy, of release, of relief, of surrender.
For now, though, I worked against my ebullience, and settled into the attenuated, low grooves that Henya served up. As she moved us through attention to various body parts, I lost self-awareness and time, sometimes nearly closing my eyes. A chemical release seemed to be taking place, filling my senses with an odd electrical feeling, and I just kept moving.
I spent the majority of the class on the soft, gravel surface, but moved repeatedly into the paved circle and the larger group, connecting joyfully with everyone who would meet my eye.
After this low, slow start, Henya shifted us gently into Staccato. I played with my knees, the weight of my shoulders and diagonally-arranged upper body, my elbows.
Many passersby stopped to watch or take pictures of the group, to the point that the street performers had to work hard to bring attention back to themselves. “It’s ok to show off your moves,” Henya said into the mic and into our headphones with a tone of humor. One dancer offered his headset to a woman who was sitting on a bench and she jumped in and threw down.
Staccato came and went for me between 2016-2020. It was incredibly variable. Today, I felt energized and competent. My little gravel patch made me very visible to onlookers, and it gave me just a tiny extra edge of energy and creativity. I ranged back and forth, side to side, finding many different ways to step on the beat, and using pauses and suspensions for maximum impact.
In Chaos, I went all out. I moved in a snarling matrix at times, at times moving with aerial changes, finding beat shifts with my knees, ankles, and feet in the air while soaring in an overarching, directional gesture. Sinking low, I took off the headset and flung my head–the end of a train that started with my coiling feet, sacrum, and spine.
Grief and joy ripped through my throat throughout the class, but especially in Lyrical. I left my little patch and joined the larger group. I danced with the recovering friend who I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic, then leaned toward her, pointed to myself, then to her, nodding, silently saying, “I follow you!” She understood and playfully led me throughout the dance floor. After a while, I pointed to me then to her, saying “You follow me!” and she knew exactly the game, her eyes glittering as she chased me around bodies, keeping her eyes on me as I dipped and turned, playfully eluding her then falling within her reach.
Henya played the Leonard Cohen’s gravelly version of Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah,” and many of us sang the Hallelujahs out loud. I moved through, feeling energetically porous, not separate from any other person.
Sunset turned New York Harbor orange and pink.
Henya called our attention to the glowing Statue of Liberty across the harbor; and despite the sacred, tapered ending the music offered, we began to whoop, clap, and cheer–perhaps knowing that our freedom is both incomplete and is fragile, incomplete in that it does not yet apply equally to all, and fragile in that it is bolstered only by our collective beliefs and actions.
In the words of the late congressman and civil rights activist John Lewis, quoted by Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in her acceptance speech on Saturday night,
“Freedom is not a state. It is an act.”
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
***Photo by Clarissa Best (from Pinterest)