Dancing the Whole Self

I jumped inside the ring, all of me.  Dance, then, and I danced,

till the room blurred like water, like blood, dance,

and I was leaning headlong into the universe,

Dance!  The whole self was a current, a fragile cargo,

a raft someone was paddling through the jungle,

and I was there, waving, and I would be there at the other end.

            ~from The Whole Self, a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye

All my reading of late leads me to thoughts of dancing – perhaps not dancing literally, but more of the metaphorical kind, as in letting your spirit freely follow whatever drumbeat sounds in your soul, as in putting aside the cares of daily life and shouting for joy at the morning sun and midnight rain.  As in finding the thing that roars inside you, and then making it over and over again. 

Two books last week had me thinking on dancing… Undercover, a compelling, luminously written young adult novel by Beth Kephart, and Conscience Point, a sleek, sophisticated modern Gothic tale by Erica Abeel.  At the center of both books are women (one young, one not so much) who find something they are passionate about and let it lead them from the shadows into fulfillment. 

In other words, they “jump inside the ring…and dance.”

For Elisa Cantor, the teenaged heroine of  Undercover, dancing means grabbing onto her vision of the world and using her way with words to shake it open for all the world to see.  It means finding her footing on the razor’s edge of an icy pond and learning not only to stand tall on her two feet and skate, but to spin and jump and whirl. 

And for Madeleine Shaye, in Conscience Point -a woman nearing her fifth decade of life – dancing means accepting the loss of an old lover in order to reclaim a dream long forgotten.  It means returning to her passion for music and making it work in an entirely new way, one that is completely of her own devising and not linked to the needs or demands of any other. 

It isn’t surprising that a passion for art leads both these women to the dance floor.  How often words and music, or paints and stone, even fabric and yarn, set the creative rhythm in motion.  How lucky for Elisa, that she manages to find this passion so early in life, to be able to set herself on this course at the age of 15, and (hopefully) not veer from it but only learn to dance longer, stronger, and more freely.

And yet, thank you Maddy Shaye, for showing me its never too late -oh no! never! -to “keep faith with yourself.”   To  know that, even when “all you’ve held onto so dearly has slipped through your fingers like fairy dust”  it is possible for “fresh joys” to “come knocking, unforseen.”

The selection of verse I quoted at the start is actually the end of the poem…it’s beginning is this ~

When I think of the long history of the self

on its journey to becoming the whole self, I get tired.

It was the kind of trip you keep making,

Over and over again…

But I do believe the journey is made easier and more lovely by dancing, don’t you?

Now tell me, what does it mean to dance in your life?


8 thoughts on “Dancing the Whole Self

  1. Beautiful post, Becca, lovely reviews. Thank you for sharing those thoughts and that poem. Dance is about joyful and full participation in the rhythm of the present and that can be just about anything.

  2. I love it when are book worlds are in sync don’t you? I’d not heard of these books but they sound wonderful, in particular I’m drawn to the Conscience Point book.

  3. What delightful-sounding books! I suppose I think of dance as a form of play, and play as fundamental to health, happiness and creativity. A while back I started reading Mosche Feldenkreis (such a great name) who has a programme of movements that he suggests help to loosen up creativity, make you feel happier, better. I was completely convinced by him. 🙂

    • I have heard some great things about Feldenkreis in the treatment of chronic pain. I need to learn more about it. But you’re right, some kind of “play,” is essential to health and happiness.

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