Some years ago I was teaching a beginning modern dance class to non-dance majors. It was mid-semester, but it was my first week with the class as I was team teaching it with another instructor. I had just come from a small class (of mostly men) who were new to dance but had a lovely sense of movement and coordination. As I moved into this new class of only women I expected to pick up around the same level I had just finished teaching.
Boy, was I in for a surprise.
Back to Basics
This class was full of bright, strong women who all had difficult majors that they were excelling in. And yet, within the first five minutes of class it was clear to me that these ladies had never danced. In fact, they didn’t seem very comfortable in their bodies at all. While the class title remained “Modern Dance for Non-Majors,” I secretly took it upon myself to use dance (with the help of LMA, of course) as a means to help them walk easier, move freer, and find more joy in all their movement.
One day we were working on weight shifts. To help them really feel that “drive” that comes from the pelvis I placed my hand on each student’s sacrum and ran alongside with them—helping them feel their power as they traveled through space. Mary (not her real name) was a petite woman—standing at about five feet tall. Her movement conveyed a sense of hesitation and uncertainty, despite the fact that she was quite brilliant. As her turn came up to run across the studio floor, she looked at me with complete horror in her eyes as she said, “We’re not going to go too fast, right?”
I looked her in the eyes, smiled, and said, “Mary, we are going to fly!”
I had a fabulous drummer for an accompanist. He followed my lead and provided a powerful soundtrack as we soared across the room. With my hand supporting Mary, she ran from her power source and with her full body. She screamed the entire way and seemed relieved when the experience was done.
Movement is meaningful
I didn’t think much about this tiny little moment (after all, it only took about 15 seconds to run across the room). A week or so later, however, after class had ended and everyone was gathering their stuff, I noticed that Mary was lingering behind. Once everyone else had left the room she came up to me and told me she wanted to tell me something.
“Robin, do you remember when we were working on weight shifts and you forced me to run across the room?” (Of course I remembered. I was hoping she wouldn’t hold it against me when it came time to fill out her teacher evaluations.) She continued, “Well, yesterday as I was walking on campus I was really trying to move from my pelvic floor. I was walking and thinking ‘drive with your pelvis’ the whole time.”
At this point she paused. She started to get a little emotional as she continued. “Well, as I was walking I noticed that I was passing the other people walking. I have never done that before. I’ve always felt like I was being left behind and trying to catch up. But yesterday I was passing everyone else.”
Photo by D’Arcy Norman, Flickr
I was surprised to see her fight back tears, but even more surprised when I found myself doing the same thing. Then she smiled and triumphantly said, “It was wonderful!”
I’ve often thought back to that moment. When I think of my first impressions of this woman and how her movement wasn’t allowing her whole self to shine through I can recognize how much our movement can enrich our lives. We often take for granted the simple things that allow us to communicate with others. The ability to walk with confidence, ease, and power is not just about efficiency or learning to move without pain. It’s not just a matter of health, fitness, or transportation. It’s an opportunity to feel our expressive potential shine through and present our whole person to the world with confidence and joy.