There we were, in the middle of the common, on public land. Visible to anyone who walked by. People walking their dogs. A running club passing by. A group of friends sitting having a drink together in the evening light. All that separated us from the eyes of passers by was a line of brightly coloured beanbags across the grass, and the music streaming into our ears. We danced together, in unison. All dancing our own dance, as we danced to the same tune. Feeling the power of connection, of unity, of freedom. Being held by one another’s presence, feeling safe inside this bubble that we had created together. Aware that we were being watched, being photographed, being filmed, by passers by. One person who cycled past stopped to watch, and witnessed our dance for over an hour. If I was to be judged by these people I thought, I may as well be judged for doing something that I loved, and being fabulous doing it.
It wasn’t always like this. Being seen by others did not come naturally to me as a child.
That ballet performance when I was young, on a real floodlit stage, where I had been made to wear burgundy knickerbockers and dance alone to Little Jack Horner. I wish someone had told me ‘Don’t look past the lights’. Or, if they had, that I had listened, and understood.
Little Jack Horner. This is not what I signed up for. Where are the big choral numbers, fabulous costumes, others dancing and singing alongside me? The children in the wings, they are not my friends, no rallying support from them. I peer through the lights to try and spot my mother. If she is watching and enjoying it then maybe this ridiculousness will all be worth it. But instead, I am met with the sheer vastness of the hall. A hall I am quite familiar with when my father performs on stage here. But now, I am the one standing here bathed in lights, on this enormous stage. Feeling very small, and very very alone, suddenly aware of how huge this black stage covered in dust and footprints is, from out there in the hall. The sea of faces watching me, and perhaps worse, the sea of grey empty chairs behind them. This hall feels lost, I know it can house so many more people. How can I fill this hall with my performance? I froze in fear. I was not ready for this.
If only someone had taught me to keep my mind, my imagination, my energetic self, within the lights of the stage.
The universe, she has guided me, when I have slowed down enough to listen.
Getting older, my parents decide I am ready to learn what they enjoy; Scottish country dancing. Making friends, being part of a team, the dances having a set structure to follow, it is just what I need to have confidence that I can do this. By the time I attend folk festivals, ceilidh dancing is a breeze in comparison, and this has become my route to making connections with people, to begin to find my tribe.
As a young folk dancer I am transfixed by the whirling tatters, the blacked out faces, the noises of big sticks bashing and bells on knees jingling in time to the stomps of feet. Not forgetting the haunting tunes and drum beats that accompany their dance as the border morris sides captivate the crowds with their fierce roars, whoops and yells. ‘Bloody Morris dancers’ my father mutters, and I feel the disapproval flood through my body. Does not stop my face lighting up with joy when I see and hear them perform.
I begin spotlighting the main stage as a way to earn my ticket, and one evening a bulb blows. Unable to work that evening I find myself instead attending a roots night. Weaving my way through the crowds, finding my friends near the front, I know this is where I should be. On stage, the wild haired fiddle player’s fingers flying, bow dancing across the strings of his instrument, casually pushed into his arm as he whirled and cavorted around the stage. And when the drones of the bagpipe kicked in I am in heaven. I had been to these events before, but the music in this one sets me alight with the music of my ancestors. Playing tunes I’d drifted off to sleep to as a child. I had found freedom in this world and it was in unstructured dance.
I found confidence to dance more freely at nightclubs and the dance floor became my stomping ground, my escape from the world. Years later and pregnant at weddings, the dance floor again provided safety, as it became my escape route from unwanted drunken conversations. Learning to dance sober. Another important step.
After the death of my daughter I find myself seeking to forge a new family, and connecting with the communities of my childhood. AmDram or Dance? I choose dance, and join a border team. Hiding behind a top hat sprayed green, bedecked with feathers and an L plate, held in place with a red ribbon, wearing a mask of green face paint and wrap around shades, a jacket covered in strips of fabric that extend outwards as I spin, and clutching a Very Big Stick, I swiftly learn dances and slowly but surely find my way towards yelling, whooping and fiercely roaring my way into and around crowds who come to see us dance. A very different version of me, when the fires are alight within.
And then, chronic fatigue found me. And lessons in how to contain energy, not to waste it. I discovered how to access my chakras, and began to connect to what was going on inside of me. I was finding new ways of being, as I became fresh versions of myself. In slowing me down, the universe had found a way for me to become the mother I needed to be to the child that had begun to grow inside of me. In nurturing her, I was learning to nurture myself, as she taught me how to listen to what I was being shown. Lazy parenting was showing me the parts of myself that had been crushed as a child, and in learning how to take care of that precious little person that I had grown, I was also learning how to parent myself, in ways that I had never before known.
My route back to a new normal finally found me dancing again, as I discovered that it gave me energy, igniting the blue touch paper inside and fuelling me for a week or more at a time. I learned the times when I felt constrained by fear, my body tense and on edge, my mind numb with exhaustion; these were the times I most needed to dance. To release the energy of the world held trapped in my body, allowing me to break free and live again.
So many stories. So many becomings. Each time I falter on my path, it is dance that helps me find my way back.
Dance has been one of my routes to calm, what’s yours?