What’s Still Possible? Life Lessons from Dancing

What’s still possible?

Hovering on the threshold of the dance studio, I remember to ask myself this question. I’m losing my nerve to take the challenging class in a genre which is not my strength. Pre-COVID, routinely taking difficult classes was part of my dance practice. Now? I am just starting up. And I am daunted.

After a crushing 18 months of desperately trying to keep my dance passion alive and my psyche afloat, all of the dancing both on my hard living room floor and outdoors has taken a major toll on my 60-something body. I’ve lost strength, flexibility, facility.

This morning at breakfast, as my trepidation builds and my year and a half of hunger for classes fades, I lament again to my husband what I’ve lost, cataloguing the casualties. Wondering if I should totally cash in my dancing chips.

Thankfully, he urges me to zero in on what I still can do. This reminds me of the seminal wisdom of my role models and mentors, the inimitable modern/postmodern dancers, Lisa Race and David Dorfman. They embody the lifelong commitment to movement. In whatever way we can and as fully as we can, we must keep moving. Make something up, adjust, adapt around injury or other obstacle. Just keep moving!

Then, synchronistically, I come across an excerpt of Still Possible, a soon-to-be published poem by luminous poet, David Whyte. The anthemic piece urges us to shine a light on what’s still available to us in life’s eternally shifting sands. I grab the baton he hands off, and commit to tasking myself with the inquiry of what is still possible.

I push too hard in one class and am gasping for air through my mask. What’s still possible? I can’t drop to the floor like that or do that leap. What’s still possible? I take more classes by teachers whose styles are not my forte. I tweak an old injury and need to teach. I choreograph and have to narrow my movement choices to pick ones that are sustainable. What is still possible for me, here, now?

As I continue this exploration, I remember the all too familiar stories from dancers who have fallen by the wayside over the years, sacrificing their entire passion for dancing on the altar of stasis. (Or ego?) I.e. not dancing at all because they can no longer dance in the way they used to be able to.

I get it. I’m just not ready to give up on this marvelous, infuriating, sometimes transcendent practice in cultivating joy and vibrancy. DANCING.

I would rather swallow, even choke down, the often bitter sense of loss over what was and move, perhaps staggering, and stumbling…onward. This practice invites us to develop facility and depth in using our creative chops of adapting, improvising, making it work. It may not always be pretty. At least for now, I’d rather take this path than be in the shoes of the gifted, older dancer who stopped dancing many years ago and confided to me, a stranger, that quitting dancing was the biggest mistake she ever made.

And then there’s the applicability of the inquiry outside the dance studio. As always, dance provides an opportunity to explore and practice ways of being, which are readily transferrable and highly beneficial to employ out in the world. At this time, in the ever-evolving landscape of my world and the world at large, with the resources I now possess, what is still possible?

Asking the question repeatedly helps us cultivate expansiveness, empowerment, vibrancy. It sparks our imaginations. Answering the question over and over invites presence, creativity, resilience.

I wonder…what’s still possible for you?

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Savoring Our Way To Well-being

The simple, and joyful, experience of savoring fosters our vitality. It’s a universally, readily available antidote to the pervasive, sustained stress the world has been handling for the past year. When we practice savoring, we benefit ourselves psychologically, physically, mentally…short- and long-term. I’m focusing more on my Mermaid and the Marsh site where I posted this piece. Hope to see you there. Happy savoring!

Mermaid and the Marsh

savor: to taste, smell or experience something with pleasure

Pause and savor, pause and savor.

The Universe has been sending this repeated reminder recently of the importance to our well-being of the simple yet profound act of savoring. Savoring is an opportunity open to all of us all of the time. It costs nothing yet yields tremendous benefits. It provides a path both to short-term soothing and vitalizing, and more robust wellness if we cultivate the practice of savoring over the long haul.

My layperson’s take is that when we pause and savor something pleasurable, we refresh and reset our bodies, souls and minds. We counteract the results of stress, e.g. shallow breathing, quickened heart rate, mind racing, and we melt into a moment of relaxation, deep focus and pleasure. How important all of that is, especially amidst the rough seas of sustained stress and even trauma we have…

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Light On Our Feet

Nimble; agile; capable of moving in a quick and graceful way

When we are light on our feet, we can change direction quickly, and move with more ease. We’re more adaptable. And we shift with less unnecessary effort, so we move more efficiently.

Watching the deer on the marsh reminds me of the power of being light on our feet. Those large, sometimes massive, creatures cavort as if they were tiny animals. They play expansive games of tag, nimbly sprinting and suddenly reversing direction seamlessly. Or leaping across a rivulet, seemingly effortlessly. It’s such pure movement, everything in the animal serving one purpose.

We can take a page from their book and jettison whatever isn’t serving us on our path. Whether it’s self-doubt, fear, over-thinking, or distraction that trips us up, when we toss those hindrances overboard and focus on our choices, we can be like the deer. We’re at one with our movement, our choices.

This purity makes our “steps” more graceful and de-clutters the vista, clarifying and expanding the possibilities. Whether in our daily lives, or for us dancers, in our dancing.

As I consider what else might need to be tossed, I am reminded of the surprising component of overdoing. Righto. When we exert too much effort, whether in life or in dancing, we have to compensate on the other side. Which slows us down or tires us out too early in the game or makes our shifts clunky.

Then there’s the matter of practice. Like everything we wish to do well, being light on our feet takes practice. The deer are out there “practicing” every day. Even for the deer, some moves are more graceful than others. They just keep at it. As we can.

Sculpture: Gilbert Boro

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Intrepid: Life Lessons from Dancing

A living room.

A town green.

A Zoom screen.

A sand bar.

A list of random nouns?

Nope. To keep dancing this past year, these have been my “venues” for teaching, rehearsing and performing.

As I prepared to teach class online yesterday, I ruminated on how intrepid we have had to be over the past year. Everyone has had to be.

In particular, I thought about how intrepid we dancers have needed to be. Intrepid especially in the vein of resoluteness. Time and again, we have seen daunting obstacles in the path before us and wondered how we could dance past them or with them or through them.

When everything shut down, when we were cut off from each other for dance classes, I did what so many others did and started teaching virtually. I, with my laughable technological deficiencies, needed to up my game. I switched to Facebook Live and Instagram Live and then Zoom and ultimately in person and synchronously on Zoom.

As you may know, while the virtual option has been an incredible blessing in many ways, it is a distant second for teaching and learning dance. Including for the ineffable, priceless component of performing movement together.

So that when a dance student of mine suggested exploring the possibility of dancing on our town’s green last summer, I pounced on it. Thankfully, the town was all systems go and we were so fortunate to dance socially distanced TOGETHER. Even with the added challenges of breathing and shouting directions with sweat-drenched masks while also dancing very vigorously, it was heavenly to be moving outside of our four walls and with other dancing souls. Plus, we were able to offer a regular “performance” for all of the passersby.

Enter winter. And back to lockdown. Back to Zoom. Then in-person synchronously with Zoom for those who couldn’t or didn’t want to attend in person.

Now, with the welcome vaccines and Covid numbers dropping and restrictions easing, we hope to be back on the Green soon, at least for awhile.

While all of this bobbing and weaving have been more extensive than in times past, it has really only been a change of degree. There have always been obstacles, last-minute changes, loss of studio space, a dearth of funding, injury, life.

Dancing has indeed presented a terrific opportunity for me to practice commitment, intrepidity. The question isn’t whether I will keep the dancing going for myself and others, but rather how. How can I make this work?

The resoluteness we need to practice in pursuing our passions is the same one we need to practice in living. How can we make what we believe in or are hungry for or what we love possible? How can we change our approach or perception or collaboration or framework to keep the meaningful alive?

At times, it can feel daunting, overwhelming. And discouraging.

Yet, following the path of intrepidity also offers us the chance to cultivate resourcefulness, creativity, innovation, courage, resilience. One path for a meaningful, vibrant life.

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Opening Up! Let’s Practice

Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, ask if you want to be a prisoner of the past or a pioneer of the future.” ~Deepak Chopra

Let’s break out of our comfort zone! Let’s break out of our usual patterns, I say to myself!

So, today, I did something I’ve never done before. Nothing major…and still different: I ordered a “dinner kit” from a highly acclaimed local restaurant group. Aiming to support them and change things up for the nightly dinner preparation. I love to cook…and felt as if I could use a burst of fresh inspiration.

Actually, since the website seemed to indicate that only assembly and reheating the components of the dish would be required, and there were no directions included, I figured it would be a quick and tasty change. Tasty, yes; quick, not so much.

The opened box revealed all of the yummy ingredients–uncooked. With no recipe in sight, I called the supplier who gave directions over the phone…which didn’t work out.

I ended up in unknown territory with new-to-me ingredients which weren’t cooking the way I had been told they would, beating myself up a bit for venturing here. Then I remembered the whole point of this adventure. It was to have an adventure. To try a new vendor, a new dish, a new experience. Along with forging the new pathways in my brain and spirit which newness spurs.

Things are coming together now for dinner (yay!) and I feel revitalized from experimenting, adjusting, reaching.

Same for the online dance class I took a few days ago for the first time. Hungry for inspiration, I went back and forth about whether to sign up, as I know this wonderful teacher does movement that would be challenging and unfamiliar. And that I likely wouldn’t execute well.

While it may not have been the most well-performed dancing I’ve ever done (by a long shot), I could feel my mind and body stretching, struggling, growing, in an effort to understand and accomplish something they hadn’t encountered before.

Ultimately, the class even provided a springboard for a fresh movement phrase to teach my class, something unfamiliar to facilitate the dancers’ development in the learning and mine in the teaching. Perfect!

This practice of opening up to the unfamiliar can be daunting. Definitely so for the ego. Habits and patterns are, of course, useful in some ways. If we had to rethink how to clean the dishes or drive a car every time we set out to do those tasks, we would get little else done.

Yet, when we keep opening up to possibilities, expanding with new ways of thinking, moving, feeling, being, we cultivate vibrancy in ourselves and our lives. It’s energizing! And also, ideally, more fun.

And now, time for dinner! Have you tried anything new lately?

Stop the words now. Open the window in the center of your chest and let the spirits fly in and out.“~Rumi

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Spaciousness: Life Lessons from Dancing

Ahhhhh, spaciousness. I’ve been ruminating about that glorious sense a lot lately. Heading into year 2 of the pandemic, into the universal challenge of confinement, especially here in the northeast during a snowy winter, I’ve also felt deeply the constriction of space in the context of dancing. Doing big movement in the inviting expanse of a studio? Love it! And have lost it for the past year.

Yes, I was so fortunate to have danced outdoors in the warmer months (which carries its own toll on the body). Back at it, dancing in our homes, how to keep cultivating the freedom and roominess I so adore? Many thanks to the terrific meditation coach, Jeff Warren (on the Calm app), for reminding me of the answer. Developing expansiveness inside ourselves. Sure, we no longer have available all of our usual escape routes on the outside. The journey within? Always there for us…calling for us to explore and expand. So, today in dance class, we practiced again and again opening up internal space, in the face of the limits of our rooms, our bodies, and, of course, our minds. Breath after breath, releasing, reaching. And again. An invaluable practice for dance and for life.

Sirena Tales

Having abundant space or roominess. Being large in range or scope.

These qualities have been my focus for quite awhile for my dancing and teaching dance.  Taking up more space when we move and constantly striving for the most expansive range of movement within our bodies–those are two ways to create exciting dance that is full of possibility.

Spacious dancing.

Recently, I’ve realized that this somewhat obvious notion of capaciousness is only part of the picture.  That roominess in our minds, in our thought processes, are at least as important.

For instance, when we take dance class, if we keep our minds and hearts more open, more available, we can learn new ways of moving, of both “the steps” and how to execute them.  We are also more efficient in our learning because we haven’t boxed ourselves into a smaller place, a place of “no” or “I can’t,” which we…

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Catch A Wave: Moving, and Living, With More Ease

Let’s allow the dance to dance us, and then just go along for the ride.

That was my suggestion today when I taught my weekly Contemporary Modern Dance class (on Zoom). One reason I adore this movement, which harnesses momentum and involves fall and recovery repeatedly, is that it calls to us to use the appropriate amount of effort and no more. For those overachievers and overdoers among us, performing this type of dancing is an opportunity to practice ease, going with the flow.

Make no mistake, this movement is not easy, nor is it lazy. In fact, it is highly athletic and vigorous.

To dance well in this way, though, we need to release (the illusion of) control and surrender to the freedom in harnessing momentum. Catch the wave and wheeeeeeee….

The more we do this, the more organic and safe the movement is. Yes, if we push too hard, we not only use up energy unnecessarily and run out of steam too soon, but we also increase the risk of injury by landing too hard or being too rigid to go with the flow.

Plus, it’s more fun to ride that wave!

As is so often the case, as in dance, so it is in life. The sustainable path is one in which we exert the right amount of energy, especially in these days of enormous challenge and global exhaustion. If we gently shift our egos from center stage and invest the right dollop of effort, we can keep going longer. We open up possibilities as we wrest our chokehold on life. And our bodies, and souls, don’t bear the brunt of overdoing.

While I have been practicing this approach to movement for a long time, I am still far from any semblance of mastery. And I have a really looooooonnngg way to go in catching and riding the wave outside the dance studio in everyday life.

So, I keep practicing. With dancing, with life. Aiming for release and catching the wave. Even for brief, shining moments. Those moments? Breathtaking!

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Passion: Jet Pack

Ah, yes. In some ways, this post seems as if from another lifetime. As much as my optimal experiences still flow so often from dancing, I realize that they are expanded and illuminated by dancing WITH other dancing souls. One year into the pandemic, those group experiences come almost exclusively via Zoom, for which I am grateful. And which is a very different kettle of fish. My aching for dancing with others is palpable. Until the weather softens and we can dance together outdoors again, I show up for my dancing alone. Day in, day out…trying to keep the flame burning, staying open for the transporting transcendence of flow when it graces me.

Sirena Tales

I started to write about the amazing fuel that passion constitutes, inspired both by  a movie we just watched and my recent dance experience. I realized that there at least two posts in all of this.

When I moseyed through my archives to avoid repetition, I found this post from two years ago.  It says, with a few tweaks, what I’d still like to convey:

It’s 12:30 a.m. and I’m completely revved. Even though my intense, rockin’ dance class with powerhouse teacher K ended five hours ago. Even though my body is completely exhausted, wrung out.

I’m still jazzed despite the fact that since class roared to a finish, I’ve driven the long ride home, eaten dinner, done a couple of loads of laundry, taken a jacuzzi, talked with family members near and far, and written another post. Sleep, anyone?

Photo credit: Essennelle Studios Photo credit: Essennelle Studios

The funny thing is I almost…

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Why I (Still) Wear A Santa Hat

~To inspire, and witness, the wonder slowly lighting up the little girl’s eyes who is stopped in her tracks as she spies me rounding the corner in the grocery store…along with the ensuing smiles that magically connect us

~To lift up the strangers walking by me on a dark, frigid afternoon, who suddenly emerge from huddling against the weather to warm the atmosphere with a playful remark

~To share a moment of conversation with the elderly couple sitting next to me at the coffee shop who turn and offer good wishes of the season as they pass by

~To listen to people’s wish lists at Christmastime, which more strangers have confided than you might imagine

~To remind myself of the crucial practice of cultivating openness and generosity…and to remind myself of the boundless capacity of the human heart that so often just wishes to be acknowledged

Can you do all of this without wearing a Santa Hat? Of course!

Yet, as I’ve written before, the Santa Hat is a signal for play, for connection, for expansiveness.  Today, a friend told us about the transformative effect her wearing a silly Santa headband to the office had had on previously low or crotchety clients. They were buoyed! And, therefore, buoyant. (Thanks, Miss P)

No surprise here. When she asked if I still wear my Santa Hat, I replied, you bet!

It is my tiny, humble offering of delight, light, heart to this glorious, and hungering, world.

Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”~Desmond Tutu





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Speaking of Kindness

Why write or talk about kindness? Yesterday, I suddenly remembered a negative comment from many years ago when I first started to write about my Santa Hat adventures through which I aim to expand my random acts of kindness. A reader asked what the big deal was with what I was doing. She claimed that she already performed random acts of kindness, so why was I bothering to write about it?

At the time, I was stung.  Now I remind myself of Mary Oliver’s luminous words:

Instructions for living a life.

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.”

Indeed, experiencing and even witnessing acts of kindness can be so inspiring, breathtaking, astonishing. Combine Mary Oliver’s sage advice with all we know about the infectiousness of kindness and there is even more reason to share our stories about kindness. Shout them from the rooftops!  Both the kindnesses we offer and the ones we are fortunate enough to receive.

While cultivating kindness is ideally a year round practice, it is heartwarming to observe and receive so many generous gestures as I go about my daily rounds. People looking behind them to hold the door for me, rather than letting it slam in my face; people lightening the atmosphere by telling jokes as we stand in long lines; people donating gifts to those in need when I drop off some cookies for an event for recipients.

The list goes on.

If we each do our bit, we transform the world. Reminding me of Desmond Tutu’s lovely and wise words. “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”

And then tell about it. I wonder what kindness you have offered, received or observed?



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