Embracing The Unfamiliar: Life Lessons From Dancing

One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”~André Gide

So, we hinge over from our waists, turning on one deeply bent leg, and spiral our torsos fully around as if chasing that trailing leg.  While keeping our focus on our trailing foot.


We worked on this turn yesterday in dance class as part of a long phrase that strung together numerous challenging moments.  The dance photos here only partially reflect the movement, but at least give an idea.

As I practiced the phrase and watched my comrades do the same, I thought about how I have attempted this movement many times and yet still find it very hard to perform well.

Sure, some of it is due to the complexity of the movement.  But I realized how much of the difficulty stemmed from the fact that the movement is unfamiliar. Being upside down, twisted, turning on one leg, and fixing our gaze over our shoulders while spinning is not something we do often in everyday life.

What struck me especially forcefully was how much we continued to resist dropping and turning our heads or hingeing over or bending our standing legs as fully as we could.  We were still holding on to the familiar in one or more ways. I.e. upright, symmetrical in the torso, focus level, legs straight.

Not surprisingly, the more I released into the new territory of movement, the more organic and fluid the movement became…and the more exciting and fun!  I discovered physical range I hadn’t appreciated before.

Synchronistically, as I chewed on this post, I looked out on the tempest-tossed marsh and spotted three deer bolting from the land and into the flooded expanse.  First, they ran and leapt, and then must have dropped unexpectedly into a deep rivulet.  Suddenly, and seamlessly, they transitioned into swimming.

By leaving the narrow peninsula and swiftly adapting to the unknown conditions, they successfully traversed the waters. They gained a broader expanse of land and headed off to more possibility for food and shelter.

The lesson for me, again, always: The more facility we develop in opening to fresh ways of being, the more possibility and vitality we cultivate.  And the more fun we can relish along the way :).

Top photo courtesy of Nikki Carrara © 2016








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How Dancing Saved My Life

Yes! Dance can cure many ills, express joys and excitements, and carry us to transcendence. As I say below: “…if you are ever feeling blue or powerless or angry or baffled or euphoric or anywhere in between, maybe try a little dance. It has saved my life…maybe it can brighten or diversify or energize or, yes, even save, yours.”

Sirena Tales

Sounds dramatic, right?  Yet, I realized once again last week that the seeming hyperbole is actually spot on in so many ways.

I had been sitting alone in my kitchen, crying.  Feeling powerless to help my husband who was in the hospital for a tricky operation.  I was anxious, sad, alone and angry; my hands of support, empty.

Hang on.  Was there really nothing I could do?

Suddenly, through the dark emotional miasma flashed the inspiration that has saved me time after time when I have traveled the bleak landscapes of grief, depression, loneliness, frustration, loss…and, of course, also those of jubilation, hope, compassion, transcendence.


DANCE. Get up and DANCE!

So, I put on some of my husband’s fave tunes (anthemic Stevie Wonder) and rocked out. Sending energy to my husband, the doctors, everyone in that hospital, and the universe.

Yeah, baby.  DANCE!  It felt SOOOOOO good.


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Sparking Generosity


One of my adult kiddos just conceived of and single-handedly spearheaded the planning, funding and implementation for an event to enrich the imaginations and lives of 100 young students from an underserved area nearby.  Students she doesn’t know and probably will never know.

After pouncing on the opportunity to be generous, she then had second thoughts as the crowdfunding campaign took a few hours to ignite.  But she needn’t have worried.

Because as we witness time and again, many, many people when faced with the chance to be generous, to be compassionate, choose that luminous path.  Faced with whether to act with expansiveness and heart, they so often opt for that route… and not for the one that will cost them less in time, effort, thought, money.


What we also know is that generosity and compassion spark more of the same.  By acting with big-heartedness, my daughter struck a chord with people near and far. Some who are people she knows well and and many who are mere acquaintances and even strangers. All pitching in to benefit kids they also do not know and will never meet.

Her recent quest reminds me that we always act in a void of certainty about what our actions will inspire. Yet if they are kind, we can expect that somewhere, somehow, they will fuel more of the same.

Thank goodness.

Art credit/calligraphy: @scriptfancy



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Cultivating Aliveness!

Stay close to anything that makes you glad you are alive.”~Hafiz

It’s been a bumpy ride around here, lately.  Not earth shattering, but sufficiently unsettling and discouraging to be enervating.

My plan had been to go dancing today.  But after a few nights of poor sleep, and seeing the horrific headlines, I looked out over the marsh this morning and the dreariness and fog seemed to roll into my soul.  Weighing, weighing down.

Dance?  How could I summon the energy and focus to dance when I felt as if I couldn’t get up from my chair?

This is where the amazingness of being in a practice comes in.  Because as I’ve written about before, I did get dressed in my dance clothes, get in the car and go to class.  Because that’s what we dancers do.  Because somewhere in the fogged-in, darkened soul, I heard the gleaming whisper of Hafiz echo, pulling me toward what has made me come alive over and over and over again.

You walk into the studio.  You start to warm up with other kindred spirits. The gorgeous music begins and carries you over the first hump.  And you’re transported–ablaze.  You’re dancing!

For me, dancing.  And for you….?

Middle and bottom photos courtesy of Nikki Carrara © 2016, 2017; Sculptures: Gil Boro

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Grace Is A Rainbow

With a deer family of four keeping us company on the marsh for hours every day lately, I have been musing a lot about grace. Each time the four-legged foursome decides to fly over the rivulets, it is breathtaking to watch the deers’ buoyancy. Like the women Jazzercisers I describe below, each deer takes a unique tack in leaping…and manifesting its inimitable grace.
I’ve also been ruminating about grace as I have been the recipient of others’ grace lately…as well as others’ gracelessness. Perhaps grace also shines in gracelessness, as the latter reminds us through its opposite of how wondrous grace truly is.

Sirena Tales

Grace.  I think about it a lot.  As a dancer, of course, but also as a human being.

Grace is a funny and amazing thing.  People talk about it a lot, yet often have trouble defining grace.  Grace is often the very definition of ineffableness, of the inexpressible.

Still, if we are tuned in, we nearly always know when we are in its presence.


So, as I join in a Jazzercise class this morning, I decide to view my fellow movers for illumination about grace.  What they remind me of is that grace takes countless, perhaps infinite, forms: some that we might expect and some wholly surprising.

To me, the several dancers who are the moms of young children in the babysitting room are moving today as red.  Dancing highly vigorously, at times even aggressively.  Reflecting their passion? Their desire to release pent up emotions (and, ok, maybe burn calories)?…

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Still Dancing

Back in the dance studio after an unsought break, I had this sudden, overwhelming physical sensation of coming home. Reminding me of Mary Oliver’s rhapsodic counsel in “Wild Geese”: “You do not have to be good…You only have to let the soft animal of your body/ love what it loves….” Reminding me that for the artist, the art chooses you, calls to you…relentlessly…and not you to it….

Sirena Tales

In Dani Shapiro’s marvelous “Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life,” she shares a classic anecdote in an artist’s life.  Her friend, who is a notable sculptor, is asked at a dinner party “…if I was still doing the sculpture thing.” Shapiro laughs empathetically, and he continues ruefully “…How was I supposed to respond? Are you still doing the brain surgery thing?” (p.225)

Shapiro muses about this question that is posed constantly to countless artists, from the famous and acclaimed to the unknowns, a question that implies that our art is a whim or a phase, something that will be cast aside when the next shiny thing catches our eye. Or in Shapiro’s word, “outgrown.”

As a dancer, I recognize that people may have more of an excuse to ask this question, that is admittedly probably well-intentioned.  After all, dancing and the passage of time take their…

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What Are You Practicing?

I took a yoga class yesterday for the first time in several years.  It was an excellent, thoughtful class and I am really glad I went to it.

It was also a very challenging class.  Every pose had been difficult to achieve in some recognizable form, some even impossible for me yesterday.  Given the echoes of yoga in the contemporary modern dancing I do, I was surprised and even disappointed by how much of a struggle the class was.

But I should have been neither.  The whole experience reminded me once again of the key element of practice, which is to do it.  Whatever “it” is.

Sure, I have been intending to get back to my yoga practice for a long time, have thought about certain poses, certain benefits of the practice. Even longed for them.  I’ve noticed yogic movements and principles in my dance vocabulary, researched several local studios online and checked out studio spaces.  I’ve set times when I planned to get to class.

I’ve done just about everything but do the yoga–on my own or in a class.

All of which is fine except, obviously, for the last part.  For without the doing of the practice the rest is fluff.

Different mentors have wisely reminded me of this truism over the years.  Paul Dennis: “What you practice you will perform.” Mark Reinhart: “No matter what you’re practicing, you’re getting better at it.” I’ve even written about how practice gets us to automaticity, i.e.  “an automatic response pattern or habit.” Which is what dancers and athletes and humans aim for with any number of actions and thoughts we need on a regular basis.

Still, it took the yoga class to spark what I already know full well.  Wherever we are seeking to expand into greater proficiency–from playing the piano to writing a blog 🙂 to being more compassionate–we need to do the thing.

Mindfully.  Over and over and over….

So, what are you practicing?

Middle and Bottom Photos courtesy of Nikki Carrara © 2017; Sculpture: Gil Boro

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