Waking Up to the Beat: Why Dance is the Doorway to Aliveness

Last month I ventured out to northern Washington and down to California to take a breather from NYC and dance furiously. Two weeks into my trip I found myself sitting in the Nomad Cafe in Oakland, half working, half staring out at the bay area grey, distracted by a relentless ache in the center of my chest. Nursing a recent breakup, 3,000 miles away from the man I’d left behind, I was consumed with jealousy, regret, all sorts of crazy projections, and most of all a grief deeper than I’ve ever allowed myself to feel before. I didn’t know what to do with myself. A few years ago I would have turned to substances or restrictive eating to take the edge off. But this time, after plenty of personal evolution and learning that "taking the edge off" doesn’t solve anything, there was no way out. So I went to Ecstatic Dance, hoping to pummel the sadness with dubstep.

There, I slipped off my shoes and let my feet carry me across the floor, sinking into the beat. The sadness I’d been feeling up till that moment had partly been that ache in my chest, but most of it was thinking: about what I missed, about what he may or may not be doing, about what it would be like when I got back to New York. My brain had been a swirl trying desperately to fix something that was, by its very nature, broken.

But flitting from one side of the Sweet’s Ballroom to the other dodging the other dancers, those feelings, so cerebral before, came alive in my body. Saddling up next to the subwoofer, I let the bass hold me as I let go, allowing my internal landscape to dictate my next moves. A wave of nausea hit me (strange, I hadn’t eaten in a while and I wasn’t sick), and then another. I got the feeling that I should keep moving, and as I did, the emotions I’d stuffed down into the pit of my stomach started to release.

The sensations coming up were so strong that there was really nowhere else for my attention to go, no thoughts to distract me, self-consciousness out the door. My limbs were being given direct orders from something inside, and all I could to do was let them listen. Within a few minutes, the nausea subsided, and rage started to course through my veins. Then LA-based dubstep producer Rhythmstar took over the decks and I regained my awareness of the crowd around me as we all proceeded to totally lose our shit.

When we give ourselves permission to break down, we give what we’ve been holding in back to its natural state of movement. The raw material of our being is given full expression. This lays the groundwork for transformation.

In his book Soulcraft, Bill Plotkin illustrates this process with the metamorphosis of a butterfly:

"The transformational chrysalis phase is one of the greatest mysteries of biology. No one knows exactly how the caterpillar changes its form in such a dramatic way. But this much is known: inside the caterpillar’s body are clusters of cells called imaginal buds. The imaginal buds contain the blueprint for growing a butterfly.
The caterpillar’s immune system believes these imaginal cells are foreign and tries to destroy them. Once in the cocoon, the buds link up, the caterpillar’s immune system breaks down, and its body literally disintegrates. The buds then build a butterfly from the fluid contents of the cocoon."

DJs are capable of producing sound at levels historically reached only by literal thunder.

The sound creates a container that can hold whatever you bring to the dance floor, and provides a sonic structure in which your internal state can express itself through movement.

When we find freedom in the dance, we’ve surrendered shame, fear, self-consciousness, and any of the other ways we keep ourselves stuck. We become raw expressions of the moment, dying to who we used to think we should be and opening up space for who we might become.

Here, I can feel the sound around me like a playground my body gets to jump, spin, run and climb through. My body becomes the place where my internal state meets and interacts with the music effortlessly. I become a total willingness to be the fullest expression of what’s happening right now, and the imaginal cells of my being are given a chance to create something new.

I left the dance floor that night in Oakland drenched in sweat and gratitude. The feelings that I’d felt so stuck in earlier were the catalyst for me to dive deeper into myself and return to my own center of gravity. As I allowed the truth of what was happening inside me to breathe and be expressed, I allowed the truth of what I am to come through as well. And what I discovered there, in that authentic, unbridled, tender space, was beauty.

Every feeling, every experience, can be the doorway to your aliveness. Dance just happens to be one of the best ways to turn the knob, open the door, and step through.

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