Before the music starts I tell my partner I want to dance blindly. “When you’re ready, close your eyes,” Brad says, “but let the light shine through, don’t strain.”
We’re in an old school building, converted to an artists’ co-op, with glass windows stretching up to the cathedral ceiling with sunlight pouring in through beams that cross over our faces and make our blue eyes transparent.
We’re doing contact improvisational dance.
It’s based on a shared center of gravity and connection that we all innately have with each other. It’s about learning to trust again by subtracting the barriers we innocently construct to try to protect ourselves from getting hurt. Or as Rumi puts it, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
To me, this dance feels like: With every move, you have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen next.
Dancing with my eyes open feels familiar, but eyes shut? That’s a whole other monster. Maybe if I can be brave enough to dance blindly in our experimental dance lab, I can also drive more assuredly now through the crossroads of changes off the dance floor—which frankly, have me quite afraid.
We’re stretching and my stomach churns. Everything in me wants to retreat into my safe place and bolt the door. But as we warm-up, music cascading through the speakers, Brad smiling and clueless to the tsunami going on inside me, I realize the room feels softer. Maybe I feel softer. That safe place I made up in my mind is beginning to feel more like a prison than a haven—less like being free and more like sneaky self-sabotage.
Can the Unknown be a Safe Place to Explore?
As we begin to move together, I flutter my eyelids open and closed but I’m not quite ready to shut them for real. We start slowly, sweeping across the wide empty space, feeling the coolness of the honey-colored wood floor on our bare feet. We round corners, take little leaps.
It’s a silent conversation in motion, flowing back and forth, like weaving a blanket with arms, legs, fingers and toes. Moving through a tapestry of possibility. Cutting the air with our bodies.
Have you ever taken a water bottle and tossed the water out into the air, like swinging a tennis racket? If so, did you notice how the fluid stretches across the atmosphere, thinning in one place, sparkly orbs leaping off in others, sunlit blob gliding, then finally descending into the grass?
It’s like flying.
Or dreaming while being awake.
You find out your body can do things you never trained for. Wild, creative energy emerges and wants to explore, push the known limits. A foot in a hand, then over his shoulders, gracefully gliding to the ground. Or galumphing. Head over heels. Spinning. Rolling.
But like physics, or backgammon, or drawing, building a beautiful home or stunt flying, or any other endeavor, you’re only free to make great artistic moves because you know the underlying structure holding it all together by heart. For me, the “dancing together smoothly” guidelines on and off the dance floor go something like this:
- Remember you’re a God being.
- Remember your partner is a God being.
- Keep breathing.
- Take risks.
- Trust yourself, and forget about the opinions and warnings of anyone watching.
- Take care of yourself first.
- Treat your partner with the utmost respect. Your partner isn’t an object to be moved around, and neither are you.
- Don’t plan out the next move, just stay with your inner knowing step-by-step.
- Keep moving together through all of the objecting feelings and fears that bubble up in your head when you try new things and it feels alien.
Be gentle with yourself and your partner if you forget any of this (you can always hit the pause button and start over).
Letting Go: The Magic of Moving through Fear
After feeling my place in the cavernous white room, I close my eyes completely. Light glows red through my eyelids. I hold on tightly, use my partner as a metric for where we are in the room. I stay nearer to the ground as it isn’t as far to fall. Turning makes my stomach churn. A lift off the ground makes me swimmy. Letting go of his hand, wobbly. My sense of smell heightens—a clean shirt nearby, artist’s paint still drying in the distance, lavender oil. Sweat.
Letting go is the scariest part.
But it’s harder to cling and dance, and that gut-knot keeps the sea-saw of balance a hair’s breadth away, as does the voice screaming inside that says: Open your eyes, you’re gonna get hurt!
Fear and all her cousins clamor within me: Resistance. Holding on to what’s familiar. Wanting to put my feet on solid ground and forget this new adventure. Regretting that I ever started dancing like this to begin with. What was I thinking?
I start to try to plan out our next moves, to predict what’s coming and whether I should bail out before I do damage, or whether I should stay with the experiment.
But as the thoughts of how it needs to be for me to feel secure rush to my head, my body loses its flexibility, it’s innate knowingness. I become more rigid, awkward, trippy. I apologize to Brad weakly, laughing at myself nervously. Suddenly self-conscious. Thinking, “I’d better open my eyes or it will get so awkward my partner of over fifteen years may not want to dance with me anymore.”
But I keep my eyes closed.
Trusting Yourself: Centeredness
“Trust yourself,” he says from behind me.
With those words an insight lights up within. I have been relying on the groundedness, sense of safety and robustness of my partner as my own center. Yet I couldn’t find it.
No matter how capable my partner, and he’s one of the best contact improv teachers in the world, the center has to come from within me. Only from that core place can it flow back and forth between us. From that place of knowing myself, I can know him, or what some people would call “mutuality.”
Two centered people can create absolutely anything together.
With the newness of dancing with eyes shut, I’d been looking for stability outside of myself.
As I shift my energy from Brad as my central point, back to my own self, he lifts me into the air. At that moment, everything changes. We spin around and around as I stretch out on his shoulder like a hang-glider, having no idea where we are in the room, yet feeling balanced and free, feeling the light shimmering through my eyelids.
I roll off his shoulder and put both feet on the floor—but then he lets go of my hand! I’m suddenly off balance again.
Feeling the Fear and Doing it Anyway
My partner slows but doesn’t stop, my teacher, my friend. He’s danced with eyes shut before.
I want to quit. It’s just too hard.
Instead, I go back to my breath, silently acknowledging the panicked feelings inside, and just letting them be felt without giving them meaning. I know my feelings aren’t telling me anything about what’s going to happen next, or what I’m capable of. I let the feelings wash over me and resist the urge to try to change them into something better.
We keep moving through the room. I can feel him right ahead of me, not touching, but clear and present.
Little by little the thoughts quiet as I shift back into my own centeredness.
I just let go.
Let go of the fear.
Let go of the resistance.
I fall into the present moment and after a while dancing blindly feels almost natural. I’m up in the air again, arms and legs circling, an airplane, feeling for the floor, then for the emptiness above. Feeling we could be anywhere in space, anywhere in time, suspended moment-to-moment.
The dance studio disappears and it’s like dancing with the whole universe—the world beyond the field of vision. The past folded in on itself, the future nonexistent. We are nothing less than two connected beings moving through infinite space.