Why Can't We Just Dance?!

In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been branching out a bit from yoga over the past several months. When I get on my mat, inevitably some of what I’m doing looks like yoga, but I’m also practicing other movements for strength and mobility, in addition to just moving in ways that feel good. My longtime yoga practice helped me develop mindfulness through movement, so that’s always a big part of it as well.

I’ve been slowly and casually trying out different workout classes—because sometimes it’s just nice to have someone tell me what to do! The last yoga class I went to was in June and it was boooooring (don’t worry friends, I wasn’t in Knoxville). That same weekend, I decided to go out on a limb and try something different. I was grabbing a snack from the dining hall at the retreat center I was visiting when I heard the sounds of a drum circle. I’m a sucker for a drum circle.

I had stumbled in on a Yoga Dance class. There was a drum semi-circle and a crowd of women was quickly assembling. In times like these, I have observed a few “types:” There’s the uninhibited type that can go into a full-fledged flow state at the first down beat. There’s the type that’s hammering out a pretty safe step touch with snaps and a reserved smile. And then there’s the type that stands on the sidelines watching until the teacher comes in and provides specific instructions. Can you guess which type I am?

Honestly, I think in the past I would have said the first one. But now, I’m older, wiser, and more skeptical of group activities. So I did a safe step touch with snaps on the sideline while I waited for further instruction from the teacher (a combo of types two and three). Once she formally invited us to free style, I moved into the crowd and had some fun moving in my own way.

But really, I had a hard time getting out of my head. I just looked around at the room and saw all these white women dancing to white guys playing hand drums. It was trying hard to be tribal but was so very white.

Also, the instructor was too chakra-y. Instead of just dancing, we were using our arms to move energy through our chakras. If that’s what was really happening, fine, but I didn’t want to think about it. I just wanted to dance. I guess she was putting the “yoga” in “Yoga Dance.”

She tried to progressively break down the barriers between us. “Find a partner!” she shouted. My heart sank and my mind immediately went to all the times in my yoga classes when I said the same thing. And how my husband always used to tell me how much he hated partner work in a yoga class. For the first time in my life, I totally got where he was coming from. But because I was having this entire inner dialogue about how maybe I’m being too judgmental and maybe I just need to get outside my comfort zone, I put my big girl yoga pants on and danced over to a stranger. Then I had to yell encouraging things at her like, “You’re beautiful! You’re powerful! You’re magnificent!” Ugh. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, the teacher announced we were going to maintain eye contact with our partners for ten seconds. Double ugh. Yes, eye gazing releases oxytocin, blah blah blah. But no! Why can’t we just dance?! I stuck it out for a few more minutes and then I looked around and realized that I just wasn’t buying into it like the other thirty white women and token elderly white guy. So I left.

I had a much more positive experience at the last workout class I sampled. I went to Thrive, which is conveniently right down the street from my house. My neighbor gave me a free class card to try them out AND they have childcare. (Did I mention that it was convenient?) Before class I sheepishly texted my neighbor, “So do I need to wear shoes?” Thankfully, the answer was no; it was a barefoot workout.

The studio was beautiful, bright, and airy. I felt good about supporting a local, woman-owned business that gives 10% of its profits to local charities. So many wins! Going into it, I was a little nervous about the core work. I still have some fear about over-loading my core (because, diastasis recti). The instructor, Carole, greeted me at the beginning and learned my name and a little of my background, which was nice. The music was fun and upbeat and loud. A few times it was hard to hear what was going on but the loud music helped drown out some of my thoughts so that was helpful. The class was a mix of cardio, floor work on a mat, and little bits of yoga thrown in here and there. I liked how Carole would instruct a few moves together slowly and then we would speed them up and repeat them several times—so many times it worked my muscles to fatigue. I was sweating EVERYWHERE…a lot. When we came down to the mat for some reclined, pilates-inspired core work, I needed to modify many of the moves. For example, instead of lifting both my legs up simultaneously, I lifted one at a time, alternating sides. This felt like an appropriate level of challenge for me and after class, my tummy felt tight and turned on—a sensation I haven’t felt in a while! Class ended with some light and flowy stretching and relaxation. Even though my son was knocking on the door and watching me, I was so tired and worked that it felt easy to relax.

At times during class, I started to get into my head, thinking about how the movements were similar to non-workout moves I do everyday, like reaching, lifting, and carrying. (After all, the class was called “Thrive Functional Fitness.”) I also was thinking—why can’t we just dance?! Why do we have to make it a workout? Answer: a) batwings and 2) because we spend so much time not moving. It’s interesting, the class asked me to move my body in ways I haven’t in a while—specifically at a quicker pace and for a longer duration. In yoga, I gravitate toward slower flow or alignment classes so this was a nice challenge to utilize more explosive movements and quicker transitions. The class was an hour long and a significant portion of it was working-hard time so this tested my endurance. After class, I noticed I had the feeling that because I had worked so hard and sweated so much that it was ok to move less through out the rest of the day.

Overall, I had a super positive experience. And I say super positive because of endorphins. I was so fucking happy after that class. Unlike with Yoga Dance, I’ll definitely hit up Thrive again because it was fun, challenging, and convenient, and I’d like to see how my body adapts to it over time. I’ll just have to resist the urge to be a sloth and keep on moving through out the rest of the day.

In writing this, I saw myself type “Why can’t we just dance?!” twice.

Travis and pregnant me dancing at a wedding in 2014. I danced so much during that pregnancy and I’m happy to say that Audrey loves to dance too.

Travis and pregnant me dancing at a wedding in 2014. I danced so much during that pregnancy and I’m happy to say that Audrey loves to dance too.

So really, why can’t we just dance?! (And for the record, when I say “we” I totally mean “me” too.) Because we’re over-scheduled. Because we are really into multitasking. Because we always have to be doing something productive. Because we can’t seem to allow ourselves to just have fun for the sake of having fun. Because we wear our over-scheduledness and our exhaustion and our ability to multi-task as a badge of honor. Because we are movement deficient. Because we when we do move, it’s usually in the same ways over and over again. And many of the moves we need to have a well-rounded, strong body have been taken out of context. Instead of climbing a tree to scan the horizon for food, we reach through the drive thru window and attempt to do some pull ups later.

Why do we go to group exercise classes? Because we need to exercise but we also need community and connection. Maybe that’s what the Yoga Dance teacher was trying to offer—a sense of connection. But it was taken out of context and so it felt manufactured. Perhaps that’s why the instructor at Thrive greeted each and every person in class—so we all felt welcome and included and a part of something.

All this makes me wonder what the “natural” context of dance plus community and connection would look like. In the past (and probably in the present for many other cultures) dance could have been a part of celebration, ritual, or prayer. Is dance a “natural movement?” These are interesting ideas to ponder. What do you think?

And now, I’m going to close the computer, turn on some tunes, and move and groove like no one is watching (because really, the only other person here right now is two and doesn’t care and is asleep in the other room).