Dancing with my Hair Down

When I was small, I danced for hours in the foyer of my house. Most of the house was carpeted, including the kitchen and two bathrooms, but not in this white square speckled with black dots. It was years before tile would replace some of that carpet. In the meantime, that 12 x 12 square feet of space was all I ever needed.

I danced for hours in solitude in this square, and into the space extending into the living room, twirling, composing, tapping, pretending, the music my guide. The music was enchanting. I don’t know where it came it from, what it was called or where it went. It seemed to disappear from my life. I never bothered to know what that music was; I never needed to know. I’ve never heard it since, but I would know if I were ever to hear it again. Still, the memory of it is faint in my head.

I can hear the piano, but it wasn’t necessarily classical. It was scratchy, schmultzy, waltzy, melodic and ethereal. If I had to place it, I’d say it’s the kind of music you might hear in a Parisian cafe with a river running through it. Although that doesn’t describe it at all. The music breathed steps to me and I listened. I danced like no one was watching, because no one was.

My parents had thrown big pool parties back then with lots of activity and drunkenness. They were great fun. After dinner, my mother might lightly encourage me to perform a dance. I was painfully shy, but I was taking lessons, so sometimes I gave it a go.

I might perform for a few moments, looking down at the floor, horrified with all the smiling, googly-eyes on me and the expectation to entertain my drunken audience. I knew my mother would be happy with anything I did. Still, so serious, I would make a feeble attempt and run away. The girl who had once danced with not a care in the world was nowhere.

My childhood dream to dance the Arabian role in The Nutcracker became a reality, marked by tears; I cried before and after the performance because my shoes were too tight and I was too young to know better. My poor prince. He didn’t know what to make of it all.

Arabian
A moment of calm. Oh, how I loved this costume.

In college, I danced and I wrote. I was an English major, taking all the technique classes for dance majors. I had the load of a double major, easily. In one modern dance class, we were graced with the presence of a teacher who had been a former dancer with the renowned José Limón Dance Company. We all wanted to impress her. One day, she stopped the pianist and told all the dancers in the room to take their hair down. Astonished, we complied willingly; taking out our ponies, our pins, and our bobbies.

“Try it again,” she said, motioning us to dance the combination across the floor.

You might think it was a moment of bliss, a group of serious dancers in a very serious class asked to dance with their hair down. Not so. Perhaps because I felt it should be this magical moment that I should let loose and dance like the wind, I felt caught instead: first, by my hair in my face and my worry that I might run into a fellow, untamed dancer; second, that I should feel so moved by the permission to be free that my steps would now be executed to my teacher’s satisfaction.

After going across the floor again and again, the energy in the room changed. Sure, we still tried to dance the steps, but a strange thing happened.

Letting our hair down wasn’t an invitation to wildness as it turned out. I found myself turning inward, and I felt all the energy in the room becoming more internalized. We weren’t dancing for her anymore; we were dancing for ourselves. We were still dancing her steps. The difference was exploring what those steps meant.

I asked myself what did I have to say with those steps and why should anyone care? How could I make those steps translate what I felt, because if they didn’t mean anything to me, they sure as hell wouldn’t mean anything to anyone else.

I needed to find the little girl underneath, tapping to her heart’s delight in the foyer to that enchanted music not heard since. Where is she? How can I find her? She was buried deep under layers of indecision, doubt, bad decisions, insecurity, and criticism.

FullSizeRender (6)
I felt her presence when I danced as the “Wind” in  Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Dancing with friends is a gift.

Dancers’ steps are more than a strand of movements committed to muscle memory. Their bodies respond to music. Steps flow through them so that they don’t look like steps anymore, and they’re not. Their movement comes from a deeper place, from a reservoir of time and patience, of knowing their limits and how far they can fly; it’s a combination of concentration and abandon, of technical finesse blended with emotional physicality. It’s what I strove for, but was lucky to feel at all.

Watching an accomplished dancer is a glorious thing. If you’ve never done it, I highly recommend it. It is artistic expression beyond oneself; it touches an audience’s sensibilities and resides in their minds to be recalled long after the experience is over.

Streetdance
My sons joining me in a slow-motion street performance. Everything has been worth it for this moment alone. A treasure.

Answers you seek, the purpose for your steps, they must come from within. Living with myself all these years has taught me to accept my shortcomings, and I’ve learned I have something to give. That inner child once buried deep is not so deep anymore. She sits beside me now and reminds me she’s still here. The invitation to dance is always open.

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58 thoughts on “Dancing with my Hair Down

    1. Thank you, Stephen. So glad you enjoyed this. I’ve been wanting to write this for a long time. All that counts is that you feel good dancing those means moves. Dancing when you have the house to yourself is the best!

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  1. I really enjoyed the post. I don’t watch dancers often, though I watched West Side Story over the weekend. What dancing! It is the same with all of the arts – it’s what’s happening on the inside that’s important. The technical aspect sets the limits, but the inner fire creates the art. I hope you get a chance to let that little girl dance often!

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    1. Thanks, Trent. I love West Side Story. I danced in that one, too. Believe it or not, I was a Jet. That was one of the most memorable things I performed. We had such a good time. What’s happening on in the inside, indeed, is what matters and what stays and what people take away. That inner fire, yes. I hope so, too. She doesn’t get out nearly often enough. Thanks for your lovely comments.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Did you dance on point? Good lord, that always looks so painful to me. How do you manage, tight shoes or not?

    The only way out is in.

    Wish I could say I made that up but I read it somewhere.

    Your kitchen was carpeted? That’s wild.

    I’m with Stephen. That’s a gold-star post.

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    1. I believe I had these shoes fitted, actually, to top it all off. However, my feet are horrible for pointe shoes because my second toe is longer than my first. You can imagine the problems that brings. Later, I was able to find a shoe that worked better. You wouldn’t believe the variety that is out there now. But, I still prefer my bare feet. 🙂

      I like it! There’s lots of truth there. Do you remember who wrote it?

      Our kitchen was carpeted for the longest time. Weird, huh? I don’t know what I would have done without that little square, because back then, I was a tap dancer! I tapped like mad.

      Thanks so much. x

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  3. What a fantastic post. i admit not knowing that dance played this big of a role in your life. I’m one who wonders (if not believes) about art being the ultimate expression of the human creativity … thus the power of the human brain.

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    1. Thank you, Frank! I danced for decades and it was all I did for a long time. I spent most of weekends in the studio rehearsing for the next show. I wanted it be more, and my only regret is that I didn’t choreograph more. But, my life is not over. I love what you say about art and the power of the human brain. I couldn’t agree more. We would be lost without art.

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    1. Thank you, Aussa. So nice to see you here. I do like that old photo, too, even if my eyes are closed. 🙂 I like to think I just look like I’m breathing deeply. I don’t have many dancing photos. Maybe they exist and I just don’t have them. But those were pre-digital days, so if they’re gone, they’re gone. Oh, do buy tickets, Aussa! I have tickets to see Pilobolus next month. I can’t wait!

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  4. Just loved this Amy – your pictures are beautiful and descriptions of what dance means to you were so touching. My daughter and I have gone to The Nutcracker as a Christmas tradition for the past 10 years and the Arabian scene is always our favorite!

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    1. I’m so happy you enjoyed this, Kelly. Thanks. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. I have a couple of dance posts I want to write. This is one. My other one is more complicated. The Arabian was always my favorite. I could always watch Sugar Plum and Snow scene. They are a close second!

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    1. Dancing is a beautiful thing to watch. I’ve taken classes with prima ballerinas, and all I wanted to do was look at their arms, as strange as that might sound. They’re just amazing. At least it’s my insight. I suppose someone else could have an entirely different take on things. Thanks, Carrie.

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  5. I have always admired those that have the courage to dance and dance well. It is so inspiring to watch. Thanks for a glimpse of what it was like for you – and the pictures are lovely; especially the Aladdin one!

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  6. Amy what a beautiful story! And those pictures are priceless. I love to watch a dancer. When it’s true, as you’ve described, and the artist lets go of worrying whether this will be good enough, magic happens. It’s like watching something being born. Something beautiful and whoever is watching feels honored to have witnessed it. Loved this post and thank you for sharing. Hope you never lose sight of that little dancing girl.

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    1. Thank you, Brigitte. So glad you enjoyed it. Dancing has been a lifelong life of mine, and even though I don’t do it so much now, I still think of myself as a dancer. I hope to get back, because I do miss it. The little dancing girl still dances all over the house. 🙂

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  7. Great post Amy, and I could really relate! I was the Snow Queen in The Nutcracker 🙂 Not a proper production though, just a show put on by the dance school I attended. I too was uninhibited and, if I do say so myself, pretty good when I was just dancing at home unwatched, but in front of others I would get a bit shy and hold back. About three years ago I started going to an adult ballet class near my work, I expected it to be fairly easy, like ballet type exercises, but it was a full on gruelling ballet class, most of the rest of class were like me – used to do it pretty seriously but hadn’t done any for years. I went for several months and loved it, hard as it was to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t as supple as I was all those years ago! I had to stop in the end because the time of the class stopped fitting in with my schedule. A couple of years before that I went to an adult tap class for about a year and loved that too, but again had to stop. I miss dancing! Sigh. Fabulous picture of you there in the Arabian!

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    1. Oh Vanessa, I didn’t know you danced! That’s wonderful you went back to class. That’s the hardest bit for me right now. Nothing works out with my schedule. My kids have afternoon activities, etc or my husband teaches nights. It’s always something. Sigh. I danced pretty seriously through college and then beyond with regional companies. The commitment was pretty intense and for a very long time, I wanted so much more. I’m happy I had so many chances to perform. Later I went on to dance with a “professional” company, nevermind no one got paid. 🙂 I could perform a lot easier in front of an audience I couldn’t see than a room full of familiar faces. I hope you can get back to tap class. Before ballet, I tapped and loved it! Back then, I hated ballet, in fact, because I thought it too slow. Now, it sounds great. Yeah, ballet can be very grueling, and actually my hips are not the best now. I would still try a class. It won’t be the same, but I will still be dancing!

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  8. This is a really great post, Amy. I loved it. Maybe inhibition comes from hair tied up too tightly. 🙂 Of course, I don’t have any hair to speak of, so I guess I should be able to dance freely.

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    1. Thanks, David. Oh, and I hope you do dance freely. I think it’s about knowing yourself. I think that gets easier as you get older. You become more forward-looking. At least for me!

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  9. This post made me think about my niece, Amy. I suspect you’ve struck chords that she could relate to. She was never into soccer. It was ballet when she was a tyke and that lead to hip-hop, tap, dancing in her high school’s musicals and now, as a junior in college, dance is her minor. It keeps her fit and it’s a form of expression that is both creative and very disciplined> I have the impression that it gives her immense satisfaction. It seems that it’s been very fulfilling for you, too. Very thought provoking post.

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    1. It has been fulfilling and I kept dancing…into my forties. But then I stopped and is maybe why I’m reflecting on it now. I do miss it. If I were to go back it would be a different thing for me probably. It would feel like home and I wouldn’t put any pressure on myself. I would be grateful to be there. 🙂 I’m glad your niece enjoys dancing. It is a great way to stay fit and and have a creative outlet that’s all your own. Thanks, V!

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  10. You know, this is the type of post that I would like to see featured on that freshly pressed thing, because it means something, has heart, and feels uplifting. And it spoke to me – and I appreciate that. I dance with my kids, always hope to, and that they do the same with theirs. I’ve never been good at it, but that’s not really the point.

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    1. Just to hear you say that about the freshly thing 🙂 makes me smile. See? And that’s enough, really. Your comments mean more to me. Dance has always been a part of me, from the very beginning before it was ever a sacrifice or something I failed at. I had those moments, too. It’s hard to try to be perfect. As soon as I stopped trying, I enjoyed dancing in the moment again. I’m so happy to hear that you have dancing moments with you’re kids. Yes, exactly. You got it! Being good at it is not the point at all. It’s all about dancing with your heart.

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