For many years, I stood guard before two doors.  Behind one door there was dance. Behind the other, was spirituality. While I longed for one, I avoided the other.

Dance was the privilege of the experts, the artists who had mastered technique since they were babies, the ones bestowed with bunions and dancers’ bodies, and those who not only had rhythm but could also distinguish right from left, and members of certain ethnic groups. I could never aspire to be a dancer.  Besides the chosen few, only fools , drunks, and wedding reception attendees danced.  I would never allow myself to be one of those.

And yet I longed to dance. So in private, and at parties when I was drunk enough, I danced anyway. Dance was something I pretended not to do, but did anyway, behind my locked door.

If dance was my secret love, then spirituality was my public enemy. I openly mocked traditional religion and quietly scorned spiritual practice.  I felt that I couldn’t be spiritual because I couldn’t believe in God , other worldly enlightenment, or any of the immaterial nonsense that spiritual people preached. I couldn’t bring myself to buy anything wrapped in airy fairy, new age packaging. I certainly could never be a follower of some bald man’s bestselling self-help book. Even godless Eastern spirituality, so popular among my friends and other smart people, seemed null and void. I simply couldn’t see the point in sitting, breathing, and watching my monkey mind. Stillness seemed like death to me, and wasn’t I going to spend enough of eternity in stillness without having to add a dead practice to my waking days? Like dance, spirituality remained inaccessible, behind a door that I had locked.

And yet, I yearned to connect with something greater than my own story of struggle and overwhelm. I wanted deeper experiences. I wanted meaning and truth and purpose.

In my dark night of the soul, over cigarettes and coffee, and in privacy of my own notebooks, I started asking questions. Is this life all there is? What’s the purpose to human suffering?  Isn’t truth just something we think up in order to make ourselves feel better?  Thinking about thinking was getting me nowhere.  Any sort of quest for truth was just, plain depressing. The way I figured it, if truth is all there is, we all might as well be dead.

Fortunately, I gave up thinking for a while. On the side, I continued my secret dance. Sometimes I danced under the guise of exercise, sometimes I danced in my underwear in front of the bathroom mirror.  Sometimes I danced at parties, but mostly I danced when I felt safe, when no one else was looking. I played my music loud and strong and I moved.  There were times when I danced myself silly. The more I danced, the more alive I felt.  My imagination ran wild, and creative ideas flowed. There were times when my movement didn’t even feel like dance at all. I felt as if a hard shell starting to break away and some new person was breaking free. The movement felt like liberation.

With continued practice, I no longer struggled to make sense of my experience. Dancing became an inquiry into experience of living in a body. And then I danced for no other reason than to dance. I felt like I was forgetting myself and remembering who I was at the same time. Through this fully physical, sensuous experience, I felt deep connection to all other beings. Through movement and experience of my body, I was having an out-of-body experience.  There was no meaning or purpose to the dance because I was already there.

I struggled to name what was happening. Was I dancing myself into something like a runner’s high? Was I experiencing an altered state of consciousness?  Was I going crazy? All I knew was that I wanted to explore this edge, and soon dance became an adventure I wanted to share with others, but I didn’t know what to call it. Little by little, I started using the ‘s’ word. Whispering it at first, or prefacing it with “for lack of a better term”  I’d say, I’m dancing as a spiritual practice. Would you like to join me?  Describing my dancing as spiritual was risky.  Not only would I release my preconceived notions of dance, I would allow myself to ask the bigger questions, seek connections, explore how I might integrate dance into my daily life.

Opening my well-guarded doors to spirituality and dance was only the beginning.  I started sharing the experience with partners and communities who are also asking these questions.  I’ve become curious about my own habits of movement, my own assumptions and ways of being in my body. As I continue to dance, each opening creates new openings to new ways of perceiving, new ways of moving, new ways of experiencing my own thoughts and feelings.

Dancing as spiritual inquiry offers few hard and fast answers. As the best questions lead to more questions, each liberation creates fresh opportunity for more liberation. May your dance practice become a continued inquiry, an exploration of perception and experience that never fails to enrich, enliven, and liberate your life.

  1. Christine Gaffney says:

    Hi Patricia. I enjoyed reading this site and your story.
    I’m totally a closet dancer. So it was fun to hear about your experience.


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