I used to hate dancing with a visceral passion. If it was ever suggested, I’d say “oh, I can’t dance.” It’s similar to when your parent’s computer breaks and they say “oh, I’m not a computer person.” There’s a visceral, bodily rejection to the idea of performing this action, of being associated with this kind of identity. Often, it’s not so much a rejection out of dislike more than a self-defense mechanism to avoid being conflated with a foreign entity. Dancing is definitively not me because it’s so far outside my comfort zone that it’s inconceivable. Following this line of logic, I think it was the fear of exposure that lay at the root of this triggered guardrail. Dancing is something so naturally intimate and expressive that it’s almost impossible to be performative during it. It’s easy when attendance is compulsive because you can still distance yourself from the identity, but volunteering for it in any case that you’re not physically forced to do it is an invitation to be ridiculed.
Given this background, it’s still a bit surprising to me how much I love dancing now. It’s one of my common stress relievers now where I escape problem rabbit holes by jumping out of my seat and transforming the open slice of carpet in my room into a polished dance floor in my mind. Throw in some airpods, put on some bops, and let the music take over my body. Pesky thoughts and screaming concerns lodged into my conscious mind become lubricated and turning loose fall down into the ocean of subconscious thought. Inhibitions fade into a dull whisper in the background. All I can feel is the energy of each moment, delivered through the combination of vibrating strings, synthetics, and voices coalescing into a concentrated atom of feeling. The burdens of the routine of everyday life have been replaced by a hive-mind single-focus blank state. An automatic mode of operation, where choice isn’t an option. My actions are merely derivative from the musical input, another kind of external device to channel the dynamic energy of sound waves into the dynamic movement of limbs.
What changed that allowed me to truly enjoy dancing now? Part of it is definitely the fact that I’m doing it alone in my room whereas the context I was asked to dance in before were always high-pressure social settings, whether it was auditioning for the monkey role in our school rendition of the Horton Gives a Who musical or trying to strike the sweet spot of aloof compulsion with jumping and bopping your hand up and down to the beat of Flo Rida at middle school dances. In those cases, the overwhelming social pressure was to conform. Dancing was generally conceived to be fine if you were good at it and heavily discouraged if not, so as middle school boys do, you find the minimum set that allows you to see a glimpse of the fun of dancing while conforming to a “cool” version that doesn’t look like dancing—hence the strange ritual of bouncing in place. But being alone isn’t the only thing that’s different. Pre-covid, I was regularly attending hip hop classes at City Dance, a routine that solidified after a short but intense period of experimentation including everything from dance to improv to Toastmasters.
I think the core of being able to dance freely is being satisfied with who you are. Because dancing is giving your body over as the vehicle for music to flow, you have to be comfortable giving your body like that. The comfort with that action stems from the awareness that you are enough, that you body is capable of channeling whatever it channels for the music. It’s an understanding that you are worthy, that you are a whole-hearted person.
The ability to be satisfied with who you are and act as a competent vehicle for energy to flow through is why dancing through life is so powerful. Originally, I heard this phrase from The Courage to be Disliked, a Japanese book in a dialogue style that goes through Adlerian psychology. Instead of constantly going from one goal to the next, stepping stones in a line to the top, under the traditional thinking around living a successful life, dancing through life means treating life as a series of moments, that you focus fully on, each one the most important thing while you live through it. Dancing through life means focusing on your craft not your career, intensely living in the current moment, and understanding that you are enough.
How does this mindset allow you to adopt new identities? Doesn’t accepting that you’re enough mean you shouldn’t change? I think the difference comes from two different interpretations of accepting. One feels like a heavy weight, an inevitable yet unfinished conclusion—accepting that you can’t change. The other feels like a light awareness, a base point which opens up access to any path—accepting that you are enough because you can change if you take steps towards it.
It’s this confidence that comes from detaching from your body and letting your body be the medium for expression for some idea combined with knowing that you’re enough. This acceptance gives you the psychological oxygen to try out a new identity, like trying on a new coat. You do a fit check and see how you vibe with it. Instead of, “can you pull off this look?” you’re thinking “what is my take on this look?” You start to cultivate a wardrobe of different styles because you’re able to put yourself out there and look different or weird compared to the crowd.
Dancing through life is embracing the raw, unfiltered nature of experiencing things in the moment, of following the energy as you go and accepting that you’re just along for the ride, to be a willing vehicle for energy to flow through, an organic vibe machine.
This is the 9th installment in my experiment of publishing raw, lightly edited mini-essays every day towards achieving 100 public pieces. Check out the rationale and the full list here.
this resonated!!! and random, but what you write about dancing through life really reminds me of the last bit of the mads mikkelsen interview here: https://www.vulture.com/amp/article/mads-mikkelsen-in-conversation.html
"My approach to what I do in my job — and it might even be the approach to my life — is that everything I do is the most important thing I do. Whether it’s a play or the next film. It is the most important thing. I know it’s not going to be the most important thing, and it might not be close to being the best, but I have to make it the most important thing. That means I will be ambitious with my job and not with my career. That’s a very big difference, because if I’m ambitious with my career, everything I do now is just stepping-stones leading to something — a goal I might never reach, and so everything will be disappointing. But if I make everything important, then eventually it will become a career. Big or small, we don’t know. But at least everything was important."
Hahahaha you nailed the middle school dance descriptions 🤣 I love the question reframing so that instead of using a deficit mindset, the question is framed in a more positive manner (e.g. what can I add instead) 👏