Why I dance, even when I’m not dancing

Health benefits, stress relief, adrenaline rushes, boosts of self-confidence, supportive community, artistic expression — I am in love with dance (and movement) for many of the same reasons we all are. But I want to let you in on a little secret… I didn’t learn the REAL REASON behind why I dance until, as funny as it seems, I stopped dancing.

Or at least, I stopped dancing from an outsider’s perspective. (Meaning, I stopped teaching, directing, performing, choreographing and taking traditional classes.)

I still danced for fun at parties, weddings, birthdays, shows; I still danced and practiced spinning on the hardwood floors of my tiny apartment; I still danced by quietly knocking out some rhythms with my boots while waiting for the train; I still danced by noticing the shifting of my weight into the back of my heels before taking my first step forward when crossing the street; I still danced by shimmying my hips when I had been sitting all day and needed a burst of energy.

But if I had not stopped dancing for the purpose of performance art, I wouldn’t have been able to clarify the deeper reasons for why I dance. I wouldn’t have come to the realization that I move just because I enjoy how it feels in the moment and not because I’m sneaking in some practice time preparing for a class or an upcoming performance.

When I “quit dancing” I became more and more aware and surprised of how much dance permeates my everyday life.

I never imagined I’d be using a movement I learned in Persian dance studies to rock my newborn to sleep; that I’d draw so deeply on the breath work and meditation I would use before a performance to calm my nerves before a surgery; that I could remedy my shoulder pain through basic body awareness exercises I learned in Feldenkrais classes; that I could entertain my fussy toddler for a solid 30 minutes with veil work; that I could use the balance I gained from dance and yoga to stand on the ball of one foot to reach my favorite lipstick that had fallen behind the sink; that instead of zoning out on TV, I could use the rhythms I learned in Flamenco, Turkish Roman, and Moroccan music to make a fun family game; that my love for floor work and tumbling would help me land more gracefully (and thankfully not break anything) when I slipped and fell down the subway stairs… Those are all the real reasons I dance.

Simply, dance makes everyday life better.

If you’re having a great day it can make it even more magical. If you’re having a regular day it can turn even the most mundane activities into play. And perhaps most importantly, when life gets shitty it can provide refuge like nothing else can. With dance you can alter your state of consciousness and transcend time and space.

I believe we are all meant to relish in our movements and dance every day. It’s a primordial thing that sometimes gets lost in our sit-down culture. Dance is meant to live beyond the studio and the stage. It should interweave with our real and everyday lives.

When my little boy Dimitri died…and everybody was crying… Me, I got up and I danced. They said, “Zorba is mad.” But it was the dancing — only the dancing that stopped the pain. — Zorba, in Zorba the Greek

Originally published at dancewithbahar.com on April 10, 2016 by Jalene Hernández-Cabrijan.

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