When Your Dance Community Makes You Cry

When Your Dance Community Makes You Cry December 4, 2016

This is a somewhat more personal post than usual. But it was such a significant life event, I’d be remiss in not writing about it.

Me dancing with my troupe at Bloomington Belly Dances 2016. Photo by Paula Stapley.
Me dancing with my troupe at Bloomington Belly Dances 2016. Photo by Paula Stapley.

I’m leaving for Berkeley for the spring semester, and it’s breaking my heart (mostly in a good way). I expected to miss my dance community, but I wasn’t expecting a send-off that would bring tears to my eyes and help me reflect on how amazing everyone in it is.

Dancing from the Heart

Dance has the potential to tug at my heartstrings more than other things in my life, so this isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon. There’s something about the embodied connection people form when dancing synchronously, and using dance as a non-verbal language to communicate, that is significant and touching.

I’ve talked about how diverse my dance community is (and really, how all dance communities are), which I adore. I love the challenge of relating to people who are different than me, united by a common passion for dance.

I’ve written (in another rare moment of openness) about how belly dance saved my life during a time of depression. Similarly, attending Sacred Circles (a dance retreat) helped me process some of the emotions I’d been having this fall, as I alternated between walking the shores of Lake Huron by myself and dancing with people from all over North America.

And I wrote an open letter to my dance students – inspired by one lively student in particular moving away – in which I counsel continuing to practice what I’ve taught while being open to new things. Always be compassionate toward yourself in dance classes, and always be respectful of the way your (new) teacher does things. This seems like a good life lesson, and one that I’ll be learning as I find myself a student again in the Bay Area.

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

I didn’t actually expect to found an amazing dance community here in Indianapolis. It was not something I set out to do.

Selfishly? I have to admit that when I first landed here in mid-2012, having finished my PhD but not having found full-time academic work yet, I really just wanted people to dance with. And when I looked around and saw that there weren’t many people who danced ATS, I thought “Well, better start teaching!”

And as soon as people realized just how cool ATS was, and that I’d put in the time (and training) to not suck as a teacher, they joined the community. Some came and went; others have been with me from the start. Everyone contributed something special and unique.

I know dance isn’t a cheap hobby. I know it’s time-consuming. I know it’s hard and sometimes frustrating.

Hence I marvel at everyone who stuck with it, and gave from their hearts, and helped create and lift up the Indianapolis dance scene.

Now Indy Tribal is ten strong as a professional ATS troupe, with six in our student troupe, Mandali Tribal. And dozens more have taken classes with me, and shared stages with us, and helped spread the word.

I don’t think me from four years ago could’ve anticipated just how much the dance community would have blossomed. Thank you, all. I see your hard work and passion and I’m grateful for it. As though my happy tears the night of my going-away party weren’t evidence enough…I’m in awe of you all.

Taking Credit Where Credit is Due

At the same time… it’s freaking me out to say this, but I get to take a lot of responsibility for how this turned out. Which, of course, is scary.

Thinking on it, the night of the going-away party, I felt a knot in my heart that both squeezed and expanded. It was like fear combating love, with fear saying you can’t actually say this out loud, people will think you’re elitist, or that you’ve always thought you were too good for everyone else, with love saying, but it’s true, you accomplished this, you’re a good teacher/director/person.

I think this gets into my personal history a bit as a shy bookworm nerdy kid who had trouble relating to others…but I’m really afraid of being judged, and being found too elitist or arrogant. I know I’ve got some class privilege in my background, and such…but I don’t actually think I’m better than anyone else, and I fear coming across that way. I try to stay humble, and to keep in mind that the places where I excel in life are self-contained units: I’m better at this because I studied it for longer, or lucked into it, or some combination; being better at this doesn’t make me a better human, just one with more experience in this particular realm.

But, here goes: I’m so proud that I made this dance community a reality. Even if it wasn’t what I initially set out to do. I worked hard for this, and I’m so glad that my vision resonated with people enough that they joined me in making it happen.

I’m overjoyed that folks joined me in creating safe spaces where we can explore what our bodies can do, in a culture that normalizes women loathing their bodies. I’m so pleased that we came together to trust each other in deploying this nonverbal dance language, in a culture that thrives on women’s competition (trust me, I see this all the time in fairy tales!).

I knew that being a troupe director would be a lot of work, and I already found it rewarding…but I think my imminent departure has thrown into sharp relief both of these facts. In delegating my work load to my troupemates, I’m realizing just how much work I’ve done for the past few years. And in preparing to (temporarily) say goodbye, I’m realizing just how rewarding it’s been.

Dancing from the Heart, Again

I know that dance can take its toll on one’s life. I’ve been accused of pursuing it to the detriment of other priorities in my life. But looking back? I think I prioritized it just enough. Dance has sustained me in tough times, and will continue to do so.

This is a goodbye-post, but a temporary one. It’s a post to mark the changes that dancing has catalyzed in me. I don’t always like talking about my emotions, and I have an easier time dancing them. And since I’ve had no bandwidth recently, I haven’t been dealing with the upcoming changes as well as I might be.

Seeing my dance community come together to dance for me, and with me, at the going-away party…that spoke to me on a deeper level, and stirred up all these feelings I was having trouble articulating about my time here. I’m so glad about all of this, even as I’m so sad about it. And I suppose that’s what life is, holding these emotions in balance, and doing our best to honor the folks who inspire them in us.

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