This morning, I tried hard NOT to flail my arms out in African dance class as I had surgery last month and don’t care to rip stitches out prematurely. But how can one not feel joy when you hear a drum beat? Drums are akin to our hearts. They are the pulse of life itself – lub dub, lub dub. Years ago when music therapists and myself would bring drums into groups at the Hebrew Home for the Aged, even acute stage Alzheimer’s patients would tap a hand or a foot, despite being practically comatose and near death’s door.
I have the privilege of taking African dance with a magnificent teacher. I studied African dance fairly extensively in college, so it’s part of my blood. However, the reason I love my teacher is because she understands dance as a form of worship. She practically radiates something higher than herself.
Dance is a way to express joy and praise; a way to mourn and rage.
I dance so I don’t forget I have a body that is often far superior to my mind. The body has its own knowledge and its own divinity. As Whitman wrote, “I sing the body electric!” and as Hafiz waxed eloquent:
Every child has known God, Not the God of names, Not the God of don’ts, Not the God who ever does anything weird, But the God who only knows four words and keeps repeating them, saying: “Come dance with Me.” Come dance.
This is the week of giving thanks. Dance reminds me of the vitality inherent in gratitude. Often, thanks is pretty basic: I slept well last night. This coffee tastes terrific. Friends make me smile. Strangers can be kind. Let me give you a hug. The dog wagged his tail. I’m doing what I love. It rained in LA. Sunday is football. People still care.
For anyone who has ever studied sports or dance, structure matters. Our body posture and alignment has profound effects on whether we can hit a ball or balance ourselves upright on one leg. Athletes and dancers spend years mastering their body mechanics for optimum performance.
There was a time in my life when I studied “Awareness Through Movement” from the somatic educational system designed by Moshé Feldenkrais (1904–1984). Feldenkrais aims to reduce pain or limitations in movement, to improve physical functions, and to promote general wellbeing. Often incorporated by athletes, musicians, dancers and actors to enhance performance, the classes are wonderful for anyone wishing to increase physical and emotional awareness.
Today, I was reminded that structure matters. Having suffered from TMJ for many years because my jaw shifted out of alignment after having braces, I have long been looking for relief. Today I saw a TMJ specialist. While hooked up to machines for 2.5 hours like Frankenstein so that the dentist could study my “bite registration” and GPS my jaw, I felt my jaw (and every other part of my nervous system) relaxing. Yet I assisted in the process when I was asked questions and expected to engage in focused, incremental mouth movements.
In a few weeks, I will have a device to wear at night that will help put my jaw where it needs to be on a routine basis. When wearing the mock up of the device at the session’s end, my jaw still maintained its relaxed state even when exerting physical strength. Plus, my neck mobility and balance dramatically improved. All because my jaw was in the right position.
It’s surprising how much work goes into relaxing the jaw. I was so exhausted afterwards that I took a two hour nap…
May we remember that structure matters. How we align ourselves – physically, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually – has a vast impact on our quality of life and functionality.