DANCING Your Stress Away

 

By Cay Randall-May, Ph.D.

 

            Stress reduction plays a central role in healing and creativity.  That’s why activities, such as dancing, which can lower stress are so valued in times like these.  Last Friday evening, while on my way  to the supermarket, I noticed a line of people out the door and down the sidewalk in front of a neighborhood ballroom dance studio.

            Through the open door I could see eager jitterbuggers their silhouettes weaving colorful patterns against the polished wooden dance floor.  Watching them reminded me of how I became convinced of the healing power of dance. 

            My childhood experiences with dance were not promising.  My mother took me to one ballet class when I was about five years old.   When I was too shy to join in the group she didn’t take me back.   In high school physical education class I reluctantly danced the part of a raindrop, but felt awkward and embarrassed. 

            Prom dances at that time were more about flirting in a fancy dress than about expressing my innermost feelings through movement. 

            So, when a friend invited me to attend a creative dance workshop many years later I was openly skeptical.  When we arrived the meeting room was jammed with people.  Their body language and sideways glances told me that I wasn’t the only one feeling out of place.

            Our instructor carefully introduced us to Gabrielle Roth’s five essential rhythms or types of movement.  As soon as we got into them I felt overshadowed by the process.  This wasn’t dance as I had known it.  Energy moved through my body from some previously unsuspected source and I, the stiff-as-a-board, non-dancer, surrendered to the movement.

            Each dancer independently wove her unique path, enrapt in her solitary soul dance.  At the same time there was an over-arching order because our leader was directing us to use one or another of the five basic movements.  Together we were like a school of tuna fish glinting sunlight as we swirled in unison.

            Soon I forgot my reservations about dancing in a group of strangers.  No one was watching me.  I could be as wild as I wanted, and it felt so good to windmill my arms and lunge into an ever-intensifying cascade of movement.  I was like a swimmer being swept towards the apex of a waterfall.  Would I go over the edge of my sedate world into the abyss of freeform dance?

            Then the post-dance meditation began  and I melted into the comforting cool of the smooth, wooden floor, tingling to my soul.  For the first time in my life I had danced.

 

Excerpted in part from my new book “Healing and the Creative Response” (Randall-May, Cay 2010, Brooks-Goldmann Publ.)  available for purchase this Fall.

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