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My Whirling Dervish

Tenderizing is much more challenging than I’d expected. It involves small concentrated movements, which my body does not recognize. Why should it? It has never moved this way before. During lessons, I tell my body to:  isolate your torso while engaging the trapezius muscles, twist your hips in the Latin, “and one”, and align your neck with your spine so you don’t look like a chicken. While you’re at it, maintain a soft but firm hold and engage Raul’s hand with precision pressure and don’t forget to keep your arms soft because after all, you’re a girl.

Sometimes, with all this twirling around in my head, I feel like a hot-out-of-control-overwhelmed-mess!

Yet, after every failed attempt, I hear myself say, “Do it again,” because I know that from overwhelm comes cage free breakthroughs. I’ve seen this happen in my life many times and I know that this internal push toward expansion is a reflection of what is happening in my external world now.  But, the process isn’t easy.

To maintain an accomplished sense of self I balance “tenderizing” with light and playful social ballroom and Hustle dancing with friends. Recently, I went to my beloved Ballroom by The Bay at the Santa Monica Women’s Club. This is where it all started for me six years ago (more about that in a later post). Its vintage elegance aligns with the peaceful mature crowd frequenting its halls.

Sitting there, next to the dance floor, between a Cha Cha and a Hustle, in conversation with three female friends, I shared how emotional I’ve been lately when I push myself at dance lessons. They nodded misty eyed in solidarity. One of them, an accomplished dancer said, “Dance is spiritual. Just look at the Whirling Dervish.” The rest of us must have looked confused because she stood up, raised her arms and spun solo in smooth, perfectly balanced repetitive turns to demonstrate. It was a thing of beauty.

I’d never heard of the Whirling Dervish. So, when I got to my car, I googled it. Apparently, it’s the Sufi practice of spinning smoothly in rapid succession without ceasing for long periods of time. Some participants spin with one hand reaching up to God while the other hand points downward delivering messages to mortals. It can be seen as hallucinating and considered dangerously mystical.

I tried it as soon as I got home!

This kind of “dangerous” mysticism intrigues me because often, during lessons and socials, I get what I call a “dance high” where I feel like I’m out of my body observing myself dance on autopilot from above. It feels like I’m drunk without drinking. When the spinning stops and the sweat begins to cool my back there’s an adjustment period. It begins with making my way to the sanctuary of my car, buckling into the driver’s seat and taking a few big, deep, breaths.

Starting the engine, I feel the corners of my mouth rise in an accomplished grin as a sense of pride rises and I recall the micro movements my body performed proficiently for the first time. “Now we’re getting somewhere,” praise from Raul rings in my ears. As I pull away, the dance high subsides and I feel a sudden urge to cry but I can’t tell if they are tears of joy or sorrow.What is it within this dance experience that it is still freeing my body of trapped emotion? I’m getting tired of all this emoting.

I realize a lot of people experience tears when pushed physically. My husband was an accomplished track and cross country runner when we met in high school.  Since then, I’ve accompanied him to thousands of track and cross country races: his, his athletes’ and his alumni who have gone pro.  I’ve seen many an exhausted tear at the finish line.

My daughter Jessica can attest to buckets of tears when she won a cross country race for the first time in high school. I hugged her as she sobbed “I can’t believe I won! I swear it felt like Justin was helping me.”

That’s it! Is it possible that dancing raises me to a higher energetic plane where I connect with divine love and thus with Justin? After all, our bodies are beacons of love and love never dies. Is it possible that Justin is nearer to me in those physically demanding moments? That I am transcending this reality for another? That as I cool off, I desperately want that feeling back?

Renowned spiritual scholar, Andrew Harvey said it best in RETURN OF THE MOTHER, “To be human is to be born into a dance in which every animate or inanimate, visible or invisible being is also dancing. Every step of this dance is printed in light; its energy is adoration, its rhythm is praise. Pain, desolution, and destruction in this full and unified sacred vision are not separate from the dance, but are instead essential energies of its transformative unfolding. Death itself cannot shatter the dance, because death is the lifespring of its fertility, the mother of all its changing splendor. If we could bring ourselves to open to this vision, we would undergo a revolution of the heart.”

May we all dance and spin and enjoy ourselves and others at every opportunity. May we use each breathe as an occasion to move in such a way that we live as our most loving, fully expressed selves without reservation. May we learn to live with one hand reaching up to God while delivering tender messages to each other through the other.



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