“O’ humans, learn to dance!
Otherwise the angels in Heaven will not
know what to do with you.”
“Dance is one of the most beautiful things
that can happen to a man.
So don‘t think about meditation separately.
Meditation is needed as something separate
for people who don‘t have any deep creative energy;
no direction for their energy to get
so deeply involved that they can be lost.
But a dancer, a painter, a sculptor,
need not have any other meditation.”
The Orange Book:
Five years attending a dance meditation class in New York’s Soho district convinced me that dance is meditation. Our teacher was Calvin Holt of New York City’s fabled Serendipity Restaurant.
Dance is one of the most natural forms of meditation in the world. Go with the music and you become the dance, whether solo or with a partner. A dance meditation can happen anytime—whether you are just watching the Joffrey Ballet, Salsa dancers, break dancers on New York City streets, or Sufi dervishes in St. John the Divine’s Cathedral during a Christmas celebration I once attended.
You can lose yourself in the Tango, Polka or line dancing.You enter another world without ever leaving this one. You become the dance. And it can be as subtle as a mental rehearsal, visualizing each move of a new dance, imperceptably rocking to music silently playing in your mind. Dance blends body, mind and spirit in a flowing motion—because dance is meditation.
DISCOVER THE “DANCER WITHIN” YOUR SOUL
My work in dance meditation started during a group therapy exercise. Our psychologist asked us to stand, silently, eyes closed. After several minutes he asked us to think of the one word that described our essence. When we had it, we were to say it softly to ourselves, gradually louder. Mine was “dancer.”
“Dancer!?” Me, a totally rational Wall Street investment banker. Me, a dancer? Where the heck did that come from? Today I know, it was from some mysterious creative force hidden deep inside searching for a way out. That force is in all of us. In you too. Mine was “dancer,” what’s yours?
Not long afterwards, I met Calvin Holt in a prison. Calvin was a Hatha Yoga teacher and the flamboyant owner of Manhattan’s chic Serendipity III Restaurant. Calvin was attending a play put on by inmates and directed by his girlfriend. A friend asked me to go with him.
During an intermission, Calvin invited me to a weekly dance meditation group in his Soho loft. Little did I know what I was getting into, but the inner voice from my therapy group suddenly seemed like a hot clue in a scavander hunt.
DANCE MEDITATION TRANSFORMS BANKER
Over the next five years I rarely missed a session in spite of a demanding schedule. On one long business trip for a bank client I flew back from San Antonio after a midday meeting. A limo picked me up at LaGuardia, took me to Calvin’s loft for the class, and waited. Afterwards I went back to the airport for the red-eye and caught up with our Morgan Stanley team in time for meetings in Albuquerque the next day. In many ways, that dance meditation was with me throughout the trip, it had become who I was, a “dancer.”
Our dance sessions were improvizational, in a huge loft bordering Little Italy, lit only by candles. Occasionally Calvin spoke softly in what seemed like a lost ancient language, revealing simple lessons of life in movement, blending the natural and the supernatural. He was the Tao, he was a Zen master.
Actually I wasn’t so much listening to his words as sensing his energy, drawing from his wisdom, and growing stronger for it against background music from many eclectic sources—lyrical Gregorian chanting, soothing sounds of the sea, modern jazz, harsh guttural Tibetian chanting—and always ending the evening on a high note with the haunting Pachelbel’s Kanon.
Although unconscious of it at the time, in retrospect it’s now obvious that those years in Calvin’s weekly Soho dance meditation class complimented everything else going on in my personal growth—every one of my acting classes, therapy sessions and self-help meetings that were slowly freeing me from Wall Street’s rigid left-brain mindset.
THE DANCER BECOMES THE DANCE
MEDITATION IN MOTION, LOST IN THE MOMENT
Dance meditation was not a stepping stone to becoming a professional dancer. That’s not why we were doing it. For some it was great exercise. Others did it because it was lots of fun. Also a kind of self-help therapy. And a chance to socialize with other creative spirits, while freeing yours. More likely, a little of each.
Professional dancers venture far beyond, they are the fortunate ones—for them dance is life, they have an opportunity to become the dance and to live in a world vibrating with dance meditation, all day, every day. You sense it in the many imaging techniques of choreographer and dance teacher Eric Franklin in his Conditioning for Dance: Training for Peak Performance:
“Conditioning the dancer as an athlete and as an artist is a mind-body exercise—strength, balance, flexibility, alignment and imagery training need to come together as a balance whole,” says Franklin. “Mental presence and concentration are the solid foundation of mind-body training. Being present in movement means experiencing the moment-to-moment changes in the shape and dynamics of every part of the body.”
If you listen closely you sense he could be coaching a marathoner, consulting with an inventor, training a martial artist, or instructing a monk. The message is the same in every case. As these activities become your meditation—the dancer becomes the dance, the inventor one with process of inventing, the runner is the race, the martial artist merges with his opponent. Remember, you are meditating when you are totally engaged in doing whatever you are doing in the moment—and nothing else.
DANCE IS THE SILENT LANGUAGE OF THE SOUL
The next time you do a little dancing, anywhere, try making it your meditation—whether you’re in a ballroom with the love of your life, attending a wedding or New Year’s celebration, line dancing at a western barn dance, enjoying disco on a Saturday night, salsa, tap, rap, teaching a child their first dance steps, or skipping along the sidewalk from the restaurant back to work!
Carry with you the message of the great Martha Graham: “Dance is the hidden language of the soul.” At first it may be faint, as in my therapist’s office. But listen, for it is there—whispering, waiting. Let the words come as movement for “you are unique, and if that is not fulfilled,” says Graham, “then something has been lost.” Become the dancer. Make your life the dance. All day, every day, for dancing is meditation.