I've been a dancer all my life, and it has certainly meant many different things to me over the years. Along the way, I've also tried many different styles; every new style I have a chance to see or learn, I do. Recently it occurred to me that they may each mean something a little different to me. When I feel a need to move, I have my own improvisation vocabulary that's developed out of all these experiences, and yet there are definitely differences in the movements I need or discover at different times, and differences in what I've gained from each style over the years. So I thought I'd take some time to reflect on a top few styles and what they are to me...
Tap: My first style, tap is home to me. My studio as a kid excelled in tap, and everyone did it in addition to other styles they learned. It's a heritage connection to my earliest days in dance and to my Midwest roots where tap is strong. Today, tap is also my opportunity to be a little goofy; its a style with a sense of humor and freedom that I'm (ahem) tapping into more lately.
Modern: Modern is the style that taught me to bring myself and to take up space in the most authentic ways, always teaching me more about connecting inside and bringing it more fully outside. It naturally became my self-therapy when I first encountered it in undergrad, and has since been the way my improvisation looks when I need to move to process difficult or deep feelings. Modern is also how I move in prayer. Modern attuned me to my inner impetus to move. It means potential to do anything I need. It also reminds me of the beauty of all body types and ways of moving, including mine.
Ballet: This is the style that taught me to stand tall and proud, with gentle but repeated reminders from my instructor in college. It embraced my enjoyment of paying attention to the tiniest details of my movements to seek accuracy and grace, while also challenging me to let go and try to take up more space and move bigger. Ballet also helped me learn and practice the kinds of care my body needs after a good workout: foam rolling and ice.
West African: This style is the embodiment of FUN! It's free-flinging, energetic, grounded yet airborne, and always moving. Hints of West African pervade my just-for-fun dancing to just about any music style. West African dance also urges me to respect its cultural roots by connecting with others spontaneously in dance circles that follow the traditions of the style.
Those are the styles I've spent the most time in, getting to know myself in them. There are quite a few others... jazz, swing, Irish step, contemporary/lyrical, aerial, hip hop, and a touch of tango and Bollywood. Thinking of these styles, I see how they have been opportunities to experiment and get in touch with new parts of myself that each style highlights, so as a group they certainly represent this. There are many more styles I hope to learn, and I hope to always be dancing and growing through dance, so altogether, to me dance means potential!
Recently I've felt inclined to using nature imagery and metaphors in counseling. I think it is helped by a recent trip to California and some time at the beach this summer, among other adventures in the past few years. While I have been in these spaces, it's been a very embodied experience, so these things come back with me and are rekindled when clients share experiences with feelings that resonate viscerally as I empathize with them.
These images arise naturally as I listen to and feel along with clients, and I look to share them as a form of reflection of what the client is sharing. Knowing that not all of my clients have had the privilege of travel or much time in nature, I try to describe the sensations of the natural image, and verbalize the metaphorical connections to the experience they are describing. Sometimes this is a very brief, passing exchange, and sometimes it is something the client hooks onto and that they may even take home with them to reflect on or expand upon.
One of the things about nature images that feels powerful to me is that it provides some concrete images of our human smallness and lack of power: standing in a dark cave, feeling lost and stubbing our toes looking for a tiny light to hint at a way out; being overcome by ocean waves that pull our body here and there, hoping for just a moment to catch our breath while another wave crashes over. These can resonate with experiences of uncertainty and overwhelm, and might even help me and the client recognize where they need care, or maybe something they can do to help themselves cope in their challenges.
Nature also provides us with calm, peaceful images that can help clients center: imagining ourselves under a warm sunbeam, with soft clouds overhead; feeling a gentle waterfall cascade over us to help the stress fall from our muscles.
I wonder if this is one of the benefits that make time in nature beneficial to our wellbeing. Do we implicitly adopt images that can help us recognize how we feel? Do we internalize peaceful moments to benefit from later? Personally, I do, and I hope I can share some of that with my clients with these images and metaphors.