Dancing from the inside

I spent last weekend at a wonderful plant conference/gathering. The conference and all I learned will be a story for another day. One of the highlights of the weekend for me was a dance party Saturday evening. A great band, a group of people I felt very comfortable with, and my own current commitment to get more dancing back into my life – and, in the bigger sense, to throw myself into physical experiences fully, without self-consciousness – meant I was on the dance floor for every song, my energy only growing as the night went on.

A friend who didn’t dance that evening commented later that it was beautiful to watch so many people dancing who were comfortable in their bodies and in their skin. The way she phrased it grabbed me and it stayed on my mind all week. I was grateful to have it pointed out. It brought my awareness to something I had in that moment taken for granted: dancing, I was comfortable with my body and my skin. I was fully inside my body, experiencing music and movement and love for the people all around me.

It seems so simple. But how many years did I spend mostly looking at myself from the outside? How many years have you spent that way? Critiquing photographs and my image in the mirror. Self-conscious; not doing things; not taking the risk. I learned early on that I wasn’t athletic, and for a while I stopped trying new things with my body. I danced – except when I sat out even that – but I often restricted my movements. I danced as if I was being watched.

In my twenties, influenced by Rebecca Solnit’s history of walking, and my own restlessness, I started walking for hours; I stumbled into yoga and pushed myself into an increasingly regular yoga practice. I did things that I had never though I could do. That, followed by giving birth and nursing my children brought me into a new alignment with my body. I sometimes became a little giddy with how powerful it felt to be able to do these things, how resilient my body was, how strong. I realized that, completely contradicting what I had believed about myself as a child, I needed a LOT of movement; in truth, my body was always hungry for it.

And then, for a while, restricted by the demands of child care, I didn’t get the amount of movement I needed. I was tired. I got stuck in my head again. I stepped back again, shocked to see from the outside how much I had aged.

I wondered then what it would have been like to age in a time and place where there were no mirrors and no photographs. I thought about what that would mean. I didn’t think I could do away with them altogether. But could I minimize their influence on my self-perception?

Now, in my body at forty, I feel more energy, more vitality than I did in my twenties. I feel a strong core of physical confidence that I didn’t have before. And yet, when I look at myself from the outside – with critical eyes – I am sometimes surprised at the disconnect I feel between inner and outer.

Living from inside my body, instead of perceiving it from the outside, is the only way I can integrate aging. As I get older, must I learn the truth of every cliche? Yes, dance like nobody’s watching. That’s the only way to do it.

And the cultural truth that women become invisible after a certain age? That in-between age, the age of mothers and women busily going about their daily work, between the beauty of youth and the presence of the elder. I wonder now if there is some power in that invisibility. The power of skirting around the edge of things, aware but not always seen. The power to fully embody yourself, for your own pleasure. The power of living life from the inside out.

I am alive; I am healthy and strong; my senses are fully engaged; I am grateful for what my body can do.

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