I sat on the floor, my body crumpled by the weight of sheer helplessness that had overcome me. My hand stretched out to a white bag with Krishna’s peacock feather engraved on the front. I pulled upon the bag as one unfurls a resisting heart. I took out my ‘ghungrus’ and began to wrap the bells around my ankle, and with that small act, this fragile heart of mine grew stronger and bigger, in preparation of another day.
Dance is complete freedom, it is a joy that most if not all humans share. Whilst one may not be passionate about it or “good” at it, it is a mode of self-expression that is universally expressed. Although yoga seeks stillness in a posture, dance is in some ways the antithesis. It seeks stillness of mind through complete wild abandonment. Dancing is like a dog shaking off the water from its fur, it is natural and uplifting. When we dance we bring wellness into our life on several levels; mental, physical and spiritual. It’s most obvious benediction is in the physical sense, those abs and sculpted legs are easily attainable.
Dancing uses every muscle group in the body in a spontaneous manner or in complex rhythmic patterns, allowing for an element of surprise which means the physical body is continuously being tested. It also exhausts the body in a contrasting way to that of conventional exercise. Although you roughly know what a routine of weights or a run will make you feel, dancing is far more layered. It takes into account the nitty-gritty tendons and muscles that make up your body and weaves them into movement. Thus although you become stronger, you will never be fully acclimatized. The unexpected change and innovation in dance is what inspires your body to stay youthful and alert.
The mental gratification is multi-fold. According to medical experts, it releases a higher amount of endorphins than any other form of movement, simultaneously it also reduces cortisol levels (the stress hormone). The spontaneity of dance releases dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin, i.e. all that we crave on a daily basis! According to a study published by Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience highlighted by Time Magazine, white matter declines amongst ageing adults and the integrity of white matter continues to be compromised in those who walk and stretch. However, it improves in those who are engaged in dancing regularly. In short, dancing makes us happier, stress-free individuals!
Dancing has been an integral part of the evolution of man; it spans every culture, country, and custom. I feel it is something that every human being can relate to. A language and form of a love of its own that goes beyond the boundaries created by humans who through the ego have sought to divide themselves. Dancing sits loftily above the sacrilegious which muddies the purity of our being.
In Hindu Philosophy, dancing has always had a supreme status, beginning with Nataraj (Lord of Dance) himself, i.e. Lord Shiva. Shiva within Santana Dharma (‘eternal dharma’) represents the cosmic dance. The cosmic dance is the conscious movement of the infinite universe which comes into creation, is maintained, and then is destroyed… only to restart. Lord Shiva, through dance, represents a complete cycle and rhythmic motion of continuous life and death. Subconsciously, I believe that when we dance this is the truth we are acknowledging. We are allowing ourselves to become the movement and gracefully embracing unavoidable and continuous change.
We fold into ourselves, stretch ourselves, fast, and slow, back and forth only to return to one still posture or position. This is why certain couple dance forms are so provocative, like the Argentine Tango. It allows you to merge your flow with someone else and surrender yourself, which is love. Through dance, we experiment with our infinite nature and feel closest to enlightenment since dancing is truly letting go and not just going with the flow but becoming the flow. Similar to the peace people obtain from watching a river flow or seeing a plane take flight, or a leaf fall to the ground, dancing is essentially allowing yourself to become that experience.
You are both the fall and the flight. Whilst this may sound whimsical and fatuous to the more dispassionate of readers, you have to simply ask yourself, how do you feel when you dance? Can you remember what you thought about at that moment when you were dancing? What were you thinking about? Often you can’t remember because that was when you were fully present, completely absorbed and single-pointed. You can remember how you feel but you were thoughtless, in an astonishingly positive way! The stillness that you have created whilst moving is the entire essence of life, it is living in meditation.
I bowed, my hands moving from the heavens to the floor and then palms together as I paid my obedience’s to the universal conscious force. The music began and with it so did I. My regrets, guilt, pain, swept away through a spin. My future dreams, anxieties and expectations, pushed aside as my feet took to air. I was only the now, I was the dancer and the dance, the writer and the story, the living and the life.
Shivali has released two albums, The Bhajan Project by Sony Music and Urban Temple with Eros Now. She is a writer and public speaker on Hindu Philosophy & Spirituality. She trained in Kathak, Ballet and Latin. She holds a Kathak Diploma from the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, London.