There are certain moments in your life that you remember forever.
This is one of mine: I'm pregnant and it's 1987. Dirty Dancing has just opened. I see it alone, during the day, at the Paris Theater in Manhattan. I'm unemployed, nauseous and my hormones are all over the place. From the moment I see Patrick Swayze teaching Jennifer Grey to dance, practicing the lift with Grey in the water, to the scene at the end of the movie when she flies off the stage into his arms, it practically gives me an orgasm. I dance out of the theater, I feel so alive, so ecstatic, the combination of Swayze's dancing, and beauty, and my hormones are almost too much to contain. I'm sure I saw it at least three more times before I gave birth to my daughter, Zoe. And probably a hundred times since.
Ten years earlier, in 1977, I was living in Los Angeles, working in television, and it was one of those LA winters when it never stopped raining. Ever. I was just about ready to kill myself. I'm from New York, where we have actual seasons and real weather that changes. So I went to see the movie everyone was talking about, totally depressed, and as soon as the music started to play and Travolta was seen strutting down that Brooklyn street, holding that can of paint, I was mesmerized. I fell in love, with John, with Brooklyn, with dancing, with the music. I bought the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. I danced in my living room. One weekend, I went to the mall in Century City and the choreographer who'd supposedly taught Travolta to dance for the film was there giving a demonstration. He picked me out of the crowd to dance with! It was my big moment! I danced and I could follow and it was thrilling! I was no longer even remotely depressed.
As the Don Henley song says: "All she wants to do is dance."
I started dancing when I was 5. First tap, then ballet, I was enthusiastic, but never fantastic. I loved Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies, and I adored Gene Kelly. I studied jazz, modern, African dance, I was up for anything. I loved going to dances, concerts, any opportunity to dance and I was there. After college, I moved out to LA and focused on work and found other physical outlets, first running and then yoga. I loved the endorphin high running gave me, and I loved the discipline of yoga. I missed dancing, but somehow it got lost.
When I got married and had Zoe, we danced together when she was little. But then real life took over, raising a teenager, working, being a member of the sandwich generation, dealing with my parents' illnesses -- there was no thought of dancing, there was just survival, the couch, and television and books to escape into.
In 2009, after 23 years of marriage, my husband and I split up, my mother died and I went into a deep hole. It was a time of intense grief and I just had to work my way out of it, slowly.
And then, in the summer of 2010, I was invited to dance in a flash mob in Washington Square Park. I love flash mobs! As I learned the dance (we danced to Nina Simone's song "Feeling Good"), I began to feel... good. Really good. Alive. I enjoyed learning the dance, being part of something, connecting to the music. We danced in Washington Square Park in honor of Gay Pride Day, and we staged a mock lesbian wedding at the end of the dance. We were a motley crew, not one of those big professional flash mobs, but we all had fun.
A month later, in August, I met a man on Match.com who, among other things, taught tango. He was going to go to a milonga (tango dance) on the pier one Sunday afternoon, so we met for coffee nearby, before the dance. I was curious, so I went along to the milonga and watched as he danced with a few of his students. I was wearing my sneakers, and was hardly dressed for the tango, but he insisted on showing me the basic steps.
After we danced, he said to me, "You picked the steps up immediately. You are a dancer."
Wow! "I am a dancer." That was all I needed to hear! I raced out the next day and bought practice dance shoes. I showed them to my neighbor who said, "Those are kind of ugly." I was thrown off -- I thought they were great, but maybe it was the dancing itself I was thinking of. Even so, I stuffed them in the closet and forgot about dancing. It felt like too much effort. Then November came and I thought, "What can I do this winter to keep myself from having the winter blues?"
A little voice said, "dance." So I called Dance Manhattan, a dance studio that has been around for 20 years, and I found out about beginning classes. They suggested I try swing dancing first. I took one class in November and then kept dancing in December, taking two classes, then three, all winter, all spring, all summer and I am now completely hooked on dancing. The music alone is joyous and upbeat, and I've met so many people who are as obsessed with dancing as I am. I have a new community, new friends, and my passion for dance has absolutely changed my life. It's opened my chakras, my feelings, made me love men again, and given me ridiculous amounts of pleasure.
You can't buy joy. You just have to feel it. You may have work that gives you great pleasure, but feeling it in your body -- whether it's dancing, playing a musical instrument, running, biking, hiking, rock climbing, whatever it is (obviously sex is great, too). I believe that dancing saved me from antidepressants, got me out of the hole and literally changed my life. Even if all you do is put on music in your living room and take a dance break, I promise you, you'll feel better.
Lately, I've also started doing a new form of movement called Qoya, which combines yoga and dance. My fabulous Qoya teacher read this beautiful poem by Rumi to us at the end of our last class:
Dance when you're broken open.
Dance when you've torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you're perfectly free.
Struck, the dancer hears a tambourine inside her,
like a wave that crests into foam at the very top,
Maybe you don't hear that tambourine,
or the tree leaves clapping time.
Close the ears on your head,
that listen mostly to lies and cynical jokes.
There are other things to see, and hear.
A brilliant city inside your soul!