Dancing with My Heart

Woman at left is painter Suzanne Valadon

Image via Wikipedia

“Open your heart.”

What does he mean, open my heart.  My heart is already open.  Isn’t it?

I would describe it as a modified version of the classic closed-eyed-swaying-amoeba dance from 1967.  I was definitely moving.  I was even managing a steady rhythm although I can’t be certain whether it was to the music flying through the air or the music in my head. All I know is that my body swayed. It might not qualify as ‘dancing’ but I was having fun in my own ‘I’m just fine where I am’ way.

My friend, on the other hand, arced across the room. I watched him shift from the cerebral to the intuitive as he left behind convention and expectations. He moved like a planet abandoning its orbit, half satyr, half nymph.  A shooting star.

He was not alone.  The large studio was filled with men and women giving their bodies like offerings to the music.  There was nothing pre-ordained in how they moved.  It was a pure call and response.

I had yet to pick my feet off the floor or move my arms or walk more than two feet away from the safety of the sturdy wall at the back of the studio. I was happy near the protection of the wall. I was safe and content to continue my swaying amoeba dance.  I figured it was a miracle I was moving at all.

So I don’t know how it happened that I was suddenly in the middle of the room with my friend.  We were spinning and I was trying not to fall over and praying I wouldn’t stomp on his toes.  We whirled around one another, ducked under arms, turned forward and then back again.  A few minutes passed and then he leaned toward me and said,

“Open your heart.”

And when the track ended, my friend moved on and I moved back to the consolation of the wall.

What did he mean – ‘open your heart’?  Wasn’t my heart already open?  Just because he can leap around a room and not care who’s watching and I can’t doesn’t mean my heart isn’t open.

A chance encounter a few days later helped me understand what my friend meant.

I was at the Cal Train Station in San Francisco on Sunday with an hour to kill.  A family with a young boy of about four walked into the station and sat on the bench beside me.  The boy and I made eye contact and I asked him about his souvenir cable car filled with chocolate.  His brown eyes were lit with adventure.  He could not sit still.  He wanted to chase pigeons.  I watched him race back and forth with his dad, arms outstretched, laughing louder and happier on each pass.  His contagious joy echoed through the station. We all smiled as he ran with his shoulders rolled back and his spine arched.

And then I had the “aha moment.”  The little boy chasing pigeons at the train station was doing what my friend had hoped I might do. The boy was running with his heart leading the way.

It wasn’t the mythic heart my friend was imploring me to open.  He knows me well enough to know I have a seeker’s heart. What he wanted was for my body to help my seeking heart on its journey.  My friend simply wanted me to create space in my heart center so the mythic heart would have room to breathe.  Room to grow.  Room to laugh.

So this week I’m making a promise – to give myself space and to move through life just like that little boy at the train station who danced with an open heart.

Me, Rod Stewart and High School, 1975

High school gymnasiums in 1975 had an unmistakable odor – a combination of sneakers, sweat and pom-poms.  No amount of low lighting, Charlie perfume and Bonnie Bell Lip Smackers could change that.  But we still showed up for the dances.  On a Friday night in rural Pennsylvania there wasn’t that much else to do.

Guys leaned against the edge of the gym stage and girls slipped under their arms like accessories.  Four hips stayed pressed tight together with legs wound and lips nibbling until our driver education teacher sauntered by with one raised eyebrow and a waggling finger. Being caught necking was quietly admired as girls who had guys looked down at girls who didn’t with a mix of pity and pride.

Lynyrd Skynyrd’s endless Freebird took couples to the dance floor until the seven-minute mark, when the song broke away from fulsome ballad to screaming rock anthem.  As couples returned to their post at the gym stage, clutches of girls took over the floor and danced in circles to The Captain and Tennille.

And then I heard her lyric opening notes.  Maggie May. I didn’t know who Maggie was, I didn’t understand how she wore him out and I didn’t care.  I loved that song. Two thick whacks on the tom-tom, a ringing guitar and Rod’s dry rasp and I was there.  That night I ran out into the center of our empty high school basketball court and I danced to Maggie May.  Alone.

More than thirty years later I can still remember those four minutes of my sixteen-year-old life.  I remember being watched from the edges as I whirled across the floor.  I didn’t care who saw me and I didn’t care what they thought of the weird girl dancing with herself.  I felt free in my body.  Free in my mind.  I knew exactly what the rest of my life held for me.  I knew I’d always be as strong and confident as I felt in that moment.  And I knew I’d always dance.