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Reclaiming the art of play

If you truly learn everything you need to know in kindergarten, then it must be true that you learn or relearn everything you need to know about body love, body acceptance, and reconnecting to yourself in bellydance class.  I have epiphanies on a weekly basis.  Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help feel that this journey of bellydance is paralleling and conjoining with my journey of self-healing.  I am still struggling with telling you all about what I learn, unlearn and relearn being in this class.  Honestly, it’s become more than perfecting steps and movements.    I think it’s a mix of free spirited teacher, her setting up a safe space for women to be themselves, and me being at a place where I let go of self-restrictions because of hypnotherapy helping to change my perspective.  

I feel I’m finally ready to call myself back into my body and be present.  Part of that process is relearning how to play.  Yes I’m saying play.  Do you remember what it was like to be so in the moment with playing with friends or even by yourself, that’s all there was?  No schedules.  No worries.  No cares.  Just limitless freedom to be and do whatever you wanted.  How often do you do that as an adult?  Personally, I can’t think of a time.  I came to this realization a few weeks ago, when I was in a class.

One of my classmates brought in a 3-tiered skirt and put it on to dance in.  Our instructor started talking about the beauty and flow of the skirt when it moves and then suddenly said, “Let’s wear skirts today” and ran into the back room.  I smiled because that spirit of just jumping in and doing it was something that I used to see in myself and somehow lost during the course of my life.  It reminded me that it’s ok to allow that kind of freedom within myself.

Seconds later, she came out carrying skirts for everyone and handed them out.  I had anxiety about the skirt, silently saying a prayer that it would fit.  It didn’t, and I took a breath in, going into the back, and said,  “I’m not going to be able to get that over my ass, it’s fine,  I’m really ok without a skirt”  I was  hoping it gave both of us an out: her to not feel bad that there wasn’t something that fit me; and me for the possible horror of  trying on and endless number of skirts that wouldn’t fit. 

She looked surprised, which made me feel good because it meant I looked smaller than I am.  “Wait.”, she said, and turned back to the costumes.  She started rummaging around in the clothes.  At one point, it looked as if the clothes were swallowing whole.  She had  one leg raised up as she searched and that was all I could see.   I debated whether I should grab her leg to make sure she had an escape route if she got sucked in.  I decided to just watch, because well, I found it amusing and I like to be entertained. 

“Ah Ha”, she said, turning around with a skirt.  I stared at the waist gauging if it was big enough to get over my butt. She saw the measuring going on in my face and I saw what looked to be perhaps impatience. She yarded the skirt waistband to full potential of the waist.  I giggled.  It was more than large enough.  So I placed it on the floor and stepped into it.  It slid up past dance pants, hip scarves and all as I brought it up to my ass.  Then I stopped.

I knew it would fit, but I was worried about maneuvering the skirt up with the 3 extra layers of cloth and coins.  The embarrassment of it ripping as it moved over my ass was a mortifying thought.  I weakly said, “I don’t want to rip it.”  She looked at me and softly said, “I don’t care if the fabric rips.”  So I slowly started moving the skirt up a little at a time.  “YANK IT UP!” she laughingly yelled.  I laughed and said “Ok” and yanked it up.  It fit.  It was actually too big and I was too short but rolling the top over fixed everything.

We walked out into the studio and she busily went around tucking skirts into hip scarves as I tried to get out of the purple coin scarf I had tied early.   “Help help, I’m stuck.”’ I yelled.  She came over and after not being able to unknot it, proceeded to pull it up over my head like you would a child.  She tossed it into the box of scarves she has for students who need one.  She then lifted up the side of my skirt and tucked into my scarf.  “This feels like dress up,” I said.  I don’t think she heard me.  I was smiling.  Dress up felt like play.  I was excited to giving myself over to being carefree.  Surrendering the worries of life and just be in the moment of dressing up and becoming “a dancer”.  When was the last time I felt like that?  I can’t even remember, but it felt amazing having that sense of freedom to just be who I was in that moment.  And I realized that this is something we should all be doing as a regular practice.  No cares, no worries, just having fun without expectation.  I swished my skirt back and forth watching it shift in the mirror.

“Are we going to use veils today?” asked one of the other students.  “Well, it’s not really in the learning plan”, our teacher said.  Although I see her as a free spirit, I also know she stays on task so that we get through the day’s lesson.  After a pause, she said,  “but we can use them to warm up, go get your veils.” 

We all ran over to the hangers, giggling like we were 5 years old.  I pulled out a beautiful cranberry and orange silk veil to match my skirt, wrapping myself with it like a beach towel to get the length and hand position properly like she had taught us.  She stepped in the lead and I followed behind.  Her flowing blue and green veil rippled like water behind her.   We started walking in a circle around the studio, carrying the veils low, with our arms extended behind us, and then raising them above are head.  “Turn backwards” she called and sweep the veil in front of you.  We all half turned.  “Raise it up like you are catching butterflies”  My veil ballooned up like a parachute as I raised my hands up and pulled them together like the bottom of a heart.  “Now release the butterflies” My arms extended low as I also spread them out.  Even in our untrained hands, the veils moved and flowed.  And I could see that mastering this would be like mastering wet on wet watercolour: frustration and pure joy, guiding something uncontrollable like the flow of water on cold pressed paper.   

We half turned again and continued on in the circle.  Someone’s veil got out of control as she passed the fan and our instructor stopped to turn it off  and help our classmate.  I danced passed her hearing giggling, and realized it was my own, but it was also others in the class.  I had that image you sometimes see in a period movie piece of women dancing around in a circle giggling and laughing and I wondered how much was acting and how much was the pure bliss of play.

The fan/veil mishap created a bit of a traffic jam and I was now at the end  of our line.  My classmate turned, our eyes met.  I saw my joy and excitement reflected in her eyes.  I saw her recognition of it in my own.  We smiled even larger which I didn’t think was possible because I was so happy. 

I raised the veil up again, but this time, I could see in my mind, as it floated above me, that I could skim one hand along the length of it.  Fingertips, gently brushing the silk as it passed.  The lyrics from Megan Davies acoustic cover of Girl Crush came into my head:

“I don’t get no sleep, I don’t get no peace

Thinkin’ about her under your bed sheets”

She moved us into positions so that we could practice angling the veil in front of our bodies with one arm extended diagonally down and one arm extended up like half of an X.  We did three quarter turns and the silk wrapped around my body, skirt floating around, we continued to switch directions and angles.

“I wanna taste her lips, yeah, ‘cause they taste like you

I wanna drown myself in a bottle of her perfume”

When then practiced floating the veil in front of us and pulling it forward.  It made the veil look as if it was magically wrapping across our necks and shoulders

“I want her long blonde hair, I want her magic touch

Yeah, ‘cause maybe then you’d want me just as much”

Finally it was time to put the veils away and start on our lesson of hip drills.  One of my friends who is in the class after me, texted the next day, and wrote, “Your face was glowing with joy yesterday”.

It was true because the art of play is the art of being in the moment and the art of being in the moment when you are doing something you love, brings joy.  An experience in real time that nourish your body, mind and spirit..  Our lives today are so filled with pressure and anxiety, we need to schedule the time for things that give us joy, make us feel like we are playing.  It is that time that gives us a moment to decompress and also help to promote the healing process that naturally occurs in our body when we laugh or find joy in something.  It is the reclaiming the free spirit of who we are.

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