Last summer, I had the joy of going with my husband to a music festival in Detroit. Called “Arts, Beats and Eats”, it is a wonderful mix of sights, sounds and tastes from all over the Metro area and beyond. After listening to a terrific jazz trio, we decided to grab lunch and have a seat near an empty stage to relax and people watch.
In Greek mythology, Terpsichore (/tərpˈsɪkəriː/; Τερψιχόρη) “delight in dancing” was one of the nine Muses and goddess of dance and chorus. She lends her name to the word “terpsichorean” which means “of or relating to dance”. She is usually depicted sitting down, holding a lyre, accompanying the ballerinas choirs with her music. Her name comes from the Greek words τέρπω (“delight”) and χoρός (“dance”).
As we sat, slowly the stage began to fill for the next performance. Spanish guitar players set up their music stands, and began to play in on the sun soaked stage. From behind a red and black banner, a Flamenco dancer moved front and center. She began slowly, the emotional intensity of her movements building with the music. She had an incredibly proud carriage, holding her body with grace and power. I was completely transfixed. As she danced, I found myself wanting to join in her movements. She was so clearly at home in her body, and the joy of the dance!
She must have danced for at least thirty minutes. The dance seemed very much improvised, her steps organically coming as she moved. Every part of her body was involved, her feet pounding the wood stage, castanets clanging, her hips, head and arms winding her around with passion and purpose. Indeed, the longer she danced, the harder it was to stay still in my seat!
I was reminded by this beautiful artwork that so much of the movement we do is for some other goal, a means to an end. We are “exercising” for our health (or to make our bodies a different size or shape), training for a sport performance, or simply moving to keep our lives humming along. It is rare I think that we move with the kind of “in body, for body” energy that this dancer expressed. How often do you feel called to move your body and, feeling some shame at doing so, stop yourself? We are so often taught to learn the steps to a dance, not to find the steps by listening to our body’s desire. I think we are missing something of exceptional importance, to our mental and physical detriment. The Flamenco dancer, in her passion and joy of that moment, reminded me of this loss.
Bodies in our world have become objects in so many ways, not places of true expression. I think of my body’s longing as I watched the dancer, deeply wanting to move with the music. Where do we deny this desire in our lives? And why do we do so? Out of fear of shame or embarrassment? Do we tend to believe only certain bodies (young, thin, etc.) are allowed to move with this kind of passion or abandon?
Terpsichore is the Greek goddess of dance. She is especially connected to the beauty of movement done by a body expressing the joy of awareness with itself. I invite you to consider what it might be like to dance with Terpsichore. How might you move if no one was watching? When has your body truly felt joy in movement? Dancing? Hitting a softball? Planting a garden? Swaying to the blues? Sexual touch? Massage? The feel of ocean water on your skin? What does your body consider play?
Allow yourself to be aware your body’s desires for movement this week. Meet the desire where you can and see what changes for you.
Enjoy the dance!