A few years ago during a leadership learning experience, I participated in what I presumed would be a psychologically painful and humiliating activity. But surprise: instead I felt refreshed, emotionally as well as physically. In a sense I was reborn because it changed an important outlook I had on life.
The activity to which I refer is quite common in many cultures but for me, I had grown to consider it undignified, immature and quite frankly a primitive social ritual. What is this physical practice I used to find so horrendous but now willingly embrace? Dancing.
A lot of folks are lifelong dancers; my mother immediately comes to mind. So does my wife. Me? I had grown out of it shortly after college. In retrospect what I had done was allow societal pressures, especially professional decorum, adversely influence my perception of what dancing is and what it offers human beings.
I have always understood, at least in the abstract, that dancing is an artful form of expression. That is, if you were good at it. I wasn’t. What I’ve come to understand is that despite your prowess at cutting the carpet (or any creative endeavor for that matter), it also is liberating. And spiritually enriching.
Regular dancers, casual and professional know this. Wallflowers steadfastly believe dancing and other forms of active physical and vocal expression are largely inappropriate, except perhaps at nightclubs, wedding receptions, and maybe after their favorite sports team wins a championship.
Why do so many people, especially men, consider dancing and other creative actions taboo? If it’s about being appropriate, who gets to decide what’s appropriate and when?
Recently it was reported Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor bucked the system at an annual social event consisting of fellow justices and their law clerks. The story goes that during the private party, she instructed her clerks to cue salsa music and one by one beckoned fellow justices – “some of them extremely reluctant” – to dance with her.
According to the report, Justice Anthony Kennedy “did a jitterbug move.” Others were less willing, such as 90-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens who “felt as if he had two left feet” and quickly sat down.
Folks who’ve made my acquaintance eventually come to know I come to understand many of life’s realities through scenes I’ve watched in certain movies. In the 1953 flick, “The Robe,” actor Richard Burton played the troubled Roman military officer Marcellus who is in mental turmoil after participating in the crucifixion of Jesus. In a seminal scene, upon being presented with the robe Jesus wore at the time of his death, Marcellus refuses to touch it. He is irrationally terrified, but as the robe brushes against him, he is relieved from the anguish of his guilt. Later, he drops his sword and picks up Christianity.
Religion respectfully aside (besides, the movie is fiction), I liken the behavior of Marcellus with many of us who fear a thing so much that we become hardened and close-minded. That is, until we “brush up” against that thing. In that moment for so many of us, we find there was nothing to fear but fear itself.
With that in mind, today I take to the dance floor in a New York minute and free of self-consciousness. It’s not to prove a point, and definitely not to show off my moves. Instead it’s because I count dancing as one of my cardio workouts and it’s socially and spiritually liberating.
I also do it to prove a couple other things: one, what I once feared, I can now embrace. Two, if a former stiff moving stick-in-the-mud like me can get out there, so can you.
Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.