Dancing with the Shadow


Take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time
Far past the frozen leaves
The haunted frightened trees
Out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky
With one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea
Circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate
Driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow

–Bob Dylan, Mr. Tambourine Man

They danced waving arms, holding hands, twirling slowly to the beat of the drums. They were older men, a little stiff, but still moving with a flow through their limbs. I watched as I sat against the wall, cooling down after caressing the floor with my bare feet for the last hour. I laid upon the ground, feeling the rhythm, the texture of the vibration. A band called Spirit Lab played percussion while thirty or so people circled the room to the beat, releasing their cares and closing eyes to feel it all unfold.

I dedicate each arrival to the space to a different cause. Last week, under the full moon, my intention was forgiveness. I imagined dancing with people and with aspects of myself, using my hands and feet to unravel the guilt, the shame, and the memories that keep my sorrow inside. I pressed and pushed away the past, physically letting go as I danced with abandon.

There is only a certain amount of talking and thinking you can do until you realize you have a choice. Dancing in this way simply demonstrates this ability to choose the present moment by responding to whatever you’re feeling with kindness. I have been working through some of my dark past. Several months ago I met a person who represented my shadow. As Carl Jung says, “To confront a person with his shadow is to show him his own light.” Since this meeting, I have wrestled, wept and recently learned to dance with this new information; this knowledge and experience that created the unfolding in my life. Everyone has a shadow, a dark side or a wild side that either comes out to play or we meet them in other people. Now that I have had the pleasure of seeing both sides, Jung says, “Anyone who perceives his shadow and his light simultaneously sees himself from two sides and thus gets in the middle.”

What do you find in the in between? The best space to dance. Ecstatic dance has become a container for me to release and renew my spirit. Jane Clapp describes the experience in her article, What Happened When I Replaced Online Dating with Ecstatic Dance, stating the variety of benefits for the body, mind and spirit.

We get carried by a rhythm to which everyone in the room is moving—a beat that can basically override a nervous system unable to return to a regulated, calm place. It’s a giant act of co-regulation, an hour where we might have moments of feeling completely free of our traumas, worries or hardships… I found myself jumping around, pounding my feet, smiling ear-to-ear and moving freely without thinking, just feeling my way into the music.

She references Ecstatic Dance as a part of her “movement-as-medicine” practice. I share the same sentiment. Whether you need to recharge or you need to unwind, the space is there for you to be free. Free in whatever ways you feel most comfortable, and in the ways you need to connect or let go.

To meet my shadow meant confronting some darkness inside me related to loss, fear and trauma. I’ve found many ways to cope since the unraveling began. Sometimes I call a friend. Sometimes I go to yoga. Sometimes I sit still with it in meditation, feeling it melt away until I sense the support of the ground beneath me. But there are times I have no fucking clue what to do with these feelings. I call the wrong people who don’t understand, or I cope by pretending as I drink to forget.

But when I dance, I bring to life my emotions and I move through the pain. I wash myself clean through the tears and the shaking of my fist into the air, hair flying freely in all directions. Eyes closed, reaching with arms strong and feet that grace the wood floors, I grieve the sorrows of my soul until all is quiet inside. I sense the stillness. I make room for peace. I accept the darkness and embrace the light. We dance as one. 

To connect with your local dance community or to learn more about it visit: http://ecstaticdance.org/

“How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole.” C. Jung

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