There’s a moment in the studio when you have to decide to either listen to Spirit or to the pressures around you.  This occurs both in a structured class and in a more free-form improvisational setting, though my mind went to the latter first.  

My body stores memories of closed eyes and a sensory knowledge of other dancers spaced around the room.  Ultimate permission has been granted:  “Move as you’re led, and don’t move until you know you have to.”

In other words, don’t move until you’re led.  

While some people are genuinely led to jump off the block immediately, that’s not usually the case with everyone.  Often, I find that I sit or stand for what feels like an eternity, and certainly longer than anyone else.  If you’re new to this, you might even peek at your neighbors for direction.  What is everyone else doing?  Yes, I know that I have permission to be 100% in-touch with Spirit, but am I going to look strange? 

There’s another option too.  Perhaps instead of standing like a statue with peeking eyes, you’ve decided to jump into movement, practiced movement that you’re comfortable with.  You’ve fallen back into your best nerve-covering dance moves.  Yeah, I don’t feel awkward.  Look at me move!  

But you haven’t listened to Spirit.  You’re making it up yourself.  You’ve fallen back into what you’ve always done, what your friends and your leaders have deemed socially acceptable.  There might be a part of you that knows that you missed out on the assignment, that knows that you’ve missed out on the opportunity to move brazenly and audaciously in line with the Spirit, but hey, at least you’re doing something, right?

The same thing happens in regular dance classes.  Are you going to hit that landing with your chin up and leave with a flick of your foot even though it’s “extra?”  Are you going to breathe deeply while you por de bras, eyes joyfully following your hand, even though your friends are staring dead-pan ahead?  Will you listen to Spirit, or will you blend in?

This is the question that I’ve butted up against in recent months.  How will I respond?  

Will you listen to Spirit, or will you blend in?

When first COVID raged, I adapted.  I posted yoga videos online weekly for the in-person class I was no longer teaching and transferred my work online.  When the distance and complete isolation got to me, I gardened.  I listened to podcasts; I sat in silence, I sought support and attended endless FaceTime/Messenger/Zoom/Hangouts meetings.  I cried and took time to “veg.”  I had important conversations, and when the loneliness became truly overwhelming, I flew across the country to be with my life partner.

When Ahmaud died, I signed the petition and talked about it with my people.  I shared information on Instagram and mourned.  When George died, and the world mourned, I broke.  There’s so much there.  There’s so much we’ve buried and refused to see.  There’s also much that we see and do nothing with, that we allow. 

I’ve been the oppressor and the oppressed.  My family, starting now and going back generations, has been both.  If we’re honest with ourselves, we have all been both. 

In the early days of the crisis, scenes of discrimination came to me.  I thought of my own experience of being a person of color, the daughter of a dark-skinned, first-generation immigrant, and a White woman whose ancestors emigrated to the U.S. hundreds of years ago.  There was also the feeling of homelessness that overflowed in me because of my ability to “pass” and how that very thing can cast me adrift.  It’s the thing that causes some POC to look at me and say that I’m not allowed to feel the things I do because I’m not their type of color.  I thought of friends who have made fun of me for liking Black artists as if I’m trying to gain access to a community that I’m not a part of.  While mulling these things over, I was asked to speak with people who have less melanin than I do, to share my struggles and take part in dialogues that could lead to more equitable environments.  

On all sides, I’ve done as much as I can.  I’ve listened and absorbed, holding off posting my own words about what some people are seeing for the first time because I haven’t had the words.  As Instagram, a platform that I’ve used to express myself creatively, turns more and more sinister, I take a break.  I can’t speak.  There are so many things.  The pain goes deep, and I’m afraid to express it publicly.  I wouldn’t know what to say if I could.

That’s when I look up to realize that I’m back in the studio.  Everyone’s making their own choices, and I’m standing still again.  Wait, should I be doing something?  But I have my directions: wait for instruction.  Wait until the Spirit leads you.  Listen.

As I sit with the pain longer, Spirit transforms it into gratitude. 

After an Instagram separation, I’m able to see past the pain to the love that links us.  The love that linked my mother to my father, my father-in-law to his children, me to my husband, my friends to each other.  Spirit shows me the blessings contained in a mixed and diverse family who sits down together to listen.  Spirit shows me the beauty of shared hearts that lead to greater compassion and empathy.  Spirit shows me how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go, giving me assurance and faith that a new heaven and a new earth are coming. 

He shows me that He wants to use me.

But He can’t use me fully if I’m not listening—if I’ve become so focused on how others are responding that I can’t hear how He wants to use me.  I can’t listen to Spirit, in other words, if I’m too worried about how I appear—if I am too busy listening to my own fear.  

So I’ve come back to the online world not to validate my silence or to prove myself, but to encourage you to listen to Spirit too.  Feel all the things, get angry, cry, be joyful, have those tough conversations, chew on them, go to the demonstrations or stay home, sign petitions, listen to your friends, but above all, listen to Spirit.  We need more people who are tuned in, even if it doesn’t look as glamorous as we think it should.