dakotawitch (dakotawitch) wrote,
dakotawitch
dakotawitch

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When You Pray, Move Your Feet

I don't want to talk about it
I've done enough, I think
Don't want to spend more money
Don't want another drink


I should have known something was wrong, something was terribly amiss, when I stopped dancing. That something that came as natural to me as breathing was suddenly physically impossible for me. That the way I connected with the Divine, the way I could pray with my whole body, was something suddenly so fraught, so seemingly dangerous, that I couldn't do it anymore. That should have been my first clue.

I would scratch out all the images
If I had the chance
Don't ask me what I'm thinking
Can't you see, I only want to dance


And it's not like he ever told me not to dance, that he made me stop. It was so much more insidious than that, and perhaps that's why I didn't see it for what it was. I told myself any number of stories as I stood on the edge of drum circles and dance floors, unmoved in body and spirit at times, desperately trying to overcome an unfamiliar reluctance at others. These were places I had once owned, had once strode onto fearlessly and thrown myself into rhythm and movement and beat with no second thought. Places that had been my temples, where I was priestess and goddess and ritual all at the same time. The one thing I had never been, never once since I had discovered the sacredness of sinew and bone and flesh and beat, was afraid.

Dance without sleeping
Dance without fear


The first time I ever felt the Divine, knew without doubt that there was Something both bigger than me and intimately a part of me, was on a dance floor. Not in a church, not in a synagogue, not in any of the places I was supposed to feel it. It wasn't the words of a preacher or priest or sacred text that brought me into the presence of the Mystery. It was Nine Inch Nails and strobe lights and thumping speakers and dozens of sweaty gay boys dancing around me. In that moment, I was shocked into my body -- I use the term intentionally -- and at the same time out of it, above it, beyond it. My body was suddenly more than the sum of its experiences, more than a holding cell for the various victimizations and violations I had experienced at the (I now know) tender age of 18. It was more than something I dragged around and tried not to inhabit. It was a pulsing, living, moving, all-encompassing piece of sacredness. It would be more than three years before I finally found the words to explain what happened to me in that club that fateful and fated night -- it wouldn't be until an anthropology class introduced me to the words ecstaticism, trance state, ritual healing, that I would have the vocabulary to articulate what I felt deep in my belly and my soul (which were suddenly the same things). But I know that I was changed from that moment forward. That after years of alternating between angry atheism and skeptical agnosticism, I didn't have doubts anymore. And I didn't have doubts anymore because something within me that was so deeply wounded started to heal when my mind stepped out of the way and let my body move, something that had been scabbed over and festering and poisonous started to truly heal.

Dance without senses
No message I hear
Dance without sleeping
I'll dance til I'm numb
Dance til I think I can overcome


I told myself I was tired. I told myself that graduate school was taking all my energy. I told myself that it was the weight I'd gained that made me unwilling to put myself out there amid all those people. I told myself I was too stressed out, too tired of worrrying about money and school and jobs and daily survival. I told myself I couldn't.

Walking on the edge of rage and understanding
Between the black and white
This child is so angry
Alone here tonight


I couldn't tell myself the truth. That this thing that had been the core of my being, that had been so sacred to me, had become profane, had become dirty. That at some point I stopped dancing for myself, and started dancing for him -- that I had become an object in his life instead of an actor in my own. I couldn't tell myself that what was praying for me was nothing but sex for him. I couldn't, or didn't want to, see the way in which this man to whom I had linked my life had debased and sexualized the most sacred part of me. I couldn't know that, not then. I couldn't let myself know it. Because I couldn't let myself think about what that meant. To this day I don't know whether he took that part of my sacredness or whether I gave it to him, but I do know that it was gone. And faced with the choice of being seen as little more than a live-action sex toy, or being utterly still, my spirit and my body chose utter stillness.

Alarming desperation
Leads me to believe
With all my shields and protections
It's only me I deceive


And in stillness I remained, willing myself to disappear on some level, for more than a decade. I not only stopped dancing, I forgot how. And then I forgot what it felt like to be that in my body, to be that alive. Something in me withered, something in me died. When I stopped moving my body in dance, I stopped moving in my life -- but it wasn't something I could see at the time. My life ground to a halt in any meaningful way, and I became more and more a prisoner.

Dance without sleeping
Dance without fear


When I finally moved again, it wasn't to dance. It was to run. When I finally prayed with my feet again, it was for survival. It was that he wouldn't come from work early and find me throwing things frantically in boxes. It was that he wouldn't make good on his statement that I was lucky to be alive. It was that I could move fast enough that I would never have to endure another screaming match, never have to endure another session of steadily-more-degrading sex in which my consent became less and less relevant. I wasn't praying for transcendence, I wasn't praying for enlightenment. I was praying for escape.

I am forever grateful that my prayers were answered, that my feet moved fast enough even when my head and heart tried to command them to stop.

Dance without senses
No message I hear
Dance without sleeping


When I look back now, with the hindsight of four years of freedom and healing, I realize that I stopped dancing in my heart long before my body refused to follow the beat. And I know it was on some level my choice, at the same time that I know I made that choice because it was no longer safe for me to dance. It's ironic to me now that I spent over a decade of my life with a man who made me feel so deeply unsafe, and even more ironic to me that my body knew that I wasn't safe long before my head and my heart did.

I'll dance til I'm numb
Dance til I think I can overcome


I walked into a dance studio for the first time in nearly 12 years this past fall. I'd done yoga and Nia and other forms of exercise over the years, but had never gone back to dancing. I couldn't even have told you why. But when my the studio where I do Nia announced a community ecstatic dance, I had such a visceral response that there was no gainsaying. No matter how afraid I was, how unsure, I was walking into that studio.

To my amazement, my body remembered. It knew, just as it had known that it wasn't safe for me to dance in my marriage, that it was time for me to dance. In this room full of total strangers, on a hot Sunday afternoon in North Texas, my body opened its arms to my spirit and welcomed it home.



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  • LJ Idol: Patchwork Heart

    The blue piece with the grey pinstripes? I got that from a Nebraska boy with brown hair and soulful hazel eyes. We spent a humid Midwestern summer…

  • LJ Idol: Campfire Stories

    Anthropologists don't know exactly when we did it, but it seems that one of the earliest things that our human ancestors did was master fire.…

  • LJ Idol: Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here

    It's easy to say that I should have seen it coming. Looking back now, the signs were clear. But you know what they say about hindsight.…