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The Joy of Dancing Hippie Style
Joy, Dancing, and Truth
Most anytime folks gather, there will be food, music, and dancing. It was that way in a hippie village we called The Farm. Farm boogies began with tempeh burgers with sliced tomatoes and pickles, all home made, and proceeded to ice bean—vanilla, chocolate, peach, chocolate mint—called ice bean because we made it with soybean milk. We played Frisbee while the bands got set up. And then the music started. Soon a meadow full of hippies were dancing and singing or sitting on blankets to enjoy the entertainment. Folks in colorful tie-dyed shirts and skirts, their long braids swaying, danced while the July moon rose over the woods and moved far into the western sky. At last it was time to pick up the sleeping children and carry them home to bed.
For me, the dancing filled a lifelong yearning. If I had had the courage I would have joined the Peace Corps and gone to Africa. Perhaps my first glimpse of Africans dancing was in National Geographic. Or maybe I fixed upon African tribal energies and ways when reading Conrad’s Heart of Africa. Before I was into my teens, dancing came to represent life to me, a village in motion, heart wisdom. It was everything my staid New England existence was not: vibrant, connected, a people surviving together instead of quietly perishing separately.
I was not born among dancers. New England Yankees, especially Baptist Yankees, thought dancing was dangerous and likely to lead one astray. Unable to make fine distinctions, they were suspicious of almost any fun. But even though I’d never been taught how to dance, I liked to move in rhythm and could make up the steps as I went along. In a risky departure from the opinions of my ancestors, I have come to believe that any movement is fun and good for us. We know that a walk can dispel a low feeling. A hike of even a few miles can work the lungs and muscles into a happy state. When winter and city living interfere with outdoor walks, dancing is my movement of choice. Try it. Don’t wait until you feel competent. Just get on your feet and move. Hey, someone once made up the steps to the tango, right?
I’m told that when I was a toddler my parents would let me stand on the church pew between them during services. This was all very well until one of the men of the church found that if he sat behind me and hummed a little tune in my ears, I would start to dance. This apparently made my parents a bit nervous—remember, Baptists believed dancing was of the devil—but they were more than a little pleased with my precocious sense of rhythm.
Baptists are not alone in tabooing dancing. Here is a joke. An orthodox Jewish couple goes to the Rabbi to ask about the positions allowed during sex. Could they have sex on the couch? Sure, that was allowed. Was it okay to have sex in the bathtub? Sure, that was okay. How about standing up? No, you couldn’t have sex standing up because then you might dance.
A wonderful reversal on the warnings I was given as a girl about where dancing could lead.
As a grownup I learned that Sufis and Whirling Dervishes used dancing to attain a religious ecstasy. Even the Catholics cannot have been set against dancing. In Sante Fe, New Mexico, there is a statue of Saint Frances “Dancing on the Waters.”
Dancing is a universal impulse. Most people have an innate sense of rhythm and movement. I have seen toddlers get the knack of intricate steps early and go on from there to become proficient dancers as very small children. Watching a ceremony at the Passamaquoddy Indian village in Eastport, Maine, I was struck by how the smallest children had that trip around the drum in a circle of dancing elders down to precision, each foot taking that second beat in perfect time to the beat of the drum. I have watched dances adopted from old Israel where tiny children put a foot ahead of a foot and a foot behind a foot around the circle. And the grownups? Such energy! Such leaping and singing and patterning in and out and around! Then there is my niece who does a fine tango and knows swing dancing. She’s a joy to watch.
First each of us has to learn how to balance on two feet and walk, one foot on the ground while moving the other to a new position. Soon we master running, both feet off the ground for a few seconds of every step. Common activities like running and dancing are miraculous skills of handling a body, as are gymnastics and aikido.
Further, we can observe the many ways in which nature dances. There are dancing waters on a lake, maples leaves dancing in a fall breeze, tall grasses dancing beside rippling waters, willows waving above a brook and coming to rest in perfect accord, cosmos blossoms dancing on long stems among feathery leaves, oak leaves lifting on a breeze and settling back, water dancing off the edge of a granite ledge, cherry blossoms aflutter against a blue sky.
Yup. Dancing is part of us and all that surrounds us. Dancing somehow became my test of whether a village lived in truth. When I danced in the Farm meadow among my village friends, our bare feet light in the grass, I felt I had come home to the heart of Africa where drums talk and dancing is a path to altered states rich in connection with all the folks and all of life. Living in that village, dancing in that village, healed me.