One of my friends recently posted a luminous poem ‘The Opposite of Fear’ – which I do recommend that you read – on her website* (see end).
What has reassured me was that she identified fear’s opposite – a dancing, entrancing delight – as “grace”, an open-armed expression of appreciation of life, sometimes in connection, through gentle touch and caring.
Grace has many “meanings” – something bestowed by a deity; a favour handed out by superiors to (some of) their subjects; the act of heartfelt gratitude; a personal attribute akin to a quiet elegance of spirit; a natural, unaffected ease.
When I was about ten, my mum sought help from a spiritual healer to address some difficult symptoms of anxiety that I was displaying – including embarrassing facial tics and “head-shaking”, and a clumsiness and awkwardness that you might now identify as dyspraxia (but don’t quote me on that).
Among the “positive thinking” homework that I was given to focus on, were a couple of hymns and readings that pivoted, like a dancer, on the word “grace”: “Grace for today, oh Lord…” and “Growth in grace”.
So grace became imprinted as a Good Thing to Aspire Towards.
Although at secondary school I was so bad at sports that I would be at the end of the “choosing” spectrum – the one whom nobody wanted in their team – I could run fairly fast. So athletics wasn’t as shaming as netball, and the games teacher might even have encouraged me to do try middle distance as well as sprint, had I enough after-school slots left that weren’t taken up by music-making.
The other physical education grace for me was simply timetabled as “Dance”, and in one lesson a week we could come out of our minds, and step into free expression within our bodies. In the open, spacious, airy school hall – or less enjoyably in the sock-flavoured, muggy gym – as 12-14-year-old girls we whirled, stepped, and frolicked to music, sometimes of our own choosing.
By grace of our headmistress Miss Ashworth who, although a chemist by discipline, recognised how important the “liberal arts” were to a good mid-20th century curriculum. And through her head of English Miss Towle, our school also encouraged a sense of Theatre. (I was Leader of the Yellow Ants in the brothers Capek’s ‘The Insect Play’ – a minor role with only three sentences, yet a major breakthrough for me.)
I didn’t dance with boys until much much later (when they were men). Indeed at the Horrible School Dance which Miss A had arranged with the leaders of the local Police Cadets, I remained “unchosen”. Although my best friend was selected for one dance, she and I decided to spend most of the evening as far away from the sound system as we could. Hiding in the loos by the science labs, or even outside next to the Biology pond.
At college there would be parties and frolics. And a couple of May Balls, one at Wolfson College with the man with whom I’ve lived for over forty years now. And with him the most enjoyable dancing has been at Barn Dances or Ceilidhs, both at college and more recently in Scotland – though neither of us would deny that my co-ordination isn’t great, and my footwork very risky.
Expressive movement came back into my life in the 1990s, with an embryonic Cambsdance, and then after a decade’s break, in 2012 and again in Cambridge – with David Ellis who now lives and teaches in Devon http://totnesdancecollective.org/pages/the-teachers/david-ellis/90
It began to release me from the snares of depression and anxiety and has been a container for connection and touch, friendship and sharing. Even when, especially when, I have found (merely) social contact hard to handle, and have been tempted to withdraw into myself yet again, into that small fierce place of fear. The “tight-packed nut or a fist” that my poetic friend describes.
There have been many winters in which dancing sessions have been the most treasured point in the week for me. An opportunity to let the words, the thoughts drop away, and to allow space for a deepest sense of grace and appreciation and belonging and contact. Expression within the present moment. Aliveness; embodied joy and light, and also opening to the shadow, and dancing with the fear that might bubble through.
I honour those of you who have been part of the energy, grace, intimacy and supportive network of that vital dance, in and around Cambridge and also in London. The teachers (alphabetically) Alex, Angela, Ajay, Di, Jason, Louise, Nicky, Ruth – apologies if I have missed anyone – who grace us with their choices of music, and with the holding of the dance within the space; the spaces themselves – at St Philip’s Church, St Paul’s Primary School, Madingley Village Hall, and further afield.
Most of all, thank you all – teachers, dancers, crew, and meeters-and-greeters for the smiles, tears and heartfulness. The hugs, laughter, and whirls. The overlap between life styles and soul journeys. I hope to be back to Cambsdance in the autumn. Meanwhile I shall tread the sandy shores in northern Scotland.
As some of you know, my aspiration was originally towards offering retreat space, while at our cooler summer hideaway in northernmost Scotland.
Please know that this sanctuary home is just for myself and immediate family. That’s the way it needs to be for now. Thank you for your understanding.
I shall continue to add to this writing presence blog… do stay in touch…
And sending love to the Cambsdance family as each of you step out again and again, with grace, into a moving, open and meaningful life.
* Here is my friend’s poem, which delighted me in its dancing delivery of grace: https://inkycatblog.wordpress.com/2019/04/23/the-opposite-of-fear/