This week was Bay Area Dance Week, and for today I’d signed up for some freestyle soul or hip hop class I’d seen up in Berkeley. I wasn’t really paying attention to what it was exactly – it sounded fun, and a bit out of my ballet comfort zone.
As I walked in, I made small talk with the organizer Zack, and another first-timer, Hannah. After we signed in, we got on the floor and, unsure of what to do, began stretching. After a while, a gray-ponytailed man in a painter’s uniform started doing the moonwalk in an imaginary box. Zack was rolling around on the floor.
I continued to stretch, waiting for someone to tell us that class had started. Soon more people joined us. A woman with a blue jacket around her waist alternately waved her arms around and spun in circles. Another in a crochet green dress swept the air in broad brush strokes. Zack was still rolling around on the floor.
Fully five minutes later, it dawned on me. I turned to Hannah and said,
There’s literally no structure, is there?
So we got up and started dancing.
My dancing consisted of little steps from side to side in the back of the room. I couldn’t make my eyes leave the floor. I tried to raise my arms but they wouldn’t go above waist-high. I tried again. They fell heavily. My arms were magnetically attracted to my sides. This was much more out of my comfort zone than I’d anticipated.
I could feel my ears blushing.
All around me, bodies moved without reserve. There was a mother salsa-ing with her baby; a man whose hips were unconstrained by his neck brace; a woman who’d battled cancer moving about slowly but freely. In contrast, I felt trapped in my prison of self-consciousness. With arms tied down, I watched the others float, prance, clap, sing, and I wanted to join – I wished to join –
and then I realized that I really didn’t know any of these people and I’d really never see any of them again.
So I got up and started dancing.
My steps became wider and wider, my arms drifted higher and higher. Suddenly, unleashed, my feet were out of control, my elbows were out of control, my chin was out of control – I spun around once, twice, three times, kicked my legs, jumped up high and raised my hands towards the skylights. I ran out of breath and didn’t stop. My toes engaged in fancy footwork to unknown songs and unfamiliar beats, my shoulders shimmied, my hips shimmied, my ribs shimmied. Surely I looked awkward, but what was there to be awkward about this unrestrained expression of joy?
After about an hour of this, I needed to catch a break. Hannah had also paused and as we watched a man repeatedly wave a scarf around on a platform, she remarked:
It’s as if everyone’s doing what they’ve always wanted to do but were too shy to.
All 40 people present were moving in their own way to the music. It was as if each of us were dancing alone in our rooms, except – we were together in the same room.
Only in Berkeley.