Notes on Practice: How I Work with Aversion in Dance

May 18, 2014 - Meghan LeBorious

Friday I arrived to class twenty minutes late. I tried to find a place to stretch on the floor, but the room was too energetic, the mood too ebullient and I felt pulled into it instead. I told myself that I should connect with my feet first so I could be responsible in the way I stepped in. I spent a few minutes investigating the planes and pressure points on the bottoms of my feet to satisfy this should.

I shared many joyful and interesting dances, including two with close friends. One in chaos—we held onto each other’s arms and bounced and bent ourselves, smiling the whole time. Another was with a friend who has been away for awhile—a friend who has been like an angel to me—who has literally been there to catch me at the apex of many instances of difficult emotion that have emerged on the dance floor.

In this case, we encountered each other at the very end of the night, happily, in a similar energetic space. He seemed to dance the experiences he had accumulated on his trip. I listened in movement, then told him a little about what I have been up to, myself, for the past few months. Our arms moved in sync at moments with the attenuated music. We took turns or joined each other on the floor, emphatic though with few edges.

In speaking with him later, we discovered that we had both been unpleasantly triggered during dancing with the same person. We acknowledged that the feeling of aversion that comes up with some people—in dance and in life—really has everything to do with our own perspective and understanding, and very little to do with the person who is rubbing on one of our edges.

In my case, Tammy instructed us to take a partner, and one women greeted me in a way that felt too conspiratorial, too knowing for someone I had never before met or danced with. She locked eyes with me and smiled ironically; and I was instantly pickled with irritation. Thinking about it later—it seemed like a parody of myself, somehow. I made the huge assumption that she was making fun of herself, of dance, of me, of the whole situation. By no means do I think it is a good idea to take yourself too seriously, but there was something there in her flippancy that I found distasteful, some lesson for me.

The experience reminded me that for a very long stretch, the issue of aversion and how I worked with it in dance was of central importance. First noticing that aversion has arisen, then noticing what it does in my body, then deciding what to do about it is a fascinating process. The decision to stay with a partner who is triggering me, and work with the edge that is revealed, can lead to enormous insight. The decision to move away from a partner who is triggering me can also lead to enormous insight. Either decision can be skillful, depending on myriad factors.

Partnering in dance and even forming groups is something that happens all the time, but when the teacher actually instructs us to join whoever is closest to us and stay with them until the next instruction—well, all kinds of things arise. When I pair with someone on my own, it tends more often to be who I want to dance with, rather than necessarily who I need to dance with. At times, I have felt un-safe. I can’t exactly explain why. It can feel like aggression, like threat, even if my partner’s intentions are scrupulously kind. I might back up, I might sharpen my elbows, I might force myself open and feel myself tighten up, I might force myself open and wind up connecting joyfully. I might stay in a totally different orbit, nominally connected. I might even spend the entire time praying that the teacher would instruct us to change partners so I wouldn’t be stuck at length with the object of my aversion. Sometimes it is absolutely magical—like the person with the greatest charge for me instantly appears, and perhaps an important insight arises.

Then there are the times that I walk away. Sometimes I take on the challenge of doing exactly what my intuition indicates in every interaction during the entire evening’s dance. On such an occasion, if I feel averse to a partner, I leave them and dance alone or pair with someone else. I notice that I never want to risk hurting someone’s feelings, and sometimes it feels harder to walk away consciously than to stay in an unpleasant partnership—interesting information for me on my own path.

Once, just days before I formally broke up with my partner of eight years, I was dancing with a woman I felt little connection to. A friend, the angel I mentioned previously, happened to return from the bathroom. Without pondering it, I abandoned the woman I didn’t feel connected to and joined my friend. For me, our dance expressed dimensions of human grief, pathos, heartbreak and impossible beauty. My broken heart poured out, and I found myself tender, shining and at ease.

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