To the Editor:
Thursday morning, sleepy-eyed yet excited for the day ahead, I joined my sister and her friends at The Yard for their morning dance class. My nerves ran rampant as I as I haven’t danced in a formal “dance-class setting” in years. My sister assured me it would be fine because it was a community class, open to dancers of any age and ability. Further, this week’s guest artists, Godfrey and Mabingo, both from Uganda, would be teaching African dances, something also new to many of the trained dancers.
Okay, I said, I’ll give it my best. Minutes later my mind remiss of any sense of worry or anxiety, our voices joined together as we sang and danced concurrently. You see, they said, when you sing and dance at the same time, you are engaging your abdominal muscles and reaching for the sky with your voice. Our feet slapped the ground, the reverberation echoing throughout the half-outdoor studio. The movements revolved around the sounds, our feet hitting the floor in synchronized beats, our claps matching that of our neighbors, our voices harmonizing to create a rich chorus.
Smiles shone from the curvature of each dancer’s lips. Dancers as young as eight and as old as 70 swirled around the room, the joy beaming from their hearts. We were encouraged to laugh and to dance with our whole bodies. Godfrey and Mabingo, both from Kampala, circled around us listening for the uniqueness of our voices and placing us in the room such that we would create the most perfect harmony. While one played the drums to keep us in rhythm, the other danced with us. Then they would switch. Mabingo, listening with a careful ear, pointed the direction he desired for our vocal inflections, most often toward the sky, signaling “higher” or “louder.” Godfrey’s smile resembled that of a perfect night sky, his teeth shining white amidst his velvet black skin. It was near impossible to deny the happiness swelling within, reflected and multiplied in each dancer.
Mabingo and Godfrey taught me to let go that day. To let go of any fear or anxiety about trying something new. To let go of the weight I have been carrying from past experiences. To let go of any expectation of myself or others as we move forward each discerning our own joys and sorrows. Truthfully we danced better and more completely with each “letting go” of our inhibitions and a true embracing of that which we did not yet know. I can’t help but imagine what I would have missed had I decided not to go to class that morning, if I had held on to those anxieties and let them consume my desire for that which is yet to be discovered.
Dance is more than an acquired or trained skill in Africa. Dance is a way of living. Mabingo and Godfrey use dance as one of the purest expressions of themselves and their culture and they travel the world sharing that expression and inviting others to participate. They taught me in a small yet profound way to let go of my worry and to embrace the freedom of full expression through the body, mind and soul.
Let us all continue to learn to let go and let us all keep dancing.