January 29, 2014

Dance is My Religion. ~ Cara H. Cadwallader

In my early 20s, I would occasionally be asked if I was “religious.”

With a casual flip of my hand, I’d respond, “No, but I’m spiritual.”  Of course I had no clue what I meant by “spiritual.” What I,  perhaps, was referring to was this place of inner knowing inside of me that I’ve always listened to—a voice that has consistently guided me to seek out the hills and the countryside, the moon and the stars, the ocean and the tides. A wisdom that has kept my feet in motion while my Spirit endeavored to fill itself back up—with song and dance, music and harmony, with books and writing, beauty and poetry.

“Spiritual” just seemed to be the catchall word for this way of being in the world.

As an American woman raised at the end of the twentieth century, I took full advantage of the privileges and luxuries handed to me. This included rebellion, mine of which came complete with a shaved head, hairy armpits, a refusal to wear deodorant, and a quaint disregard for institutionalized religion/dogma (as well as country music). The words “God” and “Church” churned my stomach and I resented the inequities that I perceived as rife in our world and as stemming from the violence and force of oppression.

When I returned to San Diego County living, I sought outlets and opportunities that I could derive comfort from.

For me, dance and music have always been a means of release and letting go, of experiencing joy and tasting happiness (even if for only a few brief moments in time).

Trying my hand at the classes and workshops of established local dancers and companies, I quickly lost interest with their primary focus on form and technique.  After years spent studying dance and movement, I was ready to expand beyond the basic building blocks. What I was seeking was a community of people with whom I could explore the interplay of relationship, both on the dance floor as well as in my day-to-day life—the place where I, ultimately, sought to apply the concepts related to physical motion, such as giving and taking weight, surrender, balance, and more, to my emotional intimacy so that I could live a full life of deep, personal contentment.

What I discovered in San Diego was a vibrant heartbeat of people who had been dancing in and out of relationships of all kinds for nearly four decades (dating back to the initial wildfire of Contact Dance Improvisation and the Expressive Arts Movement across the nation in the early 1970s).

At first, I judged this community. To me, they looked like a bunch of white, old hippies disconnected and flailing around like freaks. So, I distracted myself with a miserable, live-in relationship that was filled with abuse and disrespect. After the dissolution of that partnership and my subsequent return to the boredom of isolation, I realized that my judgments were simply a reflection of me.

“Community” is this intriguing buzz word that’s hip and popular and yet, we’re struggling to figure out what the heck it means. Once citizens, we’ve been reduced to ‘consumers by our own publically elected officials.

Most “community” events we attend today are incentives to get us to buy goods and services. We’re told which way to walk and how to shop, and it’s all so smart because we’re driven out of the comfort of our own homes due to our primal, human necessity to connect. With our plastic bags, filled with throw-away conveniences, we return home with heavy hearts because what we are seeking—real-time human connection where we are seen, heard and acknowledged (while experiencing a sense of belonging) has once again gone unfulfilled.  So, we flip on the television, yell at the kids to clean their rooms, and then stomach another lonely dinner over fast food.

Early on, a fellow dancer kept encouraging me to attend “Dance Church” in Encinitas.

My resistance was thick, I was still light years away from surrendering my ego’s erroneous thinking of “I don’t need anyone, nor do I need to be touched!”  However, with my daily, personal life consistently producing more turbulence than harmony, I knew I needed to make a change.  And, when I finally committed to fully showing up in the dance three times a week, I immediately came to “the light,” by communing in and through my body with an intergenerational group of people—where babies crawl, dogs and kids run around and through, and adults dance the primordial dance of “Should we, or shouldn’t we?”; of “I’d like to be your friend but I am afraid;” and even of “Stay away from me, or else!”

I touch God. When I dance, I best experience how I am the Universe in motion, and how everything that unfolds around me is a choice, a blessing and an opportunity. “How do I choose to dance in this moment now?” became my mantra. (Fast or slow; staccato or flowing; active or passive; quiet or dynamic; sharp or soft?  How about, all of the above?)

What makes my experience of Dance as my Religion so essential is that, in my act of deep devotion and fervent prayer, I am surrounded by a myriad of people whose skin tones and tongues and whose belief systems and sexual preferences (gay, trans-gendered, poly-sexual, etc.) do not necessarily mirror my own.

Dropping out of our minds and into our hearts, we connect in non-rational and non-sensical space where our one common denominator is that we are all human beings, here to enjoy the ride. Together, we embody that there is no one right way to live on planet Earth and we accept each other for exactly as we are right this very moment.  No change needed.

Once the music has stopped playing, the dance studio has been closed and the sun has set over Swami’s beach, we unfortunately return to leading lives that keep us living in relative distance from one another. Separated by walls and stuff, by cars and freeways, we inhabit space where the drama of relationship—a phenomenon that naturally occurs when human beings regularly engage and interact—can easily be avoided.

Yet, as the modern era has demonstrated, our self-imposed isolation, a trend that our idolatry of technology is only too quick to perpetuate, is killing us, as well as our planet.

Although we are continuing to redefine what neo-community (or tribe) looks like today, we are hungry for dance temples where we can meet in the middle of our home lives and just be together once more—vibrating in harmony as well as being in the discomfort of transformation.  And, we enjoy dancing to country music, too!

Join the movement, ground into your heart and feed your soul.



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Assistant Editor: Laura Ashworth/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Image: courtesy of author


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Cara H. Cadwallader