February 24, 2014

Powerful Beyond Measure. ~ Jenine Durland


We are following a shoeless woman in an overcoat and pink socks down the sidewalk.

“Only in San Francisco,” my friend says. This same woman turns into the yoga studio and checks in for the same dancing/yoga/singing class that promises to ‘help you find your true voice,’ that we are here for.

I spend the next hour and a half suspending my inner critic, rolling around the floor with my eyes closed, doing pulsing, gyrating, crazy not-quite-break dancing moves that seem to come from an inner spirit seeking exorcism.

Funny, I find myself thinking, this all feels so familiar.

As I drop my butt to the waxed hardwood floor, lifting my legs and spinning around like a top, I’m struck by images of a younger me:

Taking over a dance club in fifth grade, all alone with the DJ. Cueing up En Vogue and Michael Jackson and MC Hammer tapes in our family’s trailer—going non-stop till I’d flipped each side at least once. Spending entire play dates choreographing performances to Ace of Base and Salt-N-Peppa. Practicing The Cabbage Patch and Running Man that my badass Filipina aunt taught me so I wouldn’t move like a white girl.

The man I met on the dance floor when I’d first moved back to the Bay—the two of us suspended in some sort of body bubble that he summed up by saying, “we move so well together,” when he was on top of me in bed, all our clothes still on—before he told me he was working on himself and that he couldn’t be in a relationship.

Then, we get to the singing part of the workshop. The teacher starts by asking who in the group considers themselves to be a singer. No one raises a hand. She has us form a circle and tells us that we’re going to make a song using only our own voices and bodies. “And you must contribute a sound.”

After the teacher kicks things off with a guttural bird-like sound, I take a breath and begin. I start by crouching down and knocking my knuckles against the floor, over and over again. Already the air is textured with all sorts of experimental exhales and oddly perfect rhythm sections. I’m swaying side to side in time with what is sounding like music. A couple minutes in, with my eyes closed and my hands throbbing, I decide I’m ready to use my voice, if only to save my body. But the teacher stops us.

She asks us what is hard and I say, “trying to decide what to do.” She points to her head and says, “Whenever you go there, into the thinking space, I want you to reach your fingers towards the inner circle.” She dangles her hand in the middle of the group, “Ask yourself, instead, what does the song need? And when it comes, whatever wants to, let it be big. By going big, even if it sounds like”–and she makes a totally amazingly ridiculous loud sound–“you are giving everyone else permission to get big too.”

“No one gets anything out of staying down here,” she says in a whisper, her body bending down towards the floor.

We finish class joined in a circle, our voices vibrating through the room as we sing an African chant to honor the late Nelson Mandela, the man I worshiped as a fifth grader—my first hero—when I borrowed batiks so I could dress up like his wife, Winnie. When the room goes quiet, I open my eyes, pooling with tears, and see I’m not alone in my crying. The woman next to me squeezes my hand and smiles at me.

I think back to that Marianne Williamson quote, the one Mandela once said.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? ”

My friend and I leave the studio smiling. Sock-footed, we step out onto the sidewalk, singing.


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Editorial Assistant: Sue Adair/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Wikimedia Commons


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