Tag Archives: freedom

Dance like no one’s watching…

I just had an epiphany this morning.

I remembered that I used to dance to the radio. All the time. Whenever I had a spare moment, I would put on music that I liked and dance to it.

It started when I was really young. My Mom remembers me as a toddler leaning my ear against the big stereo in the basement, absorbing the music. When I got older, I would go down there as often as I could to listen to the radio and dance. And I would dance in front of the mirror, testing moves and pretending I was on stage.

My Mom got me a leotard when she knew I was serious about it, but she never got me dance lessons like I wanted. Instead, I got piano lessons, which was not even a close second, but I dealt with it.

Dancing was a ritual I practiced nearly every day. I knew exactly what radio stations I liked, and I got to know a lot of great songs in the 80’s – it was the golden age of pop with Michael Jackson and Madonna and Cyndi Lauper. I even choreographed dances to the Pointer Sisters and Starship, and Mom has since shown me my childhood drawings to prove it!

The trend continued as I grew up, into high school and college. Instead of finding a basement, I just took up whatever little space I could in my bedroom or dorm to just let myself move and gyrate to all the CD’s that I grew to love. My tastes had expanded into grunge and hip-hop, and as I developed my taste for classical music, I would even put that on and pretend I was a conductor!

I just realized, whoa…I’ve lost this ritual. In grad school I may have done some dancing by myself, but after that, it just totally petered out. And nowadays, I spend free moments on the Internet instead, sitting on my ass, getting jealous of other people’s Facebook lives and reading twisted news stories about politicians and pundits, feeling awful about the world.

What a horrible trade.

When I danced, I was exercising my whole person – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually – all of it. And I think my development as a musician owes more to my dancing than to most formal instruction I got as a child. When I danced, I was truly free. I could forget about the world and enjoy myself. And when I danced with others, I was uninhibited. I brought that same freedom to the dance floor.

I realized most suddenly today that I have to bring this ritual back to my life. I have to move again. I have to dance again. Bouncing to the car stereo is but a pale substitute, too – I gotta have arms and legs and torso involved. And brain. And heart. And I can’t do all that while driving.

Because I realize, that’s how I learn music – by touching it. As a pianist, I’m very tactile, I like to play it like a drum, even if my notes aren’t accurate. As a singer, I move and depend on sensation to guide my technique. As a conductor, well, it goes without saying.

I’ve become familiar with that modern proverb, “dance like no one’s watching…” But I’d like to take it a step further and say, dance when no one’s watching. Decide to do it whenever you need it, whenever it works for you – dance while you’re cleaning house, if that’s what does it. (I find that Korn’s first album is especially good for cleaning dirty bathrooms.) Don’t just dance socially, with other people. Dance with yourself – you are your own best dance partner.

And if you realize you’ve lost this ritual, get it back. Use some of your Internet time blasting music and moving around. While standing up – no butts in chairs, even if your chair rolls around.

Stupid me – I could have done this all winter when the weather was horrible. Can’t go for a morning run? The floor’s too cold for yoga? DANCE.

Ack! – I hate it when I realize what I’ve lost sometimes. But then I love it, when I know I can start doing it again…

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Embrace life.

I wrote this surprising thing to myself in my freewriting journal:

“Amy, what will it take for you to see that you have never missed your chance? Your chance is sitting there right in front of you, every day, in plain sight. Forget about past and future. Just forget about it. This is your weakness: this idea that your chance is gone in the past or hidden in the future. It’s not there. It’s here, now.”

Two days prior, I was hanging around the Rust Belt Market with my husband, buying up a stash of beautiful handmade greeting cards from The WorkPlace, a nonprofit organization which employs people with disabilities in Michigan. I had already bought the four requisite birthday cards I was going to need for the coming month, but there was a special: five for $15. What was I going to get in addition to four birthday cards? I already had a ton of thank-you cards at home, no impending need for a sympathy or wedding card that I could see…

Then I saw it. A card that said, “Embrace life.” Inside, it said:

“Happiness is something that comes into our lives through a door we don’t remember leaving open.”


I had no occasion or person to give that to, but I didn’t need one, because the injunction to embrace life, on top of the beautiful hand-made 3D design, was enough to make me want to get it. I’ll find someone to give it to, I thought to myself.


Two days later, I write the words above, and from there, what poured out of me, without a single thought of the card I bought over the weekend, was:

“Embracing – that’s a thing I’m missing from my life right now. I’m not embracing, getting fully engaged with life around me…I’ve been giving everything a cursory glance…The cursory glance is a way to ensure that I check off everything in my to-do list without actually doing anything…”

It was at once a damning indictment and a liberating release.

It became the key to a new relationship with my schedule, and with my life overall.

See, I’ve always thought of myself as a good time manager. I’ve carried around my brick of a Franklin-Covey planner everywhere for years, and I pride myself on spending every Sunday planning the week ahead with every appointment, every to-do, all of it. And when I do the things I’ve planned, I relish every moment I get to check things off the list.

But when I don’t do the things I plan, I beat myself up. Hard. And that’s a problem, because my usual remedy for the shame is to allow myself to check things off that I only do halfway, or things that only get a cursory glance and not the deep commitment they deserve.

And the result? Longer to-do lists down the road. Which I don’t finish. And then beat myself up for. Again. Until I stop making lists altogether, and my soul flushes down the toilet.

“Embrace life” has me see another way out. And I share this with you because as musicians, some of us give our work only cursory glances when the going gets tough (or too easy) and schedules get crazy. “Oh, I’ll fix it in performance…I’ll just warm up in the car on the way to the bank…” and so on. Are we getting things done just so we can check off the to-do list faster, or are we doing it for the fulfillment of our dreams?

Here’s what I had to get with “Embrace life”: Dive in deeply. Accept life fully. Do things to completion. The thing that there is to do right now, do that and nothing else. Be intimate with your life tasks. Embrace every moment passionately and don’t worry about missing something. You won’t miss anything. Everything life offers is an opportunity to open up and accept what’s there to do and be. Fall into it. Don’t resist. You won’t have to worry about time; you could embrace time and not try to escape from it at every single moment. Life is not a thing to escape. The cursory glance is our attempt to escape from time. If you fall into time instead, and into the task you’re given, time will become your friend and you will end up having more of it, not less.

You don’t need more time. If you say you need more time, what you really need is more depth, more commitment and attention to the thing you’re doing. (And less complaining and distraction.) What you need is a firmer embrace on life. What if, instead of to-do lists, we made depth charts? Like, how much depth of action and attention does a thing need, rather than how much time? Never tried it, but I’m curious about it now. What do you think that would look like?

Whatever it looks like, it feels like we would be taking the injunction to “embrace life” pretty darn seriously.

It also feels like I ought to mail that greeting card to myself in the next week, to keep me going…

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