Illustration by Anjan Prakash
Sound Mix: Nikkhil Shirodkar
Background Composition Score: Leonard Cohen – Dance Me to the End of Love
Precise, passionate, highly observant and an excellent instructor, that’s how I would describe my Latin dance teacher.
For those of you unfamiliar with Latin dance, Rumba-ChaCha-Jive-Salsa, belong to this family. Most of these dance forms are popular as social dances, meaning dancing with a partner, and in groups. Therefore many couples, partners, enroll into this form, as it is great fun to engage in it, especially with someone you love.
Let me call my dance instructor, S, for this story.
Since S is a very keen observer, in the first few classes of the newly enrolled couples, there are some instructions I often hear her give, which she does mostly by noticing their body language.
It could be aimed at the man or the woman who make up the couple, or to both of them.
- Hello, why are you busy correcting her, that is what I am here for. You focus on your steps.
- Are you blaming him, instead of taking responsibility for your move? I saw you muttering something at him.
- Accha…(a hindi word, that in this context could mean, `okay’), now you didn’t get your step right, because she turned earlier. That’s not true, I was watching…
- Hello, why are you pulling her hand to dance with you. Put your hand out like a gentleman and ask her to dance with you. And you (referring to the lady), please wait till he asks you, and then give your hand, only if you wish to dance with him.
I might have paraphrased some parts of her instructions, but you get the essence.
Please note, the only difference between a couple who know each other, and those who do not know each other but are paired up in class for the learning process, is this – in the former, the blaming-correcting the other is explicit, and in the later, it is implicit. When you don’t know the other who has been paired with you, the very same blame run as thoughts…, `if he had led better, I would have looked better. If she had not come so close, I would not have lost my balance. damn, he moved in the wrong direction and I just followed’, You might not say it aloud or mutter it, or show it through actions. And the instructions S gives, clearly applies to each of us in this 2class.
Another beautiful thing about this dance form is, as classes progress, the partners are constantly rotated, and so no couple is allowed to get comfortable with each other, allowing for a wide variety of other partner challenges and so her instructions are ever expansive.
Each time I hear some of the above instructions from S, apart from the many insights it offers for other areas of my life, I would particularly like to share with you how in my last class, I was reminded of a certain narrative that ran in my head for a few years, until I began to observe the challenges it posed, and began to work on it.
I had grown up loving nature and immersing myself abundantly in it, thanks to where I lived and the kind of friends I had. As I became older, my love for nature only became more intense. Now that is wonderful, but what also happened as I entered my mid-twenties is that the more information I gathered about how humans are destroying the planet; how humans are causing climate change; how we have accelerated the rate of extinction like never before, a new set of thoughts also began to take birth, which went something like this…
- Humans have messed up this planet.
- I like other life forms better than humans.
- I am more interested in animal issues and can’t be bothered about human problems, as humans brought it upon themselves..
- If humans went extinct, nobody would miss us.
- We are such a burden on this earth.
Like S points out to us beginner couples, as much as I loved nature and wished to be in it more and more, I also had begun to look at other humans as coming in the way of this experience, this relationship, that I shared with nature. Instead of figuring out my steps, my moves, my turns, how I was leading and following, and being alert to who and what I was saying `yes’ or `no’ to, when it came to my relationship with nature, I was worried about how others were destroying it, coming in the way, messing it all up for my loved ones and me. The others in this case, was my fellow beings.
It somehow felt lighter when the blame was gently moved into this word called `humans’ or `humanity’. As though, this term stood independent of me.
How did such thoughts or beliefs harm me?
- The first way it showed up was, that I unknowingly had begun to classify humans as being separate from nature. An Us VS them language had started to show up. Now we know what happens if you get into a partner dance with this mindset. It is neither Rumba or Salsa then, as they are both an emergence, an outcome, when both partners feel the oneness and wholeness with the other. Otherwise, it’s just two individuals trying to look good, over the other.
- Secondly, there came with it, entitlement – I love nature, so what is happening between other humans and nature isn’t my direct responsibility. This implied, the natural world belonged to me, and the rest of those who harmed it, weren’t entitled to it.
- Lastly, while engaging in conversations, I found that I was willing to join in when others spoke ill of humans/humanity, as though humanity was a personality and entity beyond me.
Marissa Peer, a behavioral expert and therapist, shares, `you make your beliefs and then, those beliefs make you’. And therefore she adds, that we also have the possibility to make new beliefs that are useful and nourishing.
When in-person classes were ON, I always showed up early for my dance class, as I got to see the senior batch perform, before they wrapped up to make space for us. They are always in such a flow, making even a fumbling partner look beautiful, because they gracefully and joyfully work with the other. As they move from partner to partner, they seem to tune into the strength of the other, and create space for their weakness too, giving them a chance to work through it.
S’s constant reminder to take responsibility, to get our personal moves correct, slowly helps shift our beliefs, making a new one, one in which we focus on our steps, and learn to dance in a way that it contributes to oneself, and therefore to the other. And when a whole class forms this new narrative or belief, where each of us take ownership for our role in the whole, I guess we then become ready for the next level.
Dance Me to the End of Love
In 2012-2013, I started to take small actions. Action in the area I was being called into for years by then. I stepped out of advertising, and into the natural world. As I began to travel to different biomes across the world, I began to meet other people taking action, in different ways. Many on the field, in treacherous conditions to save species from becoming extinct, some who had given up the comfort of their loved ones, the comfort of a proper home, the comfort of eating nourishing food, to do what they were called to do. The more I began to see humans/humanity, from this new narrative of oneness, as a part of me, as a part of nature, as co-inhabitants of this Earth, the more I began to also experience humans engaged in nourishing actions of all shapes, size, scale, big and small. Within their home, outside of their home, within their community, on a global scale, it was a practical training that I needed to see and understand all sides of humanity.
Most of these people who were in action, not to make themselves look good, but with a focus on the whole, did so without any bitterness or othering. It began to show me my responsibility. One that made me understand that the whole of humanity is a part of nature too, irrespective of the action each one takes. If I am a part of it, there is no othering, I am in ownership of my part.
If I wish to see the beauty and flow I saw in the advanced batch, if I wish to see Rumba, Salsa, Cha-cha in action, if I wish to see Humanity in that oneness, then I realized I had to unlearn and drop the blame game. I had to focus on getting my steps right, and that was my way of showing up for the other, and for nature.
As I engage with Biomimicry and learn from various life forms, as I work with a friend who holds a mirror to my work in the world, as K continues to correct me because I have asked him to do so when I slip to my old thoughts in words/action, as I begin to grasp the wisdom of masters and mentors I tune into, as I do more of my work in the world, the old narrative or belief system is slowly but surely beginning to loose teeth, and I find myself more and more in the new nourishing one I wish to hold.
And then of course there is always dear S, and there are new couples joining a new batch each month.
By functioning from this new narrative, I am able to take responsibility for my work, and also take responsibility when I don’t show up. I try to keep the focus on my steps, and to give space for the other. I am learning who and when to say `yes’ and `no’ to as well. I still have some things to unlearn, in not othering humanity specifically when it comes to nature, and I stay alert to my inner work here.
If this in anyway resonates with you, I invite you, to dance with me, so we can together learn to our steps, moves and turns, and work on our part in the whole.
Thank you for listening.
I look forward to hearing anything you may wish to share about this.