It’s in the low twenties, and snow is falling quietly outside the big studio windows. The room isn’t quite warm enough and I can feel the hardwood planks drawing heat from my body at the contact points. My tailbone. My shoulder blades. My heels and the back of my skull. I wish I were this aware of my body every moment of my life. I breathe deeply, letting the buoyancy of my lungs lift my ribs up away from the floor, escaping the cold. I exhale and melt back into the floor.
This is my friend Joanna, and she teaches a dance that I’ve been yearning to be a part of for some time now.
It’s called “Dog Dance.”
I’ve read about Dog Dance. I’ve heard others speak about Dog Dance. I’ve even taken many photos of Dog Dance, but none of that prepared me for the experience I had this morning. It couldn’t have. This is my account of Dog Dance, paired with photographs of Joanna and her Dog Dancers from two previous sessions. I am so thankful to have had this experience.
“…As you roll your head to one side, let yourself spill into your skin…notice the fluidity of your body…the fluid coursing around your bones…the spirals of your limbs…”
I’m trying to spill into my skin. I’m on my back. My head is rocking ever so slowly to my left, eyes closed. I’m terribly aware of each muscle contraction. I am clumsy and moving in spurts. My torso tries to follow the lead of my head, but I’m getting snagged. My arms are awkward, and I get hung up on them as I try to roll over with grace. Fuck off, arms. I’m trying to dance. I feel remorse instantly. I’m sorry, arms, I love you. Do what you will. Move how you will.
The void behind my eyelids is punctuated with lovely sounds. I hear voices, exhales of contentment, pleasant coos and Archean yawns. I open my mouth to see what comes out, and I hear my voice softly chime in to the chorus as the tension in my shoulder blades slithers to the ground.
“I want you to think about your long bones…bones that extend past your skin…they protrude through the walls of this room…down through the floorboards…”
And just like that, I drop in. A jumble of lovely bones wading in slow motion through a sea of stars. I am towering over our beautiful planet, the black abyss of the cosmos tickling the back of my neck and sending chills of elation shooting miles and miles down my long bones to where they touch the earth. I am one of Dali’s elephants. With each enormous step I move over thousands of miles. I stretch my beautiful long arms outward to embrace the curvature of our planet’s body. I can feel my fingerbones reconnecting on the other side of her. Now I’m curling up like an armadillo. My kneecaps are subducting below my elbows and I can feel my vertebrae rising to the sky, one…by one…by one…at a geologic pace. A ridge rising toward the heavens. I am a mountain-building event.
“…do not skip a single movement to get somewhere faster…feel each and every moment…”
I’m eroding into dust. I’m on my back again, swishing side to side playfully, reveling in the stretch of skin between each rib. Slowly…slowly…I’m wriggling down into the mud—into the darkness and comfort of the beginning. I’m primordial soup. I’m safe and comfy, deep in a prehistoric sea, at the root of everything. I’m moving so, so slowly. Am I moving at all?
I make my way to my back for the last time. My feet and hands are to the sky. I’m shaking the meat off my bones and as it drops off past my ears I am hollowed out and filled with joy. I can feel the presence of other bodies moving sinuously through the room, though I cannot see them. When I open my eyes, I’m in a child’s pose of sorts, my outstretched arms bracing me against the floor as my nose tucks in toward my knees. I lift my head to peer through my hair and am overwhelmed by the beauty of what I see.
I am alone on the far side of the room. Every other body is entangled together, forming a small oval of interwoven hands and arms. They are still but appear in mid-rotation.
Ever heard of accretion theory? In astrophysics, it’s the accumulation of particles into one big astronomical object by way of gravitational force. Stars do it. Galaxies do it. Planets, comets, and meteorites all do it. In the darkness of space, hundreds of thousands of years after the Big Bang, particles of stardust found their way to one another, clumping together and spinning around and around, creating disc-shaped bodies. We are no different than the very stardust we are made of. We are born, we cluster, we lose angular momentum, we collapse, we die, we are born again, we find each other in the darkness, we birth new stars, we accelerate and then decelerate until we collapse, we repeat this dance off into the sunset of eternity…
So here I am, at the close of Joanna’s class, looking in at this scenic cosmic body that formed in the middle of the room. Little specks of stardust pulled together by undetected forces, and me—an orbiting meteorite, tumbling along the outer orbit.
I’m smiling as if warm sun is beating on my face while laying outstretched on a sandstone outcrop. One of the specks of stardust is smiling back at me, and we hold the moment, each of us fully and equally comprehending the substance of our reality. We all stand up. I hug everyone goodbye. I step out into the cold morning, get in my truck, and shut the door. I shift into first gear and watch the frothy snowflakes flutter over my windshield as I begin the journey home.
Read more about the work Joanna is doing at her website, https://www.joannaandtheagitators.com/adult-dance-classes/