For the finale of my very first dance recital, I sang I Could Have Danced All Night from
the musical My Fair Lady (1956). In true 90s recital fashion, I was draped in a sequin cat costume and a feather boa. At barely 5 years old, I believed “I could have spread my wings and done a thousand things I’ve never done before. I could have danced all night!”
Singing that song at my first recital launched unimaginable dreams. Today, I write this entry as Arielle Denise Dance, PhD. Yes, my name is Dr. Dance! The unimaginable has happened. Little did I know, I would learn to allow dance to help me spread my wings in academia and through inconceivable trials of adulthood. I used dance to help save me.
As a PhD student it was difficult to find time for self-care and movement classes that I was so accustomed to. Because of my course load and schedule, I took a step back from my regular practice and responsibilities with the Liturgical Dance Ministry at my church. The time off gave me the opportunity to reevaluate my purpose for dancing in a sacred setting and how else I could honor God and the Universe with my gift. I began to appreciate dancing barefoot on the beach at sunset, dancing in the park during study breaks, and finding ways to dance with God everywhere.
The second year of my doctoral program my world turned upside down. I was diagnosed with blood clots on my lungs for the second time in my twenties. Pulmonary Embolism can be deadly (100,000 people per year), so surviving twice is the ultimate
blessing. I knew better than to take survival for granted. I quickly developed a spirit of gratefulness and even while bound to an oxygen machine, I found a way to dance from my bed
or chair. I knew that dance would save my life and renew my spirit. Through dance and daily meditation I was able to regain my breath and lung strength.
Six months into my recovery, I was in a Health Coaching class. I promised my peer coach, and myself, that would return to dance that week. I knew dance would help settle a lot of the graduate school anxiety and I honestly missed dance more than anything. I began attending a Nia Technique class. Nia combines mindfulness with dance, is practiced bare foot, in dim lighting, and focuses on healing. Nia was exactly what I needed during this restorative period of my life. I would often cry during classes even if we were just freely rolling on the ground, laying on our backs, or screaming affirmations. I felt free and welcome in this space.
I moved through life from high buns and sequins, to short pleated skirts and pom-poms, to
palazzo pants and liturgical ephods, and finally I stand here barefoot in nature. I have realized that when I sang the dream to dance all night, I was asking for dance to take me on a journey and it has. I have journeyed from dance as a performance, traveled into the land of dance as an offering to the Divine, and arrived in a place where dance is healing. I spent so many years of my life dancing for other people; it took a horrific experience to learn how to dance for my own sake and sanity.
Dance has changed for me. It looks different now and feels different than it did the night I sang I Could Have Danced All Night. Because, now, I know what it means to dance all night-- in the darkness of a room, tears running down my face, and a prayer in my heart. And I understand the lyrics, because I have “spread my wings and done a thousand things”… I became Dr. Dance. Despite almost losing my ability to breathe, I have never lost my ability to dance. I have spread my wings and attained a degree that less than 2% of people have. I am so grateful. I dance because...
I dance because I am grateful for the body I still have. I am grateful for breath and life.
I dance because even in the stillness, dance provides healing and comfort.
I dance because it grants me overwhelming peace and reassurance that everything is alright even when it is seems like way too much.
I dance because being barefoot with my soul open to God is when I feel the safest.
I dance because it allows me to be open to the love of God and the love of those in my life.
I dance because I find peace, understanding, and joy when I am aimlessly moving and expressing. I dance because...