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Embracing Our Emotions in Dance

Dance, when you're broken open.

Dance, if you've torn the bandage off.

Dance in the middle of the fighting.

Dance in your blood.

Dance when you're perfectly free.

- Rumi

Some of us have delved into many different styles of dance. Others may have cultivated a passion or preference in a certain kind of style. Regardless, each of us has had to channel something within ourselves to convey a story when we dance.

Storytelling and any form of communication involves expression. In dance, particularly, the stories express different kinds of emotions. Choreographers and dancers work together to create a work of art, often with the goal of connecting with the audience. Research has also shown that viewers will try to conceptualize what they are watching in a way that creates a story focused on the emotions conveyed, even if the piece itself does not have that intention. The strongest memories we recall also tend to be the ones we experience with emotions of higher intensity.

Joy, excitement, grief, resentment, frustration, pride – these emotions and experiences are prevalent in our everyday lives. While we tend to want to feel positive emotions and bury negative ones, dance allows us to come to terms with many of our difficult emotions.

“How would you define vulnerability? What makes you feel vulnerable?... Having to ask my husband for help because I'm sick, and we're newly married; initiating sex with my husband; initiating sex with my wife; being turned down; asking someone out; waiting for the doctor to call back; getting laid off; laying off people. This is the world we live in. We live in a vulnerable world…” – Brene Brown

What I find so inspiring about dance is the ability for people to be vulnerable, and embrace the emotional experiences they are feeling. Rather than turning away from what we are feeling in the past or present moment, dance allows people to accept what they are feeling and transform it into an expression, something that all of us can relate to in some way or another.

In any piece, we ask the choreographer to tell us what the story is, or what we hope to convey through our dance. Heartbreak, feel good vibes, overcoming obstacles, loneliness, love – no matter what kind of story, we might take pause to consider a time when we had felt the same way. We recall the moments in our lives where we too had a situation similar to the story being told, and we actively relive the emotional experience, even if it is an emotion and experience we don’t necessarily want to recollect. But in that moment, on that stage, we willingly feel the tightness in our chest, the raw feeling of our emotions, and we tell that story. Through our movement we hope that we can form a thread with the audience so that they too can remember these emotions in their own lives.

We don’t always talk about them, our struggles. We want to document our travels and our greatest memories on social media. Most of the time we don’t want to feel vulnerable and definitely do not want others to know we are vulnerable. But our vulnerability is part of being human. Rather than fight it, when we accept them, we may connect to other’s experiences. We build the courage to love our imperfections.

In short, I think dancing takes courage. It takes courage to truly be with ourselves and be with our emotions. It takes courage to be authentic to our experiences. I strongly encourage others to watch Brene Brown’s TedTalk on vulnerability and the importance of not numbing ourselves to experiences. Try as we might, it is not possible to completely numb our felt emotions. Emotions are embedded in our experiences, regardless of the intensity in which it is felt. When we take time to understand them as they are, I think we learn to better cope with them. Through our dance, we learn to take our difficulties and joys and turn them into something others can relate to. We see and feel our emotional experiences as they are, and perhaps can understand them with more clarity.

Jocelyn Lai

Instagram: @heyoojo

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