Creation, not Combat

28 March 2018

I awoke suddenly from a deep sleep after spending a long weekend dancing in Mountain View with Open Floor teacher Andrea Juhan. The workshop was rich and transformative for me on many levels. Andrea is a masterful teacher, in every aspect of the word. But this blog post isn’t about the workshop, or the teacher. This blog post is about that which got stirred to the surface during my fitful post-workshop slumber.

It’s about conversations and experiences I’ve had over my decade as a “leader of a dance,” and as a student of many dance modalities. I’m writing to share my frustration when I hear people putting down other dance modalities, teachers, and communities, and to offer an alternative viewpoint. This blog post is about when I hear myself try to explain why I love Ecstatic Dance Oakland, the dance I co-founded in 2008, by comparing and contrasting it to other modalities. I cringe at my own armored words as I hear them escaping my lips.

I’m here to talk about, when I was recently sitting at a big conference listening to a popular dance leader on stage talk about how, “dance doesn’t have to be so serious” and then, hands waving in the air, skip around the stage for a full minute making fun of the dances who “take themselves too seriously.” My jaw hung open, incredulous, as the audience around me broke out laughing.

I’ve seen and felt it personally when a teacher I deeply respect forgets to include me when talking about all the different dance leaders in the room. I’ve opened a newsletter that directly said how what they do isn’t “zoning out like at Ecstatic Dance.” I’ve listened, my breath shallow, chest tightening, as another teacher conversed with me around how they, “do a real practice, and not give in to the pressure to make it just a social dance,” disdain in her voice.

It has to stop. We’re better than this. We’re smarter than this.

As a global dance community, we teach and study inclusion, being accepting of diversity and others’ points of view. We learn and adapt as we grow. And yet, we often fail as a collective tribe to lift one another up and celebrate our differences.

It’s not always like this. I’ve certainly felt supported beyond words from others. When I’ve felt truly supported, I notice my being expand. I want to give more, do more, and share more. When I’ve felt like what I do is valued in other dance communities, I relax and open up. I let go of my need to protect and armor myself against criticism.

Here’s the thing—I will always have preferences around the kind of teaching, music, space and connection I like when dancing. And it shifts as I do, if I stay open to that possibility. And it’s a wonderful thing, an incredible feat never before experienced on this planet, that we have so many different flavors of conscious dance to try, and so many different avenues to help connect students with the right teachers, to create the right fit for where they are in their life and their personal preferences.

What would happen if we truly celebrate our differences and accept the different roles as not only enriching to the landscape of our shared love of dance, but necessary to grow this global movement? What if we put our energy into learning how to effectively reach the vast number of dancers we feel most connected to, wherever they are, instead of trying to teach to the same small circle of dancers again and again? How powerful do you think we could be if we joined together and lifted one another up, celebrating what we’re ALL doing—creating and participating in transformation through movement and music? What would happen if, instead of receiving a letter from a lawyer reminding me not to use a certain dance modalities’ name in a certain way, I received a letter inviting me to a lunch where we talk about how we both win by working together?

Let’s stop spending precious life force energy in combat and channel it into creation!

My philosophy has always been to focus on creating the world I want to inhabit, which includes one with more dance, more expression, more embodiment, more music, more connection and lots more collaboration. I’m asking you to hold me accountable to this mission. Help me see when I get protective instead of expansive. Remind me why you love the flavor of dance you practice and what you love about your community. I’ll meet you there, in true co-creation.

Donna Carroll

Donna Carroll is the founder of Ecstatic Dance International and cofounder of Ecstatic Dance Oakland. She is a social entrepreneur who believes dance and music transform lives.

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