I have been learning to dance since I was 8 and since then I have felt, without words, that I am most fully myself when I dance. As you’ve seen from these pages, I often discover myself through writing, but when I dance, I simply am myself. It’s an indescribably joyous thing.
I’ve performed as a dancer a reasonable amount. To this day, I can tap into a genuine smile within seconds because two decades ago, I needed to learn how to smile through my dance performances and it felt better in this context to practice accessing real happiness than learn how to pretend it. But the vulnerability of a performance only goes as far as I am willing to let it go; it can only go as far as I know my own self.
I’m back in New Delhi, and have been here for much longer than I thought I would be, waiting for my passport to re-emerge from an opaque vortex within the U.S. Embassy. In this time, I’ve been working through some big, old, scary feelings, and now that I’m out on the other side of them, I know myself much better. In this time, I’ve also been finding again the first dance style I learned—bharatanatyam.
I went to a bharatanatyam performance the other day, and was delighted to discover that one of the performers had been trained by the teachers who taught my favourite teacher, and she performed a piece I had seen her teachers (my grand-teachers) perform when I was 16! I took a tiny video recording, just 20 seconds of the minutes-long piece, and have been teaching myself to perform the little excerpt. I love it so much! It’s rhythmically interesting and visually exuberant, so much packed into such little time.
When I first drafted this post, I’d planned to make a little recording of myself performing the piece to share with you. I practiced and practiced, but then suddenly the plan to share it stopped making sense or feeling right. Maybe its precisely because I know myself much better now that to share a dance performance would be to share too much.
If you’ve read this essay, you’ll understand why, growing up, I never let my parents watch me dance. But unbeknownst to me, they watched my very last performance in front of a live audience (the event was streamed, at some ungodly hour in India) and I’m so glad they did. Just some weeks before she died, when we weren’t otherwise talking very much to each other, my mother (a visual artist) and I (someone who draws very rarely) had this exchange:
There’s something to be said for holding our fullest selves close, and there’s something to be said for sharing ourselves. Always, we have a choice.