As the sun was setting softly, I stood there barefoot on the grass alone in the crowd with my eyes closed as the live music filled me. I was moving gently from side-to-side, enjoying the music and feeling its rhythm pulse through my body.
Then her arm knocked into mine.
I turned and I could not see her face as her curly hair was covering it as she moved in her light green dress around me. She was dancing in a flow state, twirling in circles with no concern for anyone around her, unknowingly making contact with me.
As her arm glided down mine, her hand took hold of mine. It was an invitation to dance with her, in the most elegant and spontaneous way possible.
This was a few weeks ago.
I was on a retreat in Ibiza Spain, the North side of the island, where the more spiritual and nature minded visitors go, not the South side of the island, where the more party and night club focused visitors go.
It was the opening night of the week-long retreat, and we joined a community garden party with live music, food stalls, local artisans and more.
It was a great way to connect with the local culture on the island, specifically the many hippie types that have made the island home. Despite Ibiza being part of Spain, very little about the island felt Spanish. At least not the way I’m accustomed to think of Spain from visiting places like Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia. Ibiza has over the years, especially the North part of the island, become a spiritual refuge for seekers, nomads, yogis and artists looking for nature-inspired community and good vibes all-year-round.
Upon first walking in, despite so many new faces and people to mingle with, I was curious to soak it all in. I took a solo stroll around the garden, to become more familiar with what was going on, sat down on a bench and began to people-watch.
The night was perhaps the ideal representation of what Ibiza had become. Everyone was barefoot, no alcohol or meat on site, kids running around, old people walking slowly, yet mostly beautifully dressed women and men in their 30s and 40s looking content with life. Smiling, laughing, playing and hugging. Lots of hugging. No one was on their phone texting or Instagramming, a rare occurrence in modern times.
Feeling hungry, I stood up, found one of the retreat organizers who handed us food tickets, making me feel like a kid at Disneyland, with a free pass to go on whatever ride I wanted. And like Disneyland, the food stalls had lines. Unlike modern businesses, the stalls functioned very inefficiently. I realized it must be by design, a reflection of the slow pace and the reason people choose island life. To slow down. I had something to learn.
After making some new friends in line, sharing sushi rolls, gyozas, acai bowls and more delicious treats, I found myself back sitting and in deep conversation with other retreat members who I was just getting to know.
As I slowly tuned out of my conversation with the group, I started to tune into the live music coming from the other side. I couldn’t see the performers but could hear them. The tunes sounded familiar, there was an Indian kirtan vibe and I found my head slowly nodding along and my feet gently tapping along.
Without thinking, I stood up and announced my departure to the music area to the group, and excitedly walked over.
The crowd was electric, with everyone on their feet dancing. The open air live concert under the starlit sky, in a fairly compact space, felt magical. The vibe was calling me.
I started to move on the spot, slowly and cautiously, not trying to attract any attention, and while slowly getting comfortable in the space. I was standing with my eyes closed when this woman brushed up next to me and invited me to dance.
Without making any eye contact and without exchanging any words, I began to move my feet and together we began to take more space on the floor. It started with holding one hand, and then I was holding both of her hands. The music was fast, leading to rapid movements and changes in position, however our bodies always stayed in physical contact somewhere.
At one point, I got a glimpse of her eyes. She was in a gentle focused state, deep in her feminine energy.
She was also clearly a dancer. She knew exactly how to freestyle with a complete stranger. How to move with me. How to make me move. How to be moved by me.
Her intensity was growing as the music got faster and we were becoming more comfortable moving with one another. When at first I was turning and twirling her gently, at one point, I pulled her close to me, our faces nearly touching and our torsos completely in contact. After a synchronized deep breath, I pushed her back but held onto one of her hands tightly, and proceeded to twirl her. Something I had learned in the salsa classes I started taking recently.
A gentle smile appeared on her face.
At that moment, I was secretly grateful that I knew how to dance and was confident enough to do so spontaneously. This was not always the case for me.
It was about five years ago that with the encouragement of a close friend when I was living in New York I discovered ecstatic dance and 5rhythms, both a freeform style of dance where participants are invited to dance however they choose, without judgment. It became my jam, a form of moving meditation, therapy and expression. After hundreds of ecstatic sessions, dozens of workshops and a handful of multi-day dance retreats in the past year alone in Portugal, I now feel comfortable to dance.
I had no idea that I would love to dance. I only discovered my love of dance by doing it. I think that’s like many things in life. On the surface, I can easily come up with plenty of excuses to not try something that’s new to me. I can convince myself that I don’t know how to do it, which is what I had done with dance for most of my life. The fear of judgment from others created plenty of self-judgment.
The way I learned to dance was by doing it, whereas before I had been trying to think it. I can think my way through many things in life. I’m particularly skilled at it. However the skill of thinking in this circumstance is not an asset but a liability. It held me back from enjoying this particular activity and learning about how to use it to express myself for most of my life.
The experience dancing that night in Ibiza with a complete stranger was exactly that: an opportunity to express myself. Without words. I like words. Now I was learning to express myself without them.
That night, as the music ended, applause erupted and I looked up to see a circle of spectators had formed around us, many clapping, not only for the musicians but for the performance that the two of us had just put on spontaneously.
I looked at the woman, we exchanged a short but warm smile, she squeezed my hand tightly and turned away from me. I did not see her again that night.
The biggest lesson of dance is also the biggest lesson of life. To be detached from the outcome, while being fully engaged in the process.
And that is how I learned to dance.