She had his hair in her two fists, and I watched in awe as she yanked upwards; he braced his back against her thighs, releasing guttural screams before collapsing onto the floor and shaking spastically. I wasn’t sure if I was witnessing a shamanic cleansing ritual, a psychotic episode, or just a bad drug trip.
Now I grew up in Eugene, one of the most vivacious hippy-epicenters of the United States, and I’ve been an ecstatic dancer for over a year now, but I must say, Portland’s ecstatic dance community defines a whole new level of strange. I felt like I was in the middle of an episode of Portlandia at the Tiffany Center, twirling around a room full of hippy-posh white people moaning and stroking each other, leaping and rolling across the hardwood-floor, barefoot and carefree, releasing primal cries like a pack of wild animals. One young man wore nothing but red and gray striped leggings and a strand of leather across his forehead, holding back wavy curls soaked in sweat. There was nothing on his body that could be left to the imagination. In fact, the myriad of shirtless men and close-embrace dancing actually made me blush. At some points during the two-hour affair, I wondered if everyone in the room had already slept with each other, or if they were about to, right there on the dance floor. I tried to feel the beat and let my body move without over-thinking but I kept getting distracted by the man with a very large belly gyrating against a young woman in neon teal leggings right next to me. On my left, two women crouched in sumo wrestling position while touching each other’s foreheads and using their fingertips to guide one another across the floor. There were people beating their chests and moving invisible balls of energy through the air. I was a bit overwhelmed. But when I was able to laugh and let go, I did enjoy the music and the feeling of complete liberation the environment fostered. Dancing is still good for my soul and I have to say I admire the community’s openness.
Ecstatic dance is just one glimpse of one thread out of thousands making up the unique patchwork quilt of Portland. And so far there are so many to love. Last night I saw one of the best live performances I’ve ever seen: Basia Bulat at the Doug Fir, which is a very cool, intimate venue outfitted like a modern log cabin. When Basia’s voice vibrated across the room like rose-flavored honey, sweet, mesmerizing and rich, I heard my own voice whispering, exuberant and proud; “Courage brought me here. I did it. I set out to change my life and I did it!” A grin as wide as the sky could only encompass the joy of that realization. Nearly five months ago, I followed my heart, quit my corporate job, bought a backpack and set out with a one-way ticket to Europe. Courage brought me here. Basia sang along to the drumbeat, her blond hair moving around her face like the wings of a bird as she nodded rhythmically. I tapped my feet on the floor, clad in the olive-green suede ankle boots I bought in Belgium, and swayed my hips to the sound of my life igniting. My life.
Although it’s only been a week since Portland and I officially got together, I think I’m falling in love. Every time I drive HWY 99 East along the river that cuts through the city and I see those lights, like a canvass of stars, shimmering, evoking endless possibilities, a thrill runs through me. Tonight I went to a potluck and sipped wine by a crackling fire with old and new friends for company. We played games that reminded me of summer camp and were entertained by a North Carolinian picking his banjo. There are three pink roses in a vase on the windowsill above my kitchen sink and a sprig of holly my housemate brought back from her hike up Mount Tabor. Tomorrow I’ll taste my first home-cooked croc-pot meal. I feel myself embracing new things and no longer letting fear of the unknown hold me to comforts I’ve outgrown. Portland is a wonderful place to be and I’m so excited to see what we create together.
When I think of how I got here, I see that it took uncovering knowledge about myself. I had to experience and understand my own strength and courage. The strength that even when I’m terrified, holds up a lantern to guide the way. The courage that urges me out into the world so that I may experience, that reminds me to trust, that stands tall in the face of hardship. This shift of thinking led to great changes and to discovering the most powerful knowledge I’ve ever known: that I am the driver of my own life. I no longer need to wait for someone to take a leap with me, or to make decisions for me. I can leap just fine by myself. And I am capable of deciding. Perhaps this is the sweetest wisdom I’ll ever attain. It is the seed from which all else blooms.