Dancing with the Seasonal Blues

“I’m on the fence,” I said with one hip leaning against the doorframe and a hand on the other. “Do I go to bed early, or do I go dancing?”

My housemate Amber looked at me from across the hall, “Well, would you regret it if you didn’t go?”

I shifted onto the other foot, pushing myself upright, thinking.

“Probably,” I paused. “But I just don’t know if I have the energy to go out and interact with people right now.” She nodded, her blond hair casting an angelic glow into the dimly lit hallway between our bedrooms.

I knew she understood, and it was a relief to tell her how blue I was feeling without any shame.

I stood in the silence for a minute longer, moving my hair from where it rested on my upper back to the right side of my neck. It dangled above my shoulder, the ends settling against my collarbone. I breathed in slowly as the cool air swept its fingers across my skin, sending a little shiver down my spine.

Everything felt heavy. A part of me wanted to go to bed and sleep for a week straight, but I knew that wasn’t actually what I needed. My seasonal depression, although it has never been formally diagnosed, has become a familiar entity during the long gray months of Oregon’s rainy season. It has an uncanny ability to drop a veil between the world and me, causing a deep exhaustion and feeling of separation.

Standing in my socks on the hardwood floor, I watched Amber fold clothes and weighed my options. I didn’t want my depression to win.

“Okay, I’m going to do it!” I said suddenly, more to convince myself than her.

She smiled, looking up at me from the laundry pile on her bed. “Good! I think you’ll sleep better after dancing anyways!”

I already knew what I was going to wear: the vintage yellow dress with little red flowers perched atop dainty black stems that I’d brought home from a recent trip to Astoria, Oregon.

The dress had inspired a daydream when I first saw it hanging demurely on the shop rack. Suddenly I was wearing red lipstick, coyly shushing my billowing dress as a rugged, bearded man eyed me seductively from across the room. When I came to, however, I was still wearing blue jeans and tennis shoes, standing in the middle of a carpeted thrift store on a day characterized by looming gray clouds and sputtering rain. Such is life. But I knew the dress had to be mine.

Now it was just the thing I needed to convince me that heading out into the world on a gray Tuesday night would cheer me up. I slipped the dress over my head and hooked the metal tips of two shiny, round earrings through my earlobes. In front of the bathroom mirror, I ran a mascara brush twice through both sets of eyelashes, spritzed my neck with rose water and pulled on a pair of tan suede boots. The dress’ high waist and cheerful color made me feel feminine, and a little flicker of excitement leapt through my stomach before disappearing again into the lingering numbness I had been feeling all day. I stashed my black, suede-bottomed ballet slippers in my purse and zipped up a hooded fleece before calling “Bye!” to Amber on my way out the door.

The cherry-wood floor was glowing beneath golden lights. Old timey blues drifted out of the speakers and the ballroom was full of dancing couples. I was already glad I’d left the house.

In order to blues dance, you need two people – one to play the lead role (giving the non-verbal cues of where and how to move) and the other to play the follow role (listening to and following the lead’s cues to stay in sync). I prefer the follow role.

My first two dances didn’t flow, and I wondered if I’d be able to break through the numbness. I felt stiff and distant from my dance partner, still absorbed in my thoughts and disconnected from my body. But I kept at it.

“Would you like to dance?” I asked a man in a black collared shirt standing near the center of the floor. Dancers swayed and dipped in every direction around us. “I would!” he replied and extended a hand. I held on and we paused for a second, listening for the beat.

Dancing in Portland, 2012.

Dancing in Portland, 2012. Photo by Drew Tronvig.

The music was a traditional blues song, slow and earthy. I swayed my hips, feeling the light swish of my dress as it lifted on the breeze of my movement. He led me through a double spin and then we glided a few steps diagonally. We sidestepped, faced each other again, and then swayed low, knees bent, our torsos counterbalancing one another. Upright once more, he asked, “How is your day going?” The words momentarily broke the spell of my fog.

“It’s been alright, I guess. To be honest, I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately,” I said over the top of his right shoulder, feeling suddenly vulnerable and relieved at the same time to have told the truth.

He nodded his head – I felt the tension in his arm shift as the subtle movement traveled down through his neck muscles all the way to his wrist.

“Everyone feels that way sometimes,” he answered, reassuringly.

I took a deep breath and let the music resonate through my torso. I closed my eyes and surrendered; he dipped me, I followed, arching my head back expressively. As he pulled me back upright with a palm on the center of my upper back, I felt my hair momentarily lift into the air like two wings expanding when a bird takes its first leap off the branch into open sky.

We hugged each other at the end of the song and parted by saying thanks, each of us heading back into the crowd to find another dance partner.

Going into my next dance, I felt a little lighter. Perhaps it was the music, or the primal warmth of being touched, or the release of pressure by way of being real with another human being, even if for a moment. A little crack in my shell of depression had appeared, and I could peer through it to see the light on the other side.

A stout young man about my height with sandy brown hair stood facing me, our clasped hands were poised in mid-air at our sides as we waited for the next song to begin. Then with a subtle shift in tension, we began to move. Our torsos twisted in opposite directions, like two magnets repelling one another. We twirled as a pair twice and then came back to face each other, this time a little closer. My forehead brushed against his cheek and I noticed a gentle vibrating in his chest, as if a bee was hovering behind his rib cage. A few minutes later, I realized he was humming along with the music.

As we danced, I wondered how many other people came to the ballroom feeling depressed, alone, or sad.

Two summers ago, I’d learned a powerful healing technique for partner dancing during a blues dance immersion weekend (called an “Exchange”) where I attended workshops in-between river dips and late-night dances in the woods. During the third day of the Exchange, I took a course where we danced with a partner, while letting them feel anything they wanted to. Meanwhile, we supported them with the intention of ‘being there’.

An incredible thing happened when we tried this. Many of us reported feeling validated, empowered and connected to one another in a deep, profound way, even though we’d only just met. It was a life-changing moment for me and I thought of it now. Perhaps it would be a good night to try it again.

I’m here for you, I repeated silently in my mind. My partner was still humming as he lifted his arm to twirl me. The momentum caused my yellow dress to fly outwards, creating a sand dollar shape around my hips.

“What a pretty dress!” he proclaimed, smiling.

“Thanks!” My cheeks flushed pink.

I closed my eyes again, and surrendered to the movement; felt down into my feet, rooting me. The hardwood was stable and solid beneath the thin fabric of my ballet slippers. I’m here for you. He glided me across the floor, held me closer. I leaned in. I could feel every breath – both our hearts beating. The music suddenly felt alive, like a song coming through me. I was aware of the emotion our bodies exuded, and every subtle movement communicated a feeling.

Blues Dancing in Barcelona, Spain, 2013.

Blues Dancing in Barcelona, Spain, 2013.

Something dawned on me mid-way through the dance. I realized I was actually speaking to myself. I’m here for you, I kept repeating, each time softening a little more into the present moment, remembering how to love myself.

Gradually, the foggy shell of my depression melted away, and for the first time all day, my mind was clear, and I was present. I felt the soothing warmth of his hand as it cupped my lower back, guiding me. When the notes faded to a stop, we let go of one another to make eye contact. I was so grateful for the dance. We hugged each other before parting ways.

At the end of the night, I stepped outside onto the covered sidewalk. A block later, right after I’d left the shelter of the cover, rain poured down in glittering sheets. It was as if the sky was just waiting to dump a river of water right as I walked beneath its open arms.

I laughed, feeling like somehow it was a trick played just to test me.

Challenge accepted.

I held onto my purse and began to run. I let my jacket flap open, and felt the cool water wet my hair. I grinned as droplets slid down my cheeks and off my chin.

This is what life’s about after all. Dancing in the rain, dancing with the blues, stepping forward anyways, open. Open and alive.

—-

Check out this short video clip of my good friend Richard and I dancing! And some pictures…

Dancing in Portland, 2012.

Dancing in Portland, 2012. Photo by Drew Tronvig.

Dance Exchange in Seattle, 2012.

Dance Exchange in Seattle, 2012. Photo by Drew Tronvig.

Dancing in Barcelona, Spain, 2013.

Dancing in Barcelona, Spain, 2013.

The Snake’s Message: Time to Shed Your Skin

The sun had cast a glowing veil across pine boughs and river rocks, and the day was calling me to wake up. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, grabbed a sweatshirt, and headed outside.

“Where are you going?” my sister called after me.

“To say good morning to the river!” I called back over my shoulder, already making strides across the grass to the river path.

Last week, my family and I stayed in a cabin along the South Umpqua River in Southern Oregon.

I was cheerfully greeted by a bubbling, rolling stream of silver-blue water, careening over rocks, tickling grasses along the bank, and exuding the freshest smelling air that made me want to breathe it in deep. I spied the perfect sitting rock, where a natural smooth bowl was beckoning, and settled into a comfy perch, facing upstream, so I could watch the water dance. Closing my eyes, I felt the sunlight stream across my skin and warm me. When I opened my eyes again, hundreds of tiny winged creatures were floating above the water, catching the rays on their wings like glimmering jewels. At first, I imagined they were fairies, but on second thought, they were probably just crane flies or some related species. Nonetheless, the scene was breathtaking.

I reached up and stretched my arms, feeling quite content. And as I stretched, I happened to glance over my right shoulder, and spotted a long snakeskin arched around a small rock under the lip of a large boulder. I went to investigate, and sure enough, withdrew a beautiful black and gray snakeskin, almost completely intact.

Whenever I come across an animal or insect, whether in real life or in a dream, I trust it brings with it some sort of message or significance. The snakeskin appeared across my path at the perfect time, reminding me that old thought patterns, fears, and unresolved hurts from the past must be shed in order to make room for new life. I had already begun this process, as you may have read the poem I posted a few weeks ago about releasing memories. Seeing the snakeskin confirmed I am on the right path.

Oftentimes we desire new opportunities and experiences, yet they remain out of reach until we do the work of shedding our old skin of beliefs that no longer serve our dreams and highest good. As the snake reminds us, in order for transformation to take place, we have to release the past and be willing to enter the unknown with fresh skin. This undoubtedly requires us to be vulnerable. And although there is great power in vulnerability, it isn’t always the most comfortable feeling.

Fellow blogger Kelly C. Wells writes:

“‘You’ve heard the phrase ‘feeling comfortable in your own skin.’ Never is this more difficult when you are in a life transition and learning to take on a new identity. However, it’s important to know that being uncomfortable is not a sign that you are lost, powerless, or disconnected.

The best example of this in the natural world is when a snake sheds its skin. During the shedding process, the snake is visibly uncomfortable and unproductive. It doesn’t eat; it is irritated and sluggish, devoting all of its energy to this one task of ridding the old to make room for the new.

Why is the snake shedding? To grow into a larger, more capable and more evolved body and existence. While snakes do this physically, we as human beings metaphorically shed our own skin when it is time to grow personally, professionally, or spiritually.”

At the end of the week, before it was time to return home to Portland, I went back to the river and returned the snakeskin to the place where I originally found it, offering my thanks for its vital message. Feeling both grateful and tickled by the gift offered that first morning along on the river, I am more certain than ever that wisdom is all around us and an ever-present resource we can be nourished by, if we just open our hearts and minds to receive it.

What beautiful things will enter your world once you shed your old skin and make space for new experiences?

South Umpqua River, Oregon

South Umpqua River, Oregon

The view from the cabin's front porch.

The view from the cabin’s front porch.

Surrender

Soft light. The kind that drapes across skin and wood and eyelashes like vintage lace, delicate, and faded white. It fills the room and nudges our skin, causing a healthy rose-colored glow. I’m here to do yoga, but more so, to remember my body and what it feels like to be present inside of it.

Blonde hair cascades down the arc of her head and leaps into the easy arms of gravity pooling below. The waterfall of hair hangs frozen in the air with the tips just barely grazing the purple yoga mat underneath. Her legs form a triangle with the mat as its base. With a single movement, her hamstrings tighten, pulling her pelvis toward the back of the room, while her torso melts forward over the fold of her hips. Two delicate wrists lay crossed over one another a few inches in front of her face. Her upturned palms look like faces gazing at the sunlight-bathed ceiling.

We breathe.

Let the thoughts fall, the voices tumble out, the tight spots stretch, the heavy heart sink to mother earth. Surrender. You are held here. You are safe. Nowhere else to be, nothing else to do.

We breathe.

I glance at her hands again, open to the world, and feel the calm emanate from her body — emanate from my own — and I want, for just one moment in time, everyone on this earth to experience that sort of bliss, that sort of surrender. It’s a powerful feeling.

Waterfall