Dirty dancin’

April 19, 2011 § 3 Comments

For FABRIC, a pan-African celebration of a show that was held on Friday, eleven of my classmates and I put in six weeks worth of practice to perform a Raas dance in front of the Harvard Med classes of 2014 and 2015 during the latter’s revisit weekend. Raas is a traditional folk dance tracing back to the state of Gujarat in India, and is performed in the spring and fall to celebrate the festivals of Holi and Navratri. My friend A and I were partnered for a critical point in the routine where after a few lines of contredanse and a fast paced body roll in mid air, I would have to plunk my dandiya sticks on the floor and let A flip me backwards, all within less than four seconds of beats.

In six full weeks of practice, A and I had succeeded at this step about 1.5 times. I use the .5 because we ran into the situation of being able to do the flip, but with an added element of torsion mid air, such that I would land behind A’s elbow. We never could explain that one. There were other contributing factors to our ineptitude. Like the fact that A was left-handed and wanted to practice flipping me with his dominant arm, but which was in the opposite direction of the rest of the team. Or that I sustained an injury in the beginning of April for which I had to refrain from full-bodied movements for about ten days.

Throughout the whole thing, as our two dance coordinators and I grew slightly more agitated with each passing day, A stayed exceedingly calm about it. “It’s all mental,” he would tell me, before miming throwing me off the stage. “We’ll get it right on the day of the performance, trust me,” he’d say, then aggressively knock my dandiya sticks out of my hands. (Yes I am just as aware as you that A is a total bully).

During our first dress rehearsal, A dropped me on the floor and I let out a strangled scream that freaked out a good number of our spectators, who laughed at me later. During our second dress rehearsal, we managed half a flip, for I landed on my feet but also in the fetal position. “We’re almost there,” he said, poking his temples with a stick. “We’ll find a time to practice before the show tomorrow,” I said. He nodded in his usual agreeable way, which usually translated to a suuuuree, but I’m not even sure what we’re talking about la la la la.

Predictably enough, I was reading some patient-doctor conflict-of-interest papers in a lounge the next day (well that’s not the predictable part, I hope. ugh poor grammar), when A walked up to me and pulled up a swivel chair. This was three hours before the start of the show. “There you are!” I said. “So I’ve been thinking about practicing the flip,” he said, “and decided against it.” I stared at him and he looked back happily. “You’ve decided that? Oh good,” I said. “Course! IT’S GONNA BE GREAT. CAN’T WAIT. POETIC JUSTIC!” he shouted, completely nonsensically. I pinched the bridge of my nose, but by the time I opened my eyes again, he was gone.

Soon, much too soon, it was showtime. We were the penultimate act, before our entire class was to come together to sing to Dynamite for the finale. “We got this,” he whispered conspiratorially. I punched his stomach. “Not now, woman!” he complained. The music started and there was nothing more I could do to express my displeasure. A minute and a half later, A and I found ourselves face-to-face. I was beaming at him; the momentum and the adrenaline rush were overwhelming. Surprisingly enough, his smile was strained. His eyebrows lifted comfortingly, like, okay Sam, I actually mean it. We are going to do this. Not a moment later, we were past the body roll, and I threw down my sticks, and it felt like my stomach had dropped a million miles. I jumped to attention to his left, he crouched down and pushed his arms out on either side of me. I counted to three and jumped, and lost track of what was happening in the vertigo of the flip. But then I opened my eyes and saw myself land on my feet. Perfectly. No wobbling. For the first time ever. I looked at A, and he looked just as astonished as I. Meanwhile the rest of my team was already leaping towards two straight lines in the center of the stage, so A and I hopped to it.

We had done it. I am still marveling at it as I type up this post. In the locker rooms later, A and I hugged fiercely and he demanded a blog post from me. “I deserve one,” he shouted. “It’s all mental! Didn’t I say it all along? It’s all mental!” In my euphoria, I would have agreed to anything.

It was amazing how it worked out. I could blame sheer luck, or the adrenaline, or the pressure of a few hundred spectators looking at us. Or I could give in and agree that it was all in our minds, this whole time.

Degage during Raas, FABRIC

Today, two friends and I found a small quiet room in our dorm, laid out cushions on the floor, and meditated for half an hour, concentrating on nothing but our postures and our breathing. My friends had done this many times before, but it was my first, so we concluded our session by debriefing on the experience.

“There’s been research that shows that meditation is more effective than opioids for relieving pain.”

“If I were waiting for a friend and he was running late, I’d take those five ‘wasted’ minutes as an opportunity to meditate.”

“That was only half an hour? Felt much, much longer.”

The three of us were cross-legged on the floor, looking at each other with such calmness and sobriety as I have rarely seen in medical school. Outside, the weather was gloomy and rain pelted the tennis courts. The lights overhead flickered on and off with every movement, but we were still for so long that they had powered off.

What both dancing and meditating ask of you is to focus, really focus, on one task and believe in it with all your heart.

Was it Emerson who said, “Tis curious that we only believe as deep as we live”?

Then it was the poetess, Mary Oliver, who answered thus:

Mist in the Morning, Nothing Around Me but Sand and Roses
Was I lost? No question.
Did I know where I was? Not at all.
Had I ever been happier in my life? Never.

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