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  • Writer's pictureLeann Shamash

On Dance, Dance Monkey and Ankles

A Short Reflection

The Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, offers a place to do yoga. It is a place of quiet, balance and quietly boasts a balance of simplicity and great beauty. Kripalu is a place that I have gone to over the years, not because I am someone who does yoga each day, but the physical setting, the smells, the quiet, the amazing food (yes, the food!) and the yoga dance class everyday at noon kept me coming back.

The yoga dance at noon each day and more particularly, the Shake Your Soul classes led by Dan Leven of The Leven Institute , gave a voice to something in me that loves to move. I am not alone in this love of dancing and movement. I think that dance is a shared quality in humans of a joy that can be expressed through movement. Being part of a group of a couple of hundred people all dancing to a variety of music in ways that built community, fostered deep creativity and self expression which in some ways rivaled a prayer experience for me.

I remember at the end of saying kaddish for my father, after not having danced for the year, coming to Kripalu and participating in one of Mr. Leven's classes. I wept through the dances and could feel how strongly the music affected me through my heart, my soul and my might. What power music holds! How the beat of a drum, combined with a violin or a horn can transport an individual both inwardly and outwardly during the same moment! This has been my experience with Shake Your Soul. As awkward as I find the title, Shake Your Soul, the effect that it has on me and others is indeed soul shaking.

A few years ago, following a noon SYS class at Kripalu, I approached Mr. Leven and told him that I wanted "to become" him someday. I am not sure it Mr. Leven would recall that conversation; I suspect that many others have approached him over the years with the exact same comment. But those words were a turning point for me. At that point I was still employed full time, but deep down I keenly wanted to bring to others what this class had brought to me. A few years later, after a lot of soul searching because I knew that it would be quite a jump to go from being a full time Jewish educator to SYS instructor, I did the training to become an instructor. For one life changing, sweaty and unforgettable week at Kripalu, I did the initial training to become an instructor and turned my life in a different direction. That was in 2019.

Fast forward to 2021. During Covid, I have had the privilege of leading SYS classes on Zoom for the past pandemic year. Twice a week for the past thirteen months I have met in a Zoom room with a wonderful, magnificent and creative group of women. Each of us have been in our own physical spaces, but we have used the Zoom cameras to our advantage and have found creative ways to interact on line. When I am doing the SYS class with these women I am not alone in the room, but am experiencing the power of movement with these other women. It has been an experience that has elevated our energy at the beginning of the day. It has created a small community of women who, for the hour they are in the room, are ageless. They are dancers, they are movers, they are actors and most of all, they feel the music deeply. Such a gift I received from you, Mr. Dan Leven. Such a deep gift that keeps on giving. Thank you, thank you.

Last week I read a letter from Mr. Dan Leven that he had broken his ankle recently and for now has to stop his dancing. I thought about how curtailing movement must be so difficult for him because his dance is so effortless; indeed his dance flows like a stream. But I also know that he is resilient and that movement will come back slowly, slowly. I learned from him and now from my own classes that movement is not just in the legs but can be found in the elbows, the fingers, the wrists, the torso and the shoulders and the head and the chest. I hope that Mr. Leven is able to appreciate dance through these upper body movements as he recovers. I also learned from his letter that we should never take our physical bodies for granted. We are all put together with wisdom, but we must care for our bodies carefully so that they can serve us and allow us to dance until we are very old indeed.

One more thing that I'd like to add here, in this reflection and in these words of gratitude.

I am now 65 and at 65 perhaps it is strange to have dance and movement be central to one's life. Some might say I am too old for this type of dance. The song Dance Monkey by Tones and I has become perhaps my favorite song to dance to over the past few months. I love to clean my kitchen to its great rhythms. I am not a fan of music videos, but I happened to see the music video of Dance Monkey. The artist chose to do a video that shows senior citizens dancing. It is akin to a group of the elderly who are playing hooky for the day and are happily dancing like young people. This is not lost on me... Even at 65, even at 85 and even at 90, people still deserve the joy that dance brings. They still deserve the release and the spirituality that comes from dancing. Don't be afraid to dance, even as you age. It serves the same purpose as it did when you were five or when you were twenty.

May we each merit to dance through life.


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