In the Space Before Words

The air was thick with humidity as I breathed in night’s darkness and settled into each sinking footstep across the sand. Tired, yet propelled by curiosity about the rhythms pouring out of a brightly lit, open-air bar at the far end of the beach, I quickened my pace. I arrived to an unforgettable scene: a packed wooden dance floor bending under the weight of over one-hundredbarefoot dancers pounding beats to a live Salsa band, with bodies spinning, hips jiving, and passions dripping down their backs. Intimidated, I stood quietly in a corner until I met eyes with a gray-haired woman dancing her freedom on the sand just outside the bar. Her smile drew me towards her. Without a single word we began a conversation, discovering the language of our movements as expression of emotion. We explored how these movements interact with each other to create a dance — a dialog — influenced by the rhythms of the music, our pulsing hearts, and the falling rain as it began to add its own rhythm to the night. Hours later, after losing myself in the movement, my body covered in sweat, Ecuadorian ocean mist, and rain, I felt more alive than ever.

Back at college three weeks later, I sat up late one night biting my fingernails, anxiously combing my mind for some impressive thesis statement for my end-of semester paper. I felt stuck. As an undergrad I learned about power of words. Yet all I could think about was the expansiveness I felt dancing and communicating with that woman on the beach in the rain. My head was teeming with questions: What about when words fail to express the emotion of being alive that I feel in my body? How can my heart express itself through my eyes and my movement? What about the space before the words?

Three months later I boarded a plane back to Ecuador with a strong calling to experience other cultures, other ways to be in the world, and I was determined to find the woman who taught me so much through her dance. Stripped of verbal language as a communication tool, I turned to other methods. My body became my guide; I could ask for directions, express my needs, and even describe my reaction to a situation all through body gestures and facial expression. This led to fast friendship with a group of circus artists. We spent hours getting to know each other by miming stories, sharing tricks, and joking with our bodies. After several weeks I found the gray-haired woman, Alicia, and she invited me to her Biodanza class. We formed a circle holding hands and I glanced around at the others, eyes darting and hands sweating with anticipation. Understanding little of the verbal instructions, as the first song began to play I closed my eyes and let my nervous excitement and the circle guide my movement.Encouraged by the supportive presence of the others, I opened myself to a dance that leaped up the walls, expanded throughout the space, and finally surrendered to the loving caress of hands on my feet. I stared into the eyes of a woman whose gaze smiled such kindness that a tear rolled down my cheek. When we finished the journey, my chest was bursting with exhilaration. I was instructed not to talk about my experience, but rather allow it to settle into my body. I came back the next week, and the next, and for the followingthree years heeded my calling to become a Biodanza Facilitator, completing the training in Colombia and Brazil.

The explorations I had in Biodanza classes could not have better reflected and supported my experiences living in a new culture. Out of my regular routine and lacking sufficient words to express myself and define my identity, I started to discover new parts of my being. As my mental and verbal chatter quieted, I found stillness in my body and from that place of stillness arose an emotion, a voice much deeper, stronger, and more truthful to the expression of my essential self. Creativity that never before had the language to express itself began to flourish through explorations in movement, music, and emotion. I became attuned to a different cultural frequency and a different me. Below the layers of verbal communication I discovered how to communicate with my heart, allowing the emotion of the moment to be included in my interactions. I expanded the tools I have to express myself in the world by honoring my body’s wisdom as equally important as my mind’s knowledge.

Today, in a room full of people, it feels more natural for me to express myself through dance than through spoken words. Within moments I arrive at the heart of what I want to share. I arrive at the essential depth of my expression, and it is not only intellectually understood by others, but felt. I have come to express what exists in the space before words.

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