It starts off relatively tame with two hundred strangers standing together in a gymnasium. Upbeat instrumental music comes on. Everyone grabs hands and begins skipping up and down in a circle moving round and round. You feel as though you’re back in kindergarten, giggling like a 5-year-old. The music changes. You find a partner, someone you have never met. Maybe a 22-year-old college student, maybe a 72-year-old grandfather. You hold hands and dance together. You might stop, look each other in the eye and stay there for a few moments.
The music slows and the lights dim. The crowd parts. People start pounding the floor, jumping in the air, twisting and turning like papers caught in the wind. The chaos suddenly stops. You approach another stranger and embrace. Holding each other for five minutes, maybe more, you begin to sway. After a half dozen more of these encounters the lights brighten, the music speeds up and you return to your giggling 5-year-old state. When it’s all over your cheeks hurt from smiling. There isn’t a negative bone in your body.
It is just as strange as it sounds.
This is exactly where I found myself one evening last May while studying abroad in Chile. A friend’s family invited me to participate in a celebration known as Biodanza. It is not a traditional Chilean dance. In fact, most Chileans probably don’t know it exists. Regardless, there is a strong Biodanza community in Santiago and groups of people get together weekly to find their “inward state” of peace and connection.
At its core, the inward state is accessed through dance and connection with other people. In most cases, these people are complete strangers. Biodanza, as I have described, involves a lot of what we might think of as interpretive dance. Although participants have never met before, they don’t hesitate to dance without judgement and celebrate life with one another. Never did I think my study abroad experience would include a five minute embrace with a middle-aged woman I had just met.
It was strange. It was out of my comfort zone. But it was oddly perfect.
Smiling bigger than I ever thought possible, I left the celebration in a euphoric state. Was it because I love to dance? Absolutely. But mostly, it was because I had experienced two blissful hours of a 100 percent judgement-free zone. I was vulnerable but connected with those around me.
We don’t need to take part in a seemingly wild dance celebration to feel this vulnerability. We can feel it walking into class for the first time, trying to find a spot in the library or waiting for the call about a job. Moments when we are at the mercy of someone else’s judgement happen nearly every day, but it is the attitude we have in these situations that determines how those judgements affect us.
The comfort I felt through Biodanza was because of the environment created by those around me. Not a single person hesitated to completely let loose. Men and women, young and old, frolicked around this gymnasium without a care in the world. We looked absolutely ridiculous, but no one seemed to notice.
We could learn a lot from the mentality of Biodanza.
I’m not suggesting that everyone dance interpretively down Wisconsin Avenue, but on the walk to class or waiting in line at the AMU, it is our responsibility to foster a community spirit in which no one would mind if someone did.