A few weeks ago I was in a festival in Taipei. It was a crazy and crowded Sunday night party when the best dances happen. As I went to get some water, I started chatting with a guy from States. He was living in Vietnam, got into dancing, ended up moving to South Korea to study and write his thesis on Lindy Hop. We were talking how magical it feels, coming to this part of the world, meeting and connecting with all those people that we probably wouldn't have met if not for dancing. There was a moment in our conversation where we went quiet and looked around the room, silently observing the crowd. At that moment I was suddenly captured by a flash of beauty.
There are different kinds of flashes (according to my scientific study of human phenomena). Sometimes it’s a flash of inspiration or love, or joy (or sadness), but this time it was a flash of beauty. The beauty of all the people I saw in that heated steamy room, dancing, talking, sharing - connecting. I tried to put it into words to my new acquaintance but I’m sure it sounded vague at best.. “it’s beautiful how we’re all here, together.. you know, connected..meeting each other” (or like a bad Pinterest quote..).
I kind of let go of that flash experience, but a week later it stroke me again, this time watching people dance at the biggest temple in Thailand (just a casual night out, you know). I was standing on a stage, behind me - a golden statue of Buddha, in front of me - hundreds of people dancing. Something quite unknown to me - different culture and something very much a part of me - swing, both coming together at the craziest spot. And again - people connecting through the language of dance and music. Boom, same feeling struck me again.
Growing up I had a hard time feeling that I belong. I had friends, I took up activities, I was rarely alone. Yet I always felt a little isolated if I was hanging out with more than one person (I still sometimes do). I always felt separated in my own universe, in my own Asteroid B-612 (Little Prince FYI). But when you are a teenager you want to belong so badly. So badly that you’re ready to get black-out drunk when you’re 12 (never happened..). The first time I felt that I really belonged was when I joined the theatre group where I met people who were as weird/lost/silly as I was. Also, those who didn’t mind my loud laughter (very important). We created beautiful things together, traveled around the country, laughed and felt like we belonged together. Not afraid to be creative, to be vulnerable, to be in our own universes but let each other in. Some of those people are till today my closest friends in the world.
Then dancing came along. It wasn’t love at first sight for me, thereby belonging also came much later. By that time I’d already realised that there’s a chance I might not belong anywhere/to anyone so I will need to belong to myself first. I went traveling alone, exploring things by myself and meeting new people along the way. I was always in between this need to connect with people, surround myself with the loved ones and at the same time seeking for independence to travel, belong everywhere and anywhere, not getting too attached.
“You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all” /Maya Angelou/
Simultaneously, the dance community slowly started feeling more and more like home. The first time me and a few friends traveled (or hitchhiked/busked in the streets/danced on a ferry/survived on rye crackers/slept on weird couches) to Herrang dance camp in Sweden, I probably had one of the first beauty flashes I can remember: thousands of dancers/musicians/god knows who in one village, all connected through the common passion and joy. I even had a notebook where I wrote down all the most interesting people I met that I probably wouldn’t have met elsewhere: “a guy working in top secret USA security program”, “ice-cream shop owner”, “a clown”, “a couple traveling around the world on their bikes".. you get the idea. I was just fascinated to meet and dance with everyone (I think that was literally my goal of the week).
Through dancing I saw how powerful and important the shared experience of joy can be. Shared moments that make us realise how connected we are despite our differences. And we do search for connection, even if often consciously or not we choose to be disconnected. Every day we armour up, we try to push through, scared of being too vulnerable and when/if we just let ourselves lose all of that and hold hands with strangers, move to the music, sing alongside the band, we can feel the connectedness vibrating in the air.
This connected can of course be found in many different forms, but I think one of the most powerful tools for that is music. That’s what connects us in the dance too. That’s what you see in live concerts. There’s a video of Coldplay concert in Brazil, in a huge stadium. Chris Martin is lying down on the ground, band starts playing the first chords of “Fix You” and the whole stadium goes wild, people start singing, holding hands, crying. It looks as if they’ve lost their minds, yet you really wish you’d been there to experience that sort of catharsis together.
Music is so powerful in the way it can connect us. You see that in concerts, protests, church practices.. In 1991 January 13 Lithuania was fighting for its' independence, but it was a fight without weapons (well.. against the other side that did have tanks and kalashnikovs), Lithuanians just had songs and holding hands. Till today I think it’s one of the most powerful images (that I only got to see through pictures and videos) of people singing songs together while the tanks are coming at them. Because music goes through your heart and connects it with others.
Coming back to the beauty flashes I experienced while watching people dance, probably two things stroke me the most: presence and vulnerability. Sharing a moment of connection and joy (or sorrow, for that matter) puts you in the powerful moment of now, it breathes presence (it’s hard to have a joyful dance with someone and think of what you will cook for dinner) and at the same time joy is a vulnerable experience to lean into (kids are the best at it, teens - probably the worst, adults - somewhere in between). To experience joy with other people, you have to leave all your armours and worries behind and dance Macarena as if tomorrow never comes. It is not easy (maybe that’s why I have such a hard time convincing people to go and be silly with me in karaoke).
Recently, I found a book (or it found me) by one of my favourites Brené Brown - “Braving the Wilderness” that helped me to put into words some of my experiences. She says that as humans we are wired for connection and compares creating real life social connections to building your village. I find this metaphor beautiful. Village - a place where you are connected with people around you. Creating this village around, something bigger than us, especially in the days when loneliness and division are on the rise and when reading news and facebook discussions leave us feeling like we’re nothing alike. We should try to create our villages, surround ourselves with people we love and choose connection even if it’s freakin’ scary and vulnerable.
“Connection: The energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship” /B. Brown/
Illustration: my sister Luka, you can find a lot of her art works here: http://liukajudenkova.tumblr.com
B. Brown "Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone" 2017