Apology of The Dance Floor

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I arrived in wintery Berlin beaten and bruised-hearted.

I’m on my sixth month of gypsiness around the world. This is by choice, so I would never dare to complain about it, but sleeping on sofas and being jobless whilst processing a brutal breakup is getting somewhat rough.

But Berlin’s nightlife shifted my moods and softly helped me reopen to life.

I was invited to a Russian Disco themed party on Saturday night. It was organised by the tenants of a communal building, typical alternative Berlin life style. They had turned the top floor into a genuine USSR flashback. There was a body search performed by officers in uniform to access the premises. I got stamped with a red star on my left hand and got in. The event reminded me of the Brighton-based performance group Duckie. A band of fake Pussy Riots was playing. DIY Orthodox icons, ice skaters and Matrioshkas frames were hanging on the walls. Someone put a communist hat on my head and that was it, the spirit of the East was in me. I danced till 4am. God! It saved my life. I felt deeply happy and full of perspectives again for the first time in months. A guy much younger than me came to me and put a drink in my hand saying  he had been watching me dancing. He was cuuuute. He flirted with me all night and I remembered that people will like me again.

I went to bed at 5am on Sunday and made my way alone to the Berghain at tea time. The Berghain is Berlin’s most mythic club. It’s located in a Stalinian building which used to be a power station near a wasteland. It’s reputed to have the best techno and electro sound in the world. It’s also famous for its entrance policy: not everyone gets in and nobody knows what the selection is based upon. The Berghain has legendary back-rooms and a very particular atmosphere inside. There’s barely no light, no mirrors in the bathrooms, no photos allowed, and the most admitted outfit is of BDSM tendency together with football socks and Doc Martens shoes.

I didn’t wear any of this but still managed to get in after queuing ten minutes, but everyone seemed to get in that day. I paid 16€ and got a stamp that said “Faggot” on my right hand. With the red star that remained on my left hand, my hands were saying “Communist Faggot”, aka “I had a great Berlin weekend”.

I only stayed couple of hours inside, I was wandering around the different floors and spaces to observe people’s style and vibe. There was a lot of charismatic creatures like I love. I felt good by myself. Only one person talked to me. He asked:
“Do you like beer?
– No.
– Do you like cocaine?
– No.”

He gave up on me. I laughed and I danced alone in the small room with hundreds of strangers. The music was really great, even the Kylie Minogue remix. I was relieved that I was able to be happy alone in a crowd. I felt my heart pumping and my blood running faster.

Dancing saved my life again. When I walked out of the club, I found an authentic 70s disco ball vintage top on the street. The universe loves party girls.

Someone once said in front of me that they got a “more authentic life” once they stopped partying. What a silly thing to say. Why would partying be superficial?

I totally consider that partying can be a spiritual practice. I have never done drugs in my whole life and I don’t even drink much these days. It’s all about the human encounters and burning the dance floor in liberating outfits. You can be the quintessence of yourself for an ephemeral moment, and there’s infinite truth in that.

The dance floor is where people reveal themselves. It unlocks moments of realness. It triggers epiphanies. It’s always been my way to find redemption and feel alive again. When everything else goes wrong, I know the dance will take me back to the present moment and provide me flashes of pure joy.

At the Russian Disco, there was a guy in a wheelchair on the dance floor. He stayed for a long time. People were dancing with him. It was great to watch.

I’ll never forget one of my most beautiful dance floor moments. It was in Lisbon, in 2012. I was visiting the city alone and was living up the night life, the best I’ve experienced. I went to dance at the Finalmente, the only drag show club in Portugal. The crowd was all gay men. We were only two or three girls. I spotted a very short man in his early 50s, wearing an elegant shirt. I noticed him cause he looked like my former economy teacher in high school. I started observing him. He was dancing his heart off with closed eyes. He was so dedicated. He seemed alone in the world. He didn’t pay the slightest attention to people around him. He moved me to the core cause he was so present to himself and there was something nostalgic about him. I made up a whole story about his life in my head: he was coming from a village far from the capital and couldn’t assume his gayness till a very advanced age. People had been picking on him all his life. He finally moved to Lisbon to be himself, and was finding his way and salvation dancing every night at the Finalmente. But he was still closing his eyes not to read any judgement in people’s glances just yet. He would dance with open eyes some day soon.

I still have his expression of realness printed in my memory. This is when I realised the deep therapeutic powers of the dance floor and gained eternal respect for its benefits.

I’m leaving Berlin in two days. Spring has arrived in the meantime. I know I’ll end up living here.

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What Have I Done? (News from the Mad House)

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I usually never post twice in a row on the same topic, but teaching dance at the ‘Mad House’ (a South London psychiatric hospital) is currently becoming the centre of my life. It feels like the first time I’m actually doing something. I mean that I am finally producing something of true value and creating something from scratch out of all the things I’ve learned. I’ve studied, hanged out and traveled most of my life. These are easy zones though. They allow you to fail and quit. I have a lot of opinions on a lot of things. I’ve built a network of amazing people and creatures, almost a human cabinet de curiosités. But what have I done? What have I made?

Teaching my Wednesday classes at the psychiatric hospital is becoming my heartbeat. That’s crazy. I never expected to fall so deeply for it. I hated it with passion in the first few weeks. Now, some kind of magic is operating. I don’t know yet what is happening, but it feels like I am finally taking action on what I really want to do in life.

My favourite patient is leaving the ward on Friday. She was there at my first class and almost hasn’t skipped one since. I hopefully won’t see her again in that context. I’ll miss her but I’m happy she gets out of there, she’s only 19. She’s pretty and gentle, and always accommodates herself with everything. She’s a peace maker. When other patients create trouble, she never gets distracted from her own dances and she liaises between me and them. Today I tried to stretch her legs in the downward dog position but she couldn’t. She explained me that her legs are too long for her body because her parents gave her growth hormones and tortured her as a kid. She thanked me when I left, she said she enjoyed the classes and would miss it. She looked so much better than at the beginning. She asked me where to take dance classes on the outside world. I hope she continues. I want her to be fine. I’ll remember her.

Stern 2004 Marlene Dumas born 1953 Purchased with assistance from Foundation Dutch Artworks and Bank Giro Loterij 2007 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/T12312

I had a new student tonight. As soon as I got on the ward, she stood right behind me, close enough to touch me. Then she started following me, still touching me, as I walked to the TV room where the class takes place. She wore her bra on top of her clothes and wouldn’t take off her flip flops to dance. She was talking, shouting and pressing the security buzzer all the time but we managed to work anyway. It’s stunning how troubled people become “normal” as soon as their body and attention are engaged.

An older lady who always watches the class but never participates told me: “You’re a free spirit”. I thought I didn’t hear properly. “I’m a free spirit?” She said she could tell from the way I dance. I laughed and I replied: “Yeah, I suppose so. It puts me into trouble on the outside world.” Everyone laughed. I think they got what I meant.

At the other ward, where I teach my second class, the occupational therapist had a word with me before we started. She told me that they got the news in the morning that one of the patients committed suicide at her flat after she was released. I knew who she was. She came to the class once. She was a tall woman with dreadlocks, late 30s or so, beautiful face. She’s the only patient so far who knew about 5 Rhythms dance, we talked about it together. I didn’t know her very well at all, but I remember her. It’s strange that someone was here and now she’s not, just like that.

As I got in the dancing space – which is the diner, we just push the tables and line them up against the wall – there was the lady who wouldn’t stop insulting me last week. She said horribly vicious things like I was a failed ballerina cause I was too short or if I had lived during World War 2, the Nazis would have put me in their big vacuum cleaner for people. Then she was describing in detail how much I was hurting all her senses. I was surprised at my own reaction. It didn’t impact me at all. I thought it was funny and super creative insults with thorough almost poetic descriptions. Anyway, she apologised for it tonight. I said that it was OK and that she probably had had a bad day. She said she had a bad few months. She joined the class and was very present to herself when she danced. She was so internally focused, I felt like stopping and watching her.  The patients dive way more into themselves than regular people do. It strikes me when I see the members of staff dancing next to the patients. The patients are so much more engaged, more expressive, more raw, more edgy, more everything. They have a real story to tell, and I am really drawn to look at them so much more.

I was briefly struck by the thought of the people in the outside world who tell me that I’m a hard person. I came to the conclusion that I’m only hard to people who deserve it and I felt in peace with myself and my so-called harshness.

Things start picking up at Mad House. The ladies are awesome. All of them. I just love them. I got an email from the hospital this morning that we are going to start filling in weekly forms to track the attendance and the progress of the patients and study the positive impact of dance on them. They have targets of some kind regarding the physical health of the patients.

Hurray! That’s serious stuff happening!

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Paintings by Marlene Dumas : #1 – Mamma Roma   #2 – Stern    #3 – Passion

Mad House Sistas

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In December, I started giving dance classes at a psychiatric hospital in South London.

I still can’t really explain what was the trigger, why I wanted to do that. I’ve had a fascination for psychiatric hospitals since my teenage. Was it because I thought the line between my own mental sanity or what is perceived like insanity was thin and challenged at times? Is it a fascination for the place in itself, which obeys to its own rules, where there is a discontinuous management of time and space? Is it because the patients’ relationship to what you are supposed to do or not is so different from the outside world?

When I walked out of my last session, there was a big lady rolling naked on the floor in the corridor, screaming with her legs wide open. Two nurses rushed to cover her with a sheet and told her to go back to her room. I wasn’t shocked by the scene. I wondered what the story was like in her reality. Was she giving birth? Was she begging for sex? I caught myself envying her for just a second. My first thought was: “This must be really liberating!” I wish I had the guts to roll around naked and scream in my office or in my house if I feel like it. Why should it be necessary perceived as offensive, just because it is somewhat disturbing the established order? What if it was socially accepted to do that, just because this is what someone needs at that precise moment? I’ve always had the belief that there is no such thing as “madness” or “craziness”, just different perceptions of reality and different modes of self expression.

I think my psychiatric hospital immersion is the natural continuation of my 5 Rhythms dance and my sexual explorations. It is another aspect of liberating the body from rigid mindfucking rules. It is crossing the lines of what is socially accepted. Of course, I am aware that the patients may be a danger to themselves or to others, and that’s why they are locked in. But even so, I think they challenge a lot of unspoken self integrated rules, and I secretely admire them for that reason.

After tough beginnings, I finally start finding my rhythm with the patients. It has been nothing but easy. I have had to struggle to find adequate support from the institution itself and was tempted to slam the door for a moment.

Holding a “class” there is like dancing tango. I never know in which direction the next step is going to be. Whatever upsets them, they don’t force themselves to cope with it, they just leave the room. Once, everyone left. I had no more students. I managed not to take it personally.

Every session is dramatically different. Everything changes from one moment to the other. I have to be so present, so so so present every second, and readjust constantly in response to the ladies. At the beginning, I was preparing the class, but I quickly realised that there was no point. The best I can do is preparing myself to be physically and mentally engaged.

I start building a core group of 2-3 girls. The first time I saw one of them, she was sitting still in silence for half an hour, just watching the class. She had just received medication and looked stoned. I wondered if she was autistic, because she wouldn’t even answer my questions. The patients left the class one after the other, but she stayed. When it was just me and her, she finally spoke. She asked me if we could do some stretching exercises. She had done ballet before. I showed her some moves. Suddenly, she looked different. She was beautiful, engaged, alive again. She was sighing with relief while reconnecting with her body. When I left the place, she looked like a healthy person again, just like me.

The girls of my core group are young and pretty. Sensitive and wild. Last session with them was awesome. I stop pretending I am “teaching” them anything, because they know more than me at so many levels. I just turn off the lights, play music, and we dance freely together in the dark.

Last time, I was amazed at how far they went, how abruptly they express themselves and don’t give a shit about what the others may think. It really doesn’t seem to be part of their mindset. Whatever direction I was giving, they were picking it up super fast and were immediately twisting it into magic, way beyond my expectations. I played the song ‘I Am What I Am’ and they all started singing amazingly. I was stunned. The words were so meaningful in their mouth, too. We were all repeating “I am what I am”, whatever it meant. We laughed. It was a nice moment. I was the student in the end. I don’t know, I am just learning so much. They have so much to say, they are so intensely emotionally charged.

We got together in a small circle at the end, holding hands in the dark. They treated me as if I belonged with them, as if I was one of their sistas. One told me: “You should totally get a room here with us at Mad House!”

I giggled, but I was tempted for a minute. Yeah. I’ll think about it. I am glad I am finally hanging out with people who speak my language.