The Dance of Light and Dark

Hear me read this post.

A person’s life is a dance. A flowing movement, a pattern and a breaking pattern, a turn and a reverse. And, yes, also more than a single misstep. There is no one right way to do it and so you practice alignment with your image of what the dance is supposed to be — at least to you. And the greater part of the mystery is that you dance with a hidden, inner partner representing all those aspects of yourself that are yet unknown to you.

The beauty of dance, like all arts, is not in the pure performance, not in how flawless or technically brilliant the dance becomes, but what comes through in the human performance. The dance is always more than what we see: what has been choreographed and rehearsed. The dance also reveals the dancer’s private human story and individuality, her deeper range of impulses, thoughts, images, intuitions and feelings. They flicker across her face and give their life to the sway of her body. The dance is about her as uniquely someone. These aspects come forward bidden by the music in the moment, and often only slightly channelled by the illusions and rhythms of art. Her good and her bad are in the ritual dance, her skilled and unskilled selves, the controlled and more flagrant parts of her being, her illumined and shadowed features — all sliding one into the other like waves in a slant of sun. An awkward dancer who is true to herself may be the better one after all, in her ability to be her whole, vulnerable self; in her inability to be false. The best, most masterful dancers, the memorable ones, never lose this quality of vulnerable individuality. No matter how good, their souls are never submerged by perfection.

The secret is this: in the dance of our inner light and dark we all become part of an outer light and and outer darkness; sun and moon, midnight and dawn. This connection makes the dance a cosmic and spiritual thing which cannot be contained. Beyond time and space, the dance is a part of our nature and a part of Nature itself, and in that is enormous power and magic and exquisite grace.


  • Anonymous wrote:

    Hi Dan,
    A beautiful piece of poetic prose. It is sometimes difficult to hear the life music to which one should be dancing. We get off step or lose the beat. When on track and in tune with the music, we flow in harmony with the universe. When off track, every step seems to be a struggle. I think that’s how one know they are following their calling. Life is more fluid, just like a graceful body in a beautiful dance. I, for one, am still trying to get in step with what my life dance is to be.

  • Well, Jane, I think you’ve said it perfectly. Surely some part of us is already “in step” and other parts are still learning. And learning might not be exactly the right word. It may be unlearning wrong dances in order to remember the right one.

  • Dan,

    Your blogging frequency may have decreased recently, but the magnitude is as high as ever.

    This post weaves together a number of patterns and sources of inspiration for me.

    Personally, I find dancing very challenging, and I know that this is intimately tied to issues of self-esteem, self-judgment, and my projections onto others — that they, too, are judging me. As such, I know that dancing provides a unique opportunity for practice, and for exploring — and revealing — my shadows and my light.

    Your observation about no single right way to do it, onto which I project my own desire for [self]acceptance, reminds me of Oriah Mountain Dreamer‘s motivation behind writing the poem (and book) The Dance:

    “The Dance is the story of how we can live soulfully on a daily basis. It is the story of my discovery that the question is not Why are we so infrequently the people we want to be? but rather Why do we so infrequently want to be the people we really are?

    Your observation regarding uniqueness of the dance[r] reminds me of yet another source of inspiration, a quote I’ve seen attributed to the dancers, choreographers and women of wisdom Martha Graham and Agnes De Mille:

    “There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening
    That is translated through you into action,
    And because there is only one of you in all time,
    This expression is unique.

    If you block it,
    It will never exist through any other medium
    And will be lost.
    The world will not have it.
    It is not your business to determine how good it is;
    nor how valuable it is;
    Nor how it compares with other expressions.
    It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly,
    To keep the channel open.

    You do not have to believe in yourself or your work.
    You have to keep open and aware and directly
    To the urges that motivate you.

    Keep the channel open.
    No artist is pleased.
    There is no satisfaction whatever at any time.
    There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction;
    A blessed unrest that keeps us marching
    And makes us more alive than the others.”

    Thanks for adding your inspiration into this exquisite crucible!

  • Joe

    The poem from Martha Graham and Agnes de Mille is stunning. These lines were particularly meaningful to me:

    “It is not your business to determine how good it is;
    nor how valuable it is;
    Nor how it compares with other expressions.
    It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly,
    To keep the channel open.”

    I think this means we get hooked on the dance as a performance for others, rather than a contribution to a whole so vast we cannot name it. We alter and adjust our performances for one another; we cope, instead of releasing what we are meant to express fully, uniquely, and for its own sake. The cosmos we see is only what our senses allow us to see. The self we see is only what our minds allow us to see. But the dance embraces everything, especially the parts that are yet unknown.

    It is natural to feel awkwardness and to experience self-judgment. But then there are also those moments, when we forget ourselves, maybe for just a second, and the flows happens. Like a fountain that is only on when we turn our backs, the “water” of our radiance flows through us best when we are not looking.

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