I just got home from another amazing belly dance class at Moody Street Circus with the incomparable Melinda Melina Pavlata. This evening’s class was particularly invigorating, and I know I wasn’t the only one who felt it… after the class was over, several of us stayed after, sharing and laughing and connecting with each other.
As often happens, Melinda said something that has lingered in my mind and that kept nudging my thoughts during my drive back home. She was talking about how it is so often true that in present-day America people feel nervous about dancing in front of others… especially if, as is often the case in belly dance performances, many of the people who are present are simply there as spectators.
However, because she spent a good amount of her childhood in Greece and has traveled much of the world as a circus performer, Melinda has directly experienced the unique aspects of different cultures in regards to dancing in public.
“In communities where folk dancing is common, where everyone grew up learning and knowing the same dances, you are never dancing alone,” she said. “Even if you are the only one dancing, everyone is there with you, sharing in it. Anyone could join at any moment, and everyone could give their own unique self to the same dance. There’s no judgment: there’s just a shared understanding.”
(Keep in mind that I’m recounting that quotation to the best of my ability; several hours have passed since the class itself, and I do hope that Melinda will forgive me for any minor differences between that and her specific words in that moment!)
I love that idea, that a community of people who are all familiar with an act of physical celebration can witness someone doing it and not judge them for the unique way that they are doing it, but instead be excited for the joy of what they share.
In this shared understanding, the person who is performing does not need to feel embarrassed or nervous or awkward… they just need to let go into the movement that they know so well and to rejoice in the connection and freedom that results from doing it.
Community in Strength Sports
Interestingly enough, this made me realize that there is yet another similarity between dancing and strength sports than those that I explored in my post “Playfulness and Imperfection.” One of the things that I love most about powerlifting competitions, for example, is the way that, more often than not, everyone is supportive of the other athletes—even those who are in their weight class. Speaking just for myself, I have never once hoped that anyone would miss a lift, and I am sincerely excited when I see someone set a new record or get a new PR.
It blew me away the first time I witnessed it: it was unlike any other athletic competition I had ever been too. People of all different ages, sizes, races, genders, and levels of experience—and they were all cheering for each other!
Some of the participants were solely interested in powerlifting, some were CrossFitters, and some only focused on lifting for absolute strength when they were in the off-season for another sport…
Some of the participants trained with coaches, some were primarily self-taught… which resulted in some being more technically proficient than others…
Some were stoic while others were gregarious…
But all were welcome, and all were celebrated.
Another example is the StrongFirst community that I am honored to be a part of. Whether I’m attending an intensive certification; getting in a good kettlebell, barbell, and/or bodyweight workout in with a fellow member of the StrongFirst family; or taking part in an online discussion about some aspect of training, there is sincere support and celebration of other people’s accomplishments.
We’re All in This Together
In all of these situations that I’ve described, all of the participants share the same context—or, to connect it more overtly to the ideas expressed by Melinda during tonight’s class, we all know the same dance.
The dance of strength.
And because we share that deep connection to this physical practice of strength training (a practice as old and traditional as music, as deeply rooted in our bodies as dance), we are never lifting alone.
We understand, and therefore we rejoice in each other’s growth.
We have all learned (whether directly and/or indirectly) from those who came before us, and therefore this context is deep: it crosses boundaries of space and time.
The community of people who take part in the dance of strength is huge.
Does the importance of a shared context mean that dancers and performers never get nervous if they’re in communities where folk dancing is common? Or that powerlifters and kettlebell athletes never get a little twinge of queasiness when it’s time to perform?
Of course not.
But it does mean that the nervousness doesn’t have to have the same traction that it would in other situations. There’s no fertile ground for it to grow in .
The dance will happen as it should. The iron will rise and it will fall.
Again and again.
How wonderful it is to be connected to others in this way.