By Kellie Schorr
I dance like Snoopy. Seriously.
Hands out, feet shuffling, big smile, following the beat of the music (or not), I bounce up and down moving with abandon. On the inside, dancing is a lot of fun. On the outside, well, honestly…it isn’t pretty.
I was a child during the nation’s line-dance craze so my initial dance instruction came in the form of memorized steps that largely involved moving backward and sideways in something that looked like a kiddie police lineup. By the time we lost our cultural infatuation with the Cotton-Eyed Joe, I was a teenager and my only dancing opportunities were found in the cafeteria with bored teachers and stale snacks where the student bodies hung on one another like two pieces of wet laundry.
The dancers swayed to Lionel Richie ballads, or languished by the chairs at the side of the room, until the gym coach announced it was time to go home. We were the embodiment of attachment; clinging sweaty kids holding each other up, just trying to get through another afternoon. My memories of those times are sweet and sour, a healthy mix of “back then” and “never again.” Whatever it was, it also wasn’t pretty.
Yet…everything was beautiful at the ballet.
I feel in love with the ballet from the first time I saw the hippo and crocodile dance in Disney’s Fantasia and begged my mom to take me to see The Sleeping Beauty. For a little girl who was lucky to get across the room without falling down or bumping into something, the ballet was a wonderland I could never leave.
Ballet is the body disciplined, the body beautiful, and the body strong—clothed in yards of ease and grace covering bone crushing work, sweat, and effort. It has movement and meaning. After completely nourishing your eye hunger, it goes straight to the heart. I want to write like ballet. I want to live like ballet. I want to love like ballet. That kind of healthy fluidity is what Buddhist teachings are all about.
Connection Not Clinging
One thing you’ll notice, even during the most romantic ballets, is the dancers almost never actually hold one another. Light touches, bracings, and open-armed gestures get their point across. A prince may lift a swan in the air, but he puts her back down quickly to continue the flow of the dance. Each character is allowed their own space and being, yet they remain connected to each other and to us.
No matter how you translate it, the second noble truth and subsequent commentary are very clear. We suffer because we cling. We hurt because of our attachments. One of the first things people ask when they encounter Buddhism is, “So, I’m not supposed to be in love?”
Nowhere in Buddhism are we told not to love, not to bond, or not to connect with deep emotions involving people, pets, or the earth. What we are told is that we need to establish connection, not attachment. Where can we learn how to do that? At the ballet.
Room to Breathe
One of the things that draws your eyes to the couple in a ballet isn’t the closeness they exhibit, but the space between them which frames their experience. Long legs and extended arms allow each person to inhabit their area and exude their own spirit energy which then overlaps and mixes with the other. Connection relies on a certain amount of emotional, personal, physical space.
Enmeshed relationships, when we can’t tell where one person ends and another begins, sound wonderful in sparkly paranormal romance movies, but in real life it denotes a lack of identity and a claustrophobic emotional experience. Attachment is a suffocating addiction. Connection makes sure each being has their own place, rights and identity. Space is essential.
Relationships, like all living things, require movement and change to thrive. Attachment creates a stilted, immobile environment where each person must always stay the same to ensure comfort and decrease challenge. Blossoming or personal evolution is discouraged, and time together depends on routine. These paralyzed relationships tend to be dead long before we notice it because they’ve been still for so long.
Connection holds the key to the heart of a good dancer—flexibility.
When it comes to things like ballet or yoga, I’m about as flexible as a day-old bucket of Ready-Mix cement. Fortunately, relational flexibility does not rely on my joints, but on my willingness to grow and move. People who are connected don’t need to lock arms around their loves. They have confidence that even as the rhythm changes, the connection will be strong and present. If the first thing you feel when someone starts to change or try new things is the fear of losing them, attachment has a chokehold on your future.
Ballet stages have very few set pieces. Unlike a Broadway show that can hold a movable feast of objects, most ballets have a few backdrop panels, some chairs, and a prop or two. Creative expression can display hundreds of emotions using a small set of classic positions and poses. The magic is in the flow, not the stuff.
Attachment tends to surround itself in things and the complexities of life. Attachment dissects unnecessarily then fills the void with distracting elements, accusations and delusions. Connection is able to see the forest and trust the trees. Connection has an easy energy to it. The relationship is clear, not cluttered and discussions are more likely to stay on the real topic.
Attachment insists on formal, often rigid, communication. Connection strives for comprehension.
Space, flexibility, and simplicity define the best of our relationships. They allow us to move through our world unfettered by the disharmony and dissatisfaction found in the nature of suffering. To be connected, instead of attached, is liberating, affirming, healing and most of all—beautiful.
“Everything was beautiful at the ballet.
Raise your arms and someone’s always there.
Yes, everything was beautiful at the ballet.
I was happy…
At the ballet.”
“At the Ballet” ©1975 from A Chorus Line, Composed by Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Editor: Dana Gornall
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