Dancing To A High
By Mallika Sarabhai
There is a particular cocktail of chemicals that makes us feel good – happy, on a high, satisfied, purring with good feelings. They are called endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, chemicals produced within our body, chemicals that ensure feelings of positivity and happiness. Now, for most of us, feeling happy and good in ourselves is very important. Important enough to not leave it to chance in the hope that certain circumstances will prevail on each day to make us feel satisfied some of the time. And especially not when we are unwell or ill. On the contrary, we need to understand the mechanics of behavior that can release these chemicals so that we can actively counter feelings of malaise and ill health. And this is possible.
The movement and exercise bug caught me relatively late in life, and I began to understand the connection between physical activity and my moods even later. While growing up, I believed that I did not want a profession in dance, and yet I loved dancing. As an adolescent, jam sessions at a local restaurant, where we danced wildly to the music of the Beatles and ABBA, left me feeling great for days.
Many years later, having started dancing professionally, I slowly started seeing a connection. Hours of daily practice kept me feeling good all day long. Sundays, the so-called day of rest and recreation, didn’t feel all that good. I started noticing that if I felt low I needed music – classical, pop, folk, whatever. And that propelled me to want to move about my room, unseen, uncaring of what I was doing or how I looked. Very different from the rigorous classical and contemporary practice for my profession. If I was angry, I danced. If I was lonely, I danced. Depressed? Dance. Frustrated? Dance.
I started researching into why dance felt, for example, better than a run or cycling. The ancient form of Gujarati folk, participative dance, is the Garba, a word that is born out of garbha, womb. The womb s circular and contains its energy within. The Garba is also circular and contains the energy loop so that it continues in a never-ending circle. Add to this lilting or energizing music. And you have an activity that is creative and energizing as well. Have you seen the swirling dervishes of Middle Eastern culture, with one palm pointed to the skies and one to earth, swirling and twirling in sync with the movement of the earth and the planets, slow sometimes, faster at others?
Once we start moving and dancing, we realize how enjoyable it is, how electrifying to ourselves, when there is no fear of being good at it, or of being judged, or of becoming good at a technique. Then, it is about letting the body go and move to whatever music you enjoy. And when the endorphins start to flow and flow they will, let yourself float in the feelings of wellbeing, feel the smile beam through your body. You are one with your body and the universe, and you are feeding your body what will heal it. Come, won’t you get up and dance?
The author is an activist and classical dancer, who runs the Darpana Academy of Performing Arts in Ahmedabad.
“ONCE WE START MOVING AND DANCING, WE REALISE HOW ENJOYABLE IT IS, HOW ELECTRIFYING TO OURSELVES, WHEN THERE IS NO FEAR OF BEING GOOD AT IT, OR OF BEING JUDGED, OR OF BECOMING GOOD AT A TECHNIQUE.”Mallika Sarabhai, Activist and Classical dancer