Years ago, the gender studies program at my university hosted a Latin American female hip hop group, who gave a roundtable on women and rap in Latin America on campus, and then a live concert. The roundtable was great, but I’ll never, to the day I die, forget the excruciatingly painful sight of my colleagues and me attempting to “dance” at that (spectacular) hip hop concert in that conference hall on campus. I love to dance, but in that context, I could barely move. Stiff, self-conscious, repressed… We were a group of people who existed entirely in our brains. There was no conceivable space to “let go,” or “move” or “feel.” When we were asked to, by the performers we’d allowed into that space, it produced a horrifying degree of total cognitive dissonance. We shuffled about miserably, avoiding each others’ eyes.
That concert stays in my mind, a decade later, as the thing that I find most soul-crushing about the academy. It’s not that the academy is a place that prioritizes mental or cognitive work that is the problem. It’s that it prioritizes that to the exclusion of all else.
When we leave the academy, recovering our bodies and spirits is the first order of business. But of course, even those who are still inside (ha!) might want to do that as well.
We do all kinds of dance in these classes–hip hop, Latin, African, and burlesque, to name a few. Here is a burlesque night at Shelley’s class. In the front row, I’m on the left, Shelley is in the middle, and Cynthia is on the right.
How great is this, seriously?
This isn’t the first time I’ve danced; in fact, I took dance classes for about twelve years when young–mostly ballet and modern dance. I even went to dance camp! But I never went on to do any performing. I didn’t expect to ever go back to a dance class again, actually–i thought it was a thing you do as a kid. I wasn’t drawn to it the way I was to intellectual work.
But for some reason, about three years ago I tried out a zumba class at the YMCA, attracted by the booming hip hop I’d hear on my way to swim or work out. I was instantly hooked. After about a year I got into the classes I go to now, and truly I’m not exaggerating when I say they are the centerpiece of my week. Cynthia and Shelly are best friends, and fierce in their commitment to the power of dance to empower and heal both individuals and the world. It inspires all their work, and it inspires us. They’ve gathered a passionate following among a group of us who have become essential community to one another.
This is class last week. In the front row again (I like being in front- I’m sure that surprises you) I’m on the right, Shelly is in the middle, and on the left is Jess, who owns and runs one of the top yoga studios in Eugene.
Dance has given me back to myself. It’s endorphin-pumping fun, it’s exercise, it keeps me fit, it lifts my depression, and opens up my heart. It’s given me new friends and ways to reconnect with old friends, including a former tenured UO colleague who is one of the regulars. And the way we do it, it’s pretty raunchy. And I love that – the raunchier the choreography the happier I am!
What dance does for me is exorcise the remnants of academic repression from my body and spirit.
There are a surprising number of Ph.D.s and other hyper-educated sorts who come. The other day, in Cynthia’s class, I realized I was in the front row with 2 other Ph.D.s, a JD, and an MD. Cynthia is herself a Ph.D. (Psychology, now in private practice), and she and I have talked a lot about the mind-body disconnect of the academy, and what it takes to heal from it.
Here is Cynthia, in a video collage she and Shelly made to share their dance empowerment vision. All of her choreography is original and may soon be licensed! For a lot of us, it’s like church (and I say that as a Jew).
(I don’t have any videos of me dancing in Cynthia’s class. But if you watch to the end of this video you’ll see another bit from one of Shelly’s classes. I’m in the back).
I’ve wanted to share my dancing here on the blog for awhile, because I have become such a proselytizer for self-care for academic women. Self-care that goes beyond saying no to committee work and speaking up in negotiations and lowering your standards on the housework — although these are all essential. This is self-care that actually nurtures you and build you up and reintegrates your mind and your body and your soul.
Everybody has their own thing– it might be running, or art, or music, or yoga, or knitting, or walking, or meditation or a hundred other possibilities. They’re all good. For me, it’s dance. If you’re still looking for something for yourself, I encourage you to try dance. There is somebody in your town teaching it, and you’ll be amazed at what it does for you. But do something. For your own sake and everybody else’s.
Shelly Galvin is Director of Corporate Social Responsibility for tech education firm, CBT Nuggets, based in Eugene, Oregon. Shelly’s passion and life’s work is to develop, build capacity and further the success of global humanitarian efforts. Along with CBT Nuggets, Shelly is pioneering a revolutionary and exemplary philanthropy program, stay tuned!
Cynthia Valentine Healey is the founder and creative director of Dance Empowered, a dance fusion fitness experience. Having studied numerous dance genres throughout her life, Cynthia leads dancers of all ages and abilities through high energy choreography paired to evocative and carefully chosen music from around the world. In addition to Dance Empowered classes, Cynthia also has a private practice as a holistic psychologist where she integrates evidence-based intervention approaches with mindfulness and energy medicine. Cynthia is also the lead singer for the band Concrete Loveseat.