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Dancing Girls

 

One night at synagogue, a little girl sat by herself, because her mom had to leave the sanctuary to make sure her hyperactive older brother isn’t getting into trouble. Her father was nearby, but she sat alone, with a whole row of seats to herself. She did back bends and leg circles and all kinds of dance steps, holding onto the back of the chair in front of her like a ballet bar. Did she realize we could see her? It didn’t seem like a performance, but it did seem like a kind of talking, though talking mostly to herself.

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Butterfly often talks to herself.

I was torn between two responses, both of which were more about me than about her. Do I feel bad for her because she’s alone? Or do I admire her for being so un-self-conscious with her body that she’s just moving without thinking of how it impacts anyone else?

When I watch dance on TV it is always a performance, even when a ballet class is filmed, it is a performance of a class. Are there people who don’t think about what they look like when they are dancing? There is rarely a time, when I’m writing, that I don’t imagine someone reading over my shoulder as I put words down on the page, even when I’m writing for myself, in a journal, in a first draft, in a shopping list. Is there such a thing, after a certain point in our lives, as un-self-conscious behavior? And does it make a difference? Would my behavior be more interesting or profound or beautiful if I were not editing myself at every step?

I used to hum in the hallways at school – elementary school – and forget where I was, and skip along every once in a while, or hear a rhythm in my head and dance to it, until people told me that I was really weird and I should stop. Pretty much everything I did as a child was criticized, by classmates, teachers, parents, friends and brother (of course) so most of those automatic behaviors, once I became conscious of them, went away. Until there was nothing.

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“Oh Mommy, that’s a terrible story.”

I went to Friday night services as a little girl too, but I was always self-conscious about how I looked, or how I was dressed, or how I sounded. I felt like there was a video camera watching me all the time. Don’t pick your nose! Don’t do silly dance steps! Don’t skip along the road! They’ll laugh at you!

Children express so much of themselves physically. Rage is a tantrum, with kicking feet and red faces and screaming at the highest possible decibel level. Joy is dancing or running or bouncing from foot to foot. What they feel becomes movement, instead of just thoughts or words. Once we have enough words, we think we should use them and keep our bodies silent and motionless. But why?

Dogs are like children forever, because they never develop words and continue to use movement to get their feelings out. Butterfly runs full out, flying across the lawn. Cricket hops like a bunny rabbit and twists and turns in the air. They both bark, and use their feet to stomp and use their eyes to plead for mercy. Watching dogs express their emotions through movement is such a relief, for us. We feel something in our own bodies in response. Oh, that’s what happiness looks like! I can feel it!

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“I’m a bunny rabbit!”

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Joy!

 

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About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

106 responses »

  1. I especially like how dogs do remember but they cannot be bothered with dragging all that memory around in the moment

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  2. Good theme. Sometimes I listen to my youngest daughter talk about things she’s trying and I wonder where she got so much confidence!😳 But the. I wonder they I don’t have more. I love your photo of joy- very apt!

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  3. I know exactly what you mean, I remember those times so long ago when I let my body express itself without fear and then the “eyes” and my fear of their judgment took over. I think my fearlessness and joy live vicariously through Jack, Lulu and Stanley because when they let their inner joy and goofiness out it makes my heart so happy. I know Cricket and Butterfly do the same for you. 😀

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  4. Gorgeous photo of your beautiful furry baby in the Autumn leaves.

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  5. Your question is profound; “Is there such a thing, after a certain point in our lives, as un-self-conscious behavior? And does it make a difference? Would my behavior be more interesting or profound or beautiful if I were not editing myself at every step?”
    As I have aged, I find it is less important what other people think of my behavior and more important that I act in a way that is consonant with who I am in the moment. So, you might hear a low hummed tune coming from me as I stroll down the grocery isle, or see me skip a few steps when the sun comes out on a spring day, or drive by my front yard and see me spread eagle on the grass soaking in the summer rays. It is who I am, and if I’m doing no harm to another, it ought to be OK!

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  6. DANCE! Always dance if you can.

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  7. Beautiful writing, Rachel. 🙂

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  8. So cute ! Buttermilk looks a lot like my Langston !

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  9. I still talk to myself. The problem is that I have no clue what that idiot is talking about.

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  10. I often watch my daughter, and am amazed at her self-confidence. But as she is growing older, I am seeing the nastiness of ‘conformity’ creeping in – and I just pray that it doesn’t win and that she maintains some form of confidence in herself.
    Your dogs/babies are adorable, and I really enjoyed this post! Thank you for sharing! 🙂

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  11. I think in one way or the other – we all talk to ourselves and just feel ashamed to admit it. Once again a lovely write up – thank you for sharing 😀

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  12. very nice writing as usual 🙂

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  13. Pingback: Dancing Girls – mudasplantasnativas

  14. It is so debilitating when our internal critic is punitive. I wish you more freedom to express yourself. You can write in an insightful way, as you regularly demonstrate

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  15. I too, used to worry about what people thought and what I looked like and then (around about when my husband was diagnosed with cancer) I decided I may have little time left with him and so I just went back to being ME – the me he loves, not the one everyone else wants me to be. People do still say Im loud, or I look weird dancing or singing, but I try to shrug it off and carry on doing it if I want to, if its ME!

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  16. May you learn to skip again and not care about what others think 🙂 x

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  17. We were not allowed even to fidget in the pews. How services have changed (for the better). Animals don’t have the feeling of shame that we humans do, so being self conscious is our hang up not theirs. As I age, I become more like the dogs. 🙂

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  18. The last photo says it all… Wonderful, I wish I could run like that…

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  19. Yes, children have that delightful trait of being uninhibited! They say and do whatever comes to them! Sometimes the stuff that comes out of their mouths is truthful to the point of being wise beyond their years! It’s sad we lose this as we get older–well, some of us, or at least we curb it for tactful reasons. Or others try to squash our childlike abandon. I’ve always acted like a kid–and at almost 60, it annoys many people, but I really don’t much care anymore. 🙂
    And agreed–our pets never leave it behind, thank goodness. Their innocence keeps us young! 🙂

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  20. Ah I have missed ‘The Sunday papers’ and don’t quite know how many back issues there is, but as you must have gathered, I have been enormously busy, both actually and mentally, and it is far from over……
    Jump for joy, dance for joy, clap your hands in excitement, if you’re happy and you know it clap your hands. How right (and observant) you are.
    My church is a bit ‘happy clappy’ so we all shake rattle and roll along with the service, but I can see that maybe the Synagogue is a little more ‘reserved’
    I think that that little girl was a little like me – totally unselfconscious and in her own world, probably not alone, but performing for an imaginary audience……..
    Your descriptions of Cricket ‘bunny hopping’ sounds exactly like my daughter’s bunny William doing ‘binkeys’ for joy

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  21. In the dictionary under “joy” it should read, “see the awesome picture of Butterfly running care free though space and time”. Under advice on how to live life it should say, “be like Butterfly”.
    If only we could….

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  22. Beautiful reflections, thank you.

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  23. You aren’t alone in being categorized as ‘weird’ because you danced, skipped, ran or whatever past a certain point that others deemed a time to stop doing those things. I was too. I think it’s very sad that we’re told because we’re >insert whatever age< we're too 'old' to sing. To dance or run or skip. We SHOULD know better, and be 'more mature.' Well phooey to those folks that think that way. An author I really enjoy, Robert Fulgham, did an essay on singing. He said (paraphrased): Ask a child to sing and they'll happily comply. Any song you want (if they know it). Ask an ADULT to sing and you get all kinds of excuses, hemming and hawing, embarrassment on a high level and some odd looks because you even asked (this is of course non-professional singers). " There is more to that essay, but my point is that when we stop expressing ourselves freely in those ways, we lose joy. And most of us can't afford to. I love that picture of Butterfly….she IS joy embodied! 😀

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  24. I used to do the same thing when I was a kid. I would walk down the street singing a song that I made up as I went along. One day I turned around and noticed a young University student was following behind me (nothing creepy – he was just going the same direction I was). I said “Oh” in surprise and he smiled and said “Keep going – it was beautiful”. I always think about that. Now I can blog, it is my adult version of singing and walking.

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    • What a lovely reaction! I got a lot of sideways glances and eye rolling.

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      • Well it might have been the neighborhood, filled with really free-thinking University of Chicago types back in the 1970s. I am sure I couldn’t get away with it now, but of course everyone would just assume I was talking on my blue-tooth headset – can’t tell who the crazy people are anymore, it looks like everyone is talking to themselves when they walk down the street these days.

  25. As I have gotten older I care less about what people think of the way I act- I was very self conscious as a child and never allowed myself to be in any way “noticed” But now, I am who I am, and if I am excited about something will jump up and down, and not care if someone thinks I’m crazy or not acting my age. I am sorry reading you were made to feel bad about being the person you were, with an obvious joy of spirit. Skip, dance, embrace the wonderful person you are!

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  26. I think this is why some athletes in particular ‘artsy’ sports are successful- they started at a young age when they felt no inhibition. I danced and figure skated fairly young and grew up with the freedom of expression that both forms of movement encouraged. As an adult I am definitely ‘out there’ and uninhibited (although I have and respect others’ boundaries). Coaching adult beginner skaters vs young beginners is a world of difference because of that inhibition that society has ingrained in the adult minds. The whole “don’t do something that makes you look stupid” for the 40 year old doesn’t exist for the wild, gliding, free 5 year old! Great post for thought!

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    • I remember watching a five year old girl practice at the rink, way back when, and she barely noticed other people. She was tiny but she spread herself out to fill the whole rink. And, at seventeen, I was sticking to my little corner of the ice.

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  27. I’m certain that dogs have long memories, for our Chicki has always displayed a certain behaviouralr pattern to folks of a particular ethnic group. As I have no idea of what happened to her in the first thirteen months of her life, I can only assume that some sort of negative experience has been imprinted on her brain.
    Enjoyed this article, Rachel!

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  28. I talk with myself as well, but I often answer myself, too. It’s tricky not getting caught doing it, considering I sometimes need to simply vent! 🙂

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  29. I hope you get your dance back. Just sing to your dogs. I’m sure they will love your voice.

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  30. Rachel – this is so beautifully written. I too was so awkward and self concious as a kid. Too tall, scrawny, long legged and clumsy, nearsighted corrected by awful glasses and corrective shoes. I could truly relate. Your writing is heartfelt and makes one think. Thank you.

    That said, I’ve nominated you for the Leibster Award. If you’d like to accept it, please follow the details here: https://spencesgirl.wordpress.com/2016/02/01/award-season/

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  31. Delightful piece, Rachel – and I love the last photo! It does indeed capture pure joy! It also reminds me of a quote I saw on Facebook the other day saying how all children believe they’re artists – until someone tells them they’re not. There’s so much about that uninhibited period of early childhood (and perpetual doghood!) that I wish we could recapture as adults.

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  32. Just so you know Rachel, my way of expressing myself when I was a kid was to hold an invisible microphone in front of the mirror as I blasted Van Halen, or Led Zeplin or some other popular rock band of the era. Now I do this in my car, using my steering wheel as my drum set. We should all have an outlet like this, just like our dogs do. Out of curiosity, what types of dogs are Butterfly and Cricket?

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  33. Rachel, your stories both sadden me and bring me joy. Like life. Thank you.

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  34. Apparently this kind of self-observation is particularly common in women. They watch themselves and continually act as if they were being observed and tested, constantly thinking about how they must appear and how they must behave and at times it can become extremely controlling. I forget what it’s called in psychology but I seem to remember that John Berger analysed it quite well. I definitely miss being a child and never thinking about it.

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  35. I love the picture, the poetry of your writing, and your page. Also, the ridiculously adorable doggie:)

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  36. So cute.. Especially for people like me (dog lovers!) 🙂

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  37. Great post! I think that’s why I love dogs so much. They are always in the moment and have no pretense what so ever. I never really related the fact that they are similar to two year olds in intelligence with how important body language is for them. And I never thought about how as grown ups we squelch so much of our natural inclination for movement and expressive body language as we struggle to communicate using primarily verbs, nouns and adjectives. Maybe that’s why we love music so much. It combines the spoken word with the inspiration for movement, enabling us to express ourselves more fully. I know my dogs love it when I dance with them!

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  38. So true! My dog is 5, but I get mor from a look or his body language then I do words from my husband of 23 years. Very enjoyable 😀.

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  39. I thoroughly enjoyed this piece! I could see it all in my mind’s eye.

    A couple of weeks ago, on a Sunday morning, I was sitting alone in the corner at St. Arbucks when the lone barista began to waltz by herself to the music playing in the background. She never saw me and i didn’t say anything to her. She was lost in the music with a lovely smile on her face. It made my day.

    This blog of yours has made my day today.

    Thanks!

    John

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  40. I’m so glad you “liked” something on my site so that I could be led to this very thought provoking post. Thank you!

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  41. Oh to be so unselfconscious! How lovely, it is something to celebrate. I hope some nasty person doesn’t rain on her parade. We all have way too many of those folks in our lives who want to embarrass or shame or put us in our place. Good for you that you have awareness. Great post.

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  42. I love dogs, they are just who they are and they live in the moment.

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  43. Rachel, you’ve had amazing timing with this post because I’ve been thinking a lot about dance and that if you can’t dance physically, that shouldn’t stop you from dancing in your head. My daughter dances and I never see her dancing around the house but I’ve seen her doing cartwheels down the beach and she’s done dance poses for me, which I particularly love photographing as shadows. I don’t have her coordination and felt so self-conscious as a dancer when I was younger.
    I’m quite extroverted and am quite out there. At times, I’ve been more subdued but now I’m in my mid 40s, I couldn’t care less anymore. I feel quite secure in my abiity to write and entertain and my family. I don’t need to impress the world. Indeed, I would hate to impress the world but somehow lose my family in the process.
    Some communities are much more conservative that others and it can be very hard to express yourself or your individuality there. If that’s what it’s like where you are, perhaps you could venture further afield and break out amidst that anonymity. Having young kids helps me to break the mould. I get my daughter to paint my toenails rainbow colours during the school holidays and blame them on her. I usually don’t wear nail polish at all!
    xx Rowena

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    • I wonder if I could sign up for a ballet for tots class. I think that would be the level of competition I could handle at this point.

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      • Shame you don’t live here because we could go together. Even though the Principals of my daughter’s ballet school are fabulous professionals, they also work with kids who are struggling and would be adept with working with us. I have thought about having a few private lessons just to experience it but my daughter’s numerous lessons are adding up and the bank account is shrinking.

      • That sounds awesome!!!!!!

  44. I never really thought about movement in this way before. You are right. Excellent post.

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  45. Makes me happy already 🙂

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  46. What a great post. It’s so true to heart and love the examples of the dogs. As I get older I find it amusing how those little ‘ticks’ (as someone once told me, I had nervous ticks when I couldn’t sit still) are now just normal for everyone.
    You have to laugh though how we can watch vagrants on the streets (whom we assume are drunk/on drugs) talk & move as though no-one can see them and yet now people are talking to themselves with bluetooth. HA HA
    And I like ‘peeking over your shoulder’ (so to speak) reading your posts/writings – so please keep doing it! 🙂

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  47. I love your dogs! I remember seeing a little girl start dancing to some music at church that had a lot of drums behind it, several years ago. I still sometimes groove in church and folks never actually SAY anything, so I don’t actually have to stop. Heh heh heh. Because oh yes, I was self-conscious as a kid. Not so much now. There is a lot to say for your forties.

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  48. Thank you, Rachel, for the beautiful thoughts, lovely writing, & clever interaction of the pix!

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  49. Wow, I totally get where you’re coming from! As a child I was constantly criticized and ridiculed for just being myself (and brothers can be the most cruel- I had 3!) So I learned to be very quiet and rarely expressed myself 😦 Sad really, the way the world can beat you into submission. It wasn’t until I met the love of my life, a man who adored and accepted the real me, that I finally began openly expressing myself once more. Of course animals always bring out the true me, and I’ve never felt embarrassed or shy in front of them. They love it when I sing to them or get all silly and dance around the house with them 😀

    Reply

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