things I didn't photograph at EBI

It's been six days now as I write this, six days since we came home from European Blues Invasion in London, and I'm still not fully recovered; returning to Göteborg has been difficult. My mind is elsewhere. My mind is on the dance floor. And my heart's swelling. I have to breathe more deeply, expand my chest to make room for this growing heart and all the new feelings that it's trying to hold, or it might explode.

There is melancholy that it's over, paired with a growing frustration, an emptiness, wondering what's going to happen now, the feeling that I need more – I need more music, I need more connection, I need to dance more, I want to practice more, I want to work hard on my dancing, but I don't know how to start or with whom … How, how, how do I make sure I continue to grow and learn and evolve? I want to hold on to everything I've learned and experienced before it slips away from me … But I know that cramping would only hurt me. What needs to stay with me, will stay. If it doesn't stay, it's not what I needed at this point.

There will be photos, of course, later; but I need to get these words out first. I always need to get the words out. There were so many magical moments. And these moments need words in English, since my memories are in English.

There were classes, amazing classes. I explored different levels of muscle tone and how muscle tone affects movement, I worked on dancing together with someone in open position without leading them, I explored the space and freedom that grows from dancing with low muscle tone as well as the movements we can create with higher muscle tone. I learned about the different ways my feet can move, I tried walking as a human as opposed to walking as a dancer, I walked backwards and I strengthened my core. I finally learned to do proper apple jacks (at least I hope so) and discussed stress factors in my life and the fact that the effects of spending time in nature stays with you for a long time (yes – in a dance class). I tried the difference between axis shifts and weight shifts and worked with rhythms and fishtails. I explored movements traditionally seen as feminine vs. masculine and worked with combining them both in my body at the same time. I worked loads with my hips and my solo blues, practiced looking up while dancing, and experienced how wonderful it can be to let go. I acknowledged all the emotions fighting for room inside of me, and chose to skip the last two classes on Sunday so I could sit under a tree, call both of my best friends one after the other, and have a good cry.

There was the Zen of Blues Movement class, which was a completely transforming experience for me. You see; solo dancing hurts. Not physically (well, that still happens too, but I've learned to handle it, and it gets a lot better with the exercises I get from my physiotherapist), but mentally. Being eighteen years old and giving up a dream about becoming a dancer still hurts. It's eleven years ago, and I still carry that sad eighteen year old with her constantly aching back inside of me. Which is why every time I do something that is closer to solo dancing than couple dancing, that sadness is reawakened, and it hurts. Every time I do something that's even remotely related to contemporary dance in particular, it hurts.

This class didn't hurt.

When a thought comes, acknowledge it, and let it pass. Some of us were hiding in our own personal spaces, looking down, only exploring introvert movement; we were asked to imagine a light in our throats, and opening up to share it; soon, I didn't have to imagine it - the light was there. I was reaching, reaching upwards, for the sky, the sun, I don't know, and at the same time, exposing this light that I carry, not just in my throat, but in my whole body, not wanting to hide it, but wanting to share it. The steps I found myself taking across the room, the way my arms chose to move, it all came naturally. It was a class that I needed.

There were discussions, oh the discussions! About pedagogy – about what we really teach, about how we teach it, about inclusivity, about striving to make everyone feel welcome. About knowing not just what we say in classes but how we say it. About blues dance being a conversation as opposed to a situation where one person does all the talking and the other person only listens. And we talked about asking someone to dance without assuming their dance role. I can't believe how simple that can be: when you ask someone to dance, or they ask you, always ask: "lead, follow or switch?". Just imagine, in a couple of years, when everyone does this, and no one will have their dance role chosen for them because of their assumed gender! Can you see it? I can. I couldn't before, just a little while ago, but I can see it now. It's going to happen. We will be able to create the community that we want.

I'm full to the brim with inspiration about teaching dancing, now. I have so many ideas, and what's even more important: so many new ways of looking at things. It's one of my favorite feelings: the feeling of having your perspective turned upside down, of being totally confused, and then, when you've worked through it; emerging on the other side a stronger person, more curious, and more alive. That is what these three days and four nights did to me.

There was the incredible inspiration that comes from watching so many wonderful dancers; such intricate movements that my mouth at times fell open in astonishment. It makes all the difference in the world, seeing the dancers for real as opposed to on a screen. At one time, I noticed two of the teachers dancing just next to where I was sitting. I honestly tried not to watch them. I can imagine (though, of course, in reality I know nothing of this) that it's distressing to be one of those well-known dancers, always having people watching you when you just want to dance and relax. So I felt like I should leave, go get some water or something, just to give them the space that I feel that they really deserve (and guess that they seldom get). But I didn't leave. I couldn't, I was so mesmerized that I simply couldn't. I don't know how to describe the fluidity with which they moved; their bodies were more like water than flesh. I was a truly beautiful thing to see.

There were big breakfasts (my favorite kind) and walks and hugs and dinners, there was singing and breakfast in bed on a birthday morning, and laughing and eating of crisps in the middle of the night after returning from the venue. There was a fight and I was angry, and as always, I find that I forgive easily when given the chance. There were unstoppable giggles and silliness as we stumbled our way home at half past seven in the morning. There was a solid certainty that I couldn't have shared this experience with better people than the friends I traveled and lived with.

There was fear. There was fear that maybe I'm doing everything wrong. Fear that I'm fooling myself: I often feel so good when blues dancing, that I believe that I'm headed in a good direction; I feel so good that I believe I could get really good at this given time and practice. But maybe I look like an idiot when I'm dancing? Maybe no one really wants to dance with me, maybe they only accept to be kind when I ask them, maybe it's uncomfortable and boring to dance with me? Maybe in reality I'm ugly and heavy and ungraceful, and maybe people I dance with laugh at me afterwards, for thinking that I know what I'm doing? There was fear.

There was a competition, a newcomers Jack and Jill competition. I had a lot of fun, so the fact that I didn't make it to the finals didn't bother me much - except for the fact that it reinforced the fears: Maybe I'm doing it wrong? Maybe I actually do look like an idiot? Later that night one of the judges came up to me. She said that she wanted to congratulate me for my dancing in the Jack and Jill comp. "Don't worry about the finals", she said. "Had it been up to me alone, you would have been in the finals. I thought your dancing was beautiful". It was such a joy to hear that.

There were dances, magical dances: as usual, I find a have fewer words for the dances, even though they were what made me feel the most. There were so many that were special to me! How do you describe the feeling of switching back and forth with the person you're dancing with, so fast that at times you don't know who's leading and who's following, and it doesn't matter, because all the movements flow together as though this is what you were born to do? How do you describe the crazy giddy bubbles in your body after having danced with someone who feels like they read your mind before you even know what you want yourself; how do you describe this kind of immediate intimate connection with another person? How do you describe those few hours of darkness before morning comes, dancing outside between birch trees, to live music from a cellist and a singer, in such stillness that your dancing is more about breathing than anything else? How do you describe mustering the courage to finally, very late on the last night of the event, ask your favorite teacher to dance; the fact that dancing with them feels like melting and flying at the same time, like you can't even hold the beauty of it inside you? How do you describe that very last dance of the weekend, when someone you've danced with a few times suddenly appears in front of you smiling and you know that yes – this is going to be good?

There was a group of blissfully happy, tired dancers, walking to the nearest park a few blocks down, as the venue closed just before six in the morning, to dance some more. Knowing that there's nowhere I'd rather be in this moment, and at the same time incredulously wondering how it can be real – what did I do to make this my life? I must have done something right at one point or another, to have been able to create this life for me; this beautiful, wonderful life, that somehow includes blues dancing in a London park after a night of amazing dancing while the city is waking up to a new day around us.

Eriks Esenvalds | Stars


  1. Så himla vackert skrivet! Och vilken gåva de här dagarna måste ha varit.