My pursuit of better movement and filling in my own movement gaps led me to take a pilgrimage to Southern California. In Santa Ana, a movement was rising. Capoeira Batuque joined forces with teachers of dance, parkour, acrobatics, martial arts and yoga to share their knowledge, passion, and expression with each other and with anyone interested in learning. The first Free Movement Festival took place over the course of five days, in three different locations, with instructors from all sorts of movement practices and styles. It was a celebration of movement, where no one style was “better” than any other. Coming from the fitness industry, where there are constant battles over who is right and wrong, it was refreshing to see people of diverse backgrounds respecting and honoring each others’ practices, and taking the time to have a taste of something new.
And me? Well the deepest experience I had to this point was about 5 months of Capoeira classes. I was familiar with parkour, calisthenics, and yoga, but I had no background in any of the dancing, acroyoga, acrobatics, or other martial arts. I was going to be thrown head first into the deep end. Bring. It. On.
All is movement
That was the title of the first workshop of the festival. It was taught by an enthusiastic performing artist known for his fire dances and expressive movement. We were given the chance to play with a variety of toys, including spear-like rods and nunchucks. After a brief discussion about the concept of flow, we were set loose with our instruments and weapons, while he walked around giving us occasional movements to try. Mostly we played around to see what we could come up with, and how we could link movements together. It was a beautiful way to kick things off, as flow would be a recurring theme throughout the 5 day festival.
Dancing with the stars
Loftoeira. House. Samba. Salsa. West African dance. Afro-Brazilian Dance. New Style Hustle. I’ll be honest, I had no idea what most of these things were. And I still can’t tell you what House music is. But I learned so much about myself with each dance workshop I took.
First, I felt so self-conscious learning these movements. I mean, there was nothing forcing me into the various body positions like rock climbing does. It was just me, a big room, and some music. I didn’t have to do anything. But, watching the instructor, I tried to mimic his footwork. His hip motion. His swagger. Holy crap, I had none of that going on for me. Why could everyone else keep up? I got so bottled up in my own head that it all started to break down. I was convinced the whole room was watching me, laughing.
And then the most beautiful thing happened. Our instructor, Sekou Heru, came right up to me, and spent minutes (although it felt like hours) coaching me through the basic movement, until I could keep up with the class. Tears streaming from my eyes, he gave me a hug and disappeared into the rest of the group. It was a huge moment for me. No one was watching. No one cared if I tripped over my feet. It was just each of us having our own struggle, doing the best we could to let our body feel the music. Not analyzing each step, not breaking down each muscle and component of the dance, but experiencing it holistically. My scientific brain was steaming uncontrollably. Just feel it, you say… it was so unnatural but so necessary for me to break through my mental barrier and feel like I was getting it. Turns out that self-judgment was creating a physical barrier to my learning and progress. Once I was able to be kind to myself and accept whatever came of the lesson, I was open to learning and experiencing more.
Once I jumped that hurdle, the other dance classes flowed much more easily. I cared not one bit of people judging me (they weren’t; I was). I tried to feel more and think less, and suddenly the steps came into place. Or, they didn’t but at least I was still generally moving with the flow. There’s that word again. FLOW. Just keep moving, forget about missing an isolated step or getting one piece wrong. The flow is what matters.
I really hit my stride in the Afro-Brazilian Dance class. Julie Simon, our instructor, had a huge smile that lit up the room and her body moved with such energy I was immediately enthralled. Each of the movements were big, flamboyant, expressive, and popped with the music. The lively drumming spoke to some part of me that has clearly been lying dormant. Each step of the choreographed dance flowed right into the next, enhancing the music. “Again?!” She’d say over and over, having us repeat each portion until we felt comfortable with it. And with the same vibrant energy she’d launch into the sequence, whether it was round 1 or round 10. By the end of the workshop, we had a complete performance that we ran through as a team. I was sweating and smiling and sore and over the moon. This, I could do more of this! Free movement was exhilarating!
We are all students and teachers
Outside of the workshops, people of all ages, sizes, races, backgrounds, homelands and genders mixed and mingled at will. No one wore name tags. I didn’t know who anyone was. People would just come up to me, tell me their name, give me a big hug, and chat for a bit. No one held any pretense about who they were, what their rank was, or how expert they were in a given discipline. High ranking Capoeiristas and instructors from across the country would introduce themselves as humbly as a visiting first-year student. We were all equal there. I know that is what allowed the passion and energy to flow so readily. Flow. There it is. When everyone is present to learn from each other, ideas can flow rapidly. The walls were down. Everyone was happy, joyful, excited to share this experience together. Never in my life have I felt so welcome in a crowd of strangers.
There are too many moments to share and lessons learned to summarize in one post. But I will conclude with what free movement means to me, and how it will continue to influence my growth as a human mover.
Free movement is: freedom from fear, freedom from judgment, freedom to be, freedom to express oneself, freedom to move through the world, whether it is over an obstacle or through open space. I had been confining myself to specific pursuits of moving for practical purposes. I can climb walls, crawl through tunnels, jump over hurdles, and cross rugged terrain with ease. But to move through empty space without motive or permission was terrifying. My movement was stunted. I discovered a huge gap in my practice, a gap that I aim to fill in over time.
Through my continued engagement with the local Capoeira group, I will learn to be more brave and free as I move about the world. And the lessons learned in Capoeira are also life lessons, about how not only to treat yourself but how to treat others and how to approach life with openness and curiosity.
To say this experience was transformative is an understatement. I’m delighted to take what I’ve learned and apply it to my work with clients and my own personal practice. Coming back to the theme of flow: How can I experience more flow into my life? How can I take static movements and integrate them into a meaningful sequence? How can I keep the flow of positive energy moving from Santa Ana all the way up to Bend? It is now my mission.
Where are all the pictures?
I didn’t take any photos at the festival for two reasons:
- My smartphone was on the fritz for most of it.
- Although I ended up buying a camera, I decided my time was better spent experiencing the workshops and not trying to be a photographer.