Visit my show at the PSCCU Credit Union, Vashon, Washington May, June 2024 

Why you should be dancing

My horses dance. You might say they’re just driven by instinct. But when you see them run into the field on a cool, winter morning, tossing their heads, twirling around, bucking, and lifting their feet in the air, you have to think they’re playing with movement in time to a rhythm in their own heads. For me, that’s dance.

I hear people saying, “I can’t dance” and I’d like to debunk that myth. You can breathe. You can move and you have rhythm within you. Just own it. You dance. It turns out dancing is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Not just for the pleasure it brings, but because it can help keep your brain intact.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at the effects of different recreational activities on older adults and their impact on dementia. At the top of the list for protection against dementia was dancing!  Richard Powers, who writes a dance blog at Stanford University speculated on the reason for this: “Dancing integrates several brain functions at once — kinesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional — further increasing your neural connectivity.”

I get it! It keeps you moving, thinking, responding and inventing all at the same time. No wonder it’s good for the brain.

Still, it’s tempting to let the limitations of our bodies limit our desire to dance. I know because that happened to me. For years I danced for fun, but then my back started stiffening and my knees grew more cranky and creaky. I wanted to dance in my twenty-something body, not the sixty-year-old version, and maybe that meant not dancing at all.

Last year I was invited to a meditation and dance retreat over the New Year’s holiday with Karen Nelson, a master teacher well known for her work with a form of dance called Contact Improvisation. I told her, “Karen, it sounds great, but I don’t think my body is up to it. I can’t dance with the great group of younger dancers who will likely be coming.” She nodded empathically, then added, “It won’t be an issue. You can do whatever you can. One woman who always participates is your age and has only one leg. You can work with any limitation.”

I signed up. I looked forward to meeting that woman.

Dancing with a one-legged dancer

The woman, Karen Daly, inspired me throughout the workshop. She lost her leg to cancer in her childhood and with it lost part of her spirit. She learned to cope, work and manage her life using a prosthetic leg. Then, in mid-life she discovered improvisational dance. Dancing transformed her. It made her feel whole. Soon she was putting aside the prosthetic and navigating life more joyfully on one leg.

I watched her at the start of the workshop as we were sitting on the ground, stretching and breathing. She looked as graceful as anyone in the workshop. I asked her to be my partner in the first improvisational dance of the event, and together we explored the space between us, sitting, crawling, rolling on the floor, and occasionally, and carefully, standing. We weren’t jumping or running, but who cared? What mattered was how we tuned into each other’s energy and physical presence. As we danced, I no longer saw Karen as a one-legged dancer. She was a dancer, a beautiful one, and a very courageous woman.

In her new book, Joy Ride, Karen describes her journey from cancer into self-acceptance, and how her life was transformed by improvisational dance.

Even the philosopher Friederich Nietzche, usually portrayed as a dark, cranky, old nihilist, knew the merits of dancing. He said,

“And we should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.”

He also believed dancing helped the quality of our thinking:

“Thinking wants to be learned as dancing wants to be learned, as a kind of dancing.”

Not bad for a guy in pain, who spent the last part of his life confined to an apartment, dying of syphilis. For Nietzsche, dance was not about performance or social dancing. There is no record of him dancing in public. He was caught, however, hopping about his apartment, dancing.

By the way, if you missed this stunning video of two Chinese dancers a couple of years ago, the man missing a leg, the woman an arm, it’s still worth watching.


I’ll balance out Nietzche with a little faith, after acknowledging that his famous announcement “God is dead” has been taken woefully out of context. Lee Ann Womack’s I Hope You Dance also inspires me.

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance.
I hope you dance.

Don’t try to be good. Don’t try to get it right. Don’t worry about what you look like or whether you’re a dancer. Breathe. Move. Then move more. You’ll be dancing.

Be like those horses. Dance for the spirit of it. For the hope in it.


2 Responses

  1. So, you’ll be tickled to know that in July I stepped into a fabulous transformation – healing of all my cells and a newfound energy and inspiration for my life! Each aspect that erupted has been clearly in motion and in development for quite some time. As I worked to climb out of the very deep pit I fell into last November 8/9th…some central heart’s desires are emerging from the core of my Soul. Their crystallization has been profound and I am awestruck to find myself where I am! So, you, ask: what are these miracles of clarity of purpose?

    One, an acknowledgement since early childhood of my connection to the animal kingdom. I think it is inherited from my Mom. In recent years I have studied and learned and now understand better why this is so: when I am in the presence of animal energy, my soul sings. I am filled with a deep-seated love for all things physical and spiritual. My body is physically whole. I experience Oneness with the Universe. Horses revealed to me their connection to the Other Side as well: at any point in time, horses are of both worlds…this one and the other side. When they cross over they continue to be as accessible as they are in their flesh. I am humbled when I am in their presence. My dogs, who understand all I say, do and be, are also connected to my spiritual being and their energy is the essence of companionship. I find I can only be whole when they are nearby. And for horses and dogs, the more, the better! My spoken dream for 15(?) years has been to be accepted as the member of a herd. That desire manifested in July when each of 4 horses shared breath with me, and invited me into their circle. To say, I am humbled by their gracious and abundant love is an understatement.

    Two, building on One above, is my need to do outreach with animals. It is not enough for me to receive healing, but I feel called to do what I can to assist animals to release their past traumas and support them living their best lives while they are on Earth. Our most recent dog adoption is Georgia, a 4/5 year old Golden Retriever/Chow Chow + mix, who was rescued from a hoarding situation where she was forced to live on the desert 24/7. When she came to us, she had profound sight challenges due to too much UV. Her acute hearing is a warning system that she is potentially in danger when any sharp noise interrupts her silence. She is in an almost constant state of being on alert. We are active with animal healers who each have something to contribute to her movement to health and wholeness. We are each a work in process.

    This second calling also plays out with the Horses mentioned in One: I am inspired to learn how to dance with each individual while they are at liberty. So, I have come to know the joy of dancing, and fully support your thesis in this blog. My partners are horses and together we figure out how to be and move with one another. The penultimate one day will be dancing as a full group in harmony and joy! And, again, the healing process is collaborative and mutual.

    And, Three is the resurrection of my artwork – painting with soft pastels. Several years ago, I surprised myself when I discovered an undeveloped gift I seem to have. After a few spectacular successes for which I received much praise, I backed away, gripped by fear that I didn’t know how I had done what I had produced – they just appeared like magic, and so, I hadn’t tried anything for 3-4 years. In a private reflective visioning session with the horses, I was reminded of my gift and they encouraged me to apply what I was doing with them to my art: go and dance with your painting!!! My heart burst with joy and I am once again pursuing my art with eagerness and a sense of playfulness, and freedom.

    One last story: at the same VISION HORSE workshop was a woman who was stuck in moving forward. She sensed there was a key to opening her locked box but she could not figure out what it was. In a report out session at the end of the day, she shared with us what the horse told her when she asked for clarity about the key. His reply: ” there is no box!!!”

    And, so, I go forth now, knowing that there is no box!

    Sally, thank you for all the living and writing and sharing that you do! What you are DOING is such a wonderful gift to me. Sometimes, like now, I sense you have written this just for me! Bravo!


    1. Thank you as ever for writing. You are a blessing for the animals, as they are for you. And I did think about you when I saw that magnificent horse in the picture. I’ll write you separately from the post…I want more of your story!

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