Two local buses, an interstate bus and a train. That’s what it took to snap this photo. It was worth it, though. I felt happy standing on a wharf in Sydney in the rain.
I haven’t caught the Manly ferry for two decades. It has a bar and food kiosk on board now, although both were closed on a rainy Friday. The deckhands, healthy looking with brown muscled legs, heaved ropes around as the boat churned away from the quay.
Two Korean students approached me with a dictaphone and asked if they could interview me for their English assignment.
“Where do you live? Where is Canberra? What does capital mean? Why are you going to Manly? What sports do you play?” Here they queried my answer: “Is dancing a sport???” They didn’t seem convinced.
The questions became more interesting: “If you could be an animal, what would you be?” “A horse,” I said, describing speed and power and grace and gentleness and a flowing mane. They looked blank. My imaginary horse had galloped past the limits of their vocabulary.
“What do Australian teenagers like to do?” I thought of all the teenagers I know. Grunt, sulk, eat junk food, treat their parents meanly and stay in their rooms a lot. That was what came to mind, but I didn’t say it.
The Koreans helped me out: “I like video games,” said one. “I like drawing and playing with my dog,” said the other. “My dog is called Winter.” I pictured some kind of thick-coated husky. “Is your dog called Winter because it has a big fluffy coat?” I asked. The girl looked at me with pity. “No,” she said. “It’s called Winter because it’s white.”
There are people in Manly who go to the gym at midnight to lift weights and then drop them on the floor. I know this because I stayed in accommodation below the gym. The first time the building shook and the windows almost blew in with the force of it, I wondered if there’d been an explosion.
On the second night I read for hours and managed to outlast the weightlifters. Just as I was dropping off to sleep, the people in the neighbouring room rolled home and had a loud conversation inches from my ear. At that point I got out of bed, repacked my suitcase and booked alternative accommodation for the next two nights.
I went to Manly to dance. I danced with a painter, a hairdresser, a psychologist, a teacher. I danced with people whose names I didn’t know, who smiled into my eyes and hugged me from the joy of it.
But there was so much more than dancing. Over the four days I watched people navigate tricky interpersonal situations with skill and deep calm.
I learned to sit with someone who got on my nerves, someone so opposite to me that at first I found them unbearable. Yet this was the person who, time and again, I ended up having to share space with.
I learned the theory behind the dancing, the way it uses the body to change the mind, to regulate the emotions, rather than the mind trying to direct the body. This is such a different approach, but it works.
It’s not easy. It shakes you up and makes you question the way you see the world, the way you see yourself. It teaches you to say no, but it also puts you in touch with the big yes of life. It takes you far out on a ledge, makes you hold hands with the other people out there and asks you to trust each other.
When I walked into my first Biodanza class a year ago I felt sick with fear, but I stayed because I needed to dance. My legs were buckling under the weight of grief. I wanted to turn back time. I wanted safety and certainty.
One year on, I found myself calmly floating in the ocean after four days of constant change, four intense days of dancing and learning and meeting people at a much deeper level than society usually allows.
I closed my eyes and felt the movement in the water and let the waves carry me. When I opened my eyes I was nowhere near where I thought I’d be, but I was okay with that.
Then I went home.