Issue 156 September/October 2009
by Lizzie Martinez

dancing womenIt’s 7:10 on a Tuesday night, and a weeping four-year-old is barnacled to my leg.

“Don’t go, Mama, don’t go!”

My husband stands with our other two children, who are also pleading with me to stay. Behind him, the kitchen table is littered with dinner dishes. The house is tossed. His eyes look tired, and I begin to capitulate. Maybe ?I should just stay home tonight…

“Go on, hon,” he says quietly, and kisses me. “Drive safely.” That’s our separation mantra.
I peel the four-year-old off my leg, and my husband restrains her from darting after me. I walk away to the sounds of crying, muffled when he closes the door. I feel as if I’m leaving my heart in the house behind me.

But a moment later, I’m in the car. I take a deep breath and try to center myself, to remember that what I’m doing is important for me. Soon I’m on the road, heading south to an old church with vaulted ceilings and arching, stained-glass windows. Heading toward the darkness, toward the music and my friends, to get my groove on.

Several years ago, a friend and choreographer, Margery Segal, came to town to run a workshop. She invited a few of us who had children with health challenges to come and join her. She wanted to create a space in which we women could talk about our struggles and our feelings, and join our words to movement and support. One day, she asked us to take turns moving. One of us would dance or stretch or slowly sway, moving in whatever way her body needed, while the others would watch, being supportive simply by being present. When we were done, Margery asked how it had felt. My friend Julia said that she’d forgotten how good it felt to dance just among friends.

Then she turned to Margery. “We should get a bunch of friends together to dance while you’re in town!”

And that’s how Mamadance was born: women dancing in the dark (together) for an hour, once a week.

Mamadance went through a few incarnations in the beginning. We danced in various cramped spaces, until we lucked out and found our current location. Ten years before, our friend Anne had had an inspiration. In a small town in West Texas, she’d found a turn-of-the-century church building that was about to be knocked down. She had it dismantled, then lovingly rebuilt and restored on four beautiful acres in the center of bustling Austin, where she turned the structure into an event venue. And although Anne no longer owns the building, its current owners kindly allow us to continue to show up every Tuesday night (if they have nothing else booked) and rock out.

We stay in touch by e-mail. Each week, someone—usually one of the same few extremely music-literate and iTunes-savvy mamas—brings a dance mix. And because Austin is full of musicians, we have a PA system, lugged by Sarah from her house every week, bless her soul. We set up the PA. We chat about life and things. Then we turn on the music. The first few songs are slow—we stretch out to them, or move, or just lie there on the floor. Then the tempo picks up.

Some nights, when everything lines up just right, I lose myself in the music. As in the purest meditation, I’m right there in my body and nowhere else. Other nights, when I’m distracted or don’t connect with the music, my body moves, but my mind may be a million miles away.

There are no rules at Mamadance. You can lie down on the floor for the entire hour. You can leave in the middle. You can use the music just to stretch by. You can practice a specific kind of dancing you’ve always wanted to do but have never tried. You can do a handstand against the wall. Or you can ride the wave of rhythm—from slow to fast and back to slow again.

We’re all kinds of dancers in that room. Some days we’re just a handful; other times, the huge space seems full of bodies. I’ve seen Mamadancers raise a fist in the air and snarl to Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock-n-Roll.” I’ve seen running leaps and pirouettes. I’ve seen people jog laps around the space. I’ve seen ballet moves and hip-hop. The music is all over the map, whatever strikes the mix-maker’s fancy—anything from songs from that 1970s feminist album Free to Be…You and Me, by Marlo Thomas and Friends, to the latest from Vampire Weekend. Because we’re all in the same general age group, sometimes, when someone puts on a song from our collective past, we go wild, whooping and leaping around, lost in the world of visceral memories evoked by the song—perhaps of being a teenager in a different time in a different place, when we had different worries.

At Mamadance, we dance as if no one’s watching—but we dance with the energy of being together. In winter, when it gets dark early, we dance in our socks in the cold and dark—we like it with the lights off. In summer, when it stays light late, the evening sun comes through the stained glass and the dancers look dreamlike in the multicolored rays. No matter the season, I always come home sweaty and relaxed, with filthy feet.

Not all of us at Mamadance are mamas of children, but all of us are mamas in a more universal sense. We mother ourselves by dancing, by stepping out of our everyday lives for just a moment, no matter how difficult it is. We mother ourselves and each other by being together, and by connecting with the universal need to move, to feel rhythm, to let go.

A music teacher I once had said, “Ask yourself at the end of each day, ‘Did I dance today? Did I sing today?’” I try to. I sing to my kids and to myself. We put music on in the living room and roll back the rug. But things are always coming up, and sometimes life just gets in the way—sick kids, crazy schedules, demanding jobs.

But at the end of every Tuesday, I can say, with certainty, “I danced today! I really, really danced today. And boy, do I feel better!”

Want more on mothering and music? See the past article “Pas de Deux,” by Heidi Anne Porter, and the Web Exclusive “Music for New Mamas,” by Taz Tagore. 

Lizzie Martinez and her husband, artist Hawkeye Glenn, live in Austin, Texas, with their three children: Cosmo (9), Nasrine (6), and Paloma Maria (5). Her articles have appeared in Mothering and Filmmaker magazines.

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