Once upon a time and many moons ago, I was a ballet dancer. I started taking ballet at the ripe old age of four as a means of strengthening and rehabilitating my previously broken right femur described in an earlier post. That rehab turned into genuine love, and I continued ballet throughout high school in my hometown dance company, Chattanooga Ballet. More specifically, I was a member of the corps de ballet, or just corps for short. For those who may not know, the corps in a ballet company refers to the dancers who always dance together in a group, often as a backdrop to soloists and principal dancers. Literally, the “body” of the ballet, the corps gives weight and structure to every performance. It is the group counterpoint to the radiant solo; the unison of many framing the expression of one.
Being a member of the corps was one of the most challenging, invigorating, illuminating, and instructive experiences of my dance training and, indeed, my life. Its most basic requirement is listening to the group with your whole physical self and doing whatever it takes for that group to be in true unison. This does not simply mean doing the same steps on the same counts (although you have to do that as well), but it requires existing in both movement and stillness as one singular body, even though there could be a dozen or more dancers onstage.
It is no easy feat, but when when a corps is successful, it is absolutely breathtaking, both as viewer and participant. I remember being in the corps and recognizing that I was a part of something so much bigger than myself. At the risk of sounding overly-dramatic, the only word I can think of for that experience is transcendent.
I have heard people liken dancing within a corps to being on a team, but to my mind it is different. For me, a team implies competition, that there are other teams out there who you are striving to outperform. But when I recall my days in the corps, one of the best parts about it was that we were working together so diligently for no other reason than to make something beautiful. We weren’t competing with other corps de ballets; we were simply a tenacious young group of dancers striving to unify in the service of art. It was extraordinary.
Looking back, I am so thankful to have experienced the real power of a group at such a young age. I truly believe that it shaped my life in ways that I still don’t fully understand. And I think at it’s best, practicing yoga in a group can also provide a taste of what I experienced back then: the sublime beauty of moving as a group.
Although yoga class is definitely not about being in unison and certainly asks you to honor your own individuality, the power and energy that comes from practicing in a group can feel like absolute magic, much like the magic of the corps de ballet. There is a shared experience of moving, breathing, contracting, and releasing that is as profound as it is simple. And it is available to us every time we step into the studio if we only remember to pay attention to it.
Often, I forget to pay attention. I get so wrapped up in my own individual practice or in the individual needs of single students that I forget about the magic of the group that is there already, inherent to practicing together. One of my goals for the coming months is to really savor the “group-ness” of the classes I take as well as teach, and I encourage others to do the same. Why should any of us deny ourselves so precious a gift?
In her magnificent and poignant book Late Migrations, Margaret Renkl describes walking in the woods with her niece and finding a ladybug tucked in the fungal folds of a rotting tree. Her niece shares her recent discovery that a group of ladybugs is called a loveliness. How beautiful is that? What could be more perfect? That is what we are and what we always have the potential to be when we come together to practice. A sweet and special loveliness. Full of power, full of grace.
May we always and forever remember to pay attention to the loveliness.