Ecstatic Dance

two women

Artwork by

“Start to the right and repeat four times,” Melissa stands in front of us.

“Lead with your hips.  Let you soul dance,” she continues.  The twelve of us women are spread throughout the dance studio watching.  This is the movement meditation at the end of our three-hour workshop on the root chakra.

She spreads her feet far apart and squats down, then lifts her right hip and lets her chest, head, and arms follow like an unfurling flag.

“We carry so much emotion in our hips.  It’s time to release it.”

Tribal music pulses into the room.  The others and I join in.  Lowering into a squat.  Raising. Flowing.

“Then continue four times to the front, the left, and then the back.”  She speeds up her tempo to demonstrate.  We follow our own rhythm and repeat the sequence.

The music picks up and I raise my hip up once in each direction.

“Flow around the room if that feels right to you,” Melissa encourages.

I begin to pivot as I lower and raise my hips.

Latin music bounces out.

“In honor of my culture,” she smiles.

“This is the cha-cha.  You can try this if you’d like.  1-2 cha-cha-cha.  Back-2, cha-cha-cha.”

I mimic her until tribal drums thump.

“Now just follow your soul’s expression,” Melissa calls out.  “Move around the room if you desire.”

I’m primal. I’m releasing.  I’m stomping, clapping, whooping, and skipping.  I’m joyful as I look out at the women letting themselves go in this powerful, ecstatic dance.

The music ends, the laughter and cheers simmer.

“Stay still. Breath in. Stay here in this moment and feel what’s happening inside of your body.”

I close my eyes and rest my hands on my chest.  I feel the pulsing, the sweat rolling, the expansion in my heart, lungs, cells.  I feel so alive.

“Give thanks for all that your body gave, for all that your soul is.”

“Then lay in shavasana.  Let everything we did today integrate into you.”

I lay flat on the hardwood floors, the sweat turning cool on my back.  I close my eyes and tears roll out, releasing the build up from the day, the month, a lifetime.  My friend and mentor Nancy always explained that her teacher, Bearheart, said there were only two kinds of medicine: laughter and tears.

Melissa rests her hands on the tops of my feet.  More medicinal tears.  More immense gratitude for being in circle with courageous women.

~May your body and soul continue to dance freely my sisters.


Cabin Life: Hot Air Stream

I reached into the sandwich bag and pulled out my toothbrush.  I unwrapped the paper towel that was around it.  I didn’t have one of those caps that fit over the bristles.  So, I made do.  Standing along-side of another woman at the row of sinks in the campground bathroom, I began brushing.

“Good morning,” she chirped.

“Mmm-hmm,” I glanced up at her in the mirror and nodded through half-open eyes.  The typical etiquette that no one talks to each other in a public bathroom, just like in an elevator or in line, was breached and I felt slightly annoyed.

This past winter and spring, I lived in a rustic cabin at the KOA campground.  And by rustic, I mean it had no running water….as in no toilet, no sink, no shower.  No kidding.   Each morning for seven months, I made the trek to the community bathroom to fix myself up for work.  I’d leave my Walden and head into work at a high-end women’s consignment shop.   Yup, I’d leave a cabin with no running water to sell $3000 Chanel purses.

“Have a great day,” she said and then turned to leave.

“You oo,” I mumbled through a mouth of toothpaste.

I finished and headed to the row of showers, pulling the curtain closed.  I left my flip-flops on even though I could reason that the soap and hot water would wash away whatever was on the floor.

The door leading into the facilities opened.

“Wait, wait, wait, don’t touch anything.  Let me put toilet paper on the seat first,” a woman said.

“I do it myself,” a young voice demanded.

“I’ll do it, I’ll do it,” the woman replied, clearly exasperated.

I scooped out a gob of baking soda and ran it through my hair.  I smeared another  handful over my face as a facial scrub.  I rinsed my hair with apple cider vinegar and finished soaping up.

“Ok. You’re done. Good job. Now, let’s wash your hands,” the woman said.

“I do it myself,” the girl responded.

“I’ll turn on the faucet,”

“No. Me.”

“No, I will.”


Geez, give the girl some independence, I thought as I dried off and head back to the sink and mirror near them.

From my backpack filled with toiletries, I pulled out a comb.  It slipped through my hand and landed on the tile floor.

“Just be glad it wasn’t your toothbrush,” the woman smiled as she hoisted the girl up to the sink.

“Ugh, gross,” I gagged and ran my comb under hot water.

I hit the button on the hand dryer and stuck one foot up under the hot air.  While balancing on the other foot, I combed  my wet hair.

“What she doing mommy?” the girl stared at me.

“It’s not polite to stare,” mommy replied.

“Oh, it’s okay,” I told the woman.  “I’m sure I look odd drying my feet under a hand dryer.”

I turned to the child.  “I wore my flip-flops in the shower and now they are soggy. I don’t like walking back home in soggy flips-flops.”

“Oh,” is all the girl said.

“C’mon, let’s go,” the mom said.

“Bye,” I smiled at the girl.

I shook my extended foot, trying to hurry up the drying process.  The mother and daughter rounded the corner toward the door.

“Wait. Let me open the door,” the mom said.

“I do it myself,” the girl demanded.

“Ok. Fine.”

You go girl, I thought, and switched feet before the hot air ran out.

That didn’t work for me…

I stood in the lobby of St. Petersburg City Theater next to Alice.  We wore white button-down shirts.  She had on black slacks and loafers.  I was wearing  a black pencil skirt and low heels.  Alice stood next to the wooden box by the door to the theater, tearing the patrons’ tickets.  I positioned myself on the other side of the double doors, greeting the guests and ushering them to their seats.

It was the final performance of The Miss Firecracker Contest, a comedy about a southern girl auditioning for a 4th of July pageant in her hometown.  The Sunday matinée show was not expected to be full.  My ushering duties would be easy.

“Are you from Florida originally?” I asked her in between tearing tickets and seating people.

“No, I live here in the winter and go back to Philadelphia in May.  Most of my kids live there still and I miss them.  Although, I stay so busy.  My daughter is amazed at how I’m always on the go,” Alice explained.

I nodded.  The average age of the show-goers was 78-years-old.  Alice was in the majority.

“Are you from here?” Alice asked.

“No, I moved here from Michigan a year ago,” I said.

“What brought you down this way?”

“I quit teaching a couple of years ago and decided to travel.  I ended up in this area because my brother and his family live here and I was ready for a change,” I told her.

“My daughter was a high school English teacher.  What did you teach?”

“I taught mostly first grade for 12 years,” I said.

“Oh. Well, my daughter taught high school English for 34 years,” Alice added as she lifted her chin to honor the great length of time her daughter served.

And,” she emphasized, “has been a substitute teacher since she retired.  She always has teachers requesting her.  They even called her last week while she was visiting me.”

“Mmm-hmmm,” I smiled.  “That’s great that she’s found what she loves.”

“Maybe you’ll go back,” Alice’s voice raised at the end and her eyes widened.

“Uh. Huh. No. ” I sort of chuckled.  “The system doesn’t work for a lot of kids and it didn’t work for me.  I got burnt out and decided to pursue other passions.”  I rejected the thought of launching into an explanation of the unschooling movement and my support for it.

Two women approached and thrust their tickets toward Alice.  She tore them and handed the stubs back.

“I’ll be happy to show you to your seats,” I smiled and stepped toward them.

“We’re season ticket holders. We know where to go,” one said to me.

“Oh. Okay.” I stepped out of their way.

“Enjoy the show,” I chirped after them as they walked in.

“What do you do now that you don’t teach anymore?” Alice pressed.

“I have been traveling quite a bit the past couple of years.   I’m working in a clothing store downtown and I write about my adventures and life.”  I decided not to share that in addition to working at a women’s consignment shop, I model nude for artists at various figure drawing classes in the area and across the country as a way to fund my travels.

She nodded.

“What brought you to volunteering at the theater?”

I love finding ways to do things for free, is what I wanted to tell her.

Instead, I said, “I enjoy celebrating the arts, supporting live entertainment, and meeting new people.” This was true of my modeling gigs, too.

“And now you live here near your brother’s family.  That’s lovely.” Alice said.

“Yes, he’s married and they have three kids.  I adore them,” I told her.

“Do you see each other often?”

“Yes, in fact, I lived with them for several months last year between my travels.  Now, I live across the lot from them.”

“All six of you stayed together?  How nice.  They must have a large home,” Alice said.

“Actually, they live in a 40-foot long RV.  It’s about 200-square feet.”

Alice took a moment to digest this, blinked a few times, and asked, “You all lived in an RV?”

“Mmm-hmmm.  It was amazing how we made it work.  We had so much fun together.”

“But aren’t you married?”  She continued to try to process my life.

“I was. For eleven years.  But, uh, that didn’t work for me either,” I smiled at her and hers faded.

“But your ring…” she looked down at my left hand.

I held it up and showed her the silver band.  “No, this is on my middle finger,” I explained.

My brother’s wife gave me this ring, which read I promise.  It was one she wore after a serious relationship ended and she had made a commitment to be true to herself.  She passed it to me after my divorce.

“You don’t have kids then?” Alice asked.

“I don’t have any of my own.  I’m grateful to be auntie, though, to three amazing kids. Plus, when I was a teacher I got a ‘kid fix’ every day.”

The house lights dimmed and flicked on, indicating a few minutes until show time.

I walked the last few patrons to their seats and returned to my position with Alice, ready to help the last-minute stragglers.

“I love kids,” Alice added.  “I was the oldest of nine and then had five of my own.  Now I have seven grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.”

“My mom was the oldest of seven.  She came from a big, Irish-Catholic family.”  I added as I assumed Alice understood that being Catholic in that era was synonymous with no birth control and breeding a big family.

Alice nodded, “I’m from an Italian-Catholic family.”  She did understand.

“Do you still go to church?” Alice made a run at it again, hoping to find an edge of common ground to stand on.

“I don’t practice anymore, but my parents do.  They are staunch Catholics.”

“Oh.” Her face fell and then brightened.  “All of my children attend, thank goodness.”

“Maybe you’ll go back,” she said with hopefulness.

Poor Alice, I thought. I envisioned her dropped to her knees that night with hands clasped together, head bowed, praying for my lost soul.

The lobby lights dimmed, signaling the start of the show.  The ushers inside the theater motioned for us to shut the doors and find a seat.

“Uh…no, it just didn’t work for me.”

“I’m sure your parents pray for you,”  Alice said as I closed the door behind us.

“I’m sure they do,”  I whispered as I walked into the darkness.


Skate Date

“We are leaving for the roller skating rink in 20 minutes,” Kelly announced.  “Get your socks and shoes on.”  The kids began scrambling around the RV to get ready.

“And you, Sis,” she smiled at me, “sit right here.”  She patted the bench seat and her eyes widened.

“Close your eyes,” she said.

I leaned against the seat and did as told.

“Happy birthday,” Kevin said as he placed a tissue paper wrapped gift onto my lap.

I looked at them and smiled as I pulled the paper off and discovered a white t-shirt with writing.  Holding it up, I laughed.  He used Sharpie markers to decorate my t-shirt with “It’s my birthday” scrawled across the front.  A hand-drawn pair of roller skates sketched in hot pink and purple covered the center of the shirt.

The kids came over and leaned in to me, “Happy birthday, Aunt Sara.  You have to wear this tonight.”

“Of course I will.”

“As the oldest ‘kid’ here, I do as told,” and winked at them while slipping it on over my tank top.

The line snaked forward as we waited to enter the rink.  Several friends arrived with their kids.  The children bopped around and swerved in and out of the adults.

Once inside, we laced up skates and hit the hardwood floors.  Music pulsed out from speakers overhead.

I darted around a few kids who leaned onto a training device as they attempted to skate.  I slid in between my niece and her friend.  We joined hands and our skates knocked into each other.  We stretched our arms out to avoid tripping.

“Clear the floor,” the DJ announced.  “We are about to start the races.”

The kids cheered and scrambled to the edge of the rink.  We sat on the benches.  I began some leg stretches and my niece smiled and shook her head.

“Five- through eight-year-olds line up.”  The young ones crowded onto the floor line as a staff member set up orange cones to mark the start and finish line.

A whistle blew and the kids pushed off, some stumbling and some gliding easily.

The audience cheered as the skaters rolled toward the cones.

This repeated for all the older children and teens.

“Now, if you’re 18 or older come on out!”

I jumped up and got in line with a handful of others.  I looked to my friends and family on the sidelines and offered my hands up, beckoning them to join me.   They stayed put and cheered instead.

I crouched down into race position as if I did this sort of thing all the time.   Again, the whistle signaled the start and I lurched forward.  Regaining from the little wobble, I looked up and watched two guys on roller blades zip ahead.

Pushing out with my old-fashioned four-wheeled skates, I tried to build speed.  The guys sped ahead and were halfway around the rink.  I pushed harder and crouched down a little as they crossed the finish line.

Finally passing between the cones, I stuck my hand out while rolling toward the kids on the bench.   They formed a line and extended their hands.  I high-fived them as they cheered, “Yay, Aunt Sara.”

The DJ announced, “Back to regular skating.  All skaters may return to the floor.”

A couple of kids grabbed my hands and we pushed off together.  The lights dimmed, black lights were switched on and I was glowing in my white birthday shirt.

Roller skating birthday

Cobbled Together

The city bus jams to a stop in front of my friends Sherry, Tanya, Luann, my five-year-old niece Keigin, and me.

“Quantos?” Tanya asks the driver how much.

“Un sole per persona.”  We start digging into our money belts trying to decipher the correct Peruvian coins.

Cars swerve around the bus and honk.  The driver waves his arms, indicating for us to get on. Luann stuffs a pile of coins into the driver’s hand.  We load into the crowded bus and scatter to the four remaining seats as he lurches forward.

I swoop up Keigin and tumble into a seat, plunking her on my lap.  Her legs drape over the arm rest.  I wedge my backpack between her and the reclined seat in front of us.  A mother and child are slumped together, sleeping.   As the bus bounces along, I cradle Keigin’s head against my shoulder hoping to act as a buffer.

A local man with thick, black hair sits in the window seat looking out.  He adjusts his ear buds and I wonder what he’s listening to.  I gaze past him to the tin shack homes lining the dirt road as we ride from the archeological ruins on the edge of Cusco back to the city center.

Tanya sits across the aisle and up one row.  She reaches back,  grabs my hand and smiles.

“I feel like I could cry,” she laughs.  A brightly-colored knit cap is pulled over her thick curls. “Here we are, the four of us women, traveling like this.  I want to do more of this.”

I squeeze her hand.  “This is what I love,” I tell her.  “jumping a crowded bus, lurching and bouncing along with the locals through the winding city streets, not knowing exactly where we are headed.”

We squeeze hands again and then turn back to the windows.  I don’t recognize this part of the city.

The driver pulls into a parking lot and we unload.  Diesel fumes puff out from all the buses.  We swat the thick air as we walk toward the one taxi.

Tanya leans toward the driver’s window.

“Lucrepata.  Quantos?” She asks, this time trying to get us to the street where the hostel is located.

“Cinco soles,” he tells us.

“No. Una nina,” I point to Keigin, knowing that children usually don’t have to pay.

“Quatro.” I tell him more than ask him.

“Si. Quatro,” he agrees.

Sherry, Luann and I cram into the back seat as I pull Keigin onto my lap again.  Tanya takes the front as she speaks the most Spanish out of us, which isn’t a lot more than the little I know.

Our knees are pushing into the front seats and we laugh as he pulls into traffic.

“Gordo.”  The driver says and laughs into the mirror at us in the back seat.

Tanya turns around to see us squeezed in.

I interject, “I know. I know.  We’re big.  Well, tall, that is.”  Sherry, Luann and I average 5’9″ and are relatively athletic and slender.

Luann Sherry Me

None of us bother with seatbelts as there isn’t an inch of room between us.  As my mother used to say, “You aren’t going anywhere if we do get in an accident.”

Tanya strings together a few sentences, asking the driver about his family and if he has children.  I translate that he has three daughters and one son.  One is a professor at the university.

I attempt to lean forward with Keigin on my lap.

“Yo soy maestra, tambien.” I try to explain that I am a teacher, also.  I don’t attempt the past tense.  Continuing in fragments of Spanish, I basically say, “Students. Children. First.  USA.”

He looks at me in the rear view mirror, smiles, and nods.

I lean back and promise myself I will continue my Rosetta Stone lessons after the trip.  Meanwhile, I will cobble together what I can while I’m here.

Sans Blood

I put my palms on the table and spread my fingers.  In between my hands sits a glass pitcher layered with a few inches of cocoa powder, honey, paprika, and soon a few drops of my blood.

“Thanks for volunteering,” Pedro says and then instructs me to lean over so my face is positioned above the container and my chin nearly rests on the rim.

My friends and I have signed up for a two-hour chocolate making and history workshop at the Choco Museum in Cusco, Peru.  I lift my chin and smile, excited to help.

“Now do this with your tongue,” he tells me in his heavy Spanish accent.  Pedro sticks out his tongue and curls the tip over his lip, then motions for me to do the same.

“I just need 12 drops of blood from under your tongue,” he adds before turning to the group.

“We are adding the blood.  We will offer this drink to the gods.  You may drink from this, but I will also make another without blood.”

My chin drops along with my smile. “Aren’t you going to just prick my finger or arm?”

“No.  It will be from your tongue. Get ready,” he says as he snaps on latex gloves.  He grabs a butcher knife and begins sharpening a wooden skewer.

“You’ve done this before,” I state more than ask as my initial enthusiasm for being the one brave enough to sacrifice blood for the Gods turns to anxiety.

“Yes.  Now close your eyes.”

I resume position, but quickly draw my tongue into my mouth along with a deep breath.  “So, you are serious?”

“Yes, now stick your tongue out again,” Pedro tells me as he sets down the knife and reaches over with the skewer.

I do as told.  The tip of the skewer touches the underside of my tongue.  I keep my eyes closed.

“Hold very still.”

I focus on my breath and let my muscles numb.  I can always pull back if it hurts.

“Are you ready?”

“Yeth,” I say as I leave my tongue curled and eyes closed.

Pedro maintains the slight pressure.  “We only need 12 drops of blood.  It will be quick.”

This doesn’t hurt.  Maybe it’s a relatively painless spot to draw blood that I never knew about.

I wait for more pressure.


Chocolate Museum 2

“Just kidding,” Pedro laughs as he pulls the skewer away.

I drop my chin and shake my head, laughing with him and my friends.

“Instead of your blood, I will add milk.”

Pedro stirs it in and serves our group the hot chocolate drink.  We clink mugs in honor of the gods.