Dancing with Oracles

Joy. Muscle. Falling. Slow motion. Nourishing water.

These were the five oracle cards* I drew from a The Body Oracle deck created by Heidrun Hoffmann. The cards “are a playful way–physically, and mentally–to observe your life, thoughts, feelings, and movements.” While most oracles are beings (like priestesses) or places (like Delphi) to whom one goes for wisdom or prophecy, Heidrun assumes that our own bodies are oracles. Her technique helps us focus on the body in order to seek its wisdom.

Each deck has five suits representing: a life attitude, a body part, a direction, a tempo or movement, and an element with intention. Each card represents a prompt for thought or action: my attitude card is joy, my body part is muscle, and so on. As the afternoon progressed, I had opportunities to contemplate my oracles, to create gestures for them, to talk about them, to create movement in response to them. And, since each of us had our own five, we got to work with one another’s oracles as well. What a great way to get to know people.

After hellos and catching up (or meeting for the first time) and setting out drinks and snacks, and after Heidrun introduced us to her method, we began. Roberta, our favorite and most generous hostess, seated in a strong wooden chair, would not be able to dance with us (on her feet, anyway) so Heidrun suggested we warm up by using Roberta’s five oracle cards as group prompts and perform them for her.

We danced individually and as a group using a follow-the-leader method called “flocking.” Like a flock of birds, whoever is in the front leads the motion while the flock mimics her. As we played with Roberta’s oracle’s, Heidrun would occasionally call out “Flock with Lorna” and the rest of us looked to Lorna and mimicked her movements. And when we moved in reverential union with Roberta as our witness, we were transformed from relative strangers into a single, organic unit.  

We sat ourselves in a semi-circle around Roberta and Heidrun had us pull out our life attitude cards. We introduced ourselves, created a gesture to express the card we drew, and said a few words about how our attitude selection resonates with our lives. I drew “joy.” Joy and I, mind you, have had a spotty relationship: it’s never been the easiest state for me to attain. So as soon as I began to speak, I felt the weight of my economic struggle crushing me. I couldn’t speak, except to say that joy has been elusive of late. In fact, many of us spoke about big economic and personal changes in our immediate lives and how we are coping with them. It helped put everything in perspective.

We stood and began to explore through movement our whole range of oracles. I really wanted to find a way to gesture “joy” and found one: arms forward, the sternum pushes upward as the arms open side. Joy expressed as open-heartedness. I also worked with falling, in this case falling into not away from. Falling as release and acceptance rather than collapse and failure. Falling into joy.

Our final challenge was to create a choreography to show to the group working either individually or in groups. We elected to work in two groups, one with four and one with two. We used our oracles and the movements or gestures we’d found through them to create two choreographies, each of which could easily be developed into performance pieces. The group of four (me, Lorna, Sharon, and Marlene) quickly shared which of our prompts and gestures we wanted to work with, among them spirals, circles, falling, joy and endurance. As in our dance for Roberta, we expressed these independently and as a group, continually coming together and falling apart again. Sharon and Marlene cheated a little on our improvisation by including a short phrase from a chorography Marlene made for her final project at UCLA in the late 70s and in which Sharon later performed — they only met again recently through the Salon. Such is the smallness of the dance world.

The short duet by Varvara and Meg had us laughing with surprise and delight. They began with a gesture in which they both stood twiddling their thumbs and gently bobbing their heads in a mood of peacefulness. (They kinda resembled living bobble-head Hindu ascetics.) Suddenly Meg jumped away and started leaping and flailing wildly all around Varvara’s stillness. Then, Meg settled into a quiet grand plié with hands gesturing an Indian mudra…and Varvara goes off on a bender of her own. In the end, they become one tangle of arms and legs, twiddling each others thumbs. In about 10 minutes, they had created a dance with a beginning, middle and end that was meaningful and delightful.

We sat around Roberta’s coffee table (now loaded with crackers, oranges, Christmas stollen, and some Chinese New Year cookies) to share our experiences and to talk about how we dance as “women of a certain age”—we range, I think, from about 50 to nearly-ninety (that would be Roberta). We spoke about our physical limitations and how they cause us to work more economically; about knowing our true selves and about where and when we find her; and about continuing to explore different varieties of dancing.

Now, the fact that we were having this conversation after two hours of dance-making should settle any question about our commitments to dance. We still dance. It is still important. It is still a marvelous path to fulfillment and, yes, joy. So contented was I by this time that I could have sat there on that couch talking with these very wise women for many more hours. Alas, however, it was time to leave but we plan to meet again to learn about Heidrun’s Dance in Rhythm — Rhythm in Dance. Check out her website and keep on dancing.

*Oracle Cards are decks of elaborately designed, symbolically rich cards used to direct meditation and self-contemplation. Typically, an individual will draw a certain number of cards that will be interpreted according to the deck’s internal symbol system, usually outlined in a book supplied with the deck. While Tarot cards can be used for divination, Oracle cards are directed at personal change in the present.
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