You may not know this about me, but I love to dance. There's nothing more soul-expanding than dancing until you're pure sweat and sore feet: until you feel like you've swallowed the sun.
Although I was too young to identify it as such at the time, dance began as a therapeutic exercise when I was a child. I would be sitting in my bedroom in Nairobi, listening to Whitney Houston's 'I Want To Dance With Somebody', and instantly get up, and shimmy and shake until all my fears and anxieties evaporated like smoke for a spell.
At parties and school dances, I was the weird art kid who moved like he had taken a buttload of ecstasy, and was now merked, trying to emulate Missy Elliott and Aaliyah.
Many years later, one of my cousins told me that I used to dance like I was fighting. This was not intended as a compliment, but I took it as one. I was indeed fighting. I was fighting to express my humanity; I was fighting to suture deep psychic wounds that simply refused to heal; I was fighting for my life.
Dance became a crucial part of how I saved myself.
When I was first sectioned in a mental hospital in my late teens, the dancing suddenly stopped. It was as if the rhythm that had carried me to safety, the rhythm that had protected the most sacred part of me, had exited the room.
I stopped moving for nearly a year, bedridden like a neurasthenic Victorian dowager.
In her song, 'Salt,' Lizz Wright asks, 'How could you forget your dance/ when that dance was all you ever had?'
I found myself thinking this during the early days of the pandemic, nearly two decades since I stopped dancing.
One summer night, I put on my headphones, played Lizz Wright's entire Fellowship LP, a gorgeous collection of gospel interpretations, and I danced and danced and danced until the sweet dawn, until I was pure sweat and sore feet: until I felt like I had swallowed the sun.
This time, however, I was no longer using dance as a way to fight for my life.
I was using dance as a form of active prayer.
I was using dance as a way to give thanks.
I had survived.
Image by DIRIYE OSMAN and STEVE BRIGHT
A song to buoy the spirit: 'Salt' by LIZZ WRIGHT.