After our fifth teacher-training session on Feb. 23rd, we humbly walked out of the barbed wired gates, once again, in awe of the beauty we are feeling in such a grim place. Our four students are showing us how to dance with a freedom of expression we haven’t experienced – even at Alchemy, in our beautiful, joyful studio!

Perhaps it’s our daily trappings that cloud our view; maybe our age, entitlement, pre-tense, socio-economic status and body image issues get in the way of¬†really¬†letting go. At Denver Women’s Correctional Facility (DWCF), there is an equality in the room with these four women. They wear the same clothes, they all lost their rights; they have nothing to lose, hide or prove. As Michelle, one of the inmates said, “Like it, love it or leave it.” At the risk of romanticizing this population, these women exude a certain freedom we don’t necessarily tap into on the “outside.” Their worst nightmare has come true; they are in prison, some for a very long time. Yet, the gratitude is palpable because they know what losing their freedom means and have dropped a sense of entitlement.

As Maya Angelou wrote in, “I know Why the Caged Bird Sings:”

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

I’ve spoken to several women at Alchemy that talk about this sense of “holding back” or shyness when moving with full expression during class or throughout their life. There seems to be a limit or cap on just how much “x” is allowed despite my screaming into the mic, “Take up space!” “Be too much!” “Get it wrong!” Ironically, in our expansive, luck-filled, abundant studio, we are holding back!
The more time I spend at DWCF I realize we are playing – we are essentially playing in the hell realm. As we drove home that night we asked ourselves: “Why don’t we high five at alchemy? Encourage each other?”

Yet, when I was a student at Alchemy ten years ago, I can remember taking myself SO seriously; as I looked at myself in the mirror, I had little expression in my face or voice. I had a childhood of Ballet in my bones that I had to work through – so I understand! But, there is something else happening here around this theme of being imprisoned by abundance, choice, comparison and perfection. We on the “outside” have a lot more to lose; our image, reputation, belongings, future, accomplishments, expectations.

As Cherie Wilcox, one of our volunteers said, “There is so much love in the room…I feel more connection in prison than at Alchemy…they made me feel like I am not expressing or giving a lot of drama in my dance!” She went on: “The eye contact was so beautiful, we were looking into each other’s eyes without judgment.”

The mutuality of learning and growing takes each of us beyond all of our circumstances so we can truly ALL Dance 2B Free!