Memory and Movement

At the end of the day when we think about what we have, it’s memories.

-Thomas Keller

About a year ago, I taught a woman who was only in town for the day. She would take one lesson with me, as a fun bookend to her trip to Mexico. I started dancing with her, leading her in different movements to see if she could follow me. We were laughing and enjoying ourselves and I led her into the sweetheart position. This is one where the leader turns the woman into him holding onto both of her hands so they end up in a sort of tandem hug. When she came out of the sweetheart she looked at me with tears welling in her eyes. I wondered if I had accidentally stepped on her foot. She told me I hadn’t, that the move Iimages just led reminded her of her father. Her father who had recently passed away after a long struggle with Alzheimer’s. She told me the reason this movement had made her so emotional is because her father was an excellent dancer and he used to lead the sweetheart too. Even in the worst moments in his illness, he still would dance with her, and he would still lead that movement.

By now, I also had tears in my eyes. I was struck by how strongly dancing can resonate with people. We are told that scent is the sense with the
strongest trigger to our memory, I believe movement can have the same visceral power. Not only the power to prevent and at times even transcend mental disease, but to pull at our heart strings, to remind us of people that we love and the moments we have spent with them. As a imgres-1person who holds people for a living, who leads them and follows them, embraces them and leans on them, I can say that no two people feel the same. The sensation you get dancing with each individual varies immensely. As unique as our fingerprints. When you dance with someone for  a prolonged period of time, you become a part of each other, knowing exactly how to fit into the palm of their hand or how to mold yourself around theirs.

I recently listened to a story told by Wendy Suzuki, a neuroscientist whose father who had been diagnosed with Dementia. Right before he was diagnosed, she started a ritual with him to say “I love you” at the end of their weekly phone call. She grew up in a stoic household in which affection was hard to come by, as she puts it “the Japanese-American version of Downton Abbey,” so this was a new phrase for everyone in the family. Because of his diagnosis, she was concerned that her father would forget about the agreement they made, but every week after she proposed this ritual, her father was the one to say “I love you” first. Even when he forgot which road took him to the place he had been buying his coffee for years, even when he couldn’t remember what holiday was being celebrated, he always remembered to say those three words. And because Wendy was a neuroscientist, she knew why. Memories that hold emotional significance are more powerful and long lasting than others.

For my student and her father, this was definitely the case. And by remembering the sweetheart, he passed down an important memory to his daughter, and she shared that memory with me.

images-2This was one of the numerous instances which has reinforced my belief in the importance and the power of dancing. I have watched husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, grandfather and granddaughter, and many other combinations of people dancing together. I watch the lines on their faces curve upwards, I see cracks in relationships mend, I witness people creating memories that weather time, distance, heartbreak, and disease. And as Thomas Keller said, when it’s all said and done, those memories are what remain.


To hear the Wendy’s story click here.

To read the article quoted at the beginning of the blog click here.

To start making your own memories click here.