How a daily Zoom dance party keeps this Toronto mom from losing it in lockdown

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“After dancing, the world looks brighter to me”: How a daily Zoom dance party keeps this Toronto mom from losing it in lockdown

Rebekah Blok, a mom who works in the environmental protection field, was overwhelmed by the competing demands of home and work during quarantine. The solution? A daily morning dance party on Zoom where she could shake out all her stress.

As told to Isabel B. Slone

“Around three years ago, I started attending a weekly barefoot dance night at Dovercourt House called the Move, where 100 people would take off their shoes and dance in a non-judgmental space. It was very much a dance-like-no-one’s-watching kind of atmosphere. Some people sat on a bench and swayed their bodies, while others skipped, leapt and flew around the room. Some people shook like they’d been possessed by spirits. It was all about having the freedom to be yourself and move your body how you wanted.

“I started going tentatively at first. Then I gained more confidence in my movements and began going every week until it was an essential part of my life. I have two small children, ages 10 and four, and I spend lots of time running after them. I also work as a risk-assessment coordinator in the environmental protection field. I’ve worked so hard to try and find balance in my life, and the dance party was a huge part of that. It was my happy place. 

“When Covid hit, it felt like everything was falling apart. I’m an introvert, and I enjoy life most when I have significant time alone, away from my family. But during quarantine, it was challenging to carve out time for solitude and rest when the house was always full of people—especially little people who wanted something from me. My husband and I were both working from home (he’s a psychotherapist), so early on we created a schedule that allowed us to be on- and off-duty with the kids. I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’m not going to let this take me out.’

“In March, a DJ from Dovercourt House invited me to a 45-minute Zoom dance event called Rise and Shine Shake, which takes place every weekday at 9 a.m. I’d gone to a few virtual dance events and found them too anonymous. But this event clicked for me: it was inspiring and infectious to see everyone dancing through my screen. It became a regular part of my routine. Usually, I’d dance in my living room; in the summer, I’d put on headphones, stick my phone in my pocket and go dance in the backyard. Sometimes my kids even joined me.

“Every dance party starts with a warm-up set to low-tempo, ambient music; the DJ might invite you to shake your way through your body, starting at your head and moving all the way down to your feet. Then the music builds and everyone is able to move at their own pace. The DJs play world music, disco, oldies—the only requirement is: can you shake to it? Some of the crowd-pleasers have been Great Big Sea’s ‘End of the World,’ Tracy Chapman’s ‘Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution’ and Katy Perry’s ‘Roar.’

“Some people are jamming and jumping. Others sit in their chairs and jiggle. Sometimes I’ve got big energy and other times I get in touch with my feelings. There have been a few occasions where I’ve actually cried—the movement in my body seems to shake the tears loose. I’ve cried from loneliness after hearing a song lyric about being touched. I’ve cried about racism and division in the wake of George Floyd’s murder.

“I’ve gone through life trying to hold it all together and be solid for my kids. As a result, I start to hold things in without even realizing it, until I feel kind of numb and distant from everyone I love. When I shake my body, my emotions rise up to the surface. I can release the tension I’ve been holding. After I’m done crying, I feel lighter. My dancing becomes joyful. And then I can look at my kids and notice that they’re cute again.

“The dancing has a tangible impact on my mood. One recent morning, I woke up feeling protective and prickly, like I was wearing a suit of armour. When I started to dance, I was able to tune into my body. By the time I finished dancing, it felt like my armour had fallen away. I felt much lighter and was really happy to be a part of the closing circle and hear other people share their stories. 

“At the end of the 45-minute dance party, there’s a sharing session where we all check in with each other and let the group know how we’re doing. One woman had a bike accident recently and talked about how great it was to dance and move the stiffness out of her body. Recently I shared a story about a dear friend whose mental health was starting to crack, and they were leaning on me. I said I was scared and unsure how to support them. The group helped me figure out what I can give and what I can’t. Another person reached out to me afterward to make sure I was doing okay.

“As a mom, it’s important for me to have something in my life that I’m just doing for myself. It helps me teach my kids that boundaries are important. Sometimes that means going into a different room, shutting the door, and saying, ‘No one is allowed in until Mom is done dancing.’   

“I love that the dance party happens at 9 a.m., because I’m able to schedule my work day around it. My days are often spent looking through dense environmental reports or talking with consultants. I’m online every morning at 8 a.m., then I take a break to go dance, and then I’m back online by 10. When I return,  I feel more awake, juicier and more creative. The world looks brighter to me. I feel more ready to meet the day, whether that involves work or childcare or being there for my friends. This pandemic is a marathon. But taking the time to dance every day feels like hitting a reset button. I’m able to start each day fresh.”