On Dancing (Kinda)
Two days ago, while lead climbing with a friend, I felt it.
It was the second move, if you count first pulling yourself onto the starting chips as a move at all. A high, high left foot; around a corner, out and away from the rest of my body. There were two very generous jugs for my hands above, but the footholds, other than the aforementioned one, disappeared.
I grabbed the jugs. Leaned right. Threw my left foot up. And rocked onto it.
And it worked.
It didn’t look like it would. Up until the moment itself, it hadn’t felt like it would. But there I was, crouched in a deep bend, perfectly perched on my left toes, the weight of my body settled in under me. My right leg stayed balanced against the wall around the corner, and my hands were barely necessary above. It was comfortable, almost. Incredibly secure. The kind of position where logically, I should feel as if I could fall at any moment; but in my body, I could feel there was no chance of it.
I had to keep moving, but my impulse in the moment was to linger in sheer delight — just like it always is.
The first time I got on a route that involved stemming felt like real magic to me. I was smiling like an idiot and fairly sputtering by the time my belay partner lowered me from the top, and I think I did the route ten more times before the setters changed it out. The way I could tilt my weight back and forth, the way holding so much tension between some parts of me led to absolute freedom in others — I couldn’t get enough of it. It felt so strong.
I feel it anytime I’ve been talked into throwing for a move I’m sure I won’t land, and I go for it anyway, and my fingers… stick. There’s a gasp, and there’s wonder, and sometimes I actually laugh out loud; because I didn’t know my body could do that, but apparently it can, and that’s incredible, and I’m holding myself onto a vertical wall with a truly dumb small piece of plastic, and physics are amazing.
I felt it the first time I twisted and locked myself into place with a drop knee without having to think about it first. Same with flagging. Or when I punch up to a reachy hold; when I mantle, when I cross my feet over themselves or switch them cleanly. Whenever, like that first move I mentioned, I find a way to sit low on my heels, secure as anything, even 50 feet high on a wall.
I never did gymnastics growing up, or dance — unless you count a class my mom enrolled me in when I was three, and promptly pulled me from after overhearing me loudly inform the teacher that it was boring. The sports I played from there on out required speed, endurance, or strength; but never grace.
And honestly, as three-year-old-me said, it never interested me much. My sister danced for years, beautifully; but I remember sitting through her recitals and thinking, “I still don’t get the draw.”
Now, in climbing, I do.
I’ve felt my body be strong before, but I’ve never felt it be graceful. I’ve never needed to control, coordinate, and balance the way getting up a route requires; and there’s some giddy beginner’s magic, for me, in feeling and learning how a shift of the hips or a full-bodied lean or delicate toe turn make what felt like an impossible move just before suddenly, totally doable. And the more automatic that movement gets, the more amazed I become. I get it now. There’s nothing like it. I’m greedy for it every time I tie in or chalk up.
I don’t climb anything that difficult, especially not on lead. But I’ve learned that, for me, the grade really isn’t the point. Every time I’m on the wall, no matter what route, I have the chance to explore that movement, that feeling, and get to know this body I’ve been given in a different way. Elegance isn’t something that I ever thought existed in my own skin and bones; and sweaty and chalk-covered in a gym probably isn’t the first place you’d think I’d find it. But it’s there, and it’s beautiful, and it’s really, really fun.
I still can’t dance to save my life, but when I hit a rhythm on a route, it feels all the same to me. It might be my favorite part of the sport, and I hope I never lose that wonder for it. It’s just too much fun. Next time you see me on a route and I’m smiling to myself like a crazy person, just know that no matter how basic the move looked to you, it was new to me; and I’m amazed all over again.