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How I danced my way through the pandemic

I teamed up with friends and family for the ‘Lockdown Boogie’ project, and sometimes I danced solo. Dancing provided comfort and sanity during a tough time

My little partner and I moved to music on video calls. (Reem Khokhar)
My little partner and I moved to music on video calls. (Reem Khokhar)

My social media feed over the last year in lockdown and isolation is a jumbled flurry of activity. I upgraded my basic cooking skills, pictures of matar paneer and mushroom quiche jostling for attention; wrote copiously on various subjects for work; spent quality time with my dogs who now bolt rapidly if I try to photograph them; and learned to do a decent running man. The latter is a dubious skill, but it is just one of the many moves that have filled my timeline, on social media and otherwise. I have literally danced through the last year. Through the monotony and uncertainty of pandemic life, this has remained constant. Dancing in the virtual company of others or solo has provided me comfort and sanity, among other benefits, during this bizarre year.

In the beginning

It all started just before lockdown. While visiting my 11-year-old niece in February 2020, we decided to choreograph a dance routine to break the monotony of being stuck at home when her school closed. We recorded and shared the video, enjoying our collaboration. Our visits stopped during lockdown, but we continued through video chats, practicing together every evening. In the middle of cooking, cleaning, work and online schooling, our evening ritual stayed constant. After learning the routine, we would film it separately and then merge the videos.

Our ‘Lockdown Boogie’ project extended through 2020 with 15 routines, ranging from disco, pop, Bollywood to classic musicals. As the year wore on, I began to dance with friends, all of us spread across India. I also began to dance alone, buying a hula hoop and learning through online tutorials, working through my frustration to make considerable progress. As the Facebook and Instagram algorithm figured out my love for the boogie, a variety of dance videos began to appear on my feed, which prompted me to mix it up with different styles, occasionally dabbling in some shuffling, a burlesque routine or some hip hop. And just like that, the lockdown anniversary has coincided my dance-versary.

Connected while apart

In a year of distancing, I bonded with my family and friends through dance. Connecting meaningfully over a shared project with my niece was not just fun, but therapeutic. Her enthusiasm and sense of humour kept me motivated and grounded during an endless blur of time. Discussing steps, laughing at each other’s comical moves, sweating profusely while we leapt around our living rooms and planning music and choreography were an integral part of our pandemic routine, the whole family getting involved. Our collaboration extended beyond lockdown and though schedules are busier, we always make time to dance together when we meet, even if just for a short while. It is liberating to dance with a child and this shedding of inhibitions helped later when dancing with adult friends in a virtual workout or choreographed routine where we could let some steam off together.

Reem Khokhar shakes a leg with her niece.
Reem Khokhar shakes a leg with her niece.

An anchor amid uncertainty

It has been a year of “What If’s”. The flow of work was uncertain, the fear of the virus was constant and this phase in isolation seemed endless. But in dance there was comfort and certainty. Initially motivated by my little partner, dancing soon became a habit. Making time for it every evening, even if just ten minutes, leaves me feeling uplifted and positive. While learning choreography or concentrating on where the hula hoop connects with my hip bone, all my thoughts are blocked in a single-minded focus. There is a solidity and comfort in returning to this space every day. Often when overwhelmed or stressed, my thoughts turn to dancing. Like when I tried doing complete shuffling routines without taking the time to learn the basics, those sessions ended in disaster. Much like dancing, coping with pandemic life or life in general requires breaking things down and taking it one step at a time.

Are we there yet?

It’s easy to lose motivation after the initial enthusiasm of starting something new. With dance, it was social media that has truly been a blessing. Even in isolation, there was always access to new content, video tutorials, online classes and no dearth of inspiration. When I picked up a hula hoop, I felt an immediate frustration in trying to control a prop that refused to agree with me even though I was following all the instructions. Different from my usually choreographed routines in the company of others, I had to figure out an individual rhythm and pace. I felt the same exasperation when I learned a new style, like shuffling, where my brain didn’t seem wired to process the speed and combinations. But this year gave me the time and space to keep going. I had nowhere else to be. And bit by bit, I progressed. This slow learning instilled a patience that is useful in these unprecedented times where you cannot rush a pandemic.

Levity and privilege

It seems frivolous to prance around when the world is in chaos. But this frivolity is a constant reminder of my privilege. I have had work, shelter, food, family and health at a time where so many have struggled for not one, but all of these. Other than a bit of boredom, there have been no difficulties. Each sashay, pirouette, split or shimmy is a reminder of this. The time spent dancing with family and friends is a privilege, when so many who are fighting this virus barely get time with their loved ones. This is an indulgence, which many cannot afford at this time, grave responsibilities and concerns leaving them little time for themselves.

Self-love and appreciation

Carving out “me-time” for an activity that gives you joy, comfort, escape or an outlet to vent, is essential, in a pandemic and otherwise. I have learned to be less inhibited and celebrate each step learned and each routine created. I appreciate my mind and body better, ecstatic in each achievement, like when I kept my hoop spinning for over a minute or while taking my first awkward baby steps while it circled my waist. Finding joy in each progression, however small, makes you realize that there is always something to celebrate, even in the year that was.

Reem Khokhar is a Delhi-based writer.

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