I found some inspiration on a recent trip to Asheville, NC.
Was it Pisgah National Forest, the French Broad River or one of many brewers and thoughtful stewards of nature located in the area? Was it the coziness of downtown Asheville? Was it Leon Theremin and Robert Moog? While all of these provide a vast arsenal of creative ammunition and a solid foundation to cultivate inspiration, I found my inspiration through my two youngest sons, Keller (6) and Myer (3).
On the last day of a three day visit, my six-ring circus was meandering through the artful sidewalks of downtown Asheville. We were on a mission. One that backed up an earlier promise to our kids to check out a chocolate shop and satiate some extremely sweet teeth. As we crossed into Pack Square Park, we could feel an energy of dance music. We turned our heads to find a small group gathering underneath the trees in the park to watch a freestyle dance performance that generated vivid flashbacks of parachute pants, boom boxes and cardboard dance floors. There were five or six different dancers that flowed seamlessly on and off the dance floor in a pure and carefree expression of art. We watched for a few minutes until the not-so-silent majority noticed that we were not yet eating chocolate.
As we began to leave, Keller stopped me and told me that he wanted to dance, but he would only do it if his brother, Merritt (9) would do it with him. Merritt had his sights set on dessert and wasn’t about to let breakdancing in the park get in the way. Keller looked to me and asked if I would dance with him. Intrigued with the random nature of his request, I said that I would absolutely jump in with him after the visit to the chocolate shop.
So, off we went to grab some dessert. After realizing that standing in a Disney-esque queue for artisan sipping chocolate wasn’t an appropriate activity for a three year old and a six year old, we left my two oldest and my wife in line and returned to the park.
Myer, Keller and I secured a spot on the curb to watch the dancers. Each dancer would freestyle for about a minute or two, then jump out to let another one in. These guys had total control over their bodies and were in perfect union with whatever random piece of music popped up. One dancer began to maneuver off the mat, and before I knew it, Myer was front and center on the dance floor exploring the rhythmic connection between his four limbs and the 80Hz-100Hz boom that was emanating out of the speaker. You could almost hear the synapses jumping the gaps between what he observed and what he was trying to emulate. One of the dancers started showing him some moves, to which he repeated almost exactly. After a few passes through his newly acquired moves, he eased off the floor just as the other dancers had.
After a short pause, Keller strutted past me and on to the cardboard dance floor. He worked through a series of well-timed movements that increased in complexity as the collection developed. It was almost like he had this routine in his brain already and was just now releasing it to the world. Not once did I see him pause to think of what to do next. He was in a pure flow state. The other dancers began responding with affirming gestures and the crowd that had gathered began to cheer. With the confidence of a well-rehearsed performer, Keller spun around and concluded his performance with two steps off the mat toward my spot on the curb.
After a brief internal negotiation with my tear ducts, I told Keller and Myer how proud I was of them. Keller immediately began to break down his routine as an NFL quarterback looks at game film on Tuesday morning. He carefully noted that he needed to work on developing his left side, while talking through some of the new moves that he wanted to try next time. I just smiled and listened intently. While his fearless approach to creative expression was age appropriate, his self-awareness and thoughtful post-performance analysis were well beyond his years.
This experience got me thinking …
Why is it so hard for adults to dance in the park?
Throughout history, fear has served humans fairly well. Our reactions to potential dangers are fueled by cortisol, adrenaline, increased breathing and heart rate, which are all piloted by the prefrontal cortex. These physical manifestations of fear are the framework of our survival strategy, which helped us stay out of the digestive tracts of sabertooth tigers. Today, the same biological response still applies, but we aren’t running away from sabertooth tigers. While beneficial in life-threatening situations, fear can limit the actual experience of living.
Lack of confidence.
I’ll look silly.
What will my friends think?
What if I mess up and fall on my face?
What if people laugh at me?
What if everyone makes fun of me?
Who cares … What does your heart say?
If it says, jump into a freestyle dance session in the middle of a park full of strangers and dance your ass off, DO IT. It will make your soul sing. If we all approached the world with the same fearless curiosity that children do, things could get really interesting.
If you need some inspiration …
Links to Asheville Fun: