On Sunday night, in a light rain, I took a public bicycle, rode across a large old bridge as the sun was setting, farther into an unknown neighborhood than I had been before. I followed the blue dot on my phone to the Street of the Brave, parked the bike in an official port, and took a light little black drawstring bag with me down the dark street. For the last ten years, I have known where to go and mostly what to do on nights like this. It doesn’t matter the language or the setting or the smells. Lipstick helps, a bottle of water is important to remember, and much bravery as a woman alone. But once I enter the stuffy room (so many bodies), I pretty much know where to sit, how to make eye contact and when to smile. I don’t need to speak the language or even know any locals and after a few hours, when my heart is singing or sobbing, I quietly take my leave, put on my street shoes and head back out into the dark night. I don’t need to say goodbye to anyone or even tell them why I am going. Sometimes I meet people and learn their names, especially if they are terrible, I need to remember the terrible ones for the future. But when the moment is exultant, the music and us just floating in a time warp, I don’t introduce myself and we may never speak.
When I first came to Toulouse, on a sunny day, I took a little pair of shorts and went to a different sort of place. This one is also full of bodies and our codes aren’t in Spanish but in Sanskrit. I don’t need to speak the language or know anyone here either. I find the dressing room, find a mat, find the teacher and introduce myself and I am home. Here in Toulouse I will take a blue bolster, not a yellow one, and line my mat up about 15 centimeters from the next one. In Manhattan I take no bolsters and just two blankets. In Buenos Aires we stayed after and drank tea. The only language I need to know for what comes next is about 100 Sanskrit words. At the end, we all squeeze into tiny dressing rooms and try not to elbow each other as we change, our bodies at ease after an hour or two together.
When I travel alone as a woman, I go to these two places. I know the codes, the names to drop, di Sarli or Abhijata, the speed with which to move across the room, quickly to get a brick, cautiously to enter the line of dance, and maybe, in these places, I have gone nowhere. I think of this as traveling/not-traveling like the effortful/effortlessness that we cultivate in both tango and yoga. I am here, with you, completely present in this moment because I know how to get in the door, what to chant, what to look for, what it means when we get out the chairs, because I have been going through these same rituals for ten or twenty-five years.
I do not belong to any church or congregation but I imagine there is a similar homecoming while abroad if you can find your common believers, sing with them, share greetings with them.
We leave home to displace ourselves and we follow rituals to return home to ourselves, to our forebears, to our younger selves, to our lighter selves, to our stiffer selves. When I dance a beautiful tanda, I feel in love with humanity. When I climb up on the ropes and drop into a hanging Ustrasana I remember who I am in this body. These woven ephemeral strips and straps of meaning hold me and carry me even as I move across my ages and the places I will live.