Shall we dance?

If you're thinking tango, West Coast swing or the Cajun two-step, get up and dance.

Maybe you're the belly dancing, line dancing, clogging or ballet type? Go for it! Dance your way through life.

Swaying hips, wiggling bellies and fingers snapping - dancing marries movement to music, entrancing people from Brazilian rain forests to the Kalahari Desert.

People always have danced. We dance to honor the myths of gods and goddesses, lavishing ourselves with costumes or transforming ourselves with masks. We dance to change our moods, to invoke the sacred, to experience ourselves in the magical mixture of movement and release.

We even dance to tell stories without language.

Whatever the beat, we are inclined to move our feet. And if we are hindered by self-consciousness, often a finger tapping or bouncing knee reveals that, deep within, we all are dancers at heart.

What would it mean to dance your way through life?

Begin with these

familiar lyrics: "Put your whole self in, put your whole self out, put your whole self in and shake yourself about. Do the Hokey Pokey and turn yourself around. That's what it's all about."

I can't think of a more simple philosophy for living life. The Hokey Pokey is a circle dance - no need for a partner, no worries about stepping on anyone's toes.

No one is a wallflower, and even those with two left feet can do the Hokey Pokey. Everyone can put their whole self in.

When you're putting your whole self into the dance of life, it means living your life whole-heartedly.

Do you give it all you've got or hold something back, "just in case?" Or does fear hold you back - fear of rejection? Or failure? Or criticism?

When you put your whole self in, you are willing to risk failure. You're strong enough to risk looking like a fool, brave enough to risk making a mistake.

On the other hand, putting your whole self in also means taking the risk of being exceedingly happy, radiating joy and living life to your fullest.

I remember the fun of taking salsa dance lessons some years ago. We'd dance into the wee hours of the morning at the clubs in the Mission District of San Francisco.

Looking back, I realize that putting my whole self in was exhilarating. The music, the joy and the rhythms filled me with energy like nothing else.

Learning a new dance is the same as learning anything new. You need to develop patience. You need to practice. You need to put your whole self in.

The Hokey Pokey says that you also need to put your whole self out. Just as you learn to take steps forward, you also need to appreciate the value of stepping back and retreating a bit.

That might include slowing down, letting things be, not pushing to have everything your way. It might include stepping aside and letting someone else lead.

To me, putting your whole self out includes being willing to accept the ebb and flow of all things. Life has its ups and downs, so the ins and outs are a part of accepting what is, when it is, rather than resisting.

Doing the Hokey Pokey, you also have to shake yourself about and turn yourself around - good lessons, indeed.

Shaking off doubt, fear and resentment is good for your mental health. Shaking off all those old life stories that drag you down is a skillful step that improves the joy of dancing through life.

When you find yourself telling your friend, for the umpteenth time, that your mother or your spouse is to blame for your sad life, consider shaking it off.

Instead of willfully pursuing relationships that don't work, or clinging to outmoded aspirations, turn yourself around. This simple act instantly gives you an entirely different perspective.

When you're stuck in unhealthy relationships, stuck in poor employment situations or stuck in beliefs that you've outgrown, turn in a new direction.

If you've found that you dance to a different beat, be willing to laugh. It may be that you've been dancing the same ole dance for a very long time. Acknowledge that it's time to turn yourself around.

The Hokey Pokey may not be what Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers or Michael Jackson danced, yet dancing through life is as simple and as joyful as you make it, and that's what it's all about.

Ruth Marcus has a private counseling practice in Sequim. See www.DrRuth for more information.

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