When the world shut down almost a year ago, I faced challenges like many of you – an indefinitely paused career path as a theater performer, an unforeseen breakup, all on top of the fear and shame of being the first person I knew to have COVID-19. I felt incredibly isolated and was searching everywhere for any kind of connection when suddenly I heard…applause.
The 7 o’clock cheer for healthcare heroes.
The city seemed to give a cautious, collective exhale each night at 7 on the dot. I would climb out onto the fire escape early to touch base with a neighbor across the street I had never met, (nor would ever meet) about their day. Then, it would start like clockwork, the ‘tink’ of a metal spoon hitting the bottom of a pan, a blow horn, a speaker in a window playing “Empire State of Mind,” and an entire population of people screaming at the top of their lungs. A cheer of support, but also possibly a cathartic release of fear. I always felt slightly better immediately after that cheer. It let the fear that had been sitting on my chest since the moment I woke up escape my body from my mouth and transform into a celebration of resilience out into the sunset.
At the beginning of summer, the 7 o’clock cheer slowly diminished as people started to leave their homes. I was feeling some semblance of hope with the onset of warmer weather… when I got dumped. That trauma sat itself down right in front of my regularly scheduled program of anxiety and played on a loop in my brain for the following months. One day, I was having a phone session with my friend Stephanie when I came to realize she believed in my future more than I did. Stephanie was optimistic and bold, unafraid to express herself by dancing around her apartment with rainbow ribbons. I wondered how I too could get on her level of certitude during such a trying time. So what did I do? I joined Steph, and ordered some rainbow ribbons.
There are scientific studies that explore the positive effects of dance on the brain. Simply moving your body not only releases endorphins but can help us process emotions when we’re feeling anxious or frozen by fear or lack of control. I started to blare upbeat music and dance around my kitchen when my roommate wasn’t home. Then one day my roommate was having an equally rough day, so I made her ribbon dance with me, and to my surprise, she commented right away on how much better she felt. I was no longer alone in my absurdity.
I started anonymously sending ribbons to my friends, leaving a note sharing just how beneficial the simple act of twirling a ribbon was to my mental health. Every single one participated, even those that were skeptical played along and noticed a difference. As more and more people started posting videos of themselves ribbon dancing at home, I decided to make the movement official: “The Ribbon Club.” We started dancing together on Zoom meetings at my work, on FaceTimes with friends in completely different time zones, and creating a community on social media.
The benefits were irrefutable:
Physical release – When we are stressed, we hold tension in our bodies and hold our breath. During the 7 clock clap, New Yorkers were not only applauding their heroes, but releasing the tension they’d been holding cooped up in their homes. When we dance alone or in a safe space, we are forced to quite literally shake it off.
Presence and calmness – Nothing brings you more into the present moment like keeping your step-touches on beat with the music or twirling a perfect ribbon figure 8.
Cultivating empathy and kindness – Members of the ribbon club may be in their kitchen dancing solo, but they are far from “alone”. There are dozens of other people also ribbon dancing their hearts out. Also, one of the ‘rules’ of the “Ribbon Club” is once you have been gifted ribbons, you must pay it forward and send the joy to someone else!
So head online and purchase a $5 set of ribbons for yourself and a friend, and – welcome to the “Ribbon Club”. We’re in this together. We celebrate each other’s wins and cope with the losses. We prioritize mental health and create the headspace we need to heal, and be kind to others.