Dance has been a sutra, or thread, in Tao’s life.
Dance has always been a part of Tao’s life. When she was little she had a spring in her step and wanted to feel the energy in the ball of her foot. When she traveled the railroads with her uncle, she learned from different cultures.
When my uncle took me to French Somaliland, the Watusi put me on their shoulders and taught me African dance – how to swing my head around and feel the rhythm.
In Pondicherry, Tao learned bharatanatyam – a classical Indian dance with the stylized hand and eye movements. When she escaped to England from France at the start of World War II, dance led to Tao’s first job in the nightclubs and eventually made her famous in the cabarets. With limited English, dancing led to movie and television parts in Hollywood such as doing the tango with Jim Backus in I Married Joan.
Tao feels that dance feeds the Spirit like yoga.
When Tao was in New York and at a low point in her career, dance rescued her. She saw a flyer with Katherine Dunham’s name on it. Dunham had the first Black ballet troupe and was beloved in France. Tao endured an extra week at a horrible modeling job just to pay for classes with her and do flying leaps with the guys in her troupe. Dancing like that lifted Tao’s spirits and brought her back to herself.
It has to come from that inner self and then it’s like opening a bottle of champagne… it swishes around and then pops with energy. You actually feel the joy of it and the wonder that’s inside that says, “I can do it!” It’s amazing.
Similarly, yoga works from your inner self. It is an expression of Spirit.
Tao became a ballroom dancer at age 87.
One blustery winter day in 2005, Tao was waiting for her students to arrive at the Fred Astaire Dance studio where she teaches yoga. The dance teachers were also waiting for their students. None of them braved the snow to come to class. The dance teachers were doing the tango together while they waited. Tao was admiring them.
I said, “It’s wonderful to watch you. I love the music and everything. Before I die I want to go to Argentina and dance the tango.” One of the dancers said, as if trying to entice me, “Why don’t you start tonight?” So, I did.
Tao was 87 years old and she hasn’t stopped dancing since. She has won over 700 First Place Awards with dance partners that are 70 years her junior.
Tao believes that life is the dance of the Eternal Spirit.
Sometimes we weave in and out of spiritual awareness. That’s the dance – back and forth, up and down, sometimes spinning around, always looking to come back to center. That’s our journey – the search for how to be present with the wonders of life and maintain harmony of mind, body and spirit.