True story: My best friend Amber and I once found a dead body in the middle of the desert in New Mexico. We had driven to a dusty little town to finally see the awe-inspiring rock formation called Shiprock. It’s got a ton of cultural and religious legends surrounding it; the souls of the dead are said to live at the top of the rock. Armed with letters for lost loved ones to burn at the base of the rock and some fancy cameras we set out down a dirt road that appeared to run right into it. We stopped the car when we got close and as I was getting my camera out of the bag at my feet my best friend slammed her car door shut and started screaming ‘lock your doors!!’. I looked all around frantically while hitting my door lock until my eyes finally found a pair of legs sticking out onto the road behind us. ‘Is that a dead guy?’ I asked her? She yelled ‘I think so!!’ at me and turned the car around. I peered out the window as we passed him, holding a pillow in front of her face so she could concentrate on driving, and saw the poor guy in full view. I’ve worked in hospitals for a long time and seen plenty of corpses, but nothing prepared me for the sight of a young man so obviously murdered.
It’s a crazy story to tell now, and we’ve managed to re-tell it with a humorous spin, but at the time it was pretty traumatic. Amber had dropped her CD case out of the car in panic when she saw him and we had seen too many episodes of CSI to be leaving something of ours next to a murder scene, so we drove straight to the police station. The reporting process was awful, the police were awful, the whole damn thing was awful. We left as soon as we could, stopping only on the side of the highway to light the candle we had brought with us for the man we found, with Shiprock looming in the distance.
As selfish as it sounds, we were both really devastated at the effect it had on our trip. We felt cheated out of the experience of this place we had dreamt of visiting for so long. For the first time in our travels, we felt unsafe. After an uneasy night in a sketchy motel where we rechecked the locks about 50 times, we hopped back in the car and headed for the next bucket list item on our trip: The Grand Canyon. We were still excited to see it, but the tension in the car was palpable. We were both upset and a little sad and not any of the emotions you want to be experiencing as you finally go somewhere thrilling for the first time. After an hour or two of us staring out our respective windows, I pulled the car over. When she asked me what I was doing I ordered her out of the car. I opened all the doors, put on ‘I wanna dance with somebody’ by Whitney Houston and cranked it. I got out and said ‘Listen, I know this sh*tty thing happened to us, but we’re about to do something we’ve always dreamed of, we gotta shake it off. So we’re gonna dance it out’. So there on the side of an Arizona highway, two girls danced around like maniacs while passing motorists honked and stared at us.
I won’t say that we never thought about that awful experience again after that, but we both got back into that car feeling a little better. Dancing is cathartic and sometimes it’s exactly what you need to get through something. I’m in need of a little dancing lately. I had a bit of a telltale sign that I was stressed and due for a dance came when I cried in my dentists office the other day (and not from pain). So today I’ll be sharing my favorite songs to have a purifying dance with. The first is my new obsession, a song called ‘Dance a little closer’ by synthpop duo Holy Ghost. The bass line is so damn catchy that my shoulders and hips involuntarily start moving the second it starts. The second is a given in the theme of cleansing songs, Florence + The Machines ‘Shake it off’. I listen to that song all the time, but especially when I need reminding that things are only as big as I make them.
The third is the aforementioned ‘I wanna dance with somebody’ by Whitney. I love hearing it now and thinking of those two brave girls dancing on the side of a desert highway, not letting anything ruin their trip. Not just because of its legendary singer or great beat, but because it reminds me of the power of music. That dancing to the right song can fix just about anything. Next time you’re having a bad day, I want you to come back right here and press play. Grab your best dancing partner, or a broom or nothing at all and dance it on out.