THIS IS ONE WAY TO DANCE by Sejal Shah

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I just loved this generous book. Generous, yes, this is the word that insisted itself as I read this collection of essays. Sejal Shah is a writer of startling insight and lyric prose and these essays, written over the course of two decades, show us a writer deepening her craft and her understanding of self. They are both personal and universal. What a gift! I felt like I was looking in a window, no, out a window, a window thrown open onto a life both unknown to me and familiar. How cool is that? I smiled and laughed, learned, nodded in recognition and, across the last couple of essays, found tears streaming down my cheeks. Here are a few tasty morsels.

Writing about memorizing verses from the Bhagavad Gita in Sanskrit, with her grandfather, she writes – The cadence of this language that I do not speak in, do not think in, do not even understand, and which belongs to a culture that is mine, but not fully mine is part of what made me interested in language.

And this, which encapsulates something I have felt but never been quite able to articulate – I think many of us travel for the same reason — to feel the edges of ourselves simultaneously sharpened and blurred.

And, how gorgeous is this – During that year in Iowa, I felt free, felt the flat edges of the world curl up against my fingers, pressed myself into the earth and felt, for a moment, held. Far from the ballast of family and familiar places, far from everywhere I had lived previously, I felt weightless, unanchored by the past. First it was startling, depressing. Then, I found my footing, finding the familiar in the unfamiliar.

Shah writes about belonging/not belonging, about family, about finding our places, about home/wandering. She writes about her experience growing up a brown girl/woman in a white world, deepening my visceral understanding. As a very white (i.e. redhaired) woman, these are experiences I did not share, cannot really know, but Sejal Shah brought them into sharp relief for me and I thank her for that.

And a lovely bonus, as I read the lengthy acknowledgements, I found that she and I shared a dance teacher, Daphne Lowell, who I remember with such fondness. Daphne taught me much about myself, as a dancer and as a human being. : )

7 comments on “THIS IS ONE WAY TO DANCE by Sejal Shah”

  1. Oh, and one more thing. The collection opens with a poem, closes with a poem masquerading as an essay and, I gotta say, I really want to read more of her poetry!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. JNaz, finding notification of a new post about a book, or I should say about anything, from you in my inbox always promises an absorbing read. You do such justice to an author’s work with the depth of your engagement. Love “the cadence of this language I do not speak in…”

    Liked by 2 people

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