“My fiancé sulked around the house this weekend after I told him I didn’t want to eat the same breakfast as he did,” my friend recounted. “He wanted bacon and eggs; I wanted a smoothie. We had to talk. I told him it’s like 5Rhythms.”
5Rhythms, a movement/dance modality, being used to neutralize a disagreement over opinions of what makes a good breakfast? How so?
Part of a 5Rhythms class is exploring moving with a partner. We’ll each be doing our own thing in, say, the rhythm of Staccato, and the instructor will tell us to find a partner. But the difference between partner work in 5Rhythms and that in other genres is that the two dancers don’t necessarily have to be on the same page. Maybe the person I pair up with is flailing every limb in double time and I’m having a good time subtly tapping my feet and bobbing my head. What happens then? Does one of us freak out? Does the instructor split us up and have us find more appropriate partners?
Of course not. We just dance. We grow to be comfortable in our differences and maybe, just maybe, find inspiration in the other’s movement, even if it’s just a certain way the partner flicks his wrist or rolls his hips. You think, “Hmm, that looks cool, let me try that.” ::tries new hip rolling thing:: “Nah, that doesn’t feel right on me.” The point is, you open your mind to some diversity, learn to live with it, and perhaps even try it out yourself. If it doesn’t feel right, then so be it.
As my instructor Richard always says while explaining the concept of partnering, “Oh, this person is smiling and having a good time, but I feel like shit. And that’s OK.” The point isn’t for the “good time” person to make the “shit” person turn into a smiling Fred Astaire, and it’s not the “shit” person’s place to drag his partner into his personal drama.
Smiling. Shit. Tango. Fox Trot. Bacon. Smoothie. Get it? Dare I say 5Rhythms is simply a moving metaphor for life?
So what my friend was trying to explain to her fiancé was that their weekend tradition of sitting down together for Sunday breakfast could still be accomplished peacefully, even if he wanted the lumberjack special and she the vegan’s liquid delight. It’s like those “Coexist” bumper stickers, except instead of a cross and Star of David theirs would have a Denny’s sign and a bundle of kale.
My friend’s story came at such an appropriate time too, because this past weekend I attended a 5Rhythms class that was heavy on partner work. Now, even though I can explain the concept of 5Rhythms partner work ever-so-eloquently, by no means am I the Princess Diana of working with others. Sometimes I’ll pair up with a tired-looking person, but I’m feeling awesome. I try my best not to be disappointed that they’re not able to match my energy levels, but yeah – it’s hard. It’s a challenge that’s better to hash out on the dance floor first, before something similar happens in real life and you flip out at someone on the subway or curse at a coworker.
At one point I was partnered with a woman whose loose and flowing dance was not at all syncing with my refined, precise movements. I acknowledged her and did my own movement, but then out of the corner of my eye I caught her doing a little foot thing…and I thought, “Hmm, maybe I want to try that foot thing too!” And I did, and I may not have copied it exactly, but what I had done was made a connection.
Later I was partnered with a woman who was just busting with energy, but after nearly 1.5 hours of dancing I was pretty exhausted and wasn’t feeling as bold as her…more balletic. Her moves made me feel guilty for taking it easy, but I had no energy! A few minutes into our dance, she passed me; we were back to back, and with that near-contact I felt a rush of energy, and suddenly I was inspired! Her one simple move was like a hit to the chest with a defibrillator, and I was shocked back into movement. From that moment on, I felt like our movement was complementary, rather than just individual steps executed simultaneously.
Then came the intense partner work. It started off simple: Stand back to back, with actual, physical contact. Feel your weight in your partner’s back. Shift weight. Then we were instructed to move to the floor, keeping in contact with each other.
At first we simply danced with our backs, me rolling into a forward bend and my partner falling back for the ride. She exhaled — a long, audible sigh that sounded like she was collapsing onto the couch after a long day at the office. When it was my turn to drape over my partner’s spine, I released the same kind of exhalation. It was very humbling for a complete stranger to be giving me such a release, and it felt both awkward and totally awesome.
We then moved on to a kind of contact improv-esque dance, the instructor telling us to now move freely, but always remaining in contact in some way with the other. He cautioned us that not every move is going to look picture-perfect and that odd moments may come up when we do something that we think might work but ends up feeling weird and stilted. But that’s normal and OK, he said. Just keep moving.
We connected with each other at the hands, the arms, back to back, hand on head, head on neck, side to side. It’s times like these when I’m glad the dance studio has no mirrors, because even though we may be curious about what we look like, what shapes we’re forming, the visual appearance of our improvisational art is most likely not as “pretty” as it feels from the inside. The process felt organic, human, inquisitive, and exploratory; to outsiders, it probably looked like two people acting like bugs, crawling all over the place.
After class, we all agreed that the partner work had actually energized us. Most people approached the practice with apprehension but then later discovered that keeping contact with another human being gave them the stamina to finish the class. Perhaps the exchange of touch also meant an exchange of prana, chi, qi — life force?
We are all different ages and races. I live in the suburbs; other classmates live in the city. My partner is a chef; I’m an editor. How nice is it that we can all be so different but still move together — maybe not at the same pace or with identical movement — but with a certain kind of harmony, without colliding?
Sounds like an occasion that calls for a toast. With that, let’s raise our glasses of green smoothie (or our plate of bacon and eggs) and enjoy this meal together!