When I first began seriously practicing 5Rhythms and similar movement meditation modalities three years ago, I was very hesitant to break out of my little bubble and make eye contact with others, let alone reach out and hold hands with a stranger. It’s funny, because I had no problem getting into booty-shaking dance-offs with bar-goers at my favorite club, yet for some reason the notion of standing face-to-face with someone during a Lyrical song created all kinds of anxiety. It took several months before my eyes could lift away from the floor and into another’s pupils, and maybe even longer before I was ready to openly accept and initiate any kind of tactile intimacy.
At first, 5Rhythms was just about “the dance” to me. Dancing freely to a variety of music was what I did in my living room, and now I had found an alcohol-free, unsleazy and safe place to do it, with a DJ on hand and classmates who didn’t care about my crazy moves. But over time, more emotions began to crop up during the practice, protective layers were peeled from my heart and solar plexus, and I gradually began to realize that the 5Rhythms its ilk weren’t just about moving—they were about being moved. Quality music was an essential part of that equation, but more important were the people who came along with me for the ride.
I’ve been in many partnerships since then, some lasting 30 seconds, some over 5 minutes, and some a regular occurrence with each class. Some relationships are sweet and tender, others ferocious and feral. But each person who crosses my path touches my heart, and our sharing—however brief it may be—helps me understand myself just a little more.
That said, on this Valentine’s Day—this Hallmark-inspired love-fest—I’d like to highlight some of my most memorable dance partnerships. I’ve looked into the eyes of so many individuals since beginning this journey, but these are the one-on-one moments that have made a significant impression on my heart.
1. The ferocious wildcat-zombie explosion with Lauren. This sudden meet-up on the dance floor was so beyond the flowing waves-and-shoreline dance Lauren and I had shared back in August. This time, we were at Michael Molin-Skelton‘s workshop in Philadelphia, emotions running high after three days of work. We crossed paths as we paced in the center of the room, and, like hungry jaguars, the two of us just attacked each other without warning. Our eyes were glowing like demons, our teeth were bared, we screamed in each other’s faces, grabbed shoulders, and pulled ourselves down to the floor like vicious zombies. It was intense but exciting, two wildcats needing to release their energy.
2. “Slow Like Honey” Lyrical with Stavros. I had been dancing with Stavros for some time but never really allowed myself to surrender to a partnership with him. Fiona Apple’s sultry song finally opened me up, and there was twirling, slithering, crawling, clawing, and grasping. At one point, my feet nearly left the ground, clinging onto his shirt as he spun me around and around. This was a big moment for me, creating a huge shift in the way I dance with and trust others.
3. Revealer/Responder dance with Genevieve. I was paired with this French-Canadian woman during Amara Pagano‘s Fire of Love workshop in September. Amara prompted one of us to dance out a problem/obstacle in our current life (reveal) as the other responded by offering movement-based motivation. Our partnership was such a rich conversation of fear, empathy, support, and encouragement. We had never met before, didn’t even know each other’s name, but Genevieve felt like my BFF after those few moments, like we had just read our diaries to each other and promised not to tell anyone else what we had heard.
4. Active/Passive Theatrics with Laura. I went to my first Group Motion class earlier this month and had the pleasure of pairing up with Laura, who also happens to be a Group Motion facilitator on the Main Line. At times more theatrical than dance, our partnership involved silly faces, vaudeville-esque movement, and the most intimate understanding of the subtlest of gestures. By the end, I felt like we had re-enacted a soap opera, circus, and reality TV show all in a matter of minutes. Laura couldn’t believe it was my first time at Group Motion; I couldn’t believe I had so much fun!
5. Occupying my body with Lana. With each change of the season, Lana, one of the Philadelphia 5Rhythms tribeholders, has been leading the yoga portion of an event called Occupy Your Body. Following the yoga comes a 5Rhythms class. As summer turned to fall, Lana and I got entangled in a luscious dance that had us rolling all over the floor and in each other’s hair, like, well, hungry lovers. It went on and on and on, and I never grew tired of her! The whole thing was so dream-like and luxurious, like we were honey and butter running together on a slice of toast.
6. Eye gazing with Rhonda. My connection with the owner of Yoga for Living, who hosts a monthly 5Rhythms class, had been growing stronger by the month, but on this night during Stillness it truly came through during the dance: We linked hands and arms, leaned on each other for support, rolled on the floor together, held the weight of the other’s skulls in our hands, ran fingers through hair. It required a lot of trust and a huge opening of the heart. To end class, we stayed together for an eye-gazing meditation, in which each person stares into the other’s left eye. This was the Stillness to end all Stillnesses, because, really, what act is simultaneously so still yet so moving? After class, we were both a bit weepy. Also, the moment Rhonda nestled up to me in a spooning position after a recent YogaDance class with Nikki was just as memorable.
7. I’m-Not-Sure-What’s-Going-On-But-It-Feels-Otherworldy dance with Michelle. I first met Michelle during a Biodanza class in Philadelphia. We had a great connection, and since then have really supported each other on the dance floor. During a recent workshop with Lucia Horan and Douglas Drummond, Michelle and I crossed paths briefly, I began to drift away, and Michelle pleaded, “Don’t you go anywhere. I need you.” Her energy was waning, and she knew I’d recharge her spirits. We met again during Stillness and proceeded to sink deep into one of the wildest trances I’ve ever been in. Our eyes stayed locked on each other, and I swear we were both speaking tongues, the lightest of touches creating a ripple of energy through our bodies. We were communicating like animals: crawling, sniffing, cooing and humming. At one point, I had an intuitive urge to cradle the back of her head and lie her down on the floor ever-so-slowly. Lucia said later the interaction had brought her to tears. The whole thing really can’t be described properly in words; all I know is that the energy Michelle and I share is out of this world.
8. Storming with Johanna. Another workshop with Lucia and Douglas had Johanna and I partnered up to dance out the Chaos roles of “eye of the storm” and “the storm.” I see a lot of myself in Johanna (and from what she’s shared, she sees some of herself in me); put us together, and we’re Hurricane Johannifer. We both can be very “pretty” dancers, but we also have high-voltage moments of Chaos. I felt honored to let loose in her presence.
9. Septuagenarian Stillness with Phil. When Phil, the Philadelphia 5Rhythms tribeholder who—for months—worked tirelessly to get me to make eye contact with him, turned 70, he organized one hell of a birthday bash to take place after Amara Pagano’s Fire of Love workshop. Wanting to make a public statement about how deeply dance has become part of his life, he reached out to the dancers with whom he’s connected the most, creating a personalized Wave for others to witness. Phil and I have partnered for every rhythm at one point or another, but it’s during the final rhythm that our energies align in the most mysterious of ways; therefore, he chose me to dance Stillness with him. Having heard our selected music separately but never together, I was curious how things would unfold, especially in front of an audience, which is normally not the case. What we learned that night was that once we made and sustained eye contact (which is no longer an issue!), the “conversation” would be poignant and effortless. We received several touching comments from our classmates afterward; one woman said she wanted to go home and write a poem about the dance—she was that moved. Being Phil’s partner that night was the best birthday gift I could offer; I hope he’s around when I turn 50 so I can ask him to do the same for my milestone birthday!
10. Crushing leaves with Mia. At Michael Molin-Skelton’s workshop, our group was divided into two: one to dance, one to witness. So there I was, at the front of the room, minding my own business dancing out fear or doubt or somethingorother, when suddenly I spin around on the floor and lock eyes with Mia—POW! In that instant, just one second of our “windows of our souls” meeting for the first time, we became partners telling a story of betrayal? Lost love? Jealousy? Heck, I don’t know what story we were telling, but we were rolling all over the place and taking the dried autumn leaves that Michael had scattered on the floor and smashing them in each other’s palms. Our movements were executed purely by energetic awareness; at times we had come very close to crashing into each other but always intuitively knew when to shift positions. Afterward, the classmates who had been witnessing us asked if (a) we knew each other, and (b) if we had choreographed that dance. The most amazing thing was that I had only just met Mia, and everything was 100% improvised. In my 3 years of conscious dancing, that was perhaps the most thrilling and chilling spontaneous movement ever.
11. Floating in Flowing with Phil and Rand. OK, so this partnership is actually a threesome, but whenever I think back to this moment, my body still carries the light-as-air quality from that exchange. It was a regular Waves class with Peter Fodera; my Stillness partnership with Rand had ended with me shifting backward and leaning over into Phil, who I didn’t know was right behind me. The music transitioned right into Flowing again—“Rosasolis,” a delightful buoyant song of strings and piano that had me floating lyrically between the two men, my body feeling like a wispy dandelion seed dancing in a summer breeze. I was also in a bit of a hypnotic state, and my body completely surrendered to the music. Joy, ecstasy, boundless happiness… what a wonderful trio we were.
12. Touching Tanya. Tanya was a woman I was paired up with for a few minutes during the Slow Dancing with Chaos workshop in New York. I don’t remember what rhythm we were in, but I could tell she had a sense of playfulness and adventure about her; however, it was evident she had some kind of medical condition, and I was initially a bit reluctant to initiate contact. Good thing that reservation lasted only seconds, though, because soon enough we were romping and rocking around, a “conversation” that went back and forth between silliness and sensitivity. I think we were both a bit taken aback at the wordless connection that had developed in those few minutes. Before we parted, we embraced, Tanya sharing that that was one of the best dances she’s experienced. Me too, Tanya! For the remainder of the workshop, every time we saw each other I had a sense of gratitude wash over me.
13. Being a Wild Woman with Someone Who’s Scared Shitless. During the first night of Michael Molin-Skelton’s workshop this past fall, I was partnered with a short older Asian woman whose name I’m unfortunately totally going to butcher (it sounded like “Gua-lin”). The instruction was for one of us to dance our hearts out as the other stood off to the side and simply witnessed, pouring all of our love and attention into our partner’s dance. We rotated back and forth in these roles. Gualin was one rockin’ little lady, and her occasional tongue clicks and eyes-closed smiles were adorable and infectious. Michael then had us sit down with this partner for a bit of an “interview” session during which we repeated the same prompt over and over: “Gualin, tell me who you are.” The point of the exercise is to get the person to move past all the superficial crap (“I’m an editor,” “I’m a 32-year-old blogger”) and down to the meaty stuff that matters. I treasured every word that Gualin shared with me—so much disclosure for someone I had just met. We were then asked to introduce our partner to the group using the phrase that stood out most during our interviews. Gualin was “scared shitless.” I was “a wild woman.” I didn’t see Gualin again until a workshop just a few weeks ago, but I was overjoyed to see my scared shitless friend!
14. Revival with Chad. I was in such a funk on the final day of Michael Molin-Skelton’s workshop. We had all started sitting around the perimeter of the dance studio, and as people felt so inclined, they stood up and began to move. The point was to begin moving when you felt moved, to be very intentional about when you stood up. I lingered on the outskirts for some time. People were hopping and bopping, and I just didn’t get it. I was actually beginning to get pissed that others were feeling something amazing and I wasn’t. I was off in my own little world when suddenly Chad, a dancer from Virginia, appeared in front of me. I was sitting, and I looked up at him, initially thinking, “OK, I’ll wiggle around a little here on the floor, and then you go on your way, please.” The thing was, Chad lingered. It felt like he wasn’t giving up on me, like he was dancing not just for his own benefit but for ours. It was magic. He reached his hand out and pulled me off the floor; we found a free space at the edge of the room and busted some moves. My mood changed in milliseconds; it reminded me of when Michelle (#7 from above) begged me to stay with her because she needed me. I guess I really needed Chad at that moment.
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What I find so exciting about this practice is that each time I say to myself “That was the best dance ever,” there’s always something more amazing that proceeds it. It was difficult to narrow this list down to 14, and I’ve only been doing this for three years. What will I be able to gush about 10 years from now? 20?
May my memory be stuffed like a hope chest with hundreds of love letters to all of the partners who have crossed my dancing path.