Before I knew about 5Rhythms, I was desperate for a dancing outlet, a place where I could go for a few hours, let my hair down, and just dance, dance, dance without the need to impress, attract, or provoke. Even back in my high school days, there were some Friday nights–when the rest of my friends were at the movies or out playing laser tag–I’d stay at home, put on Q102’s live dance party broadcast, and just sweat it up in my living room. Similar at-home (or in-dorm) dance parties continued into college, and then into real-world time. The scene was usually this: husband sitting in the den, engrossed in some kind of laptop program; me in the adjacent living room, flying around, clawing at the floor, frantically changing CDs on the stereo when my sudden desire for Coldplay usurped the trance music I was currently engaged in.

A few years ago, I found a bar/club nearby that hosted dance parties on Friday nights. I was intrigued and open to the idea–there was a dance floor, ladies got in for free before 10, being in New Jersey it was non-smoking, and there was no drink requirement. The music went till 3 a.m. (although the latest I ever stayed was 1:45). I began to go to the bar on a regular basis, sometimes with friends, sometimes on my own. I became one of the “regulars,” and upon my arrival each week, I’d get high-fives and massive sweaty hugs from the old-timers who always stole the show with their flashy and perfectly choreographed moves. I soaked up the energy around me, dancing the night away under strobe lights and exchanging moves with other dancers. The club was known for its diverse clientele: people with rhythm, people without; old men, 20-something boys; giggling girls at a bachelorette party, older woman trying to do ballroom dance, so I rarely felt like anything I did would be strange. It was exhilarating, and the process of getting into that state of ecstasy was wild: I’d start with some really basic movement, close my eyes, and let the music direct my body as to how it should respond next. The movement just springs up on me, a little here, a little there, and then BAM! I’m gone. It was like driving along a bunch a back roads at 25 mph for several minutes and then suddenly coming upon the highway and being permitted to crank up the speed to 70, windows down, radio blasting.

As time went on, however, the novelty wore off and the true nature of nightclubs/bars came through. I’d have to leave early some nights because I was being harassed by drunk guys who thought that my dancing with them equaled some kind of commitment. I got tired of men’s crotches being thrust in my face as I was trying to flow on my own. People spilled beer on the dance floor; creeps stood in the darkened corners of the room, staring at the women. Guys didn’t understand the concept of wanting to dance by myself and took my alone-ness as a secret desire to hook up. One time I was exchanging some awesome moves with a girl who could really dance, but when a guy broke between us, she fumed off the floor; later I found out she was a lesbian and was trying to come onto me. Some nights the crowds were so big that I could hardly move, and my dance was reduced to nothing more than shaking hips and a bobbing head, even though my body craved for expansion.

I’ve had no desire to return to the bar scene since starting 5Rhythms a year ago, which, coincidentally, are held on Friday nights. After my first 2-hour class, I knew this was what I had been looking for all along. A space to move uninhibitedly; a floor on which I could skip, twirl, or slide; people who are drunk on liberation and happiness; no dark corners in which creepsters could hide and stare.

This past Friday, as I was driving home from my monthly 5Rhythms class, I turned on the radio and Daft Punk’s “One More Time” sounded through my car, a song that played every.single.Friday at the club as though it were the official soundtrack (In fact, the radio station was broadcasting live from that very place). My mind was instantly transported back to the club, and instead of feeling nostalgic, I felt suffocated, trapped, and violated.

Why? Because I had just come from 2 hours of some of the most freeing movement of my life. I was on a beautiful wooden floor with 10 other individuals, allowed to lie down when I needed or run around the studio in fits of chaos. The tempo of the music changed from slow to fast to moderate to slow, and my pulse was able to ebb and flow instead of being hijacked by nonstop allegro. At one point, I felt the desire to run my hand back and forth across my neck, as though my hand were a saw and I was trying to cut off my head. It was weird and abstract but natural, and no one gave me funny looks. Sometimes when others were moving wildly, I just rocked in place, my arms dancing as though I were Shiva, my hands vibrating with invisible energy that I cradled and stroked. My interaction with the other people in the room was never a “dance-off” or an invitation for romance: 5Rhythms is a place to be sensual, not sexual; playful, not provocative. It’s a place where my braid can become loose and stringy and there’s no need to rush to the ladies’ room to fix it in front of a mirror; it’s a place where I can crawl around the floor like a drunk lion and not get stepped on or kicked out. It’s a place where I can bring a new friend and not be worried the whole time that she’s going to get stuck in a corner with Bump-and-Grind Bill or Dry Hump Harry, a safe place where she can stand against the wall with her eyes closed when her body calls for a break.

When I leave 5Rhythms, I’m glowing, not saturated with slimy sweat and doused in the odor of others’ cologne and perfume. My body is vibrating, but my ears aren’t ringing from hours of dancing around damaging decibels. I’m exhausted, but a content kind of exhaustion where I can sit at Starbucks after class, sip on a soy chai with my friend, and chat for a half hour, not collapse into bed feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck.

“One More Time,” nightclub? Probably not. I’ve found a different kind of dance party.

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