I loved Biodanza before I even stepped foot into the introductory workshop this past weekend, for three reasons:

1) The name alone. It translates to “dance of life.” Adding “bio” onto something makes it sound essential to life, like dance is essential to our biological existence, just as important as eating and breathing. Yes!

2) Biodanza’s tagline is “the poetry of human encounter.” Beautiful!

3) A quick definition of Biodanza is “a movement-based system that integrates music, dance, and authentic relationships with self, others, and the world to support health, joy, and a sense of being fully alive.” Bring it!

Biodanza Background

Without getting too much into the history, Biodanza originated in Chile, developed by Rolando Toro Araneda, a clinical psychologist and anthropologist who noticed the positive effects of music and dance on his patients. Biodanza as a movement/healing modality is found mostly in South America, Europe, and the U.S. West Coast. The instructor from Saturday’s workshop, Michelle Dubreuil Macek, is in the process of opening a Biodanza school on the East Coast; she is located in the Maryland/DC area but expressed interest in coming to the Philadelphia region regularly if the interest is there. (I’m raising my hand now, but you can’t see it!)

Despite my excitement about the workshop, I’ll admit I was a bit nervous. The instructor posted a video of a sample class online beforehand, and there was a lot of partner work. Touching. Looking eye-to-eye with other students. Now, we do do some partner work in 5Rhythms, but there’s generally no “forced” contact, and much of the class is a private experience with the added benefit of using others’ energy to enhance or energize your own dance. Connections are made during 5Rhythms, but they are somewhat indirect, whereas the entire purpose of Biodanza is to experience a meaningful connection with everyone in the room. This is done through various exercises, such as walking around the room holding hands with a partner while looking at them in the eyes, or sitting in groups of four, closing your eyes, and weaving your hands up and down with the others in your circle: fingers, thumbs, and wrists gently stroking and brushing each other. Several solo exercises are incorporated throughout, to strengthen your connection to self. It wasn’t that I was opposed to the partner/group work; I just had reservations about delving into them in just a 2-hour program. It sounded like something that would require time: Would it be possible for connections like that to develop in just 120 minutes?

Initial Awkwardness

I was afraid of being the “unfeeling” one in the class, the student whose smiles and enthusiasm about holding hands were fake and forced, self-consciously trying to enjoy all of the exercises with as much gusto as the folks around me. And yes, the first exercise—getting into a big circle, holding hands, and dancing around like hippies without the “Kumbaya”—was a bit awkward. People started smiling from the get-go, but I just wasn’t feeling the love right away; I felt like I was being pressured into an adult version of Ring-a-Round the Rosey.

Is That a Smile I See?

The next exercise had us in pairs, holding hands, and walking around the room to upbeat music. We were directed to look into each others’ eyes during the process. I started to break out of my shell here, only because the combination of the fun music plus our goofy walking/dancing/skipping moves and the direction to  communicate only through our eyes and face (with the exception of the teacher’s talking, the entire class is nonverbal) made me feel like I was dancing in a GAP commercial. In fact, if you had put us all in khakis and blue button-down shirts, we were a GAP commercial.

Other partner/group exercises included the “Airport Greeting,” where we partnered up and had to approach our partner from across the room as though we were seeing them for the first time in years. My partner was a middle-aged black woman named Michelle, who was just the most ebullient person in the room. Her eyes twinkled and her entire faced glowed, and when we finally met up at the “airport gate,” we exploded in giggles and embraced as though we had really known each other, even though I had only just met her an hour ago.

There were times, no doubt, we all looked like a bunch of freshmen college students in Acting 101 class. If I let myself think too much about what was going on, surely I would cringe. But the fact was, I was having fun, I paid to be here, and everyone else around me was there for a reason too.

Dancing Alone vs. Dancing with Others

What made the class work was the balance between dancing with others and dancing alone. So for all of the partner exercises, there were the same number of private moments, when we could escape into our own movement. We walked to boogie-woogie music, and then tried walking to a very different song with a strong downbeat. We danced from our hips, and then from our heart. We were instructed to “dance our breath.” The music picked up, and we danced with no boundaries, much like the rhythm of Chaos.

However, as someone who generally shuns group/partner work, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed working with others. One of most moving exercises for me was the “seaweed arm dance,” in which we s-l-o-w-l-y traveled through the room while letting our arms dance like seaweed. The teacher told us that if we happened to bump into someone, turn it into a meaningful connection instead of shying away. It happened a few times to me: I’d “bump” into someone with my arms; my gut reaction was to apologize and draw away, but instead I’d try to avoid flinching and just stay connected to them (much like the basis of contact improv).

Well, That Was Fun!

The workshop ended the same way it started: with all of us in a circle, hands clasped, doing the ol’ Ring-Around-the-Rosey, but this time to Ringo Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy,” and far less awkward. Our smiles were relaxed and genuine, and we pulled and tugged and skipped and laughed like first graders out at recess. Just the day before, I had commented in 5Rhythms class that it’s so hard to get my face to become part of the dance; I can make my elbows dance, I can make my knees dance, but everything from the neck up is a struggle. But that afternoon in Biodanza, I could finally feel my face start to dance: My eyes widened and winked; I exchanged goofy bug-eyed, tongue-out expressions; I pouted my lips, I made monster faces; and for once my teeth saw the light of day. The super-serious military sergeant mask finally gave way.

The 2-hour class flew by, and I felt so humble and content afterward. I lingered around, chatting with a girl who looked slightly younger than me and was there with her mother-in-law to be, and then with Michelle, the enthusiastic black woman I had paired with earlier. She confessed that she was actually very shy; I was stunned–she looked like a pro!

Lasting Impressions

For the rest of the weekend, every time I closed my eyes I saw the faces of those with whom I danced that afternoon. After looking at people directly in the eye for a prolonged period, their faces really become emblazoned in your mind. And vividly, too. Even today, three whole days later, I can close my eyes and picture every one of those in the studio with me. It reminded me of our YTT graduation at Kripalu, when we walked down the “receiving line” and made direct eye contact with each of our classmates.

Physically, I felt wonderful too. Between doing 5Rhythms on Friday, Biodanza on Saturday, and then some simple swimming on Sunday, my body was so happy–allowed to move as it needed, with plenty of “self-regulation” (a term the Biodanza teacher reinforced) whenever the hip needed a break.

Final Comments

(a) A Biodanza group has to be fairly large, at least 10 people. Any less, and then you’re stuck dancing with the same people over and over again. The good thing about Saturday’s class size was that there were so many people to partner with and several personalities to explore.
(b) If a regular class were to be offered, it would be preferable to have the same group each time, rather than the class as a drop-in offering. Otherwise, newcomers may potentially feel left out if they drop in on a group that has established a deep connection already.
(c) You can’t have any reservations about germs and hand-holding.
(d) Yes, several of the exercises are goofy and silly. But so is sitting around someone’s living room watching them play Guitar Hero.
(e) I was amazed at how much I was sweating. It felt like more of a “cleansing” sweat though, than a “workout” sweat.

In conclusion, Biodanza (or as my husband calls it, Tony Danza) is something I would like to do again!

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