Every so often I’ll pass a flier for a Zumba or Jazzercise class and think, “Hmm, I should try that.” I love to dance, I love groovy music, and I’m always looking for new avenues of fun fitness.

But here’s the problem: 5Rhythms has completely altered my perspective about dance. It’s changed my whole approach to dancing, even though the kind of movement done in 5Rhythms class is what my body has always been asking for.

When a Zumba class starts, it starts. The music is thump-thump-thump-thump right away, and the body is pushed to go quickly from ahhhhh to AHHH! It reminds me of highway construction that shuts down merging lanes and replaces them with stop signs, so cars coming onto the road must come to a complete standstill and then gun it to 65 miles per hour in an effort not to get hit.

On the flip side, a typical 5 Rhythms class starts off with the rhythm of Flowing. Think Enya songs, music with an ebb and flow, neck and shoulder rolls, heavy sighs, aimless gliding around the room. Warming up the body, moving it naturally, like starting off a lazy Sunday morning drive down a country road.

Sure, Zumba classes are meant to be cardio-intense, but 5 Rhythms can be deceivingly just as heartpounding. Aerobic dance classes generally have a pattern of:

–++!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!++–

(that’s my way of denoting intensity through punctuation).

5Rhythms classes look more like:

~~++!!**__~~++!!**__~~++!!**__

It’s a bit like interval training, and the more Waves (Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, Stillness) the class contains, the more the body is challenged. I get totally breathless at times during 5Rhythms, but when I leave a 2-hour class my body feels so at peace with itself rather than defeated. I took a 1-hour Zumba class last summer, didn’t get nearly as cardiovascularly challenged, and woke up the next morning with sore knees and joints.

Self-regulation–the freedom to take it easy/rest when the body calls for it–is a major component of 5Rhythms, the element that keeps drawing me back…and keeps steering me from Zumba or Jazzercise (and even at times from returning to studio classes like ballet or jazz). Now I know Zumba teachers aren’t boot camp drill sergeants and won’t push anyone to do something potentially injurious, but it’s the nature of the class to “Push it!” “Amp it up!” “C’mon, feel the burn!” A student who needs to take it down a notch may feel self-conscious if she has to stop shaking her hips with the rest of the class and stick only to arm movements.

Imagine loving to move and dance but living with a painful foot condition that made standing for long periods of time unbearable. One of my fellow students in last week’s 5 Rhythms class faced that challenge, but because of the self-regulating principles of the style she was still able to dance the entire time.

For a good portion of the class, the woman danced like this, from the floor. And it was absolutely beautiful. She sat cross-legged, she sat on her knees, she writhed and wiggled on her back. Her hands moved like feet; her arms shook and made circles and slithered like snakes; and some of her facial expressions were dances in themselves. I slid up to her at one point–she appeared open to partner work–and was surprised to see that her seated Chaos was just as powerful and passionate as those of us on our feet. Both of us now on our asses, we engaged in some of the wildest Chaos moves I have ever performed.

It very much reminded me of yet another style of meditative movement, Nia. A few summers ago I took a 6-week class series in which one of the students was a 20-something man in a motorized wheelchair. When the other students grapevined across the floor, he powered his chair along with us. When we kicked our legs like karate chops, he did the same movement with his arms. When we spun, he put one arm in the air and the other on his togglestick and circled around like everyone else.

How wonderful is it that these forms of movement exist, where people who are tired or sick or just need to sit down for a few minutes can still be a part of the dance, where flicking a finger or wrist can be as freeing as shaking the hips in a double-time samba?

I’m not discounting other forms of dance; hell, I just heard a dance studio was opening three blocks from my house and instantly thought, “Hmm, I hope they’ll offer adult classes!” Studio dance is a huge part of my life, and every now and then I just want to learn some awesome choreography and bust it out on a sprung floor. I love learning dance, I love watching dance (I’m actually watching So You Think You Can Dance as I type). But the truth of the matter is that sometimes my body just wants to stay in ahhhh even though others may be in AHHHH!, and it’s so nice to be in a place that supports listening to both the music and the body.

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