My first experience with 5Rhythms was in April 2010. The class took place in a suburban yoga studio, which resides in the basement of an office building. The space is warm and nurturing, but—being in a basement—there are no windows, no view of the outside, and the ceiling hangs low enough that jumping with your arms above your head is something to do with caution.
It is a sweet spot, a second home where I have experienced moments of great tenderness. The monthly class draws a small crowd, enough to have moments of connection with everyone in the room. Metaphorically, the space is a bit like a living room fireplace—cozy, sensual, with the invitation to sink in, let go for a moment, and then return to softness before drifting to Stillness with an empty glass of wine in your hand.
And then there’s New York.
New York City is the heart of 5Rhythms, the headquarters for the practice.
If my monthly class in suburban New Jersey is a crackling fireplace, dancing with Tammy Burstein on a Friday night at the Joffrey Ballet School is a 6-foot high roaring bonfire at Burning Man.
This past Friday marked my first 5Rhythms pilgrimage to Manhattan, thanks to the transportation coordination of one of our tribeholders (I would have never gotten there myself). I was both excited (working with a master teacher, dancing with so many personalities) and terrified (little suburban girl in the big city!).
The funny thing is, to get to the 5Rhythms space, you have to climb to the 5th floor of the building, brushing past leotard-and-tights-clad Joffrey Ballet dancers. In the locker room, I change into my Target yoga pants and flowing floral shirt from Kohl’s as the young girl next to me donned in skin-tight Capezio ballet wear fixes her immaculate bun in the mirror. We walk past rehearsal spaces with girls lined up along the barre, the sound of an instructor counting off “and 1, and 2, and 3, and 4,” everyone’s movement synchronized, coordinated, legs and arms moving as one.
I realized that that terrified me more than anything—the memory of always aiming for perfection, the instant sense of competition when slipping into ballet shoes and lining up with other girls whose battements were just a little higher than yours, whose triple pirouettes looked more solid than your doubles. Being in that environment—if only for a few minutes—made entering the 5Rhythms space that much more relieving, a coming home of sorts.
The barres were pushed to the sides of the room; the only light illuminating the space was a strand of Christmas lights strung around the perimeter, the setting sun outside, and the ever-glowing lights of Manhattan at dusk. People of all shapes, sizes, races, and dance attire begin filtering in the expansive space, and like that we all knew what to do. Just get out there and dance. Music played, we moved. The feeling of being surrounded by so many people (40? 50?) who looked so comfortable in their bodies was incredible. It was a struggle at first to sink within myself and find my own dance when all I wanted to do was step back and watch everyone else. A woman sat off to the side and sketched the whole night. I wish I could have seen what her eyes saw.
I didn’t make too many connections during the first Wave, and that disappointed me. So many brilliant people were in this space, and I yearned to share a moment of movement with them. As I slowed down into Stillness, I almost let this melancholy take over me until Tammy said to the group, “Learn to be confident with yourself the way you would with another.”
Those words were all I needed to hear. As the next Wave began, I knew that I had to dance for myself first. The purpose of the practice wasn’t to seek out acceptance from others but to find it within. The magic is that once I stuck to that creed, connection began on its own. I shared a heart-thumping, fourth-chakra Chaos shake-off with one person; a theatrical Broadway-esque dance to “This Little Light of Mine” with another; and a slow and intimate linkage of hands and arms with Jason, Tammy’s husband. As I shimmied past others, there were brief but personal moments of connection, whether through eye contact, an exchange of vocal out-breaths, or fancy footwork.
The second Chaos of the evening was by far the most powerful, when it felt as though every body in that room was gasping for the same breath, sweating from the same pores. As the pulsing techno music reached its climax, everyone in the room joined in a guttural scream, arms flailing, sweat drip-drip-dripping. It felt like I was in an amusement park, riding every attraction at once—descending down the first hill of a roller coaster, spinning on the Gravitron, pulling the cord on the freefall. I was simultaneously losing control but being so acutely aware of it, dropping and spinning and plummeting yet also feeling like everything was suspended in time. It was the stillpoint in the Chaos, a moment of such madness but with a mysterious current of calmness underneath.
Crystal-clear clarity washed over me after Chaos into Lyrical, my senses open to everything around me: The clocktower next to our building chiming nine times, echoing in the cavernous streets of the city below. The pinpoint top of the Empire State Building peeking above the flat-topped buildings in front of us. The aroma of pizza wafting through the open windows, the light breeze brushing my cheek. Car horns honking, trucks idling, engines revving. The reds and greens of the traffic lights glowing. Silhouetted bodies around me moving like chess pieces coming to life. The sight of another person’s apartment across the street, a painting on the wall. The muffled sound of piano music coming from the ballet studio below. All of these things became part of the dance, the movement of just being.
I sucked in all of these elements around me as the final Stillness began, my hands caressing the floor as though it were another’s chest, coaxing them into this sweet stillness with me, my fingertips brushing over an invisible collarbone, sternum, rib cage. There was nothing but floorboards under my skin, but I felt so much life. When I walked outside onto 6th Avenue, the subway rumbled below in return, my feet vibrating from this underground turbulence: the chaos, the stillness, the musical meditation of Manhattan.