One of the biggest differences between a conscious dance practice (e.g., 5Rhythms®, Journey Dance) and, say, ballroom dancing or ballet is the absence of choreography and the sense of knowing precisely what to do and when.
Most of my youth was spent in a dance studio, traveling across the sprung floor with hitch kicks or chainé turns or a tombé–pas de bourée–glissade–grande jeté grand allegro combination.
I performed in choreographic endeavors in which at time point 1:52, when the gong rang its third chime, I was to drape my arm around my partner and slink to the floor. Right leg extended, left leg bent.
Later, at time point 2:36, I exited stage right with a pique arabesque, face turned toward the audience. Smile.
In other words, most of my movement prior to delving into conscious dance was very organized, deliberate, and painstakingly rehearsed repeatedly into memorization.
I am very grateful for this training. Hours of studio practice and dress rehearsal instilled in me discipline, poise, an uncanny ability to follow directions, and an astute understanding of proprioception.
This training, ingrained deep in my muscles and mind now, has also made for a challenging transition into conscious dancing.
Without steps, what do I do with my body?
Without choreography, what happens when two people enter the same space?
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the 4 years I’ve been actively engaging in conscious dance is to surrender to the mystery and allow things to unfold without force.
In one of my earlier posts describing a 5Rhythms class, I wrote about a partnering exercise in which the instructor told us to move freely but always remain in contact, in some way, with the other person.
He cautioned us that not every move was going to look picture-perfect and that odd moments may come up when we do something that we think might work but ends up feeling weird and stilted. But that’s normal and OK, he said. Just keep moving.
I’ve taken his instruction to heart again and again since that class, because what I have learned is that for every uncertain move and trepid gesture, there is usually an A-ha! moment or soul-tickling connection right around the corner.
It may take time and exploration, but the trick is to be inquisitive and not try so hard.
For example, every now and then I take a class with Group Motion in Philadelphia. One night, I found myself standing next to another dancer, snapping and humming like we were performance artists on a subway platform. In just a few moments, several other dancers had latched onto our rhythm, some clapping, some making quirky vocalizations.
Without guidance or very much thought, our little amoeba had quickly grown into a complex multi-celled organism. It was quite impressive!
I’ll also never forget the moment in a 5Rhythms class I was dancing in a group of four. We were flitting about here and there, weaving under arms … the usual. But then, the configuration shifted without warning so that three of us were circled, holding hands, around our fourth member, Karen, who opened her eyes, found herself standing in the middle of this spontaneous circle, and gasped aloud in awe.
The moment affected all of us, because what had been a random assortment of curious movement had—without planning—taken on a solid and significant shape, one that crackled with energy and sent shivers down our spines.
Or there was the time I sitting on the floor, when suddenly I leaned back and rocked into someone’s arms. When I was pushed forward, there was someone else, reaching for me with extended arms.
The choreographer in me could have jumped up and began actively engaging my supports. But the conscious dancer in me wanted to feel out this mysterious threesome, so I allowed myself to sway like a hammock, rocking back and forth between the two.
I had no idea where it was going or how it would end. But … I liked the uncertainty. The moment and movement felt soooo right. There was no big A-ha! moment that time like there was with Karen’s spontaneous circle, but there was certainly a collective feeling of inclusion and cohesion among the three of us.
And I can’t even count all of the times I’ve danced with someone and my calf happened to slide right under someone’s head before it touched the floor or when the two of us spun in a circle at exactly the same moment, a synchronous spiral that we both happened to conclude with a jump.
What this practice has helped me do is to find comfort (or at least less anxiety) in choreography-less real-life situations.
I have learned to trust the process.
I ventured into New York City one weekend this past fall to meet my sister for dinner. She had just moved to the city, and we found ourselves standing in the middle of Manhattan with nary a clue where to dine. Every other establishment in NYC is an eatery, which made the decision overwhelming as we passed restaurant after restaurant.
It would have been easy to just say, “Let’s go here!” and slip into a sushi joint, but there was something intuitively telling us to keep walking and exploring. We turned left, then right, and into what looked like a residential area.
“I feel good about this,” my sister said, even though we had gotten off the main strip and our stomachs growled with ferocity.
And, just like the magic circle that had formed around Karen, we suddenly found ourselves standing outside Friend of a Farmer, a cozy Gramercy Park restaurant with a warm farmhouse feel … and the most amazing fall cocktails and seasonal soups. We had walked in just as they opened for dinner and were seated right away.
An evening that had started with no map, no plans, had developed into one of the most satisfying gastronomical experiences of the year!
Life, by nature, is unpredictable, but I am at a time where my “map” of the future is more a collection of zig-zags and spirals and crisscrossing arrows than a land mass marked “A” and a mass marked “B” and a straight and solid line connecting the two.
I have found myself in a life-dance with no steps, no choreography, but the lessons I’ve learned from 5Rhythms (and the body wisdom gained from my earlier years of formal dance) keep me trusting my gut, being aware of others in space (physically and emotionally), surrendering to the mystery, and trusting that the curiosity will eventually melt into certainty, even if only for a blip … until the process begins all over again.