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I love dancing in dualities.
In the expressive movement classes I facilitate, I often ask my students to imagine dancing at one end of a sensory spectrum (“How does your body move if you imagine yourself in the middle of the Sahara, your bare feet in hot sand?”) and then during the next song ask them to switch to the opposite (“Suddenly we find ourselves in the middle of a blizzard. How does your body move to the cold, biting wind?”)
It’s an easy and fun experiment to see how many ways individuals can move, a chance for them to be creative and extend their movement beyond their “usual” dance. Ten bucks says the way your hands and feet respond to blistering desert heat is different from the way they are compelled to move during a mitten-less sleet storm.
My 5Rhythms teacher asked the same of us during a recent Waves class. During the final rhythm of Stillness, he proposed that we shift between movement that was open and that which was closed, our inhalation expanding us into one shape, and our exhalation leading the way into the next.
All he had used were the words “open” and “close,” but without much thought—more reflexive than mindful—I instantly translated these movements to “good” and “bad.”
So, for the first couple of minutes, my dance was a back-and-forth between shapes that looked like “Yes!” and “Halleljuah!” and “Here I Am!” to “Oh noooo” “Ow,” and “Woe Is Me.”
I even got a little upset. Before the teacher’s instruction, I had been feeling really alive. Now, he was asking us to be sad and withdrawn. How dare he…!
Fortunately, my Buddhist-in-training brain switched on before I got too far in the blame game, and it occurred to me that maybe these terms don’t need labels.
Why did I have to assign “good” and “bad” qualifiers to actions that were just that—actions?
It helped that earlier that day I had been listening to a talk from Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön, in which she was talking about the dangers of labeling mediation sits as “good” and “bad”:
“Say, for instance, you meditated and you felt a sort of settling and a sort of calmness, a sense of well-being. And maybe thoughts came and went, but they didn’t hook you, and you were able to come back, and there wasn’t a sense of struggle. Afterwards, [you think], ‘I did it right, I got it right, that’s how it should always be, that’s the model.’
Then you have the ‘bad’ one, which is not bad. It’s just that you sat there and you were very discursive and you were obsessing about someone at home, at work, something you have to do—you worried and you fretted, or you got into a fear or anger…. You just felt like it was a horrible meditation session. At the end of it you feel discouraged, and it was bad and you’re bad for the bad meditation. And you could feel hopeless.” (Source)
She goes on to explain how getting caught in this good-versus-bad tug-of-war causes a lot of angst and tension, always striving to attain the “good” and then almost always defeated when the good we were hoping for isn’t as good as the previous good, which means it is bad.
It feels as exhausting as it sounds. And this is what ultimately leads to suffering.
It’s kind of what was happening to me on the dance floor. I was getting pulled down into an abyss of “bad” because that is what I decided to equate with “closed.”
When Pema’s advice caught up to me, I decided to shift my thoughts.
I thought of all the ways “closed” movement can represent concepts beyond sadness and heartache and defensiveness.
Closed can mean shutting one’s eyes to daydream. Pressing hands together to pray. Curling up under a blanket to snuggle or watch a movie.
Closed can mean placing the hands palms down on the knees during meditation. Folding back into Child’s Pose during a strenuous yoga class. A baby in its mother’s womb, knees and arms tucked into chest—the original fetal position.
Closed can mean shutting down the office at noon for a siesta, wrapping arms around an injured animal or child and nursing it to health, withdrawing from the senses in order to tune inward in self-reflection.
In no time I was feeling alive again, no longer pulled down by this heavy anchor of “bad”-ness I had inflicted on myself.
Closing actually felt…beautiful!
Shifting my perspective in that one little way created big change, my dance of duality a moving lesson in being more open-minded about the notion of being closed.
If you have any interpretations of “closed” you’d like to offer, please share in the comments below!
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.
One of the gifts of dancing with the same group of people over time is being able to see them grow, to watch their dances make the metamorphosis from lack of groundedness to firmly rooted feet, from insecurity and timidness to confidence and direction.
The youngest dancer in my Philadelphia home tribe is 17, but I first met her when she was 15. In her movement I see my own teenage self, a contained package of passion being called to open and unfold, an intricate, tightly bound origami creature unraveling crease by crease from its predetermined, tightly bound structure.
She wore orthodontic braces back in 2012. Now her teeth are smooth and straight, and I see them a lot more because she never holds back a smile.
One weekend, she danced till 10 p.m. at a Friday night workshop, took her SATs early the following morning, and then came back on Saturday afternoon to dance another 10 or so hours of an advanced workshop centered on the notion of fear.
She’s skipped out on normal high school kid diversions so she could travel to Virginia with a bunch of adults for the weekend and write poetry, sweat her prayers, and wrap her compassionate arms around crying strangers.
Not even a year after getting her license, she was using her driving privileges not to cruise aimlessly on open roads with her friends but to make the hour-long commute to and from the church where we dance.
These changes are beautiful and poignantly unusual for a young woman her age, but they are obvious to the naked eye.
Most of us have all made the transition from crooked teeth to braces-free, from fretting about midterms to reveling in getting accepted into our first-pick college. We’ve all struggled with breaking away from adolescent antics and moving toward activities that bring us a sense of purpose.
However, one of the gifts of being part of a conscious dance collective is being able to see deeper than the surface, to see that our youngest tribe member isn’t just growing up … she’s growing.
During our earlier dances, she moved to the music. Now, the music moves her.
The changes are subtle and sometimes can’t even be seen, but rather felt. There’s a different energy in her presence. Her movement, once a random and uncertain compilation of powerful words, is now a poem, those same potent words now mindfully crafted into compelling verse and stanza.
I’m picking on this particular person because I admire her teenage tenacity and find it hard not to watch her pop out of her old girl pupa and flutter her young woman wings, but she is just one of many of us who are being witnessed as we move, who have taken that leap to dance our hearts not just in our living rooms but in the presence of others.
We could so easily pop on Pandora at home and thrash our bodies behind closed doors, but instead we choose to step out into the open, to do our most raw expressions of movement in front of a teacher and in the middle of a mass of messy bodies.
There’s a certain vulnerability in that, but also a plea:
Please, see me.
Unlike an audition or competition, we’re not dancing to impress but rather to express. We don’t ask for the teacher’s approval but wish only for acknowledgement, a bow of the head that says “I see you.”
The teacher’s role in a 5Rhythms® or similar movement meditation class is not to push perfection but to observe and encourage.
A teacher would rarely force a student to move her hips a certain way, but might instead say, “Are your hips moving? Maybe add more breath to them and see how that feels.”
In that sense, there’s not much rigid instruction in these types of classes. More important than getting a student to move is to give her the space to be moved … and to honor it when it happens.
For example, Lucia Horan noticed an overreliance on our arms for the rhythm of Flowing and reminded us that this rhythm is about rootedness, finding our feet, to dig the movement from the earth up rather than try to grasp for it with flimsy arms.
I remember Amara Pagano closely watching a woman travel across the floor and being disturbed by the dancer’s lack of breath. She put a hand on the woman’s belly and reminded her to breathe, to use inspiration—rather than brute strength—to carry her across the floor.
During his workshop on fear, Adam also pointed out that many of us were confusing this concept with anger. So many of us were trying to dance fear with enraged eyes and martial arts-like strikes and jabs. “That’s anger, not fear,” he reminded us.
Kathy Altman noticed many of us had a tendency to gravitate toward where the most bodies were gathered and that we weren’t being bold and stepping into the empty spaces.
As students, we are permitted that opportunity to witness as well. Many times, especially in a workshop setting, we are paired up with a fellow dancer for an extended time. We take turns dancing and witnessing, moving through our current heartsong or emotional conflict as the other person simply steps back and gives us the gift of presence.
It is not a performance, nor is it a judges’ panel.
We are simply being ourselves and being seen.
In that sense, it is much scarier than performing because now we are being our true selves.
It’s showing a teacher a page of your diary versus a fictional short story you have created.
It’s about dancing your dance, not a teacher’s choreography.
It’s not caring whether you have two left feet but acknowledging that you have one big heart, and dammit, you’re going to let it speak. And sing. And grow.
Now … can I get a witness?
The photo above is a magnet I bought several years ago from the Japan pavilion at Epcot in Walt Disney World. It was a moment of Zen amid an otherwise less-than-tranquil experience in one of the busiest, dizziest (and most humid) tourist destinations on the East Coast. Who knew the House of Mouse could offer such sage wisdom?
“On rainy days, be in the rain. On windy days, be in the wind.”
I understood the maxim’s message right away, as I was still in my honeymoon phase of my yoga and meditation practice and was obsessed with perfecting presence of mind.
What the magnet means is that when you are standing in rain, see it as just rain. No judgement, no attaching “good” or “bad” or “miserable” labels to the meteorological phenomenon. When it rains, be present; see it at its most basic state: water falling from the sky. And then just experience it in all its wet glory.
Same goes for the wind: I feel a strong rush of air pushing at my body and causing my hair to whip around my face. Wind is neither good nor bad; it is wind, and I am standing in it.
The thing is … it’s really hard to master that philosophy, mainly because of something called feeling.
Feeling is something humans are really good at. We have a deep capacity to love and fear and want and reject.
When we’re presented with a simple phenomenon, be it weather or meeting a new person or watching an animal out in nature, the act of observing is usually upstaged by our tendency to want to assign it an emotion or metaphor.
There is nothing wrong with this, but making the leap from observing to feeling can be tricky.
As 5Rhythms® teacher and Open Floor co-founder Lori Saltzman said, “Adding feeling and making meaning is the part that can bring us together … but also the part that gets us into trouble.”
Perspective is powerful.
I and several other dancers got to play around with this concept recently with Lori at her “Write of Passage“ dance/writing workshop, which I attended in Charlottesville, Virginia.
For example, she offered: Imagine a young man in his 20s walking down the street in a hoodie. That’s the baseline, the observation. But one person may see this man as dangerous. Another person thinks, “Oh, what a hottie! I’d like to hook up with him.” And yet another person sees the same man and with a heavy heart thinks, “That’s my son.”
With that, Lori had us put on our “sacred reporter” hats, pull out our notebooks and pens, and observe a volunteer dancer posed in the middle of our circle.”Describe what you see,” Lori instructed, “but only what is right in front of you. I’m talking simple descriptions here—‘white legwarmers, tight ponytail.’ None of this ‘eternal feminine goddess’ stuff.”
We shouted out basic nouns and adjectives, phrases like “bent arms,” “aqua midriff,” “turned-in feet.”
The next step was to describe the volunteer dancer through verbs, action words: “sliding across the floor,” “reaching upward,” “undulating.”
A couple both dressed in purplish hues stepped into the circle. “Now, use metaphors to describe what you see,” Lori instructed. These dancers soon became “two loose grapes rolling around in the fruit bowl” and “grown-up children prancing outside on the playground.”
The final volunteer to step inside the circle was subject to four types of our reporting: basic description, action words, metaphors, and the delicate element of feeling. What type of feeling does this woman’s movement evoke in you? When you watch her move, what is she expressing?
Lori pushed us to be brave, to dare to be wrong in our interpretation. The human race in general can be so afraid to find feeling in another’s expression, because we are afraid of getting it wrong. Of thinking someone is sad when she isn’t really sad.
However, taking the leap and noticing that someone is mourning a loss or experiencing profound happiness—and letting him know that you see what he feels—can be liberating for that person. To be fully seen is a gift!
We drew a table with nine cells in our notebooks and as our volunteer danced, we filled each cell with one of those four types of observations. At the end of the exercise, we had a kind of “tic-tac-toetry” in front of us, short poetic verses compiled from a row of squares:
“Hard-soled shoes tapping on the wood / ball of tenderness yearning to crack open / eyes begging.”
Eventually, we all became the moving volunteer, dancing our dance in groups of three as the two other group members took notes in the same fashion, this time on index cards.
When I was done dancing, my fellow group members slid several cards my way, each piece of paper containing a description of how my classmates saw me. There was my dance—me at my most honest—spread out in front of me.
Lori gave us time to sort through the cards, rearrange them a bit, remove a few, and edit slightly. The result was our poem. Here’s mine:
Here I Am.
Rolling it out, shaking it loose.
I am integrated,
A wild child transformed into an aligned woman.
I Am Here.
The day’s lessons and exercises put me in such “sacred reporter” mode that my poetic perspective was in high gear, even off the dance floor.
When I returned to my host’s house that afternoon, I delighted in the fact that the blanket in the guest bedroom had been elegantly twisted and tucked into an abstract figure of the female form, a pear-shaped flow of fabric starting slender at the top and expanding into wider curves at the bottom.
I smiled and snapped a photo, thanking my partner for creating such a lovely work of bed art. He laughed.
“I didn’t do anything,” he said. “All I did was take a nap, and that’s how the blanket ended up.”
Rain can be rain and a blanket can be a blanket. But sometimes the blanket is an abstract goddess, and we shouldn’t be afraid to say it how we see it.
The power of perspective.
If I had known about the 5Rhythms® practice back when I was in high school, I’d be all over Lyrical, man.
I was such a Lyrical creature in my adolescent stage. Proof:
(1) My first America Online screen name was derived from Shakespeare’s most renowned romantic tragedy (just call me Juliet204, please).
(2) I borrowed my 10th grade English teacher’s copy of her A Tale of Two Cities video (PBS edition, baby!) to watch at home (at least twice, and that’s not including the in-class viewing) because I was in love with the love that Sydney Carton represented.
(3) I turned an English class assignment about A Separate Peace into an interpretive dance.
(4) Sometimes instead of going out with friends on Friday nights, I’d opt to crank up Yanni in my
Acropolis, err living room and play “Reflections of Passion” on repeat.
There were other notes of Lyrical, of course (mostly involving scads of poetry and an obsession with sonnets, haiku, and the novel Rebecca), but perhaps the biggest indicator of my Lyrical tendencies was my love of, well… lyrical.
Lyrical dance, that is.
Back in the 1990s, my dance education in the small-town studios of South Jersey was usually limited to the basic menu of ballet, tap, and jazz styles. The fluid-like, emotion-packed genre of lyrical was just emerging in my area, and my initial experience with it was through watching dance competitions I videotaped on TV.
These girls with their loose, un-bunned hair and long flowy skirts and bare feet! Their songs with words and lyrics that made my heart weep!
I had only learned to stuff my feet into pointe shoes just a few years prior, but about the time I got my first period I was yearning to see what soft marley felt like under my toes instead. I wanted to wear footless tights. I wanted to untie my French braid and let my strawberry-blond locks tumble dramatically past my shoulders.
Most of all, I was interested in expressing my beloved writing medium—poetry—as a dance form.
I loved the power and punch of jazz dancing, but the more classic literature I read in high school (coupled with the sudden onslaught of female hormones), the less interested I became in executing knee-to-nose hitch kicks across the dance studio floor.
I wanted depth. I wanted feeling. I wanted to emote.
I was already kind of an odd bird at my dance studio, the way I was rigidly disciplined with my time and my secret love of a strict ballet teacher that everyone else hated.
So it wasn’t much of a surprise, then, that my senior year of high school, when I was invited to participate in a special performance for graduating students, instead of doing what all the cool kids had done in the past and voting to learn a super-awesome explosive heart-thumping jazz routine in a slinky, sexy, sequined costume, I politely requested that our group of 17- and 18-year-old girls dance a sweet and elegant lyrical routine.
And not just any lyrical routine. I requested that we dance to Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind.”
The year was 1998, and it was only the summer before that Princess Diana had passed away. Her death was a sentimental sensation, especially for tenderhearted Lyrical creatures like myself who responded to the tragedy by crafting poems and prose about the late princess.
To me, my request made so much sense. The theme of the dance recital that year was “international travel,” with each song to represent an area of the world. Elton John + Lady Di + OMG that tearjerker performance at Westminster Abbey = hello, United Kingdom!
And our graduating group of dancers included four young women transitioning from high school to college. Weren’t they too bursting with hormones and notions of romance and an ache to pour their maturing hearts onto the stage?
No, no they weren’t.
They raised their eyebrows at me when I so passionately proposed my suggestion to the dance studio director, and their reactions were even less forgiving when my suggestion was accepted.
I felt bad. The other girls took their distaste out on the dance teacher by coming to rehearsals in baggy sweats and rarely putting any effort into their movement.
I knew they had wanted techno. Pizzazz. Flashy and sassy. If 5Rhythms had been part of our language back then, they would have been Staccato, for sure.
But we had been served Lyrical, and I lapped it up.
Footless tights? Check. My hair stayed in a bun, but we clipped a red flower to our white satin skirts to represent England’s rose. My mother and grandmother cried during the performance and each time they watched the routine on video, and will probably cry reading this as well.
The most important thing, however, was that I got to dance my poetry. I got my Lyrical.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was learning to find my rhythm. No, not just find my rhythm but be it.
My Flowing exploration helped me understand my sensitive nature and navigate why I wanted to dance this piece.
My Staccato energy pushed me to approach the studio director and present my suggestion.
My Chaos was the emotional drama I felt after rehearsals when I knew my peers hated my decision that had cost them their super-cool jazz routine.
My Lyrical was the dance.
And finally, My Stillness was the moment after curtain call when I realized my dance hobby had developed into a true passion.
I know winter is typically the season for hibernation, but for me summer seemed like the right time to let my blog sleep tight and go dormant.
This is not to say that I was in hibernation mode myself; quite the contrary, but I was faced with the age-old blogger’s dilemma of striking a balance between fully experiencing real life mindfully and that of perpetually living with a documentarian’s mind and sacrificing a portion of my brain functioning to taking notes for the future.
After I returned from the Virginia dance retreat in early July, things slowed down—a bit. Some classes went on hiatus for the summer, yet others kept on trucking, like the every-fourth-Friday 5Rhythms class in South Jersey.
During the July class—held just days before my birthday—a record number of students showed up—close to 20, when classes there normally brought in no more than 12. I was beaming for the full 2 hours, secretly convinced the universe had brought in all those people for me to dance with. Bless his heart, Richard, for continuing to make the drive from Baltimore every month to teach our motley crew, especially that night he got stuck in traffic for 3.5 hours.
And to take the place of some classes that paused for the summer, new offerings emerged, such as the monthly ecstatic dance classes I’ve been facilitating in central Jersey.
(I’ve actually been doing that since March but wanted to keep mum about it until I had reached a certain level of confidence in my leadership role.)
We started in a narrow yoga studio above an antiques shop and have expanded to an amazingly spacious karate studio with forgiving padded floors and a killer sound system. Each class is followed by a potluck dinner, and although I typically loathe the word “fellowship,” we have lots of it going on. And it’s pretty darn sweet.
I took my show on the road earlier this month and led a class at my friend Rhonda’s yoga studio—the studio in which I took my very first 5Rhythms class. I was honored to be invited to teach in a space that is so revered for me, and there’s promise that it will become a regular thing, along with opportunities here and there to work with children as well. Wow.
A few weeks went by where I had no 5Rhythms at all and felt its absence; then in August, my Philadelphia tribe held a full-day workshop with our group’s founder, Rivi Diamond, and recharged me. I danced intimately with a chair that afternoon, a sensual human-furniture friendship that emerged simply from me needing to get off my feet for a while.
And when I wasn’t dancing a Wave I was crashing into them; literally, throwing myself head-first into the salty sea caps that swelled from the Atlantic Ocean onto the Jersey shore. How is it that I’m 33 years old and never knew the secret of surviving big waves? Riding them out gets my swimsuit in a bunch and salt water in my orifices, whereas taking the wave head-on like a boss results in peace and tranquility. Seems counterintuitive, but perhaps there’s a 5Rhythms metaphor somewhere in there.
That all said, I’m banking on FlowtationDevices stirring from slumber in the next couple of weeks, emerging for air and ready to spill words forth onto these electronic pages.
It seems a fitting time, based solely on the fact that one of my last early-summer posts was about trekking to Virginia for a workshop with 5Rhythms teacher Amara Pagano—and now, 3 months later, I’m off to yet another one of her workshops with my home tribe.
A whole season, several steps, few words, and two Amaras. Full circle!
Sometimes a conscious dance practice isn’t at all about dancing—it can be as simple as taking steps.
It’s hard to believe, but it can be very easy to forget to move out of one place during a dance practice. Even during wild, loud, frenetic, chaotic music, it’s not uncommon for people to root their feet into the floor and resort to gyrating everything from their hips up.
The same holds true during an elegant lyrical song: How easy it is to close our eyes and flutter our arms around like paper streamers in a breeze. So airy, so graceful … so upper body!
What are the feet doing?!
Adam Barley was one of the first 5Rhythms teachers I’ve worked with who was adamant about getting people unstuck.
“Just take steps,” he’d repeat.
When an individual was hanging out in one space for too long, Adam would approach the dancer and offer his advice:
“Just take steps.”
It was especially helpful during his workshop on Fear, when he instructed our class to hold a posture of fear, then to close our eyes, envision a path in front of us, and take steps along that path … even when we were unsure of where those footsteps would lead us.
The point was clear: The fear is there, yes. But don’t just stand there, frozen. Just take some steps, and eventually you’ll find your way into Flowing.
Maybe you’ll find your way to a really intricate pattern on the wood floor that captivates and inspires you.
Maybe a few steps will guide you to an area of the room where the acoustics are amazing and draw you into a whole new state of consciousness.
Maybe those footsteps will lead you arm to arm with “that” person; a partnership that opens energetic pathways you didn’t even know you had.
It sounds contradictory, but in a conscious dance practice, don’t worry so much about dancing. Just take some steps, and the dance will unfold on its own.
People outside of the conscious dance world get confused when I talk about “dancing fear,” because I guess they imagine ritualistic theatrics involving creepy masks and blindfolds or sitting around in circles sharing stories we would only confess to our priests or rabbis.
Maybe they envision a dictator-like teacher barking commands at us, scaring us intentionally, making us dance on our knees until they bleed, breaking us down.
That isn’t the case.
The process begins with an intention.
I remember one of my teachers commenting that a workshop truly first begins not at the designated start time but rather that moment when the student has RSVP’d. It means the individual has checked and set aside time on his calender, that he has secured the finances, that he is saying to himself, “I am committing my time, money, and energy to this occasion.”
With that commitment, the brain’s neurons begin firing—perhaps subconsciously—about intention. What was it that guided me to pay $200 to explore fear? Why did I carve out an entire weekend to do this work?
The answer might not be obvious. Some people have very clear intentions, for example: “I grew up fearing intimacy, and I want to move beyond that” or “I fear never being ‘seen.'”
For others, there may be no “elevator statement” on their reason for attending; nevertheless, the months/weeks/days leading up to the workshop involve a huge, simmering crock pot of “mental dances,” the brain working behind the scenes, knowing something big is coming up and beginning to direct energy accordingly.
As my therapist always reminds me, “Energy follows intention.”
The teacher usually helps with this process.
Here’s what Adam sent workshop registrants a week or so before the event:
So you’ve got this workshop coming up where we’re working with fear, huh?
Fear is scary. It’s particularly scary to your mind, and your mind is a tricky customer. Watch it come and go, create stories and scenarios that probably will not bear much resemblance to reality.
Your best prep for the weekend is to do what we’ll be fundamentally doing there: stay aware of your body and your breath, because those two aspects of you will stay reliably present, unlike your mind. Stay present. Breathe deep often. Take steps so you can feel your feet. And watch everything else come and go, rise and fall.
So, what happens when you first walk into a workshop on Fear?
You DANCE, of course! Throw your bags and belongings to the side, exchange hugs and kisses with your fellow dancers, tape up your toes/bandage your ankle/slip a brace on your knee, and find your way into Flowing.
In fact, the Friday night portion of a big workshop is mostly dancing and is mostly fun. It’s establishing connection with others, getting in touch with the body, warming up for the bigger work to come.
I had so much fun on that particular Friday, that I didn’t even feel an iota of fear flutter in my heart.
(Which is a bit ironic, because then the “fear” was that I was entering a Fear workshop without any connection to the main topic!)
Then that night I had a nightmare, waking up in a cold sweat. The dream was terrifically realistic and basically flung all of my real-life fears smack in my face.
That said, on Saturday I had “material” to work with.
And so the process began.
* * *
> We don’t only dance Fear-–Adam also instructs us to strike a pose of Anger, Sadness, Joy, and Compassion. We hold these postures, then find a repetitive movement to embody the emotion.
Repetition is an effective exercise because eventually our patterns emerge, clear as day. When we become aware of our patterns on the dance floor, it becomes easier to identify them in the real world.
In addition, after exploring all of the emotions above through movement, Adam asks us, “Which one felt the most authentic to you?”
I hated to admit it, but I really enjoyed the sharp vocalizations and precise martial arts-like movement I was expressing in Anger.
In fact, for most of the workshop, I continuously made the mistake of confusing Fear and Anger, bearing my teeth and flexing my muscles like a tiger when the intent was really to feel more like the prey, not the predator.
(I guess it’s clear what my “shadow”/defense mechanism is.)
> Adam is firm about not wanting us to “check out.” For example, when you feel the need to get water, before you scurry off to get your bottle, pause and see if you’re honestly thirsty and need hydration or whether it’s a built-in routine—a mechanical reaction (“Chaos just ended, so obviously it’s water time”) or perhaps something deeper (“This song/partner/rhythm makes me uncomfortable, I will ‘take a break’ now so I don’t have to face the discomfort.”).
It’s not that Adam wants us to be parched or hungry—he’s just reminding us to be aware of the unconscious mind games that unfold when we’re faced with something we’re not 100% comfortable with.
“Be aware of thirst, tiredness, music you don’t like, a partner you can’t connect with…go with it, that’s when stuff happens. Don’t check out.”
We dance each rhythm across the room several times, reminds me of going “across the floor” in dance class, when we’d practice the same steps from one end of the room to the other until perfection.
This time there are steps but not choreography, just a long path from Point A to Point B for us to dance a Flowing Fear, a Staccato Fear, a Chaos Fear, a Lyrical Fear, a Stillness Fear.
“Again,” Adam says with a simple hand gesture in our direction, compassionate fierceness in his voice. He never lets us check out.
There are chairs on the side of the room, but we are asked only to sit if we’re dealing with injury or pain. “If you’re tired, dance a tired Chaos!” Adam says.
> We dance to wordless music all of Friday and Saturday. On Friday, it barely registers in my mind. After Saturday, it becomes very noticeable that thus far we have danced to only instrumental music.
Without lyrics, the brain is able to shut off much quicker. You can’t use the words to help carry your movement; instead, movement becomes instinctual.
On Sunday, vocals began to appear in our music. Something in the air became lighter. It was like we were being pressed under water for two days, hearing only heartbeats and muffled murmuring, and now finally hearing the sweet sounds of the world sing clearly into our ears.
Here’s what Adam had to say about that, in a separate e-mail:
The intent was to take everyone into the dark at first, to encounter fear, find power, and then to emerge into beauty; though I had no idea of the exact steps we would take to do that, or what music I would choose along the way. All my music selection is totally intentional, and each track is chosen in the moment, none more than a few minutes before it plays.
> Energy indeed follows intention, even after the workshop ends and socialization begins. At a potluck dinner party after Saturday’s grueling class, I end up randomly sitting next to a woman, get into a conversation with her about mudra meditations, and then—holy coincidence!—nearly at the same time, we say, “Here’s my favorite one,” lifting our hands into the conch shell mudra.
Of all the possible mudras out there—so many combinations of finger placements and hand positions—how can this be?!
Just like having that fear-inducing nightmare on Friday night, I believe meeting “Elaine” on Saturday night was synchronicity, our work from the earlier part of the day culminating into a deeper experience to help us through the remainder of the workshop.
Turns out the conch shell mudra (which helps strengthen the throat) is so important to us because we both struggle with our voices, her physically and me energetically. In fact, our voice-related challenges are a huge part of our fear, the very reason we are at this workshop!
Well then, it should not be surprising that during the next day’s session, after a vicious, deep trip into fear—a plunge that leaves my nose running, eyes red and wet, hair askew, a dive in which I had been thinking about my voice—Adam tells us to pause, turn to the person closest to us, and that this person will now be our partner.
I open my soggy eyelids and find myself nearly arm to arm with—of course—Elaine. Energy follows intention even when there are 40+ other dancers in the room!
Adam asks one person from each pair to face the fear of fear, to place it in our bellies, to dance it out as the other partner stands off to the side and simply witnesses.
My eyes stay focused on Elaine, even as she moves among a crowd of several others. She circles and circles, her arms rising out to her sides, her mouth agape, a silent scream caught in her throat.
It is difficult to watch, knowing we share such similar restrictions. At times, I feel as though I am witnessing myself, decades in the future.
I eventually re-enter the dance floor, instructed by Adam to join our partner and stand by her side. “Not in front or in back of them, but by their side,” he emphasizes. “Be there with them.”
“For Stillness, what feels right?” Adam asks. “Taking their hand, touching, an embrace?” My one hand clutches Elaine’s hand, the other comes to back of her neck. My arms wrap her in a hug, her snotty nose in my shoulder. We make eye contact. Her eyes are glistening with fresh tears but so open.
When it is my turn out on the dance floor, I feel Elaine embodied in me, sensations of my throat being blocked off, barely able to talk. Even my movement is constricted. Yet, Elaine doesn’t have a choice. I can speak! Unlike the physical disability she has, I am only energetically impaired. What gives, Jennifer? You can speak!
I rip at my stomach, chest, throat, as though pulling a cord—maybe even a serpent—out of my mouth. Like a magician’s colorful mile-long scarf expanding from his sleeve, the snake keeps emerging as I tug. Wide open mouth.
Finally, there is Lyrical. Adam reminds us to take steps, as it is so easy to stay locked in one place after such a taxing Chaos. Such a relief to just take steps, no dancing, just walk and see what happens.
My robotic right-left-right-left pattern morphs effortlessly into something new, and with that miniscule change of footwork, I feel free, broken out of the restriction. I catch myself softly whispering “Yes, yes, yes” as my feet gradually slow down and I enter Stillness with Elaine by my side and her hand on my heart.
> I am relieved when Adam gives us time to spread across the room and journal. Finally, the energy that has been exploding out of me can collect on paper, an ink-infused take-home gift from all of this intense work. My writing is sloppy as my hands are shaking, and in this period of rest I realize I feel quite sick, a bit nauseous, extraordinarily thirsty, a throbbing headache at my temples.
But words come effortlessly from fingers to paper, and I begin to wonder whether the “illness” I feel is really just all the gunk worked up over the day trying to purge. Writing is my mental vomiting, and my sickness splatters all over the pages of my notebook.
So with that in mind, I receive Adam’s next instruction with apprehension: We are encouraged, one at a time, to stand up in this room of 40+ people and emphatically speak out our “summary statement,” a line from our journaling that represents the essence of our writing.
For some people, what they exclaim is enough, and Adam allows them to sit down and simply breathe in their classmates’ presence and receptivity. For others, Adam uses his best judgement to decide how to proceed:
– “Say it again, this time softer.”
– “Yes, now repeat that three times in a row. Make eye contact with everyone.”
– “Add just a little more softness to you voice.”
– “Where are your hands when you say that? Show me where your hands are.”
He pushes us. Offers comfort. Gently receives with a slight bow of the head. One man’s statement was so profound and gut-wrenching that Adam stood behind him in solidarity and took him into an embrace, the student enveloped in Adam’s arms.
> After the journaling purge, Adam tells us to find someone to be with. To truly, honestly just “be with” this person, whether it’s crying or dialoguing or sitting in meditation. A female dancer from New York is seated right next to me, and we situate ourselves shoulder to shoulder.
“What do you want?” she asks, and I say I just want to hold her like this—me straddling her between my legs as she leans back into my torso, my arms around her from behind. We roll on top of each other, her weight on me; the sensation of her sliding over my back and shoulders brings me to tears. I inhale her shampoo.
* * *
The workshop ends shortly thereafter, our group assembled in a huge circle, holding hands, our eyes taking in every person who has shared our fear that weekend. We all went through some pretty intense and perhaps unflattering moments, yet at this conclusion—amazingly—we all look radiant. Our eyes speak truth.
My headache is gone, and I no longer feel ill. My eyes are puffy, but they are not “sad” eyes. I am exhausted but invigorated.
As stated earlier, the workshop officially starts when one RSVPs and makes the commitment to attend. However, there is no official end to such an endeavor. The work continues even after the studio lights go out, the parking lot is empty, and Adam flies back to England.
We’ve been cracked open; now it’s time to get cookin.’
After waiting patiently for 2 years for Maryland-based life dance coach Michelle Dubreuil Macek to return to my home turf, this past April I was finally able to dive back into Biodanza.
With a nickname like the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia seems to be a perfect setting for Biodanza, as the practice—“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”—is all about exploring the capacity to connect with your classmates, your neighbors, and the human race as a whole. Bring on the love, yo.
The practice of Biodanza reminds participants what it’s like to feel human—to breathe, to move freely, to embrace the vulnerability that comes with eye contact and individual attention, to brush past another’s arm or hand without getting flustered and feeling the need to apologize profusely for—heaven forbid!—having a fleeting moment of skin-on-skin contact with a fellow human being.
When I took my first Biodanza class in March of 2011 (detailed recap here), I was just starting out on my quest to explore my kinesthetic curiosity (alliteration intended). I had been dancing 5Rhythms for a year at that point, but was still relatively new to allowing myself to be fully present with others on the dance floor. I hadn’t done any 5Rhythms workshops or intensives at that point, and the videos of Biodanza that Michelle had posted on her website intimidated me, with all of the smiling and touching and laughing and dilated pupil moments.
I was used to dancing with myself, telling my story, with others in the background or as complementary characters. Biodanza was now asking me to incorporate these other people into my story, to make them part of my world too!
The first couple of minutes were hard for me. Then things got easier. Fun, even! That class 2 years ago was the first time I met (a different) Michelle, who has since become one of my closest dancing sisters, in that our souls have a secret and profound way of communicating with each other whenever we meet on the dance floor.
I hadn’t danced Biodanza since then, but if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I’ve amped up my 5Rhythms practice significantly during the past 2 years. 5Rhythms isn’t Biodanza and Biodanza isn’t 5Rhythms, but the two modalities work extremely well together in terms of exploring authentic movement and intentional connection.
In fact, both practices are based around “5s”: The 5Rhythms are Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness; in Biodanza, the “Five Lines of Vivencia” are Vitality, Sexuality, Creativity, Affectivity, and Transcendence. Imagine both of those frameworks being written on transparent paper and placed on top of each other: Can you see the overlap?!
The class last month was two hours long and included several exercises that transformed our group of 11 from mostly strangers and acquaintances into a pretty tight gang (in fact, several of us went out for a group dinner afterward to prolong the friendship).
In the spirit of that magic number, I’ll discuss the 5 exercises that impacted me the most and which I think are good representations of the Biodanza practice.
WALKING vs. DANCING
One of the first exercises we did after introducing ourselves was pair with a partner, hold hands, and walk around the studio to music. Seems easy enough, but the tricky part was being reminded to simply walk with our partner, not dance. Michelle instructed us to hold eye contact with our partner, to just be there with him or her without feeling the need to entertain or do something together. It’s one of the few times that walking became more challenging than dancing; the utter simplicity of being versus doing (with someone we just met!) somehow felt more intimate than slow dancing at the junior prom.
SENSATIONS and SOUNDS
Imagine someone standing behind you, placing their hands lightly on your ankles, and then sweeping their hands upward, passing over your calves, thighs, buttocks, spine, neck, and finally—with a grand flourish—through your hair or over your scalp. What would the soundtrack to that elongated caress sound like? Would it be “WooooooooooOOOOO!” or “AhhhhhHHHHHHH!” or “EeeeeeeeeeEEE!“?
As the receiver of this touch, are you able to fully tune into where your partner’s hands are in relation to how quickly or slowly you are vocalizing? Are you making noise just to make noise, or are you truly feeling the marriage of touch and sound?
As the “sweeper,” are you paying attention to your partner’s body or just quickly going through the motions? Is your partner wearing pants, or do you feel the skin of his/her calves? What does the fabric of your partner’s shirt feel like? Did your hands explode through a thick mane of wavy locks, or did your fingertips glide over a bald scalp?
Now, imagine your partner giving a gentle poke to your nose. A firm tap on your shoulder. Another nose poke, nose poke, nose poke, followed by a quick pat on your head. What does that sound like? Maybe that combination of touches sounded something like “Meep! Hmm. Meep! Meep! Meep! Ahhhh.”
This exercise turned our bodies into instruments, and the “receivers” had very little time (milliseconds!) to emit a sound that paired with their partners’ exploratory taps, touches, brushes, pokes, and pats. It was fun for both the giver, for whom the exercise was a bit like playing the game of Simon without rhyme or reason, and for the receiver, who was often surprised by what came out of his or her mouth.
With five pairs doing this exercise at once, the studio sounded like a bunch of robots gone haywire, blipping and beeping, meeping and squeaking. I don’t think there was anyone who didn’t break out laughing at one point or another.
BE and BREATHE
After all that entertainment, we had a bit of a serious moment with our partner, as one person lay down on his/her back and the other person simply rested a hand on the other’s belly. For about 3 minutes, all we did was be quietly present with our partner, either relaxing into the ground and being receptive to the human hand resting on our rising and falling bellies or being completely enamored with nothing else but our partner’s inhalations and exhalations.
The exercise was simple but profound, a tactile reminder of the breath of life. My partner was moved, commenting that the exercise reminded her of her mother’s passing and the gratitude of being able to be present for those last precious moments.
During one of the few exercises in which we partnered with ourselves, we all found a spot in the room in which we felt comfortable, closed our eyes, and allowed our bodies to unfold to slow, sensual music. Michelle reminded us to stay close to our hearts for this one, to feel the movement begin in the heart and radiate outward, not to get too caught up in grand choreography. We had just done so much work being present with partners; this was the time to get intimate with our own hearts.
It was hard for me to stay in one place, as the swelling music was just tempting me to dive into the dance floor. What I didn’t realize was that that part was coming up next; the point of this particular exercise was to contain the movement, to feel it deeply in yourself before passing it along.
In the proceeding exercise, Michelle invited our heart dances to move outside of their confined spaces and among the group. The gradual build-up beforehand allowed my movement to grow, expand, and finally be fully shared with others. The light and airy weaving of bodies in and around each other reminded me of the rhythm of Lyrical, our arms and hands extending like kites dancing in a gentle spring breeze.
Partner dancing with someone when both of your eyes are open ain’t no thang, but what happens when you turn off the sense of vision and have to rely primarily on touch? This was the basis of the dance of relationship, joining palms with a partner, closing the eyes, and feeling where the dance would go next. Movements had to be slow, deliberate, and incredibly mindful; if your partner shot his arm upward without any warning, you’d be left standing there with an empty palm, the connection broken due to lack of kinesthetic communication.
The challenge of this exercise was to strike a balance between awareness and attention, to sink into a soft dance without being obsessed with or hyperaware of every gesture. How much do you trust your partner, and how willing are you to let go and have faith in this mutual movement?
~ ~ ~
Much like my last class two years ago, I left this most recent Biodanza class feeling very deeply for my fellow dancers. I may not have remembered everyone’s names, but I sure did remember their eyes, their smiles, their particular body language. It was hard to part ways immediately after the workshop, and that’s why a few of us extended the evening and went out to dinner. The desire to stay connected was palpable in the post-class atmosphere.
However, I also learned that night as I left the city that the essence of Biodanza ends on the subway platform, where “human encounter” is seldom poetry but rather a short story, sometimes nothing but a trifold pamphlet.
My eyes were wide open when I entered the train, willing to make contact with another, eager for my personal verse/stanza to be joined by another’s until the entire train car was a collaborative poem of human encounter. But no one wants to make eye contact on the subway; the M.O. is head down, earbuds in place, hands in pockets.
Let’s work on this, shall we?! Michelle has plans to return to Philadelphia on June 8 at Mama’s Wellness Joint in Center City. Will you help the City of Brotherly Love become just a little more, well, loveable? Like this happy group of folks?
Not even 15 minutes into a 5Rhythms class this past weekend, I started crying.
At first I thought it was just a random blip of emotion, but the blip continued to burgeon. Burgeoning eventually gave way to bawling.
I had been caught off guard by a movement-induced meltdown.
Dancing is normally such a joyous outlet for me, even on days I feel like the Tin Man for the first half of class. My muscles may be achy and I may feel a bit discombobulated, but I trust the practice and know deep inside that if I commit to continuous movement, my self-conscious skin will eventually shed and I’ll be a free woman within the 1-hour mark.
I’m aware that movement can also stir up the junk in the trunk and cause some pretty spectacular emotional escapades, but—at least for me—those have mostly been reserved for workshop-based settings; for example, Day 3 of a Heartbeat-level 5Rhythms workshop based around the concept of fear. In that type of setting, however, we are intentionally pushed to test our limits, and the exercises are specifically structured to move us gradually from the physical body to the emotional realm. Tears, sobbing, and moaning are pretty much the norm, especially when we have no physical energy left to stave off whatever’s been hiding underneath all the chaos.
I’ve had teary-eyed endings in several regular classes, even one class that ended with me shaking on the floor in a puddle of sweat. But after dancing for 2+ hours, I’d expect nothing less than at least some kind of emotional release, be it crying or shaking or even just smiling uncontrollably.
The difference with this release, however, was that it was so early in the practice, so sudden.
I remember being very cold. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, but the church hall we were dancing in had been locked up all morning and felt nearly 15 degrees cooler than the outside. People were dancing in their coats; several individuals who normally dance barefoot kept their socks on.
This was strike one. A hardcore vata, I hate being cold. Logically I knew that moving would no doubt warm me up, but it felt completely hopeless at the time.
As a result, I felt unusually uninspired, uncoordinated, and sloppy. I began to view my body as a hastily drawn stick figure, limbs angular and harsh, no softness, no fluidity, no sensuality. Even in the rhythm of Flowing, which carries such an earthy and organic quality, I found no inspiration.
I tried focusing on my feet, the body part associated with Flowing, but I felt like my left foot was now my right and vice versa. I did not feel steady or balanced.
A feeling of panic began to fester in my gut, a voice telling me that I was not the sensual person I thought myself to be. If my body and spirit were a utensil, I wanted to be seen as a spoon—curved, smooth, having a space for holding, an object that could cradle both hot soup and ice cream. Instead, I felt like a pair of cheap throwaway wooden chopsticks, rough and splintered.
I noticed there were more African American women in the class than normal, and every time I glanced at one of them, the gnawing in my solar plexus intensified. As I’ve written before, I have this unexplainable attraction to African-rooted dance forms and music. I envy Black dancers’ bodies, the way their hips and shoulders roll like butter. Black women are always making their into my dreams; most recently, I dreamed about a group of Black women entering a hotel lobby I was waiting in, pulling out instruments, and starting to play jazz/world music. I could not help myself from dancing, and in the dream I moved effortlessly, dancing like I have never danced before, my body and the music becoming one. I felt like magic!
Well, I did not feel like magic on that Saturday in the chilly church hall. Perhaps the post from fellow blogger Stephanie in which she writes about her dream of “the chocolate-colored woman” was clinging to my consciousness. In this post, Stephanie elaborates on the works of Jungian analyst Marion Woodman, who described the symbolism of dreams involving dark and white women:
“The Dark Goddess has to do with the Earth, the humus, the humility, the human. She has to do with sexuality, with the sheer joy of the body, with fecundity and the lusciousness of the Earth and with the love that can honour the imperfections in the human being.
Whereas the White Goddess tends to make people idealize themselves and therefore develop a huge shadow, the Black Goddess, through her sense of humour and immense love for humanity, helps us to accept our imperfections. Not only that, she helps us to see that a lot of things that we may have considered shameful in ourselves are not shameful at all.”
Was that why I began to cry every time I looked at one of the Black women dancing, my frozen body’s way of wanting to thaw and lap up the lusciousness of the earth?
I’m not exaggerating, either. Every time my eyes crossed paths with a dark-skinned woman, I felt the heaviness in my gut grow and tears spring to my eyes. I wasn’t envious of their bodies, per se, more like what they embodied. And it was all coming to a head on the dance floor.
In response, I began to use a wall for support. It was what my body asked for, to lean against something rather than stand alone in space. The wall became my partner, and once I felt its support, I could not part with it. With the backs of my legs plastered against the wood, I bent forward, head dangling, hands in my hair, and BOOM—steady tears came flowing, then sobbing, that “point of no return” crying that crumples and contorts your whole face.
What I knew I had to do was keep moving. It’s something every 5Rhythms teacher stresses, to allow the emotion to continue to dance, even when our natural reaction is to want to curl up in a fetal position and let tears take over.
It felt so hopeless at the time. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to peel myself from the wall, and I briefly envisioned doing an entire 2.5-hour class in that one spot. I tried every now and then to step away, but the separation felt terrifying. Back to wall I went. One of my classmates shared later that he had contemplated attempting to draw me away from the wall but then reconsidered, sensing I was where I needed to be and that I’d work it out on my own.
And it’s true, I did. Eyes swollen and face still puffy, I was eventually able to break free from the wall. I made sure to stay on the one side of the dance floor, the side with the windows where sunlight streamed through. It felt safe to stand in the warmth.
I survived the first Wave but just barely. I wasn’t satisfied with the way it ended, partnered for eternity with someone whose rhythm just didn’t match mine. I kept waiting and waiting for the instructor to call “Change partners” or “Dance on your own, ” but instead I slogged through Lyrical and Stillness half-heartedly, me doing my thing, my partner doing another thing, a lackluster connection that triggered the anxiety I had just worked so hard to vanquish.
Meltdown, part II.
As the first Wave ended and people gathered to listen to the instructor speak, I extended my Stillness in the upstairs bathroom, the need for something to lean on again a priority. I found a little space on the floor between the sink and the window, curled up in a ball, and found comfort in the gurgling, hissing radiator at my side and the blinding sunlight illuminating my face. I’m not usually one to “escape” during class, but I saw this as a much needed release, plus it wouldn’t have been very considerate of me to sob away during the instructor’s presentation. The watery, steamy radiator sounds complemented my tears, ultimately ushering me into my own version of Stillness.
When I finally ventured back downstairs to join the class, I felt paralyzed with raw awareness, awe, and appreciation, and even when the music started up again, I couldn’t rise from sitting; I just wanted to watch all of my classmates move, tears flowing down my face, like I was watching the final scene of one achingly heartwarming movie. I didn’t know if I was sad or had transcended to a heightened level of sensitivity in which every person was so divinely beautiful. All I knew is that I didn’t want to move, I wanted to watch, I wanted to witness each person in their moment.
Who knows how long I would have sat there, had it not been for the aid of one of my classmates, who approached me, leaned down with extended arms, and pulled me off the ground?
Of course that person was a chocolate-colored woman—one of my favorite dancers, Michelle—making the class and all of my related emotional outbursts come full circle.
The rest of the class was refreshingly satisfying for me, and the lump I had originally felt in my solar plexus area had completely vanished.
Below are some of my own suggestions for dealing with an emotional release that crops up during dance:
1. Embrace this information; don’t fight it! Your body obviously has something to say to you. Movement happened to be the key to getting it out of hiding.
2. Don’t be embarrassed. You’re in a supportive environment, and most conscious dance tribes totally understand these types of releases.
3. Keep moving (and breathing!). Movement created the release, and continuing to move will allow whatever is speaking to pass through you. As Adam Barley said once during a long workshop, “If you’re tired, dance a tired Chaos.”
4. Stay aware of your movement but try not to over-analyze it. Approach dancing like meditation, taking note of a particular pattern or repetition (e.g., a desire to cling to the wall, clenched fists) but don’t dwell on it or try to make it a “story.” Just allow it to happen.
5. Be aware of your surroundings. If you feel like you’re going to have wild outbursts of emotion, consider moving to the perimeter of the dance floor so you don’t accidentally hurt someone else.
6. At the same time, try to stay a part of the group and don’t distance yourself too much. It’s why I waited until the first Wave ended before I escaped onto the bathroom floor, despite just wanting to get the hell off the dance floor.
7. Keep in mind that some people may feel compelled to “rescue” you from your “crisis.” If you’d rather work it out on your own, offer a simple hand gesture or eye contact that says, “Thanks, but I’m OK.” Other times, maybe you need that support, the way I reached my arms out to Michelle so she could lift me off the ground.
8. Offer gratitude. If someone’s smile, touch, or gesture provided just the slightest amount of comfort during your release, pay it back to them, either on the dance floor with a similar gesture, or after class, with a hug or comment of appreciation. This exchange is what builds community.
9. Take time during break or after class to journal about the experience or debrief with a trusted classmate/friend. It’s important for the information to be processed, even if you don’t necessarily know “why” it happened or what it means.
10. Be happy that your practice is so therapeutic, even if it doesn’t feel so in the throes of an emotional release. I may feel utterly exhausted at the end of an emotional dance, but the fear/panic/crying/nausea/headache/solar plexus-heaviness that was so present during class almost always dissipates afterward, reinforcing the notion that movement is indeed medicine!