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When I first sat down to write this post, the phrase that initially came to mind was a variation of the classic line from The Sixth Sense:

“I see dead people.”

Except in my case, the unusual phenomenon I experience is nowhere near as spooky as Haley Joel Osment’s, only occurs during highly meditative experiences (usually moving/dancing), and the people I see are bursting with life.

Skelton_DanceFloor2

In short, when I am immersed for long stretches of time in meditative activity with other people (e.g., a 3-day 5Rhythms workshop), the faces of those with whom I am moving/dancing/flowing/growing begin to fill my mind whenever I close my eyes. Sometimes it happens when I’m dancing, sometimes during meditation, and almost always occurs in those few moments before falling asleep at night.

It’s a bit like watching a movie but feels more personal, that I am not just an observer but a participant as well. It’s not intrusive at all; in fact, it feels comforting, like I have bits and pieces of each and every one of my classmates downloaded inside of me.

However, before I continue, let me refer you to some previous posts in which I describe these experiences.

Last summer, during a day-long workshop with 5Rhythms teacher Rivi Diamond, this happened near the end of the class:

“I experienced a brief sensation of aloneness as I walked through a ‘graveyard’ of bodies, people spread out in various shapes of savasana. It was as though everyone’s old self was dying, melting into the earth, and I was joining them in this passage. It was a bit sad, but when I closed my eyes I saw all of my classmates’ faces so vividly, each of them crying along with me. It may sound mournful to have that kind of vision, but it was actually an uplifting one, a bit of an energetic reminder that everyone hurts, everyone cries, everyone needs each other.”

During my month at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health for the 200-hour yoga teacher training, I had all kinds of intense visualizations during savasana and meditation:

“Ever since I came here, I’ve had very vivid images dance in my head when I close my eyes. For example, when in a flowing posture, like standing forward bend or bridge, I’d close my eyes and see random snapshots of people–all Kripalu people. I’ll close my eyes at night or during savasana and see quick flashes of people in bandanas, people with shawls, smiling, happy, introspective, compassionate Kripalu people, like I’m looking in a photo album (in fast forward) of all the residents here. However, there are times (usually during chanting, centering, pranayama, and sometimes during certain poses) that I close my eyes and see us all as a unified group. Amazingly synchronized. Holding hands, or arms raised, our mouths open in Om. I see our group, our tribe, together. So tight, as One.” (source)

“How many times have I lay in savasana, and this is the first time I get this wild sensation of simultaneous rising and falling, the soft earth greeting my back with a gentle nudge. I sink and the whole class sinks with me, my friends, all gently sliding into the ground…. At the end of meditation, we chant Om, and I envision our entire class in white clothing. As the sound swells, I so briefly and vividly feel like we’re back in the ashram, our gurus at the front. It’s very beautiful.” (source)

Now, I am a writer and have been told I have a very vivid imagination, but I honestly believe these are more than simply illustrations I have consciously planted in my mind. I don’t “conjure up” these experiences; they just happen. I don’t rest my head on my pillow at night and actively direct my brain to recount all the people I have danced with. I close my eyes, and—like a flip book—I see Christina shaking in Chaos, Rebekah swinging her hair around in Flowing, Lana lying in Stillness.

It’s almost as though my brain has been “uploading” media files all day; closing my eyes is the time for the files to play back.

Very often, I can feel this “uploading” process take place. It usually takes a few hours of movement and almost always happens during the Lyrical portion of a 5Rhythms class. I go from feeling me to feeling everyone. My eyes lift from the floor, and suddenly the people I’ve been dancing with are no longer bodies with names but rather energy with faces, and I feel amazingly connected to everyone in the room, even people who might otherwise rub me the wrong way.

It’s usually at this point I stop dancing and begin weaving in and out of the group or around the room, my eyes locking on every face I pass, my arms instinctively rising upward, my palms widening as though to collect every morsel of electric energy that is crackling in the air.

Each time my eyes gaze into another pair, there’s a little energetic camera shutter-like “snap,” that person’s image and energy being stored in my circuitry. Shortly after that, the images go from sharp to blurry, almost as if to say, “There is no separation between us. We are all one.”

Sometimes I’ll even feel like I’m embodying others. I remember one time I swung my loose hair around but “saw” my classmate’s face instead of my own underneath all that hair.

Other times my classmates become hybrids of each other. I specifically remember one moment in Stillness—I was in such a deep meditation—that in my mind’s eye the person I was dancing with had the face of one man but the clothes and mannerisms of another.

And here’s an even more curious phenomenon: There have been times after class when I see the silhouette of a classmate but the “face” my brain is trying to pin on the shadow keeps morphing. I logically know I am looking at Person A, but the face my eyes keep trying to see in the dark changes from Person A to Person B to Person C, almost like Person A is embodying everyone else, too!

The one thing I’ve noticed is that for these experiences to occur, I must be engaging in some kind of prolonged meditative work. And that’s why these “visions” don’t freak me out or make me question my sanity, because they only happen when I am in a heightened state of consciousness. Believe me, I don’t go home every day and see my coworkers’ faces behind my eyelids, although it would be nice to experience my colleagues on that kind of universal level.

Another thing that reassures me that I’m not nuts is Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED Talk. Taylor is a neuroanatomist who suffered a stroke and—because of her insight and knowledge about the brain—was able to track as much of the experience as possible, as it was unfolding. In her talk, she describes the two hemispheres of the brain. The left, whose purpose is to function in the “I” voice, and then the right, which is focused on the “we”:

“Our right hemisphere, it thinks in pictures and it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies. Information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory systems. And then it explodes into this enormous collage of what this present moment looks like…. I am an energy being connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere. We are energy beings connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family. And right here, right now, all we are brothers and sisters on this planet, here to make the world a better place. And in this moment we are perfect. We are whole. And we are beautiful.”

When I heard her describe this, I nearly burst into tears. I felt like she was describing all of my dance/yoga/meditation experiences!

Taylor’s stroke was a huge physical setback, but those hours in which her left brain shut off and her right hemisphere took over contributed to a monumental spiritual and emotional awakening that set the course for her recovery:

“I realized ‘But I’m still alive! I’m still alive and I have found Nirvana. And if I have found Nirvana and I’m still alive, then everyone who is alive can find Nirvana.’ I picture a world filled with beautiful, peaceful, compassionate, loving people who knew that they could come to this space at any time. And that they could purposely choose to step to the right of their left hemispheres and find this peace. And then I realized what a tremendous gift this experience could be, what a stroke of insight this could be to how we live our lives. And it motivated me to recover.”

My faces, my visions, my “uploads,” my video montages are all small reminders that we don’t need to have a stroke to experience at least a little part of what Taylor was describing.

How fortunate that I can understand this Nirvana that she speaks of, and that I can get halfway there through the right combination of movement, mindfulness, and meditation.

Sky mosaic

I’d love to hear from people who experience similar (or totally different!) visions during this kind of work. Please share your stories in the comments!

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When I first began seriously practicing 5Rhythms and similar movement meditation modalities three years ago, I was very hesitant to break out of my little bubble and make eye contact with others, let alone reach out and hold hands with a stranger. It’s funny, because I had no problem getting into booty-shaking dance-offs with bar-goers at my favorite club, yet for some reason the notion of standing face-to-face with someone during a Lyrical song created all kinds of anxiety. It took several months before my eyes could lift away from the floor and into another’s pupils, and maybe even longer before I was ready to openly accept and initiate any kind of tactile intimacy.

At first, 5Rhythms was just about “the dance” to me. Dancing freely to a variety of music was what I did in my living room, and now I had found an alcohol-free, unsleazy and safe place to do it, with a DJ on hand and classmates who didn’t care about my crazy moves. But over time, more emotions began to crop up during the practice, protective layers were peeled from my heart and solar plexus, and I gradually began to realize that the 5Rhythms its ilk weren’t just about moving—they were about being moved. Quality music was an essential part of that equation, but more important were the people who came along with me for the ride.

I’ve been in many partnerships since then, some lasting 30 seconds, some over 5 minutes, and some a regular occurrence with each class. Some relationships are sweet and tender, others ferocious and feral. But each person who crosses my path touches my heart, and our sharing—however brief it may be—helps me understand myself just a little more.

That said, on this Valentine’s Day—this Hallmark-inspired love-fest—I’d like to highlight some of my most memorable dance partnerships. I’ve looked into the eyes of so many individuals since beginning this journey, but these are the one-on-one moments that have made a significant impression on my heart.

RoseInstallation

“Fire of Love” installation, September 2012

1. The ferocious wildcat-zombie explosion with Lauren. This sudden meet-up on the dance floor was so beyond the flowing waves-and-shoreline dance Lauren and I had shared back in August. This time, we were at Michael Molin-Skelton‘s workshop in Philadelphia, emotions running high after three days of work. We crossed paths as we paced in the center of the room, and, like hungry jaguars, the two of us just attacked each other without warning. Our eyes were glowing like demons, our teeth were bared, we screamed in each other’s faces, grabbed shoulders, and pulled ourselves down to the floor like vicious zombies. It was intense but exciting, two wildcats needing to release their energy.

2. “Slow Like Honey” Lyrical with Stavros. I had been dancing with Stavros for some time but never really allowed myself to surrender to a partnership with him. Fiona Apple’s sultry song finally opened me up, and there was twirling, slithering, crawling, clawing, and grasping. At one point, my feet nearly left the ground, clinging onto his shirt as he spun me around and around. This was a big moment for me, creating a huge shift in the way I dance with and trust others.

3. Revealer/Responder dance with Genevieve. I was paired with this French-Canadian woman during Amara Pagano‘s Fire of Love workshop in September. Amara prompted one of us to dance out a problem/obstacle in our current life (reveal) as the other responded by offering movement-based motivation. Our partnership was such a rich conversation of fear, empathy, support, and encouragement. We had never met before, didn’t even know each other’s name, but Genevieve felt like my BFF after those few moments, like we had just read our diaries to each other and promised not to tell anyone else what we had heard.

4. Active/Passive Theatrics with Laura. I went to my first Group Motion class earlier this month and had the pleasure of pairing up with Laura, who also happens to be a Group Motion facilitator on the Main Line. At times more theatrical than dance, our partnership involved silly faces, vaudeville-esque movement, and the most intimate understanding of the subtlest of gestures. By the end, I felt like we had re-enacted a soap opera, circus, and reality TV show all in a matter of minutes. Laura couldn’t believe it was my first time at Group Motion; I couldn’t believe I had so much fun!

5. Occupying my body with Lana. With each change of the season, Lana, one of the Philadelphia 5Rhythms tribeholders, has been leading the yoga portion of an event called Occupy Your Body. Following the yoga comes a 5Rhythms class. As summer turned to fall, Lana and I got entangled in a luscious dance that had us rolling all over the floor and in each other’s hair, like, well, hungry lovers. It went on and on and on, and I never grew tired of her! The whole thing was so dream-like and luxurious, like we were honey and butter running together on a slice of toast.

6. Eye gazing with Rhonda. My connection with the owner of Yoga for Living, who hosts a monthly 5Rhythms class, had been growing stronger by the month, but on this night during Stillness it truly came through during the dance: We linked hands and arms, leaned on each other for support, rolled on the floor together, held the weight of the other’s skulls in our hands, ran fingers through hair. It required a lot of trust and a huge opening of the heart. To end class, we stayed together for an eye-gazing meditation, in which each person stares into the other’s left eye. This was the Stillness to end all Stillnesses, because, really, what act is simultaneously so still yet so moving? After class, we were both a bit weepy. Also, the moment Rhonda nestled up to me in a spooning position after a recent YogaDance class with Nikki was just as memorable.

7. I’m-Not-Sure-What’s-Going-On-But-It-Feels-Otherworldy dance with Michelle. I first met Michelle during a Biodanza class in Philadelphia. We had a great connection, and since then have really supported each other on the dance floor. During a recent workshop with Lucia Horan and Douglas Drummond, Michelle and I crossed paths briefly, I began to drift away, and Michelle pleaded, “Don’t you go anywhere. I need you.” Her energy was waning, and she knew I’d recharge her spirits. We met again during Stillness and proceeded to sink deep into one of the wildest trances I’ve ever been in. Our eyes stayed locked on each other, and I swear we were both speaking tongues, the lightest of touches creating a ripple of energy through our bodies. We were communicating like animals: crawling, sniffing, cooing and humming. At one point, I had an intuitive urge to cradle the back of her head and lie her down on the floor ever-so-slowly. Lucia said later the interaction had brought her to tears. The whole thing really can’t be described properly in words; all I know is that the energy Michelle and I share is out of this world.

8. Storming with Johanna. Another workshop with Lucia and Douglas had Johanna and I partnered up to dance out the Chaos roles of “eye of the storm” and “the storm.” I see a lot of myself in Johanna (and from what she’s shared, she sees some of herself in me); put us together, and we’re Hurricane Johannifer. We both can be very “pretty” dancers, but we also have high-voltage moments of Chaos. I felt honored to let loose in her presence.

9. Septuagenarian Stillness with Phil. When Phil, the Philadelphia 5Rhythms tribeholder who—for months—worked tirelessly to get me to make eye contact with him, turned 70, he organized one hell of a birthday bash to take place after Amara Pagano’s Fire of Love workshop. Wanting to make a public statement about how deeply dance has become part of his life, he reached out to the dancers with whom he’s connected the most, creating a personalized Wave for others to witness. Phil and I have partnered for every rhythm at one point or another, but it’s during the final rhythm that our energies align in the most mysterious of ways; therefore, he chose me to dance Stillness with him. Having heard our selected music separately but never together, I was curious how things would unfold, especially in front of an audience, which is normally not the case. What we learned that night was that once we made and sustained eye contact (which is no longer an issue!), the “conversation” would be poignant and effortless. We received several touching comments from our classmates afterward; one woman said she wanted to go home and write a poem about the dance—she was that moved. Being Phil’s partner that night was the best birthday gift I could offer; I hope he’s around when I turn 50 so I can ask him to do the same for my milestone birthday!

10. Crushing leaves with Mia. At Michael Molin-Skelton’s workshop, our group was divided into two: one to dance, one to witness. So there I was, at the front of the room, minding my own business dancing out fear or doubt or somethingorother, when suddenly I spin around on the floor and lock eyes with Mia—POW! In that instant, just one second of our “windows of our souls” meeting for the first time, we became partners telling a story of betrayal? Lost love? Jealousy? Heck, I don’t know what story we were telling, but we were rolling all over the place and taking the dried autumn leaves that Michael had scattered on the floor and smashing them in each other’s palms. Our movements were executed purely by energetic awareness; at times we had come very close to crashing into each other but always intuitively knew when to shift positions. Afterward, the classmates who had been witnessing us asked if (a) we knew each other, and (b) if we had choreographed that dance. The most amazing thing was that I had only just met Mia, and everything was 100% improvised. In my 3 years of conscious dancing, that was perhaps the most thrilling and chilling spontaneous movement ever.

11. Floating in Flowing with Phil and Rand. OK, so this partnership is actually a threesome, but whenever I think back to this moment, my body still carries the light-as-air quality from that exchange. It was a regular Waves class with Peter Fodera; my Stillness partnership with Rand had ended with me shifting backward and leaning over into Phil, who I didn’t know was right behind me. The music transitioned right into Flowing again—“Rosasolis,” a delightful buoyant song of strings and piano that had me floating lyrically between the two men, my body feeling like a wispy dandelion seed dancing in a summer breeze. I was also in a bit of a hypnotic state, and my body completely surrendered to the music. Joy, ecstasy, boundless happiness… what a wonderful trio we were.

12. Touching Tanya. Tanya was a woman I was paired up with for a few minutes during the Slow Dancing with Chaos workshop in New York. I don’t remember what rhythm we were in, but I could tell she had a sense of playfulness and adventure about her; however, it was evident she had some kind of medical condition, and I was initially a bit reluctant to initiate contact. Good thing that reservation lasted only seconds, though, because soon enough we were romping and rocking around, a “conversation” that went back and forth between silliness and sensitivity. I think we were both a bit taken aback at the wordless connection that had developed in those few minutes. Before we parted, we embraced, Tanya sharing that that was one of the best dances she’s experienced. Me too, Tanya! For the remainder of the workshop, every time we saw each other I had a sense of gratitude wash over me.

13. Being a Wild Woman with Someone Who’s Scared Shitless. During the first night of Michael Molin-Skelton’s workshop this past fall, I was partnered with a short older Asian woman whose name I’m unfortunately totally going to butcher (it sounded like “Gua-lin”). The instruction was for one of us to dance our hearts out as the other stood off to the side and simply witnessed, pouring all of our love and attention into our partner’s dance. We rotated back and forth in these roles. Gualin was one rockin’ little lady, and her occasional tongue clicks and eyes-closed smiles were adorable and infectious. Michael then had us sit down with this partner for a bit of an “interview” session during which we repeated the same prompt over and over:  “Gualin, tell me who you are.” The point of the exercise is to get the person to move past all the superficial crap (“I’m an editor,” “I’m a 32-year-old blogger”) and down to the meaty stuff that matters. I treasured every word that Gualin shared with me—so much disclosure for someone I had just met. We were then asked to introduce our partner to the group using the phrase that stood out most during our interviews. Gualin was “scared shitless.” I was “a wild woman.” I didn’t see Gualin again until a workshop just a few weeks ago, but I was overjoyed to see my scared shitless friend!

14. Revival with Chad. I was in such a funk on the final day of Michael Molin-Skelton’s workshop. We had all started sitting around the perimeter of the dance studio, and as people felt so inclined, they stood up and began to move. The point was to begin moving when you felt moved, to be very intentional about when you stood up. I lingered on the outskirts for some time. People were hopping and bopping, and I just didn’t get it. I was actually beginning to get pissed that others were feeling something amazing and I wasn’t. I was off in my own little world when suddenly Chad, a dancer from Virginia, appeared in front of me. I was sitting, and I looked up at him, initially thinking, “OK, I’ll wiggle around a little here on the floor, and then you go on your way, please.” The thing was, Chad lingered. It felt like he wasn’t giving up on me, like he was dancing not just for his own benefit but for ours. It was magic. He reached his hand out and pulled me off the floor; we found a free space at the edge of the room and busted some moves. My mood changed in milliseconds; it reminded me of when Michelle (#7 from above) begged me to stay with her because she needed me. I guess I really needed Chad at that moment.

*  *  *

What I find so exciting about this practice is that each time I say to myself “That was the best dance ever,” there’s always something more amazing that proceeds it. It was difficult to narrow this list down to 14, and I’ve only been doing this for three years. What will I be able to gush about 10 years from now? 20?

May my memory be stuffed like a hope chest with hundreds of love letters to all of the partners who have crossed my dancing path.

CalendarArt_Tribe2

I’ve been experiencing some discomfort in my foot recently, and my podiatrist—an athlete who knows better than to tell an active patient, “Well, just stop dancing for a bit!”—recommended taping my big toe to help stabilize the joint that’s causing me pain. This isn’t that fancy kinesio taping method you see on Olympic divers, either. Nah, this is a just an ugly mound of adhesive that looks like I’ve broken my toe.

Taped Toe

My movement isn’t too inhibited by the tape—I’ve just been advised not to go into full relevé on my left side. However, after a test dance in my carpeted living room that had bits of hair and rug fuzz clinging to the unraveling tape, I decided that maybe I should protect the tape by wearing my soft-soled jazz shoes.

Although most people dance 5Rhythms barefoot, there is no shame in wearing shoes during class. Jazz shoes, ballet slippers, FootUndeez, lyrical sandals, sneakers set aside solely to the dance floor…all are welcome, as long as they aren’t worn out on the street. Heck, a young woman came to class the other day in an orthopedic walking boot.

During a recent 5Rhythms class in New York City, I completed the first of two Waves in my jazz shoes. They protected my tape, and I also felt like the shoe’s slight heel and split sole gave me more support. But as I started the second Wave, I found myself falling into a foot funk, looking enviously at all the beautiful exposed toes and cracked heels flying around me.

Most of all, what I was longing for was the sense of connection that comes from dancing barefoot. You wouldn’t think that a think layer of leather and rubber would create an energetic barrier, but it does! The bottoms of the feet are loaded with acupressure points, and their stimulation can affect all body systems and energy channels.

The minute I decided to say hell with it and peel off my shoes and socks—that moment when my once-cocooned feet touched the cool floor—I simultaneously felt both ferociously wild and peacefully contained. Almost instantly, I could feel my dance change. I wasn’t doing new moves; rather, it was my body being moved differently as my feet were given the freedom to breathe in and receive the bubbling waves of energy around me.

Appropriately, the shoe removal came just before a dance-mix mash-up of The Doors’ “Break On Through” ripped through the studio speakers. My cloaked feet had broken through to the other side, a new nakedness that gave me a sense of falling into the floor and ascending high past the Manhattan skyline. I was walking on air, stomping on flames, sinking into sand, stepping into the unknown…and feeling every sensation of the journey.

I don’t recommend compromising comfort and podiatric health, but, if possible, I do encourage trying out even just a few minutes of being barefoot. How does the connection with the ground below you influence your dance? If impossible to remove your shoes, allow the palms of your hands (also loaded with acupressure points) to explore the floor. You may be amazed at the energy you can harness from these extremities.

Beach feet

While at a Traditional Chinese Medicine conference late last year for work, my younger sister Carolyn—a comedian who has no problem standing in front of others and turning her sex life and freaky foibles into laughable anecdotes—stepped out of her comfort zone (and cushy hotel room) to participate in what the meeting program had labeled as a Qi Dancing evening event.

“Should I gooooo?” she had texted me nervously a half hour before it began.

“YES!” I replied with gusto. “Write about it for my blog!”, imagining rich descriptions of elegant martial arts-inspired dance moves, participants floating across the room exchanging invisible balls of energy between their palms. I was jealous I couldn’t be there with her to document this variation of dance with an Eastern flair.

It was easy for me to encourage her. After all, Carolyn describes me (in the video below) as “really into the flow of life. She loves moving her body and freeing her mind and connecting to her soul without the help of chicken soup…the book.”

Do I?

Do I really?, asks the blissed-out woman on the right.

However, that stuff doesn’t come easily to my sister. Nights and weekends, Carolyn is out past midnight in bars and clubs, cussing like a sexy red-headed sailor and taking swigs of beer between jokes about her nether regions. She’s a stand-up comic; it comes with the territory. She didn’t really feel like she fit into the TCM scene, where “everyone there was all soulful and mmmmm and yesssss and ‘I love oatmeal.'”

Nonetheless, in the name of loving sisterhood and determination to follow through on a blogging promise, Carolyn decided to go Qi Dancing.

She debated on what to wear, not really having any “dance” clothes in her luggage of mostly corporate attire. Once in the conference room, she hung out in the back, listening to the live drumming and observing others respond to the percussion: “Not one person was doing the same thing, like, mainly everyone was dancing solo,” she commented. “Personally, I can’t dance by myself without a friend nearby to keep me safe. You know, it takes like two friends, three beers, and one Lady Gaga for me to start shaking my hips.”

Despite her insecurities, Carolyn eventually took what she had learned in a previous Tai Chi Chuan class and turned it into “dancey movement,” attempting to find her qi through chi.

But just when her experience started to get slightly spiritual, the drumming stopped, the lights went out, and…. Well, you’ll have to watch the video below to hear what happened next.

Her account was told as part of the “Tell Me a Story” event that Crush Comedy produces monthly at Shot Tower Coffee in Philadelphia. Every month, storytellers have a different theme to talk about; this most recent topic was “Survival.”

You know, a lot of people arrive at my blog after searching for “what to wear to a 5Rhythms class” or “description of 5Rhythms dance,” indicating several folks out there are most likely days or even hours away from trying out something new and perhaps a bit intimidating, probably feeling very much like my sister before she ventured off to Qi Dancing.

Making the decision to take a class in something you’ve never heard of that is shrouded in some level of mystery takes courage; actually making it to and through the class offers a sense of survival.

Carolyn’s Qi Dancing event didn’t turn out to be what my sister or I expected, but she left the room with a new sense of freedom (even if it came from the not-so-qi B-52’s). What will 5Rhythms offer you, and what will your story of survival be?

ChaoticArtwork

No one ever craves Chaos, but during a recent 5Rhythms class I discovered just how necessary it is for transformation.

We were dancing in the tail-end of the second rhythm, Staccato. My body was being tantalized by the percussive sounds, which were gradually intensifying in beats per minute, the vibrations under my feet pushing me closer and closer to Chaos. Imagine a glass of water being nudged along a table-top by a heavy bass throbbing from a cranked-up subwoofer.

The glass reaches the edge of the table.

The pulsing stops.

The glass hovers.

It does not fall.

Chaos averted.

In my case, however, I needed Chaos. I needed that glass to slip. I needed the music to take control and bring that glass tumbling off the edge. I needed spilled water, broken glass.

What the teacher had chosen to do was play the subtlest of Chaos, a repetitive drum beat that lacked a crescendo, a percussive prelude to an anticipated explosive rip-roaring rumble.

But the rumble never happened, and after a few minutes the relaxed sounds of Lyrical came through the speakers. My body wanted to scream; instead, it was requested to be subdued.

I felt robbed. I felt lost. The music that usually makes my muscles melt and my face soften had the opposite effect on me, and I could feel my body slip into the shadow of Lyrical—Distraction. Instead of integration, I disintegrated, losing grasp of everything I had built up earlier in Flowing and Staccato.

Had this happened two years ago, I would have chalked up my disappointing experience to my Type A personality’s fondness of rules, regulations, and order. I would have thought, “Well, OK, the definition of a 5Rhythms Wave is to dance equally through Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness, and because the Chaos segment wasn’t really proportionate to the previous two rhythms, that is why it didn’t feel ‘right.'”

But now I know that isn’t the case. 5Rhythms isn’t a mathematical equation—it’s a practice that parallels so many facets of our lives. An honest, authentic, meaningful Lyrical is hard to find without first experiencing the Chaos that precedes it:

Double rainbows crisscrossing a gray sky after a violent summertime storm.

Lovers blissfully entwined in each other’s arms after the intensity of a chaotic climax.

A newborn baby in a mother’s arms after an excruciating, exhausting labor.

The outpouring of love, generosity, and humanity that surfaces after a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

It is easy to get caught up in our headspace and convince ourselves that a harmonious, Lyrical life can be achieved by avoiding Chaos. Maybe we can tiptoe around the edges. Stay in an amped-up Staccato until we are just miraculously pushed over or below Chaos straight into Lyrical.

And that is why this practice is so important, because the body does not lie. We can create story after story in our head about how things are supposed to feel, but when you put on music and let your body do the talking, the truth emerges. The body says, “This Lyrical doesn’t feel natural. I can’t fully take in the beauty of this moment because I am still clinging onto something I wasn’t able to let go of.”

Heaviness

The nature of Chaos—surrender—can be scary, no doubt. But what I learned in class that night was that the notion of living in an underdeveloped, partial, not-quite-authentic Lyrical may be even more frightening.

RavenFeather

THE END.

It’s an interesting phrase to start off a new blog post, isn’t it? But endings are all about beginnings, and this is the time of year where that becomes most apparent. When 2012 faded into the archives, 2013 made its way onto wall calendars and desktops. Old, unhealthy habits were cast aside, making way for new resolutions. The dying Christmas trees lining the curbsides around my neighborhood will find new life within the earth soon, and with their removal comes newfound space in people’s living rooms—room for the new toys Santa delivered, perhaps.

Even what are considered “endings” in yoga and dance—savasana and Stillness—are really just gentle transitions into beginnings. When I wake up from savasana, it may be the end of class or asana practice, but it feels more like the beginning of something awesome. My body and mind are re-charged, as though those 5 minutes lying on my back were the final moments my smartphone needed in the electrical outlet before clicking over to 100% battery power.

And 5Rhythms-speaking, Stillness may mark the conclusion of a class, but internally it’s only the beginning. Great insights come from the meditative nature of Stillness, making way for new frames of mind, new awareness. It’s one of the reasons I dislike having to go to work the next day after a 5Rhythms intensive—the workshop may have ended, but my mind is just starting to process all the beginnings, all the possibilities thrown at me.

This blog post is about three recent 5Rhythms events that began with endings and ended with beginnings…and so it begins (or ends?):

Plunge to Soar

A week before Christmas, a group of dancers gathered in an elementary school all-purpose room to get unstuck from the personal lies that plagued their souls.

“Our personal lie is our most negative thought about ourselves,” read the e-mail that confirmed our attendance. “This lie was a decision we made most likely based on a reaction we had to something. Due to circumstance, this most commonly comes from our very first surroundings—typically something our parents did, felt, or said about us, anywhere from conception, to birth, to early childhood.”

Plunge-to-Soar Installation

We wrote these personal lies on squares of paper, taping them to the wall. Blank paper and markers were left out to encourage us to continue exploring these demons as we danced. Every other minute, someone would run over to the wall, furiously scribbling, emphatically taping. By the end of the first Wave, the wall looked like some kind of twisted billboard advertising self-doubt and defeat, a haphazard shower of angry black ink. How appropriate was it that the children who used our space during the week were studying the work of Jackson Pollock—they seemed to have decorated the room so fittingly for us:

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Along with dance (led by teacher Nancy Genatt), breath (led by our New Jersey 5Rhythms producer Stavros Vrahnos) was used to explore these dark, dormant places, to set them in motion. It was the first time I had ever used pranayama during 5Rhythms, instructed to stop dancing, find a place of emotional restriction, add a dimension of physical restriction to it by tightening the muscles around that area, and then begin Breath of Fire (kapalabhati breath). This breath rid me of stagnation and propelled me to move forward. One of my lies was “The need to be perpetually clenched,” and breathing in this fashion would not allow that lie to hold true in the moment. My rigidity melted, and a smile may have crossed my lips.

Halfway during class, we lay down for a session of integrative breathwork, a very intense form of breathing meant to increase energy in the body and access suppressed feelings (read about another experience with this breathwork here). The process used to be termed “rebirthing,” and I can see why—tingling and vibrating sensations started in my scalp and gradually moved down into my throat, my chest, my solar plexus, and finally my legs and feet, like I was being pushed head-first out of the womb. I didn’t experience any overwhelming outbursts of emotion, but I did feel an intense urge to move, my fingers dancing in mudras, at one point sitting straight up.

The process marked the destruction of our wall of self-loathing and the birth of new positive, affirmations. Sitting in a circle, we shuffled through the depressing pile of papers inscribed with our personal lies, reading aloud ones that spoke to us—some ours, borrowing others from our classmates. It was both comforting and disheartening to see that we all feel so very flawed and so very similarly, even in times we think we’re alone in our self-doubt.

Reading these statements took courage, caused a few tears to fall. But as we read, we also ripped and teared the paper, symbolizing the end of such thinking. In its place, our classmates wrote truths for each other, replacing the negative with positive.

Highly ritualistic but ultimately freeing, we took the scraps of ripped paper outside to burn, sprinkling rose petals in the fire as a way of adding lightness to the darkness we were shedding.

Personal lies

And then came the beginning: Learning to breathe in and fully receive my new beautiful truths, so graciously offered by my classmates.

Personal truths

Dance Out the Old

My original 5Rhythms teacher Richard’s workshop between Christmas and New Years couldn’t have been a more literal dance of endings and beginnings. Titled “Dance Out the Old,” the day included not just movement but ritualistic sharing of mementos that represented saying goodbye to one year and introducing new aspirations and dreams for 2013.

The centerpiece of the altar at the edge of the room was a raven, symbolic of 5Rhythms founder Gabrielle Roth, whose death in October was perhaps the dance world’s greatest loss (yet presented so many new beginnings—see the section below for more about this).

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Some people spoke fondly of the past year; others placed objects on the table representing grief or loss, feelings they wanted to transform in the new year. During the second round of presentations, we offered objects symbolizing what we wanted to reach toward and achieve in 2013.

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I brought in a photo of Jeanne Ruddy, the Philadelphia choreographer/dancer whose work last year moved me to my core. I saw her perform the role of Middle Age in May’s production of Out of the Mist, Above the Real, a time when I was just beginning to explore dance’s role in my growth from girl to woman. In that performance, Jeanne represented poise, both feminine/masculine confidence, and aching resilience, attributes I don’t necessarily want all at once and jammed into this new year but that I feel are necessary for me to develop and cultivate.

Ruddy_Frame

One of the most powerful movement exercises during this workshop was dancing from one end of the (very long) studio to the other…while blindfolded. At first, those of us who were masked had a designated companion to ensure we didn’t bump into walls or people, but then Richard presented double the number of blindfolds so we could all move without sight.

It doesn’t really get more metaphorical than this—moving with caution and grace down an unseen path; not really seeing your way but feeling it, using intuition and the senses as a guide; bumping into a table or person and having to adjust your movement around it; ending up on the left side of the room when you swore you were headed toward the right.

Where are we going, and how can our body wisdom guide us?

Which brings us finally to…

Gabrielle Roth’s Memorial

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In this blog post from January 9, I was anxiously on my way to New York City, hoping to gain admittance to what was undoubtedly one of the most powerful 5Rhythms events of all time. I had never met Gabrielle Roth in person, yet her death in October coincided with a kind of birth for me, the emergence of a woman who’s got not just rhythm…but 5 of them.

My fellow tribe members and I sat in the lobby of the Prince George Ballroom well before the memorial started, amazed at how many people stepped through the doors to “celebrate the funky elegance of [Gabrielle’s] indomitable spirit.”

GRMemorialLobby

Because a teachers’ refresher course had just ended and a Cycles workshop was about to begin that week, dancers from all over the world crammed side by side. I was able to connect with some of my international readers (Hi Caroline! Hi Deborah!), as well as spend time with my own community.

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NYC dancer Joella and me.

Tribeholder Christina and dancer friend Val.

Philly tribeholder Christina and dancer friend Val.

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Philadelphia tribeholder (and road trip planner extraordinaire) Christina and I exchange loving looks.

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Me and Richard Jerram, my first 5Rhythms instructor, without whom this blog probably wouldn’t even exist.

As you can see from the photo above, I got into the ballroom. But it was nerve-wracking! Everyone who entered the lobby had to give their names, which were eventually called in groups of 25 before the ballroom reached capacity. It was like waiting for a callback at an audition.

The ballroom itself was so fitting for Gabrielle’s memorial. It was ornate but in a colorful, funky way—somewhere between Versailles and Versace.

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Being in that ballroom was like standing on the red carpet at the Oscars—so many notable teachers and friends of 5Rhythms made their way across the floor, flaunting an array of fashion from flamboyant to fancy to free-and-fabulous. Julia Wolfermann, who teaches regularly for our Philadelphia tribe, managed to Staccato in a stunning red gown, whereas Douglas Drummond sweat his prayers in a dress shirt and pants with suspenders. Others wore Spandex, some men took off their shirts, women came dressed to the nines, others came in street clothes. Just like the practice of 5Rhythms, individuality reigns supreme.

Off to the side of the room were two tables—one with slips of paper on which we were invited to write down memories of Gabrielle and the practice she brought into our lives, and another displaying hundreds of black feather necklaces, a part of the Raven for each of us. Receiving that simple black feather and placing it over my hair and around my neck felt so symbolic, like an Olympian bowing down to receive her gold medal. It wasn’t the object itself that carried weight but what it stood for.

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The Raven has flown, but her spirit lives on.

At the front of the room, an installation by 5Rhythms’ artistic maven, Martha Peabody:

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As this event was being held in memory of someone who had died, I wasn’t sure the tone it would take on. The workshop I took part in back in October—as Gabrielle was actively dying—had very somber moments, understandably, almost feeling like a funeral at times.

However, this was a celebration, inspiration, a call to move. After Gabrielle’s husband, Robert Ansell, and her son Jonathan A. Horan (now the executive director of 5Rhythms Global) spoke, Gabrielle’s face flashed onto a large movie screen at the front of the room. It was footage from one of her last public events, recorded on Mother’s Day 2012.

It would be a disservice to try and recreate here what she was discussing on screen. But in a typical workshop format, she talked frankly about the practice, applying it to all facets of life, that after Stillness there comes Flowing, because when one Wave ends, another begins, and that’s just how it is.

And so we danced, over 300 of us, moving from a moment of prayerful Stillness to finding our feet again in Flowing, Robert and long-time drumming sidekick Sangha on percussion, Jonathan offering occasional verbal guidance that ranged from pleading passion to friendly ferocity.

My movement felt celebratory that night, hardly an ounce of heaviness in my limbs. We switched rapidly from partner to partner to partner during Staccato; during Lyrical, Jonathan encouraged us to dance with our hearts open. Just that one little suggestion instantly changed my movement, my face lighting up, my shoulders rolling back and deepening the heart-to-heart connection with whomever I was partnered with at the time.

I danced with some people for no more than 45 seconds—complete strangers!—yet our intertwined energies felt like lifelong friends. I danced with myself, closing my eyes and going inside. I witnessed others’ movements and reshaped their movement to become my own.

It was the essence of 5Rhythms, finding relationship within the movement and movement within a relationship, which Gabrielle spoke of during another round of the movie screen discussion. Again, I had never met Gabrielle, but the largeness of her face on that screen, the passion and intensity with which she spoke, and the respectful silence among all 300-some of my fellow dancers made it feel like she was really in that room.

The night ended with Jonathan waving his hand like a raven flying toward the heavens: up, up, and away. Black feathers looped around our necks, we all followed along, silently sending our raven on her way.

It was an ending, but everything about the evening felt so very strongly like a new start to me. In some respect, I felt like I was back at my very first 5Rhythms class, remembering that I was just a beginner to this practice. I think others felt similarly about the memorial—and Gabrielle’s passing in general: not to sit in Stillness too long, to find the flow once again, to make a promise to seek out and be receptive to new perspectives and pathways.

THE BEGINNING.

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By the time this entry posts, I’ll be on my way to New York City in an ambitious attempt to attend Gabrielle Roth’s official memorial. As you may remember, I was incredibly fortunate to have attended what was supposed to be the 5Rhythms founder’s final workshop this past fall. She never made it to the event; rather, we danced as she died, and her bold son Jonathan and her brave husband Robert took command of the 4-day celebration of life, death, and the movement-inspired mysteries in between.

When we stepped into the studio that Thursday night in October, no one had any idea what we were walking into. Who was teaching? Was Gabrielle still alive? Would we dance? Would we mourn?

Tonight feels very similar in that whatever is to take place behind the Prince George Ballroom doors is as shrouded in mystery as the 5Rhythms practice itself. We are told that it is a memorial and “we will dance.”

So many questions remain, though! Will someone be leading the dancing, or are we to erupt in spontaneous movement when the urge arises? Will this be a walk-through memorial, with photos and mementos, albums, and videos? Will people speak? Is this more of an “open house” memorial: As people leave, more people enter?

Admittance is not guaranteed, and “we do have a finite number of people who can be in attendance at any given time,” read an email I received from the Moving Center staff. “Bearing this in mind,” it continued, “we know you will do what your heart tells you to do.”

My heart is most likely on the New Jersey Turnpike now, beating anxiously. And if I don’t dance tonight, I’ll dance tomorrow. Or, even if my fellow tribe members and I don’t make it into that ballroom, maybe I’ll still dance tonight, but in the street or a subway station or in a parking lot somewhere in Manhattan.

Because, “we’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.” (Japanese proverb)

What I Love

I love when I dance so furiously that my underwear becomes saturated—don’t know whether I peed myself.
Droplets of sweat roll down between my breasts down the fine line of hair to my navel,
Dripping drip down on the floor
Mixing with the tears that have fallen there earlier.

I love the smell of my sweat when I am in ecstasy,
Dampness under my armpits that repels some and makes others dive right in.

(Stream-of-consciousness writing from the aforementioned October workshop, when 5Rhythms instructor Lori Saltzman asked us to descriptively reflect on what we love. “Be specific,” she had instructed. “Write about the smells, sensations, and sounds that come along with this love.”)

I had a lot of trouble getting into Christmas this year, almost as though my mental calendar was not at all in sync with the one that kept counting down to December 25. Isn’t it still September? Why is Johnny Mathis always on the radio, and why does the circular section of my Sunday newspaper weigh more than a phonebook?

Neighbors strung lights and hung wreaths; coworkers baked an abundance of cookies; family sent cards and photos. I didn’t scorn or bah-humbug; for me, it all just seemed to be participation in an event I simply didn’t “feel” this year, much like the way I care (or lack thereof) when coworkers draft their March Madness brackets or neighbors bust out nachos and beer and inflatable football players on their lawns the week leading up to the Super Bowl.

I certainly wasn’t Buddy the Elf, yet I wasn’t the Grinch or Scrooge, either. I just … was.

I followed the routine the best I could, ordering gifts online; braving Bed, Bath, & Beyond on December 23; trying at least one of every treat that made its way into my office; wearing festive red; drinking my fair share of gingerbread lattes; head-banging in the car to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Christmas Eve Sarajevo”; making my annual donation to Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health; doing my usual crappy job wrapping presents (note for next year: anything larger than the size of an iPad box will be gift-bagged); and overindulging in my dad’s traditional chocolate chip cookies.

In movement terms, the holiday season this year has felt like choreography in a year that was otherwise predominantly improvisation. I had been conscious dancing my way from spring to summer to fall; suddenly Thanksgiving happened; and then the month of December turned into one rushed preparation for the big annual jazz-tap-ballet dance recital. My heart wanted to keep dancing barefoot with my hair a wild stringy mess, but the standards of the season forced my feet into pointe shoes and slicked my hair back into a tight bun.

Life went from 5Rhythms to 5-6-7-8!

But, just as I started to feel myself slip into Black Swan territory, my clever and crafty sister Carolyn reminded me of my roots. Her Christmas gift to me this year was a collection of five gifts—

Carolyn's 5Rhythms gifts

each representing one of the 5 rhythms. (These are GREAT gift ideas for fellow dancers, by the way!)

Starting on the left is the rhythm of Flowing, a handcrafted work of womanly beauty, which itself also represents all of the rhythms. (This could have been the only thing Carolyn got me, and I would have been content.)

Flowing Women

My sister has never even danced the 5Rhythms, but she seems to get the gist.

Next is Staccato, a book, specifically, The Book of Symbols: Reflections on Archetypal Images. The book is thick and heavy and packed with information about symbols—Boats and Feathers, Mandalas and Bridges—bam! Staccato. The practice of 5Rhythms is based heavily on archetypes of the soul, so this book is more than appropriate.

In the middle is Chaos, which Carolyn depicted via forthcoming tickets to a Philadelphia-based burlesque show. Let go, let loose—Chaos!

Carolyn’s gift of Lyrical is similar to the Flowing artwork in that it is also representative of all the rhythms. Here, she decoupaged five ceramic tiles, one for each rhythm:

5Rhythms tiles

Finally is the gift of Stillness, so fittingly represented by a spa gift certificate, which I already declared I’d use toward a reflexology session. What better way to close a metaphorical dance practice than with a therapeutic massage of my feet?

Feet in Sunlight

I got some really great gifts this year, but my sister’s was a gentle push from the frenetic feel of the holidays back into the flow. And so, even though I’m a day late, this afternoon I celebrated Christmas in the way that felt most comfortable. Barefoot and with loose, stringy hair, I danced to the sounds of the season:

Warm-Up/Flowing:

Oh Holy Night — Enya
Angels We Have Heard On High — Josh Groban, featuring Brian McKnight
The Holly and the Ivy — Medieval Babes
It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year — Johnny Mathis

Staccato:

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer — Chris Isaak
Carol of the Bells (Dubstep) — RawHardcore

Chaos:

Gettin’ In the Mood (For Christmas) — Brian Setzer
Christmas Eve Sarajevo — Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Lyrical:

Sleigh Ride — Leroy Anderson
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas — Sarah McLachlan

Stillness:

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy — Tchaikovsky
O’che Chiun (Silent Night) — Enya.

**Did you incorporate movement/dance/5Rhythms into your holiday this year?
Please share how you continued to flow through all the go-go-go!**

Week by week, my “blogging idea” list keeps growing. I dance furiously, take notes, ruminate, and then—just as I feel ready to transfer the experience to screen—the next event rolls along, and I am immersed in another moment of rapture. I am bursting at the seams with experiences to share (bet you didn’t know I completed a first-degree Reiki class last month!), with little down time to sink back into those moments and bring them back to life through words. And as much as my career as an editor helps me through the blogging process, it’s also a hindrance: I spend so many hours each day in front of a computer that the thought of another minute squinting at a monitor is often agonizing.

This past Sunday was supposed to be THE DAY. I had danced on Friday night and Saturday afternoon with minimal computer interaction. Apart from a morning coffee date, Sunday was wide open, and I had every intention of blogging my ass off.

(At this time, you may turn your attention to the title of this post, which indicates how well that all turned out.)

Sunday was rainy, chilly, and gray, the dictionary definition of an I’m-not-taking-off-my-pajamas kind of day. I had in fact gotten dressed that morning, but only for the coffee meetup with Carrol. Carrol is my 60-something “old lady friend” (her words, not mine!); she’s also an art therapist, and being in her presence always stirs something creative in me. A live jazz quartet accompanied our latte sipping and strata nibbling, and an exhibit by local artist Monica Joy Moran had all kinds of earthy works of mixed media popping from the walls.

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“Two Sides, One Story”

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Old maps used as “skin”: Perhaps a tribute to Gabrielle Roth’s “Maps to Ecstasy”?

ADD CAPTION

“The Oven Bird”

When I got home, I was inspired to flex my artistic muscle—but not through writing! I wanted to use my hands more than my brain; I wanted to create! Despite the urgency of all the writing that was waiting to be done, I wanted to express my love of movement through images rather than words.

My first endeavor was to create a get well card for the producer of my 5Rhythms tribe, who was scheduled to have arthroscopic knee surgery the following day. Knee surgery for a mover/shaker/dancer is a pretty huge deal; it deserves a special kind of card!

As barbaric as it sounds, I began by dismembering the ballerinas and dancers in an old Alonzo King Lines Ballet wall calendar. Whereas zombies mutter “Braaaaiiinsss,” I was thinking more along the lines of “Legggggssss.”

Random Legs

I envisioned using healthy dancer knees as part of the project; I was inspired by the work I created for my friend who had pulmonary surgery over the summer. For that project, I had cut out a bunch of words and images from magazines illustrative of “breath” and “inhalation” and shaped them into a pair of lungs. However, I quickly realized that a knee wasn’t exactly as visually striking.

Change of plans!

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The notion of making an actual card I could send in the mail fell flat when I realized the size of these dancer legs. Instead, I made a temporary exhibit on a yoga mat and delivered the image via Facebook. Thank you, technology! (Also, I don’t know what the heck Rebekah would have done with a poster-sized image of random limbs.)

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I was now in the zone. My little yoga room upstairs had transformed into a paper-littered art studio; Zoë Keating’s cello music played on my laptop, the vibration of her strings moving me to vibrate along with her. The assembly of legs before me was calling to be transformed.

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I then realized something needed to be done with all the poor floating heads and torsos left behind on my leg-less dancers. It was time to get serious.

I became a madwoman, gathering scissors, glue, poster board, and tape, spreading them over the wooden floor of my yoga room. From the kitchen, I brought up a bowl of mixed nuts, with some Reese’s Pieces thrown in the mix for a colorful kick. A gallon jug of water to chug on, to keep me hydrated. Lit a chocolate mint-scented candle, changed my music to the buoyant strings of the Penguin Cafe Orchestra.

I was ready for both hibernation and/or creation.

Delicately, I snipped the dancers’ heads and arms from their dark background, happy to be repurposing their poses and poise. The work became a Wave: smoothing down paper and paste to the music’s tempo; gliding my finger over wet glue, feeling the stickiness with the same awareness of pressing my foot into the dance floor and feeling the gritty wood fibers; slicing paper with a razor—careful not to get too Staccato—being mindful of the Lyrical nature of the razor’s work, thin cracks forming over an icy lake.

Finally, there came Stillness:

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I’m still thinking of a good name for the piece. “Tribe and True”? “Us”? “Supportive Stillness”? The intention was to depict how a 5Rhythms tribe allows room for a heart to grow while holding a sacred, contained space for such development. The dance isn’t necessarily about contact as it is connection, the feeling of being part of a greater something even when dancing by yourself.

I can be standing on the outskirts of the dance floor by myself during 5Rhythms but never feel alone. It had happened just the day before at a class led by Peter Fodera; overcome with a profound appreciation and deep gratitude for everyone dancing around me, I was compelled to stand off to the side and simply witness the unraveling around me. I felt tapped into the buzzing circuitry, lifting my hands as though placing them on one of those plasma static electricity balls. My body started to heat up, not in a “I’m dancing crazily, I’m hot” way, but rather a radiating warmth from my core outward that left a fine sheen of perspiration over the surface of my skin. A healthy 5Rhythms tribe is very much like a flourishing circulatory system; my heart beats as the surrounding veins and arteries flood it with fresh nourishment.

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I hardly touched my keyboard that Sunday but didn’t feel as guilty as I normally do when putting off writing for another day. Artistic expression had emerged in different ways that night; old calendars found new life; and I found that cutting, pasting, and assembling can be just as meditative as shaking, whirling, and twirling.

In this post from last year, I wrote candidly about my lifelong dance partner. It’s a love-hate relationship: He’s too clingy, he’s too wild, he weighs me down, yet he also adds another dimension to my dance, he’s always in synchrony with my steps, and he’s just so gosh-darn strawberry-blonde beautiful.

Don’t expect my partner to appear on Dancing With the Stars anytime soon, though: I’m talking about my hair, of course.

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Although there’s a 99% chance that by the end of a 5Rhythms or other movement class I will have unfastened whatever tool is holding my hair in place, most days I prefer to begin the practice with some kind of mane management. Letting my locks loose usually happens in the Chaos portion of class (naturally!), but until then I’d rather not to be eating my hair, which is what happens when I’m flowing to and fro…especially during the colder months when that oh-so-sticky static electricity steps in.

As if on cue—as fall is steadily creeping toward winter—I was recently contacted by Washington, DC-based Shaune Bazner Accessories, who invited me to test out and review the company’s Mei Fa® Hairstyx, essentially fancy beaded wooden chopsticks with a trademarked shape designed to hold any type of hair in place.

Mei Fa catalog
I was impressed with the vast collection of sleek, beaded accoutrements available for purchase but had my doubts about their functionality, even after watching the step-by-step online tutorial. Not on my hair, I thought. Even the biggest plastic claw clip (named “The Octopus” for crying out loud) can’t hold my lion’s mane in place during a brisk walk, let alone dancing, so I didn’t expect much from two slender pieces of wood.

Scary hair clip!

Scary hair clip!

Long hair
Challenge accepted!

When the package arrived in the mail, I was perplexed. Inside was a lovely handwritten note from Shaune Bazner herself, but the cute aqua-colored case that held the to-be-reviewed product was a bit…tiny. And so were the sticks!

Mei Fa caseMei Fa sticks and book
Now, I eat sushi on a regular basis, so I am quite familiar with chopsticks. These were nowhere near traditional chopstick length, and my first reaction was that the company had sent me the wrong size (a “shorties” style is available for shorter hair lengths). But after double-checking online, I had been proven wrong: The sticks I had received were 4 3/8 inches long, the size that claims to work on medium, thick, layered, curly, frizzy, and shoulder-length or longer hair.

Now I really had my doubts. I mean, most barrettes don’t even clasp shut over my hair, and even reinforced elastic bands eventually start to slide when I spin, resulting in droopy ponytails or braids.

…OK, so by now you know where this going, right?

Yeah, the sticks worked.

Mei fa is the Chinese phrase for “beautiful hair” or “beautiful method,” but it might as well stand for “magic wand.” (Come to think of it, they almost do remind me of something Harry, Hermione, and friends would find in Ollivanders Wand Shop!)

Mei Fa back

This isn’t to say the experience was trouble free. Using the sticks took practice, even after watching the online video and reviewing the written instructions that came with the product. The illustrations were on the small side, and I had to squint at them repeatedly before figuring out the exact placement. For example, when trying to style a knot/bun, it took me a while to figure out that the sticks are to be inserted in only a small section at the top of the bun, when I kept wanting to plunge the stick through the entire, thick upper half.

Mei fa instructions
Also, both the video and written instructions emphasize that the sticks are to slide through the bun, not under it. Yet, it took me forever to grasp this concept, I think just because it makes sense to want to go under the hair—to cradle it—rather than cut straight through center. Listen to the instructions, people: Go through for the ‘do. Otherwise the sticks get too close to the neck, and they’ll be poking your nape every time you turn your head.

Granted, I am not the most dexterous woman. While I can make a pigtail braid perfectly on my left side, I have thumb-less spaghetti hands when braiding on my right side. That said, it’s no surprise I occasionally struggle getting one of the sticks in. There was a learning curve for me, and now that I’ve had time to practice, I think the best technique is just to not think so much. Like the woman in this video: Just stick it, don’t scrutinize! (She has super-long hair, too!)

The real test came when I started dancing with the sticks. They were pleasantly secure while wearing them around the office and taking brisk walks (an occasional loosening here and there, but only because I hadn’t inserted them properly), but again, I doubted their functionality on the dance floor.

Again, I was proven wrong. As long as I had inserted them correctly, the sticks stayed put, even after throwing in a few test pirouettes and chainé turns. If I began to feel the sticks become loose, all I had to do was push them in slightly, and then they were back in place. This usually occurred after a long sequence of spins and head-whipping, or if I moved down to the floor and had my hair pressed against the ground. (In fact, that’s the one time the sticks become slightly uncomfortable, during supine positions. I could feel the wood against my head, and usually after that, the sticks would begin to slip out.)

As expected, the sticks began to fall out during the more wild dance moves of Chaos. But that’s usually the point I allow my hair to get funky and loose anyway, so I don’t see it as a huge drawback. I would just want to be prepared and take the sticks out ahead of time, because otherwise it becomes a bit of a hazard, sticks flying out on a dance floor.

After many initial doubts and a few days of experimentation, I have to say I am a fan of the Mei Fa Hairstyx. Even my dental hygienist was amazed! (“You mean to tell me those two little sticks were holding up all that hair?!”) I used them in both dry (light) and wet (way heavier) hair, and they worked the same in both conditions.

During the day, I almost always wear my hair up, and so I like the versatility of the sticks—you can make more than just buns! And there are so many styles available, beads of all shapes, sizes, and color. I’m generally not a fancy up-do kind of gal, so having these for a wedding or holiday party would look so much better than a giant black octopus claw that I have to replace every 10 minutes.

Mei fa profile
And of course, they make dancing much less stressful. Even if I have to readjust the sticks here and there, it’s relatively easy, and—perhaps the most important part—I’m not damaging my hair in the process. I lose so much hair when constantly taking out and re-looping a rubber band—not just breaking strands, but yanking them out. I haven’t experienced any tearing yet with the Hairstyx, and another bonus: No headband-induced headaches!

Shaune Bazner Accessories has offered to provide a set of Mei Fa Hairstyx to one lucky reader. I chose the “Enhance” style; comment below which style you would choose…and what song you’d dance to while wearing them!

Commenting will close on Friday, December 7 at 12 p.m. (EST). U.S. addresses only, please! Winner will be selected at random.

Disclaimer: I received no compensation for this review, other than the product itself to test. The opinions expressed are mine alone and were not influenced by any other persons or company.

About the Author

Name: Jennifer

Location: Greater Philadelphia Area

Blog Mission:
SHARE my practice experience in conscious dance and yoga,

EXPAND my network of like-minded individuals,

FULFILL my desire to work with words in a more creative and community-building capacity;

FLOW and GROW with the world around me!

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