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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.

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“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.

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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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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!**

Aahh, so the first work week of 2012 is over! It was only four days long but it still felt like an eternity. There’s just something about coming back to the office in January that is so blah. Kids are back in school again so the commute is slower (I live two blocks from an elementary school…think crossing guards, buses, cars stacked on either side of the street), colorful Christmas decorations are gradually being removed from people’s porches, and Starbucks has said goodbye to the red cups and returned to its default, ho-hum white and green (Is it just me, or do gingerbread lattes taste more gingerbready when served in a red cup?!).

I couldn’t have asked for a better New Year’s, though. My friends from high school, Emma and Peter, re-instituted their annual New Year’s get-together (read: a laid back dinner, moderate drinking, male shenanigans [2008: cat versus laser pointer; 2011: coffee table football], Scattergories) after a two-year hiatus. This was the reason for the hiatus:

Hi, I’m Gabriella!

I love this little bugger. When I entered the house, she came scampering over to me, arms outstretched, for a hug. Then I gave her a fake pizza kit, and she named all the toppings for me, even the mushrooms and olives! When I went to pretend eat the pretend pizza, she wrinkled her nose and reminded me, “That’s not real! You can’t eat that.” She was fascinated with my handbag and kept creeping up to it to look inside. I finally let her take out my camera, and we made silly faces.

Then she insisted she be the photographer. I showed her the safe way to hold the camera, and she diligently followed my instructions.

Not bad for a 2-year-old!

Shortly thereafter, as the adults were all gathered in the kitchen–and things were eerily quiet in the living room–I surmised, “I betcha she’s going through my handbag.” We sneaked up on her and caught her red-handed; her guilty-as-charged expression was priceless. In return, I made her show me her handbag.

Our hosts served us the most delicious dinner: butternut squash lasagna, bread, and salad–all homemade, of course, even the lasagna noodles. Homemade cookies and gourmet cupcakes followed, plus some snazzy gingersnap liquor to spice up our coffee. Gabriella went to bed around 9, crying as Emma scooped her up to take her upstairs. “Aww, it’s OK honey,” she said. “Say ‘night-night’ to Bryan.” And through her sniffles and tears and pouty lips, Gabriella leaned over to him and whimpered the cutest-ever “night-night,” giving him a little kiss on the cheek.

Hands-down, cutest moment of the evening.

The adults stayed up an excruciating five hours longer. As mentioned earlier, there was dancing.

As I padded down the steps at 8 the next morning, I heard Gabriella inquire, “Who’s that?” and run to the stairs. She was excited to see me, I to see her, and we nestled on the living room floor for morning storytime.


She attempted to join me in my morning yoga stretches but gave up after 20 seconds. “OK, I’m done,” she said and stood up from tabletop pose.

After everyone showered and dressed, we headed to our traditional New Year’s Day breakfast hangout: Cracker Barrel. It was the first time in two years we needed to request a high-chair! Gabriella reminded us that a little experimentation is needed to make food interesting.

Cherry pancakes, minutes before she added the ketchup.

Somewhere between the sobbing “night-night” and pajama storytime in the morning, I got a bit misty-eyed myself as I grew into this pseudo-Aunt Jen role. I was reminded of my own childhood, when I was the little one in the footie pajamas and a curiosity about others’ handbags, and the person I ran to with excitement was my Aunt Adzia.

Adzia was my “cool aunt,” the one who understood my obsession with Barbie dolls, coloring books, and, well, more Barbie dolls. For a moment that New Year’s morning, the first day of 2012, I finally understood how rewarding it must have been to be in that aunt role, when a child shows you complete attention and engagement in a mutual activity, the overwhelming warmth in your heart when the child’s eyes light up after realizing that you slept over and are still here the next morning to play with; heading out of the house to go to Cracker Barrel and hearing a hopeful, “Is Jen coming with?”

It reminded me of weekends when Adzia would spend the night at my grandparents’ house, and, like, the coolest thing ever was when she’d go out to breakfast with us, sometimes even the mall, and then maybe even out to lunch! The “Adzia” component made everything 10 times more exciting as a kid; it was like having your BFF with you at all times, only this adult BFF bought you candy and toys.

It reminded me of when I was 8 years old and was out of school for a month with pneumonia. Adzia had come to live with us for a week to take care of me during the day when my parents were at work, and one day we spent the entire afternoon dressing my 50-some Barbie dolls in new outfits and displaying them along my bedroom wall. I remember the moment because at the time it was SO COOL to have a GROWN-UP show such interest in my Barbie obsession for hours on end; now, 23 years later with Gabriella at my side, I see the adult perspective: the heart-bursting, soul-nourishing sense of love and connection of having a child completely engaged with you in a single act, whether it’s dressing Barbie dolls, making fake pizzas, or sitting in storytime. The child isn’t playing with you just to fill time, and the adult isn’t following along just to be nice. It’s done with intention and 100% devotion.

The instant when the need for each other becomes equal–when the scales are balanced so that you need the child as much as she needs you–the heart fills with love.

If the saying about how you ring in the new year is indicative of how you’ll spend the rest of the year, then it looks like I’ll be dancing for another 364 days.

 

Sounds good to me!

 

***
(This video and photo contain a special guest appearance by Emma, whose resolution for 2012 is to bring her blog back to life! :-))

Dinner in China, 2006.

Yesterday afternoon I ate my weight in Chinese food, gorging on the greasy contents of those familiar little white take-out boxes until I began burping after every bite.

I felt guilty for about 5, 10 minutes. But for the most part, the overindulgent feast warmed my heart as much as it did my belly.

I don’t normally chow down on take-out food, and if and when I overeat, I usually fall into a depressed slump and berate myself for the next several hours, slapping my bloated belly like I’m a disgruntled Santa Claus. But yesterday was different: Several of my family members were gathered at my grandparents’ house, and just when everyone was about to leave, my grandmother, trying to keep people nearby for as long as possible, suggested going out to lunch. I shrugged OK; my sister had to run out for a few minutes but said she’d consider returning; and my parents turned down the offer and said they really needed to go.

That said, “lunch” started out as just me and my grandmother, sitting on the couch, deciding where to go to eat. Then my sister eventually returned, and we contemplated a “girls only” outing, just grandmom and her two granddaughters, leaving grandpop at home to watch the Army/Navy game. Soon after that, my mom called and said she was just about done with her errands and would be able to return for lunch. My sister suggested staying inside and ordering take-out instead; my grandfather, who just moments ago denied being hungry, chirped in that some beef and broccoli would be nice.

So, what started out as no one really wanting to hang around for lunch turned into my sister and I returning from the neighborhood Chinese restaurant with $60-something worth of food and a house full of salivating relatives.

In the few minutes we left to pick up the order, my grandmother had reconfigured the breakfast room table to fit everyone, setting the tabletop with Christmas-themed paper plates, napkins, and silverware. We unloaded the greasy brown paper bags, filling the center of the table with cartons stuffed with shrimp, broccoli, beef, rice, and lo mein. Everyone got a shrimp roll; a Chinese pizza–something I haven’t eaten in a long time–was passed around the table. My sister allowed others to taste her General Tso’s seitan, which everyone admitted really didn’t taste much different than chicken. My “I’m-not-hungry” grandfather devoured everything he spooned onto his plate. Midway through our feast my father entered the room, making a surprise return to the house. We pulled up a chair for him, and everyone began loading his plate with various carton contents, exclaiming how great everything tasted: “This garlic broccoli is amazing!” “The shrimp are really tasty!” “Here, take some of this lo mein!”

My family gathers for the holidays, but the impromptu and informal nature of yesterday’s at-home buffet gave this gathering a different feel. We weren’t dressed up in our nice Christmas clothes; the table was set with paper plates, not china. There were no champagne flutes or fancy wine glasses; we cracked open cans of soda at the table, and we jostled with the various boxes between us, trying to figure out which contained the shrimp and broccoli and which contained the broccoli alone with that really good garlic sauce. We snapped fortune cookies in half for dessert, reading our messages aloud and attempting to read the Chinese words on the back. Clean-up was easy, with no dishes to wash or silverware to soak. No one had slaved over the stove for hours; no one slunk into their seat exhausted after having been awake since 6 a.m. to baste a turkey. It reminded me a bit of that scene from Home Alone, the night before the family leaves for the airport. There is take-out food spread everyone over the table; everyone is digging in, chowing down, laughing. Good times. As my sister said earlier in the afternoon, “Let’s just get take-out. I don’t want to have to sit down at some restaurant and look nice. I just want to kick back and burp at the table, you know?”

Aside from some gas and indigestion, there was something else bubbling inside of me after I left my grandparents’ house: contentment. I walked the three miles back to my house, the chill of the December evening air giving me a bit of a buzz and the Chinese food lining my arteries keeping me relatively warm. There was a full moon that night, and when I began my trek home, it hung low in the sky, huge and golden. When I crossed over the creek, the moon shined directly above, its glow lighting up the ripples in the water like a spotlight. I couldn’t take my eyes off it! When I finally entered my neighborhood, I passed houses lit with reindeer, Santa Clauses, LED snowflakes. The smell of burning fireplaces complemented the Christmas visuals. When I arrived home–after popping a Tums–I found myself doing something I’ve longed to do for quite some time but had never actually got around to doing: napping under the Christmas tree. I pictured myself as a cat curling up in a warm spot; in reality, the configuration I worked myself into looked more like a burrito.

Secret snapshot of the sleeping burrito.

Burrito, Chinese…OK, so it wasn’t the healthiest of foods we indulged in that afternoon. But we don’t eat like that every day, and one afternoon of some take-out–and yes, some burping (and farting) at the table–may actually have done our hearts a little more good than harm.

One would think that having 4 days off from work would lend itself to large chunks of time devoted solely to blogging, but I seem to have been too busy eating my weight in various forms of carbohydrates to sit down and commit myself to the keyboard. I’ve had blog post ideas stored in my brain for the past week (things I’m thankful for! 5Rhythms recap! yoga weekend!), and now they are all just melding together like the sweet potatoes, corn, and stuffing on my holiday dinner plate. That said, consider this my “Thanksgiving plate” post–a whole bunch of everything, all mashed together (and hopefully you’re not one of those people who can’t stand their food touching).

Four Days of Consumption: 2 pumpkin spice lattes, 1 hot chocolate, 2 green juices, 1 full Thanksgiving dinner, 2 mini cupcakes, 1/2 giant chocolate peanut butter cupcake, 1 full diner breakfast + 1 full homemade breakfast, 2 glasses red wine, 1 margarita, 1 mimosa, pumpkin pie, plus a burrito thrown in to make it an international weekend. A random slice of pizza, too. And several Tums.

Looking Forward To: going back to eating soup for lunch. And not feeling like I have to walk 3 miles after every meal to keep my pants from popping.

I’m Thankful For ___: the random stranger who pulled over as I was walking to inform me that I dropped my glove a few yards back; road-widening projects that require the cutting-down of the PITA sycamore tree outside our house whose roots back up our sewer and whose gangly limbs scare me ever since one fell through my car window; not being in college (a thought that crossed my mind as I watched Felicity via Netflix); the New Guy at work, because as much as I loved working with eager-to-learn interns, their impermanence in our office was a bit tiring; closely reading our new car insurance paperwork, during which I discovered that instead of taking Bryan’s old/dead car off our policy, they took off MY car, you know, the one I had been driving every single day (all fixed now–whew!); choosing to skip swimming in a crowded gym pool on Tuesday and going on Wednesday instead, because Evening Before Holiday = Empty Pool.

One Geeky Thing I’m Totally Not Doing Right Now: Tracking PHL arrivals via FlightStats.com as airplanes fly over our house.

Before Setting Up FlightStats, I Totally Wasn’t: Planning out a hypothetical 2-day solo getaway to Disney World at Christmastime for next weekend.

Living Room Conversation Piece: This guy:

Buddhst dharmapala, whose terrifying appearance is actually meant to frighten forces of evil.

I Fear: that my cellphone is dying. I hate getting new phones, especially because they’re all smartphones now, and I’m 80 so that scares me.

TV Series Recently Completed on Netflix: Twin Peaks.

TV Series That Will Forever Give Me Backward-Talking Nightmares: Twin Peaks.

Appropriate decor for a Halloween party

Non-Edible Products That Smell So Good I Kinda Want to Eat Them: pumpkin-scented soy candle from the farmers market (seriously, it makes the living room smell like a bakery for two days after it’s extinguished); gingerbread-scented Method countertop cleaner.

Approximate Weight of the Newspapers + Black Friday Circulars Sitting on the Kitchen Table: 3 pounds.

Gatherings and Meet-Ups This Weekend: Thanksgiving dinner with Bryan’s family; breakfast meetup at the diner with 3 high school friends; holiday tree lighting with my favorite toddler ever and her parents; burritos and margaritas with our favorite double-date couple; and Thanksgiving weekend breakfast with my family.

Silly Photos From Said Meet-Ups:

Silliest Emma picture EVER.

Sisterhood is serious. Or we’re just super-bloated from four straight days of non-stop eating.

Nonsensical Notes From Last Friday’s 5Rhythms With Some Explanation in Parentheses: synchronicity (I asked the universe for a certain dancer to attend class, and the universe obliged); traveling amoeba (we all huddled as a group, back-to-back/side-to-side and just allowed our little jumble to move around the room on its own accord, like a traveling amoeba); tipping point from subtle to full-blown run-around-the-room Chaos, unleashing! (because sometimes I start Chaos with very small and subtle movements and then out of nowhere, there’s a tipping point of energy, and I go from standing in place to leaping across the studio as though I’ve been thrown over the edge of a cliff).

One Day I Will Totally Write About: the yoga workshop I took last week with Rudy Peirce.

The other day as I was driving to work on a particularly cloudy, drizzly, and ho-hum morning, I experimented with flipping the car radio to one of the local stations that’s currently broadcasting Christmas carols around the clock. I do not normally condone such pre-season holly jolly activities, but I figured that since Christmas songs are associated with mirth and merriment, perhaps just a song or two about Santa Claus and a few merry gentlemen would stir up enough warm and fuzzy feelings to get me into the office with a smile on my face.

What's cuter than Grandmom playing with the train set?

However, after just a few seconds of “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” I had switch back to the traditional hits of the ’80s, ’90s, and today. The holiday music felt wrong, so out of place for that early November morning, like someone singing “Happy Birthday” to me on June 10 instead of July 30. Yet, in a way, I was disappointed about not being receptive to the music. I spend so much energy resisting this early onslaught of Christmas in stores, in TV commercials, and in people’s homes (walked by a house on November 14 with a tree already set up), that I thought to myself, Why resist, Jen? Just welcome it in, let the Christmas spirit flow through you as it is elsewhere around the country. Don’t wrinkle your nose at the fact that Santa made his debut at the mall on November 5, giving out candy canes even though pumpkins filled with candy corn and bite-size Three Musketeers are still sitting on the kitchen counters of every American household. That’s not a good attitude.

But as soon as I tried to welcome it in, the door slammed shut. I just did not want to hear about one’s experience rockin’ round the Christmas tree on November 14. And as much as I love Starbucks, I do not love getting my pumpkin spice latte served in a red cup. The resistance returns.

But there’s a reason for the resistance, and it all has to do with nostalgia. I can thank Kathy O’Connell from WXPN’s Kids Corner for this realization (yes, it’s true that I sometimes listen to the made-for-kids radio show), as she pointed out that, for her, the Christmas spirit is not allowed to creep into her system until Santa arrives at the conclusion of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Only then will she begin listening to Christmas songs, consider dressing in red and green, and pick out greeting cards, because that’s the way it used to be growing up.

Dress appropriately for Thanksgiving...

...and then for Christmas.

Now, Kathy is much older than me, but even back when I was a kid in the ’80s, the same theory applied. There was never any talk of Christmas before Thanksgiving, and even then I remember being confused why Santa Claus participated in the Thanksgiving parade. My hometown had a holiday parade the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and for me, that‘s when Christmas could begin. The turkey was carved, pumpkin pie consumed, Black Friday shopping done. That’s the way it used to be. Those were the good ol’ days, when Santa’s Village at the mall didn’t open until after Thanksgiving ended, when candy canes were handed out only after all of your Halloween peanut butter cups were fully digested and eliminated.

So it seems that as great of a holiday Christmas is, most of us are programmed remembering the way it used to be, and that’s the way we can’t tolerate Bing Crosby when the trees are still covered in yellow and orange leaves. Perhaps the younger generations of today will be A-OK with mistletoe and fake cobwebs being sold side-by-side on the same shelves when they become adults, but for most of us right now, we’re just trying to hold onto a little magic from our youth, upholding tradition, and doing everything in our power to prevent orange and black M&Ms from ever mingling with the red and green ones.

Creepy dead Haunted Mansion flowers first...

...then the Christmas tree may follow.

My workplace has a plate of leftover Halloween candy sitting out for all to grab at, and I was super-excited to see that it contained Reese’s Pieces, one of my all-time favorite candies (thanks to the Conehead sundaes from Friendly’s that defined my childhood dessert experiences).

Just as I keep returning to the plate to grab an extra piece of candy or two, November (what with Thanksgiving and all) is a good month to remember that life is like a box of chocolates leftover Halloween goody bag, and each day has something amazing to grab at and devour.

What am I thankful for right now?

• That Monday being Halloween meant all the local youth were out trick-or-treating, so the gym pool was completely child-free during my lap time. I could actually use my ear plugs for their primary purpose–to keep out water–rather than as a means to block out the sounds of high-pitched squealing and excessive splashy-splashy.

The sound of silence.

• For using my sister’s birthday as an excuse to carb-load during the most amazing brunch buffet of crepes, French toast, potatoes, waffles, and made-your-way omelettes.

• The mutual love of breakfast sandwiches I share with my husband, and the fact that he does not mind having “brinner” once per week. Related: That Bryan won’t eat his sandwich until I give it my trademark little sandwich hand press. Also related: The amazing parmesan/spinach/roasted red pepper (“Popeye”) bread from Great Harvest Bakery that I use on either side of my egg whites and turkey bacon and that melts ever-so-wonderfully in the toaster oven.

• That my mother has taken a sudden interest in proper footwear and is encouraging me/providing financial assistance to purchase foot-friendly shoes. However, I’ve been doing this for years; “Old Lady Orthopedic Shoes” is practically my middle name.

Dolled up weirdo in orthopedic walking sandals

• The magical $20 bill I found in my wallet this morning that prevented me from having to buy overpriced “credit card” gas. “Twenty bucks regular…CASH.” Yeah, you better give me the $3.15 rate. Related: OK, the $20 wasn’t actually magical. It was the “Here, treat yourself to something nice” grandma-secretly-shoves-a-$20 bill-in-your-palm money I had totally forgotten about receiving during the aforementioned family brunch. Ahhh, adulthood. Where “something nice” = paying cash for gas to avoid an extra 10 cents per gallon.

• Even after digging into all that leftover Halloween candy, a dentist check-up that ended with the relieving “No cavities!” exclamation from the doctor. Related: The hygienist’s comment on the marked improvement she noticed from me finally taking her advice and getting an electric toothbrush already.

What’s something you’re thankful for today?

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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