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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!**

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Even though the sun has been rising later and later, I’ve been pretty good at sticking to my early-morning walk routine all through the summer. In June, I’d need my sunglasses at 6 a.m.; nowadays, not so much. Still, most days I am able to catch the rising sun gleaming off the underside of airplanes descending into Philadelphia, making all jets look like red-bellied Southwest planes, metallic birds with torsos aglow.

However, not all mornings are ideal for the outdoors, including today. With the remnants of Hurricane Isaac drifting toward the Northeast, today started drizzly and gray, a reasonable and seasonable temperature of 70° but the suffocating humidity ruining any notion of comfort (or straight hair). Mother Nature had decided my morning workout: Today I would dance.

Leaving my sneakers in the porch and remaining barefoot, I lit an orange pumpkin-scented candle, bowed my head to the flame, and began to flow.

It’s hard for me to dance first thing in the morning without some kind of guidance, so I made sure to compile a playlist before diving in. One might think that starting with a high-energy techno or rock beat would help shake off the sleepies, but I always prefer to follow 5Rhythms’ gradual build-up structure of Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness.

The 5Rhythms structure is kind on the body, the way an opulent meal is to the senses: Flowing is a bit like a glass of wine before the appetizer of Staccato, which is then followed by the hearty and chow-down main meaty course of Chaos. Finally, there is dessert, sweet-like-blueberries Lyrical, the prelude to the final course of Stillness, that moment at the table when you’re sipping coffee with eyes half-closed, smacking your lips, and inhaling the memory of your fulfilling meal.

Here’s the music I chose to represent those sensations:

  • Warm-Up: “Damascus,” Conjure One, featuring Chemda
  • Flowing: “To Zion,” Trevor Hall
  • Flowing: “La Guitarra,” B-Tribe
  • Staccato: “Black Velvet,” Bonnie Raitt
  • Staccato/Chaos: “Drumming Song,” Florence and The Machine
  • Chaos: “Greg Didge,” Music Mosaic (from the album Didgeridoo Trance Dance 2)
  • Lyrical: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” Carlos Santana, featuring India.Arie
  • Lyrical: “Pequeño Vals,” Marlango
  • Stillness: “Singapore (….),” The Candle Thieves
  • Stillness: “Swelling,” Sarah Jaffe

Most of these are songs I’ve danced to in other classes; I find that once I’ve experienced the music in a class setting, it has more weight, the same way hearing a song in a movie soundtrack makes it 10 times more intriguing. For example, every time I hear “To Zion,” I imagine gliding around the wheat-colored carpet in Kripalu’s Main Hall during Dan Leven’s Shake Your Soul class; the frenetic didgeridoo song brought me to the floor, the wall, my feet, and back on the floor again during a mid-summer night’s Dance from the Inside Out class. I remember waltzing around the spacious floor of Studio 34 with an imaginary dance partner to “Pequeño Vals,” and well, hell, I just love Florence. She had to be in there somewhere.

The sweetest thing about the practice was that after an hour of dancing, the flickering flame of the candle I had lit at the start of the dance was being upstaged by something greater: the sun!

This day—filled with thunderstorms, flash floods, and tornado warnings—had about 60 minutes total of scattered sunlight; I am happy to have experienced at least 5 of them as a sweaty, satisfied mess of a body sprawled out on the living room carpet.

”Dance is important…. It can be a reason for a person to get up in the morning”
~ Jeanguy Saintus

I spent yesterday afternoon huddled over my computer editing three massive tables for a journal article, so—to be quite honest—the last thing I wanted to do after I got home from work yesterday was spend more time being tanned by my computer monitor.

That said, this week’s installment of The Friday 5 is one video of the 5Rhythms, because, yes, sometimes dancing is so much easier than sitting down to write.

What you see here is a “silent” Wave—the 5 Rhythms (Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness) being danced without music. I generally prefer dancing with music, but after our big group silent Wave during Lucia Horan’s workshop last month, I’ve become interested in learning to dance without the “crutch” of melodies and lyrics. And as you can hear in this video, the breath and voice gradually become a musical score on their own.

It was late when I filmed this, so I am a bit tired and not as intense as I am when I dance first thing in the morning. My Flowing is drawn out and longish by comparison. You can see Staccato kick in around 1:16; notice how my movement becomes sharper, more exact? Chaos breaks loose at 2:01, but it doesn’t last very long (again, the sleepiness), and I surprise myself by rocking into Lyrical at 2:40, which finally eases into Stillness at 4:20.

The other morning I did a non-silent Wave. Here’s the playlist I quickly cobbled together:

Flowing: “Jewel in the Lotus,” Maneesh De Moor
Staccato: “Breath of Life,” Florence + the Machine
Chaos: “Firecrackers,” Cryptex Marble
Lyrical: “Moth’s Wings,” Passion Pit
Stillness: “Time,” Hans Zimmer (Inception soundtrack)

I admit, I use “Time” for Stillness over and over again. It is so simple yet so intense, and sometimes it totally “gets” me; as in, I break out into tears while curled up on the floor. I will not be posting that on the blog, sorry!

What song is kicking off your weekend?

One of my favorite things about 5Rhythms (aside from getting to dance for two hours straight) is the wide range of music used during class. As I mentioned yesterday, 5Rhythms playlists are eclectic and can include everything from classical to country to techno. I love experimenting with different musical genres, but most dance classes don’t have that kind of flexibility. Zumba is all Latin music. Aerobic dance at the gym is all of today’s best hits but sped up x100 so it sounds like Minnie Mouse, not Lady Gaga, is singing. And then places that DO offer a full menu of music, such as the nightclub, where the Jackson 5’s “ABC” may follow Jay-Z, aren’t necessarily the most welcoming venues to open your heart to authentic movement.

As such, a mark of a great 5Rhythms teacher is not just his ability to get everyone moving but to be an awesome DJ as well. Music is key in this practice, and songs must flow seamlessly one into the other, meaning that aside from having pieces selected for each of the 5 Rhythms (Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, Stillness), there must be transition songs that link one Rhythm to the next.

This gradual build-up in tempo and those transition songs are what really attracts me to the practice. I dance around in my living room a lot, and I have found that if I come home from work and immediately blast a very Chaos-like song and start jumping and running all over the place–while it may provide a short-term release of energy–I also get tired much earlier in the game than if I approached my living room dance more like 5Rhythms. I think the key to dancing is starting slow and building the fire, not jumping into the flames at the get-go. Without those lovely rhythms of Flowing and Staccato to launch me into movement, I’ll most likely conk out after 15 minutes, exhausted, unmotivated, and feeling somewhat anticlimactic.

Yesterday’s blog post took me a while to write, and when I was finished all I wanted to do was step away from the computer and move! At first I was very tempted to blast some drumming music and just go at it, but then I remembered how fulfilling a full 5Rhythms practice makes me feel, so I quickly cobbled together a playlist. I’ll admit, I was doubtful about getting into “the zone” (I was feeling mighty exhausted and kind of hungry), but 35 minutes later I had a decent physical and mental workout under my belt.

Here’s my playlist from yesterday, which also provides insight into how each of the Rhythms should “feel.” (Since I was rushed, I didn’t add transition songs for every Rhythm. Also, as you can see, I get most of my music ideas from So You Think You Can Dance, which is a great resource for finding new songs!)

Flowing: “Brotsjor,” Ólafur Arnalds (Tadd and Jordan’s vulture dance, Season 8 )

Flowing/Staccato: “Scars,” Basement Jaxx (Robert and Dominic’s clown routine, Season 7)

Staccato: “Sweet Dreams,” Eurythmics (Sabra and Neil’s boardroom dance, Season 3)

Staccato: “I Can Transform Ya,” Chris Brown (Russell and Kathryn’s hip hop, Season 6)

Chaos: “Riding the Waves,” Afro Celt Sound System (Jordan and Tadd’s African jazz routine, Season 8 )

Chaos/Lyrical: “Drumming Song,” Florence + the Machine (All Stars group dance, Season 7)

Lyrical: “Addicted to Love,” Florence and the Machine (Adechike and Kathryn, Season 7)

Stillness: “Time,” Inception soundtrack (no SYTYCD connection)

It ended up being a great playlist; it felt very well-rounded and I was blissed out by the end!

Thinking of creating your own 5Rhythms-inspired playlist? Here are some of my favorite songs for each of the Rhythms (I may or may not have a slight obsession with Florence + the Machine right now):

Flowing: “Teardrop,” Massive Attack (also known as the House theme); “Intro,” The XX

Staccato: “Where is the Love,” Black Eyed Peas (this gets everyone moving and grooving in a live class!); “Rock What You Got,” Superchick; “Run the World,” Beyonce

Chaos: “God is a DJ,” Faithless; “Dog Days are Over,” Florence + the Machine

Lyrical: “Coming Home,” Diddy; “Cosmic Love,” Florence + the Machine

Stillness: “Amazing Grace,” Walela; “Glasgow Love Theme,” Love Actually soundtrack.

 If you have a song you think would fit nicely into one of my playlists, let me know!

SYTYCD Season 7 tour

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;

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