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(This post is a continuation of my quest to reclaim my body through Rolfing®. Click here for my previous post detailing my first session of this bodywork technique.)

The second session of my 10-part Rolfing series began very similarly to a 5Rhythms® movement class, with an emphasis on the feet. My therapist Laurie explained that this particular session would not be as physically intense as the previous one, which had focused on such an anatomical (and emotional!) powerhouse: the ribs, solar plexus, and diaphragm.

She described that the first session was necessary in order to release the areas around the lungs, as this kind of work is not possible without being able to breathe fully!

Once that key area is open, it’s then time to work on the “grounding” areas of the body: the feet and lower legs.

SwingingFeet

Her description of why the feet are so important early on in Rolfing made so much sense, as it is also a key concept in the 5Rhythms practice. Flowing, the first rhythm, the rhythm of the earth, is about finding your connection to the floor, establishing groundedness, pulling energy up from the earth as your sustenance rather than grasping frantically at air.

It’s not about knowing where you’re going but having confidence you’ll be able to get yourself there, wherever “there” is. You’re completely aware of the support holding you upright.

Laurie was right—the first half of the 60-minute session was incredibly relaxing and reminded me of reflexology, the way she pressed into key pressure points on my feet. Reflexively, my fingers began to fan along with my spreading toes.

It was certainly more active than reflexology, though, with her prompting me to flex and release my ankle several times as she worked in that area and up my calves. It felt a bit like a PT session for a foot injury, with all of the repetition. (And I’m speaking highly of PT here, not knocking it! It did wonders for me 4 years ago for my hip issues.)

Like the first session, I began to experience some interesting sensations as the session continued.

The first thing I noticed was a distortion in my perception of size. My body began to feel very small and Laurie’s arms, which were working on my legs at the time, very long. Lying there with my eyes closed, I did not understand how Laurie’s condor wing-arms could continue to move up and up and up my leg, which felt no longer than a standard ruler. I was certain she’d hit my head, when in reality she never strayed from my leg.

Then, the reverse. My legs no longer felt tiny but expansive, billowing from below my quadriceps like clouds or overly fluffy pillows. It got to the point where my legs no longer felt attached to my body, that they were these highly sensitive entities hanging out in my personal space but not attached by means of bone or muscle, tendons or ligaments. It was a very contradictory sensation—my legs feeling “detached,” and yet I was still so highly aware of them, feeling every touch of Laurie’s.

But perhaps the most powerful moment of the session was when Laurie was working on my left knee. She was doing nothing painful or terribly intense, but suddenly it felt like that knee was a portal to All The Energy on the left side of my body, and she had successfully opened it.

I felt a rush of warm, pleasant, bubbly energy spread up through my hip, chest, spine, all the way up into the back of my skull. My body rocked in place a bit, and I released some kind of vocal exclamation—a laugh or a Wow! or an ecstatic *&*&((**^####! All I remember was feeling like I had just experienced a kundalini opening on my left side, and that the knee was the trigger point.

Laurie ended my session the same way she does for each, by cradling the neck and skull and doing some kind of energy healing that this time felt like I had long Rapunzel-like locks spreading outward that she was combing with an electrically charged brush. It’s both a bizarre and comforting feeling, all at once.

(Would it be weird to say that right before the Rapunzel hair sensation, I felt like everything from my neck up was encased in a swirling red, gold, and green Christmas ball, but it was a sensation so soothing and reassuring that I was nearly brought to tears? Yeah? Well, that’s what was going on.)

My immediate sensations after the session included:

  • Baby-smooth soles, as though they had been scrubbed with a pumice stone.
  • Incredible sense of equal weight distribution between the feet—no wobbling from right to left.
  • Intense awareness of the bottoms of my feet, almost like I could feel the bottom of my shoes through my socks.
  • A sense of walking with purpose and confidence.
  • Vibrancy of the world around me, senses in high gear—mostly in the way I perceived color (green tree buds, red cars, yellow street signs).
  • My legs looking much thinner when I put my pants back on after the session, as though I had done some magic instant toning exercise routine.
  • My left foot expelling excess energy during my car ride home, a bubbly sensation, like my foot was carbonated!
  • HUGE emotional release during the drive home, crying just to cry, which released a lot of blockage in my throat area.

It has been about two weeks since that session, and I’m still happy with the way my feet feel.  Maybe it’s also because I’m wearing thinner socks or no socks now due to the warmer weather, but I do feel like I have more contact with the floor than usual.

I’ve noticed my gait feels more comfortable now—I take a walking break every day at lunch and sometimes felt like I was walking on a tilt. That has subsided.

The effects from the first session are still sticking for the most part as well. I don’t feel like I’m being tugged forward on my left side, and I’ve been able to incorporate more lunges into my morning stretching routine, something I stopped doing for a while because of the restriction I felt in my psoas, pelvis, and lower back. Now, those lunges actually feel good rather than a prelude to another hip injury.

This week I return for Session 3: the side body!

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Open

I love dancing in dualities.

In the expressive movement classes I facilitate, I often ask my students to imagine dancing at one end of a sensory spectrum (“How does your body move if you imagine yourself in the middle of the Sahara, your bare feet in hot sand?”) and then during the next song ask them to switch to the opposite (“Suddenly we find ourselves in the middle of a blizzard. How does your body move to the cold, biting wind?”)

It’s an easy and fun experiment to see how many ways individuals can move, a chance for them to be creative and extend their movement beyond their “usual” dance. Ten bucks says the way your hands and feet respond to blistering desert heat is different from the way they are compelled to move during a mitten-less sleet storm.

My 5Rhythms teacher asked the same of us during a recent Waves class. During the final rhythm of Stillness, he proposed that we shift between movement that was open and that which was closed, our inhalation expanding us into one shape, and our exhalation leading the way into the next.

All he had used were the words “open” and “close,” but without much thought—more reflexive than mindful—I instantly translated these movements to “good” and “bad.”

So, for the first couple of minutes, my dance was a back-and-forth between shapes that looked like “Yes!” and “Halleljuah!” and “Here I Am!” to “Oh noooo” “Ow,” and “Woe Is Me.”

I even got a little upset. Before the teacher’s instruction, I had been feeling really alive. Now, he was asking us to be sad and withdrawn. How dare he…!

Fortunately, my Buddhist-in-training brain switched on before I got too far in the blame game, and it occurred to me that maybe these terms don’t need labels.

Why did I have to assign “good” and “bad” qualifiers to actions that were just that—actions?

It helped that earlier that day I had been listening to a talk from Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön, in which she was talking about the dangers of labeling mediation sits as “good” and “bad”:

“Say, for instance, you meditated and you felt a sort of settling and a sort of calmness, a sense of well-being. And maybe thoughts came and went, but they didn’t hook you, and you were able to come back, and there wasn’t a sense of struggle. Afterwards, [you think], ‘I did it right, I got it right, that’s how it should always be, that’s the model.’

Then you have the ‘bad’ one, which is not bad. It’s just that you sat there and you were very discursive and you were obsessing about someone at home, at work, something you have to do—you worried and you fretted, or you got into a fear or anger…. You just felt like it was a horrible meditation session. At the end of it you feel discouraged, and it was bad and you’re bad for the bad meditation. And you could feel hopeless.” (Source)

She goes on to explain how getting caught in this good-versus-bad tug-of-war causes a lot of angst and tension, always striving to attain the “good” and then almost always defeated when the good we were hoping for isn’t as good as the previous good, which means it is bad.

It feels as exhausting as it sounds. And this is what ultimately leads to suffering.

It’s kind of what was happening to me on the dance floor. I was getting pulled down into an abyss of “bad” because that is what I decided to equate with “closed.”

When Pema’s advice caught up to me, I decided to shift my thoughts.

I thought of all the ways “closed” movement can represent concepts beyond sadness and heartache and defensiveness.

Closed can mean shutting one’s eyes to daydream. Pressing hands together to pray. Curling up under a blanket to snuggle or watch a movie.

Closed can mean placing the hands palms down on the knees during meditation. Folding back into Child’s Pose during a strenuous yoga class. A baby in its mother’s womb, knees and arms tucked into chest—the original fetal position.

Closed can mean shutting down the office at noon for a siesta, wrapping arms around an injured animal or child and nursing it to health, withdrawing from the senses in order to tune inward in self-reflection.

In no time I was feeling alive again, no longer pulled down by this heavy anchor of “bad”-ness I had inflicted on myself.

Closing actually felt…beautiful!

Shifting my perspective in that one little way created big change, my dance of duality a moving lesson in being more open-minded about the notion of being closed.

If you have any interpretations of “closed” you’d like to offer, please share in the comments below!

 

 

One of the biggest differences between a conscious dance practice (e.g., 5Rhythms®, Journey Dance) and, say, ballroom dancing or ballet is the absence of choreography and the sense of knowing precisely what to do and when.

Most of my youth was spent in a dance studio, traveling across the sprung floor with hitch kicks or chainé turns or a tombé–pas de bourée–glissade–grande jeté grand allegro combination.

I performed in choreographic endeavors in which at time point 1:52, when the gong rang its third chime, I was to drape my arm around my partner and slink to the floor. Right leg extended, left leg bent.

Later, at time point 2:36, I exited stage right with a pique arabesque, face turned toward the audience. Smile.

In other words, most of my movement prior to delving into conscious dance was very organized, deliberate, and painstakingly rehearsed repeatedly into memorization.

I am very grateful for this training. Hours of studio practice and dress rehearsal instilled in me discipline, poise, an uncanny ability to follow directions, and an astute understanding of proprioception.

This training, ingrained deep in my muscles and mind now, has also made for a challenging transition into conscious dancing.

Without steps, what do I do with my body?

Without choreography, what happens when two people enter the same space?

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the 4 years I’ve been actively engaging in conscious dance is to surrender to the mystery and allow things to unfold without force.

In one of my earlier posts describing a 5Rhythms class, I wrote about a partnering exercise in which the instructor told us to move freely but always remain in contact, in some way, with the other person.

He cautioned us that not every move was going to look picture-perfect and that odd moments may come up when we do something that we think might work but ends up feeling weird and stilted. But that’s normal and OK, he said. Just keep moving.

I’ve taken his instruction to heart again and again since that class, because what I have learned is that for every uncertain move and trepid gesture, there is usually an A-ha! moment or soul-tickling connection right around the corner.

It may take time and exploration, but the trick is to be inquisitive and not try so hard.

For example, every now and then I take a class with Group Motion in Philadelphia. One night, I found myself standing next to another dancer, snapping and humming like we were performance artists on a subway platform. In just a few moments, several other dancers had latched onto our rhythm, some clapping, some making quirky vocalizations.

Without guidance or very much thought, our little amoeba had quickly grown into a complex multi-celled organism. It was quite impressive!

CalendarArt_Tribe1

I’ll also never forget the moment in a 5Rhythms class I was dancing in a group of four. We were flitting about here and there, weaving under arms … the usual. But then, the configuration shifted without warning so that three of us were circled, holding hands, around our fourth member, Karen, who opened her eyes, found herself standing in the middle of this spontaneous circle, and gasped aloud in awe.

The moment affected all of us, because what had been a random assortment of curious movement had—without planning—taken on a solid and significant shape, one that crackled with energy and sent shivers down our spines.

Or there was the time I sitting on the floor, when suddenly I leaned back and rocked into someone’s arms. When I was pushed forward, there was someone else, reaching for me with extended arms.

The choreographer in me could have jumped up and began actively engaging my supports. But the conscious dancer in me wanted to feel out this mysterious threesome, so I allowed myself to sway like a hammock, rocking back and forth between the two.

I had no idea where it was going or how it would end. But … I liked the uncertainty. The moment and movement felt soooo right. There was no big A-ha! moment that time like there was with Karen’s spontaneous circle, but there was certainly a collective feeling of inclusion and cohesion among the three of us.

And I can’t even count all of the times I’ve danced with someone and my calf happened to slide right under someone’s head before it touched the floor or when the two of us spun in a circle at exactly the same moment, a synchronous spiral that we both happened to conclude with a jump.

Silver_Dancers

What this practice has helped me do is to find comfort (or at least less anxiety) in choreography-less real-life situations.

I have learned to trust the process.

I ventured into New York City one weekend this past fall to meet my sister for dinner. She had just moved to the city, and we found ourselves standing in the middle of Manhattan with nary a clue where to dine. Every other establishment in NYC is an eatery, which made the decision overwhelming as we passed restaurant after restaurant.

It would have been easy to just say, “Let’s go here!” and slip into a sushi joint, but there was something intuitively telling us to keep walking and exploring. We turned left, then right, and into what looked like a residential area.

“I feel good about this,” my sister said, even though we had gotten off the main strip and our stomachs growled with ferocity.

And, just like the magic circle that had formed around Karen, we suddenly found ourselves standing outside Friend of a Farmer, a cozy Gramercy Park restaurant with a warm farmhouse feel … and the most amazing fall cocktails and seasonal soups. We had walked in just as they opened for dinner and were seated right away.

An evening that had started with no map, no plans, had developed into one of the most satisfying gastronomical experiences of the year!

Life, by nature, is unpredictable, but I am at a time where my “map” of the future is more a collection of zig-zags and spirals and crisscrossing arrows than a land mass marked “A” and a mass marked “B” and a straight and solid line connecting the two.

Hands, feet, arrows, footprints, hearts, spirals.... Makes sense, right?

My current map looks much like the “drawing of my future” I created during my 2006 yoga teacher training.

I have found myself in a life-dance with no steps, no choreography, but the lessons I’ve learned from 5Rhythms (and the body wisdom gained from my earlier years of formal dance) keep me trusting my gut, being aware of others in space (physically and emotionally), surrendering to the mystery, and trusting that the curiosity will eventually melt into certainty, even if only for a blip … until the process begins all over again.

Dancer_Candle

One of the gifts of dancing with the same group of people over time is being able to see them grow, to watch their dances make the metamorphosis from lack of groundedness to firmly rooted feet, from insecurity and timidness to confidence and direction.

The youngest dancer in my Philadelphia home tribe is 17, but I first met her when she was 15. In her movement I see my own teenage self, a contained package of passion being called to open and unfold, an intricate, tightly bound origami creature unraveling crease by crease from its predetermined, tightly bound structure.

She wore orthodontic braces back in 2012. Now her teeth are smooth and straight, and I see them a lot more because she never holds back a smile.

One weekend, she danced till 10 p.m. at a Friday night workshop, took her SATs early the following morning, and then came back on Saturday afternoon to dance another 10 or so hours of an advanced workshop centered on the notion of fear.

She’s skipped out on normal high school kid diversions so she could travel to Virginia with a bunch of adults for the weekend and write poetry, sweat her prayers, and wrap her compassionate arms around crying strangers.

Not even a year after getting her license, she was using her driving privileges not to cruise aimlessly on open roads with her friends but to make the hour-long commute to and from the church where we dance.

These changes are beautiful and poignantly unusual for a young woman her age, but they are obvious to the naked eye.

Most of us have all made the transition from crooked teeth to braces-free, from fretting about midterms to reveling in getting accepted into our first-pick college. We’ve all struggled with breaking away from adolescent antics and moving toward activities that bring us a sense of purpose.

However, one of the gifts of being part of a conscious dance collective is being able to see deeper than the surface, to see that our youngest tribe member isn’t just growing up … she’s growing.

Sevenoaks_R&J

During our earlier dances, she moved to the music. Now, the music moves her.

The changes are subtle and sometimes can’t even be seen, but rather felt. There’s a different energy in her presence. Her movement, once a random and uncertain compilation of powerful words, is now a poem, those same potent words now mindfully crafted into compelling verse and stanza.

I’m picking on this particular person because I admire her teenage tenacity and find it hard not to watch her pop out of her old girl pupa and flutter her young woman wings, but she is just one of many of us who are being witnessed as we move, who have taken that leap to dance our hearts not just in our living rooms but in the presence of others.

We could so easily pop on Pandora at home and thrash our bodies behind closed doors, but instead we choose to step out into the open, to do our most raw expressions of movement in front of a teacher and in the middle of a mass of messy bodies.

There’s a certain vulnerability in that, but also a plea:

Please, see me.

Sevenoaks_YES

Unlike an audition or competition, we’re not dancing to impress but rather to express. We don’t ask for the teacher’s approval but wish only for acknowledgement, a bow of the head that says “I see you.”

The teacher’s role in a 5Rhythms® or similar movement meditation class is not to push perfection but to observe and encourage.

To witness.

A teacher would rarely force a student to move her hips a certain way, but might instead say, “Are your hips moving? Maybe add more breath to them and see how that feels.”

In that sense, there’s not much rigid instruction in these types of classes. More important than getting a student to move is to give her the space to be moved … and to honor it when it happens.

For example, Lucia Horan noticed an overreliance on our arms for the rhythm of Flowing and reminded us that this rhythm is about rootedness, finding our feet, to dig the movement from the earth up rather than try to grasp for it with flimsy arms.

I remember Amara Pagano closely watching a woman travel across the floor and being disturbed by the dancer’s lack of breath. She put a hand on the woman’s belly and reminded her to breathe, to use inspiration—rather than brute strength—to carry her across the floor.

Adam Barley called many dancers out for not moving our feet and dancing in place. “Just take steps,” he suggested.

During his workshop on fear, Adam also pointed out that many of us were confusing this concept with anger. So many of us were trying to dance fear with enraged eyes and martial arts-like strikes and jabs. “That’s anger, not fear,” he reminded us.

Kathy Altman noticed many of us had a tendency to gravitate toward where the most bodies were gathered and that we weren’t being bold and stepping into the empty spaces.

As students, we are permitted that opportunity to witness as well. Many times, especially in a workshop setting, we are paired up with a fellow dancer for an extended time. We take turns dancing and witnessing, moving through our current heartsong or emotional conflict as the other person simply steps back and gives us the gift of presence.

It is not a performance, nor is it a judges’ panel.

We are simply being ourselves and being seen.

In that sense, it is much scarier than performing because now we are being our true selves.

It’s showing a teacher a page of your diary versus a fictional short story you have created.

It’s about dancing your dance, not a teacher’s choreography.

It’s not caring whether you have two left feet but acknowledging that you have one big heart, and dammit, you’re going to let it speak. And sing. And grow.

BalloonDance

Now … can I get a witness?

Image

The photo above is a magnet I bought several years ago from the Japan pavilion at Epcot in Walt Disney World. It was a moment of Zen amid an otherwise less-than-tranquil experience in one of the busiest, dizziest (and most humid) tourist destinations on the East Coast. Who knew the House of Mouse could offer such sage wisdom?

“On rainy days, be in the rain. On windy days, be in the wind.”

I understood the maxim’s message right away, as I was still in my honeymoon phase of my yoga and meditation practice and was obsessed with perfecting presence of mind.

What the magnet means is that when you are standing in rain, see it as just rain. No judgement, no attaching “good” or “bad” or “miserable” labels to the meteorological phenomenon. When it rains, be present; see it at its most basic state: water falling from the sky. And then just experience it in all its wet glory.

Same goes for the wind: I feel a strong rush of air pushing at my body and causing my hair to whip around my face. Wind is neither good nor bad; it is wind, and I am standing in it.

The thing is … it’s really hard to master that philosophy, mainly because of something called feeling.

Feeling is something humans are really good at. We have a deep capacity to love and fear and want and reject.

When we’re presented with a simple phenomenon, be it weather or meeting a new person or watching an animal out in nature, the act of observing is usually upstaged by our tendency to want to assign it an emotion or metaphor.

There is nothing wrong with this, but making the leap from observing to feeling can be tricky.

As 5Rhythms® teacher and Open Floor co-founder Lori Saltzman said, “Adding feeling and making meaning is the part that can bring us together … but also the part that gets us into trouble.”

Perspective is powerful.

I and several other dancers got to play around with this concept recently with Lori at her Write of Passage dance/writing workshop, which I attended in Charlottesville, Virginia.

For example, she offered: Imagine a young man in his 20s walking down the street in a hoodie. That’s the baseline, the observation. But one person may see this man as dangerous. Another person thinks, “Oh, what a hottie! I’d like to hook up with him.” And yet another person sees the same man and with a heavy heart thinks, “That’s my son.”

With that, Lori had us put on our “sacred reporter” hats, pull out our notebooks and pens, and observe a volunteer dancer posed in the middle of our circle.”Describe what you see,” Lori instructed, “but only what is right in front of you. I’m talking simple descriptions here—‘white legwarmers, tight ponytail.’ None of this ‘eternal feminine goddess’ stuff.”

We shouted out basic nouns and adjectives, phrases like “bent arms,” “aqua midriff,” “turned-in feet.”

The next step was to describe the volunteer dancer through verbs, action words: “sliding across the floor,” “reaching upward,” “undulating.”

A couple both dressed in purplish hues stepped into the circle. “Now, use metaphors to describe what you see,” Lori instructed. These dancers soon became “two loose grapes rolling around in the fruit bowl” and “grown-up children prancing outside on the playground.”

The final volunteer to step inside the circle was subject to four types of our reporting: basic description, action words, metaphors, and the delicate element of feeling. What type of feeling does this woman’s movement evoke in you? When you watch her move, what is she expressing?

Lori pushed us to be brave, to dare to be wrong in our interpretation. The human race in general can be so afraid to find feeling in another’s expression, because we are afraid of getting it wrong. Of thinking someone is sad when she isn’t really sad.

However, taking the leap and noticing that someone is mourning a loss or experiencing profound happiness—and letting him know that you see what he feels—can be liberating for that person. To be fully seen is a gift!

We drew a table with nine cells in our notebooks and as our volunteer danced, we filled each cell with one of those four types of observations. At the end of the exercise, we had a kind of “tic-tac-toetry” in front of us, short poetic verses compiled from a row of squares:

Notebook

“Hard-soled shoes tapping on the wood / ball of tenderness yearning to crack open / eyes begging.”

Eventually, we all became the moving volunteer, dancing our dance in groups of three as the two other group members took notes in the same fashion, this time on index cards.

When I was done dancing, my fellow group members slid several cards my way, each piece of paper containing a description of how my classmates saw me. There was my dance—me at my most honest—spread out in front of me.

Lori gave us time to sort through the cards, rearrange them a bit, remove a few, and edit slightly. The result was our poem. Here’s mine:

Here I Am.
Rolling it out, shaking it loose.
Letting go.
*Graceful fire*
I am integrated,
A wild child transformed into an aligned woman.
I Am Here.

The day’s lessons and exercises put me in such “sacred reporter” mode that my poetic perspective was in high gear, even off the dance floor.

When I returned to my host’s house that afternoon, I delighted in the fact that the blanket in the guest bedroom had been elegantly twisted and tucked into an abstract figure of the female form, a pear-shaped flow of fabric starting slender at the top and expanding into wider curves at the bottom.

I smiled and snapped a photo, thanking my partner for creating such a lovely work of bed art. He laughed.

“I didn’t do anything,” he said. “All I did was take a nap, and that’s how the blanket ended up.”

Image

Rain can be rain and a blanket can be a blanket. But sometimes the blanket is an abstract goddess, and we shouldn’t be afraid to say it how we see it.

The power of perspective.

If I had known about the 5Rhythms® practice back when I was in high school, I’d be all over Lyrical, man.

I was such a Lyrical creature in my adolescent stage. Proof:

(1) My first America Online screen name was derived from Shakespeare’s most renowned romantic tragedy (just call me Juliet204, please).

(2) I borrowed my 10th grade English teacher’s copy of her A Tale of Two Cities video (PBS edition, baby!) to watch at home (at least twice, and that’s not including the in-class viewing) because I was in love with the love that Sydney Carton represented.

(3) I turned an English class assignment about A Separate Peace into an interpretive dance.

(4) Sometimes instead of going out with friends on Friday nights, I’d opt to crank up Yanni in my Acropolis, err living room and play “Reflections of Passion” on repeat.

There were other notes of Lyrical, of course (mostly involving scads of poetry and an obsession with sonnets, haiku, and the novel Rebecca), but perhaps the biggest indicator of my Lyrical tendencies was my love of, well… lyrical.

Lyrical dance, that is.

Back in the 1990s, my dance education in the small-town studios of South Jersey was usually limited to the basic menu of ballet, tap, and jazz styles. The fluid-like, emotion-packed genre of lyrical was just emerging in my area, and my initial experience with it was through watching dance competitions I videotaped on TV.

These girls with their loose, un-bunned hair and long flowy skirts and bare feet! Their songs with words and lyrics that made my heart weep!

I had only learned to stuff my feet into pointe shoes just a few years prior, but about the time I got my first period I was yearning to see what soft marley felt like under my toes instead. I wanted to wear footless tights. I wanted to untie my French braid and let my strawberry-blond locks tumble dramatically past my shoulders.

Most of all, I was interested in expressing my beloved writing medium—poetry—as a dance form.

I loved the power and punch of jazz dancing, but the more classic literature I read in high school (coupled with the sudden onslaught of female hormones), the less interested I became in executing knee-to-nose hitch kicks across the dance studio floor.

I wanted depth. I wanted feeling. I wanted to emote.

I was already kind of an odd bird at my dance studio, the way I was rigidly disciplined with my time and my secret love of a strict ballet teacher that everyone else hated.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise, then, that my senior year of high school, when I was invited to participate in a special performance for graduating students, instead of doing what all the cool kids had done in the past and voting to learn a super-awesome explosive heart-thumping jazz routine in a slinky, sexy, sequined costume, I politely requested that our group of 17- and 18-year-old girls dance a sweet and elegant lyrical routine.

And not just any lyrical routine. I requested that we dance to Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind.”

The year was 1998, and it was only the summer before that Princess Diana had passed away. Her death was a sentimental sensation, especially for tenderhearted Lyrical creatures like myself who responded to the tragedy by crafting poems and prose about the late princess.

To me, my request made so much sense. The theme of the dance recital that year was “international travel,” with each song to represent an area of the world. Elton John + Lady Di + OMG that tearjerker performance at Westminster Abbey = hello, United Kingdom!

And our graduating group of dancers included four young women transitioning from high school to college. Weren’t they too bursting with hormones and notions of romance and an ache to pour their maturing hearts onto the stage?

No, no they weren’t.

They raised their eyebrows at me when I so passionately proposed my suggestion to the dance studio director, and their reactions were even less forgiving when my suggestion was accepted.

I felt bad. The other girls took their distaste out on the dance teacher by coming to rehearsals in baggy sweats and rarely putting any effort into their movement.

I knew they had wanted techno. Pizzazz. Flashy and sassy. If 5Rhythms had been part of our language back then, they would have been Staccato, for sure.

Me in one of my jazz (Staccato) costumes.

Me in one of my jazz (Staccato) costumes.

But we had been served Lyrical, and I lapped it up.

Footless tights? Check. My hair stayed in a bun, but we clipped a red flower to our white satin skirts to represent England’s rose. My mother and grandmother cried during the performance and each time they watched the routine on video, and will probably cry reading this as well.

The most important thing, however, was that I got to dance my poetry. I got my Lyrical.

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I didn’t know it at the time, but I was learning to find my rhythm. No, not just find my rhythm but be it.

My Flowing exploration helped me understand my sensitive nature and navigate why I wanted to dance this piece.

My Staccato energy pushed me to approach the studio director and present my suggestion.

My Chaos was the emotional drama I felt after rehearsals when I knew my peers hated my decision that had cost them their super-cool jazz routine.

My Lyrical was the dance.

And finally, My Stillness was the moment after curtain call when I realized my dance hobby had developed into a true passion.

Sevenoaks...Ahhh

I know winter is typically the season for hibernation, but for me summer seemed like the right time to let my blog sleep tight and go dormant.

This is not to say that I was in hibernation mode myself; quite the contrary, but I was faced with the age-old blogger’s dilemma of striking a balance between fully experiencing real life mindfully and that of perpetually living with a documentarian’s mind and sacrificing a portion of my brain functioning to taking notes for the future.

After I returned from the Virginia dance retreat in early July, things slowed down—a bit. Some classes went on hiatus for the summer, yet others kept on trucking, like the every-fourth-Friday 5Rhythms class in South Jersey.

During the July class—held just days before my birthday—a record number of students showed up—close to 20, when classes there normally brought in no more than 12. I was beaming for the full 2 hours, secretly convinced the universe had brought in all those people for me to dance with. Bless his heart, Richard, for continuing to make the drive from Baltimore every month to teach our motley crew, especially that night he got stuck in traffic for 3.5 hours.

And to take the place of some classes that paused for the summer, new offerings emerged, such as the monthly ecstatic dance classes I’ve been facilitating in central Jersey.

(I’ve actually been doing that since March but wanted to keep mum about it until I had reached a certain level of confidence in my leadership role.)

We started in a narrow yoga studio above an antiques shop and have expanded to an amazingly spacious karate studio with forgiving padded floors and a killer sound system. Each class is followed by a potluck dinner, and although I typically loathe the word “fellowship,” we have lots of it going on. And it’s pretty darn sweet.

I took my show on the road earlier this month and led a class at my friend Rhonda’s yoga studio—the studio in which I took my very first 5Rhythms class. I was honored to be invited to teach in a space that is so revered for me, and there’s promise that it will become a regular thing, along with opportunities here and there to work with children as well. Wow.

A few weeks went by where I had no 5Rhythms at all and felt its absence; then in August, my Philadelphia tribe held a full-day workshop with our group’s founder, Rivi Diamond, and recharged me. I danced intimately with a chair that afternoon, a sensual human-furniture friendship that emerged simply from me needing to get off my feet for a while.

And when I wasn’t dancing a Wave I was crashing into them; literally, throwing myself head-first into the salty sea caps that swelled from the Atlantic Ocean onto the Jersey shore. How is it that I’m 33 years old and never knew the secret of surviving big waves? Riding them out gets my swimsuit in a bunch and salt water in my orifices, whereas taking the wave head-on like a boss results in peace and tranquility. Seems counterintuitive, but perhaps there’s a 5Rhythms metaphor somewhere in there.

That all said, I’m banking on FlowtationDevices stirring from slumber in the next couple of weeks, emerging for air and ready to spill words forth onto these electronic pages.

It seems a fitting time, based solely on the fact that one of my last early-summer posts was about trekking to Virginia for a workshop with 5Rhythms teacher Amara Pagano—and now, 3 months later, I’m off to yet another one of her workshops with my home tribe.

Amara_BodyPrayer

A whole season, several steps, few words, and two Amaras. Full circle!

Sometimes a conscious dance practice isn’t at all about dancingit can be as simple as taking steps.

It’s hard to believe, but it can be very easy to forget to move out of one place during a dance practice. Even during wild, loud, frenetic, chaotic music, it’s not uncommon for people to root their feet into the floor and resort to gyrating everything from their hips up.

The same holds true during an elegant lyrical song: How easy it is to close our eyes and flutter our arms around like paper streamers in a breeze. So airy, so graceful … so upper body!

What are the feet doing?!

Adam Barley was one of the first 5Rhythms teachers I’ve worked with who was adamant about getting people unstuck.

“Just take steps,” he’d repeat.

When an individual was hanging out in one space for too long, Adam would approach the dancer and offer his advice:

“Just take steps.”

It was especially helpful during his workshop on Fear, when he instructed our class to hold a posture of fear, then to close our eyes, envision a path in front of us, and take steps along that path … even when we were unsure of where those footsteps would lead us.

The point was clear: The fear is there, yes. But don’t just stand there, frozen. Just take some steps, and eventually you’ll find your way into Flowing.

Maybe you’ll find your way to a really intricate pattern on the wood floor that captivates and inspires you.

Maybe a few steps will guide you to an area of the room where the acoustics are amazing and draw you into a whole new state of consciousness.

Maybe those footsteps will lead you arm to arm with “that” person; a partnership that opens energetic pathways you didn’t even know you had.

It sounds contradictory, but in a conscious dance practice, don’t worry so much about dancing. Just take some steps, and the dance will unfold on its own.

One foot in front of the other.

One foot in front of the other.

tribe

One of the most fulfilling elements of my 5Rhythms practice—other than the gift of meditation through movement it provides to me—is the sense of TRIBE that comes along with being a part of a community of like-minded individuals.

I’ve written before about the energetic bonds created during classes and workshops, how dancing boldly and authentically among others creates an almost transcendent state of togetherness—I am everyone, and everyone is me.

In fact, some of Adam Barley‘s final words to our class during his Philadelphia workshop this past March were: “Look closely at these people you’ve danced with; you are all of them and they are you.”

Some people may have yoga tribes, running tribes, coffee shop tribes, postpartum depression support tribes. What’s important is to find those individuals

who accept us as we are without reservation and gladly accompany us on our journeys of evolution. Among them, we feel free to be our imperfect selves, to engage unabashedly in the activities we enjoy, and to express our vulnerabilities by relying on our tribe for support. [source]

The power of the tribe becomes even more apparent in moments of vulnerability, when we find ourselves standing naked in a room of peers, our souls sweating onto the dance floor, our hands reaching out for contact and connection.

Being able to be so open can feel empowering, and you know you wouldn’t have been able to get there on your own, even if you locked yourself in a room for 24 hours straight and danced until your feet bled.

For example, back in April I participated in a 3-day workshop with a “cousin” 5Rhythms tribe in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was my first time really away from my home turf, staying with a host dancer and her family. I arrived on Friday evening, and by Sunday evening it took a lot of effort to pull me away from that group of dancers. I cried before I even left the venue parking lot, so reluctant to start the car and drive away from this group I had bonded so comfortably with.

“It’s not fairrrrrr!” I exclaimed. “I was just getting to know these people. We do all this incredible, opening work with these people, expose our hearts and souls to them, and then just like *that* we are supposed to say goodbye and leave?! I need more time with everyone!”

(That said, guess where I am now as this blog entry posts? Back in Charlottesville, for an extended workshop—5 whole days with my tribe! We’re actually at a retreat center, eating, sleeping, dancing, and dreaming together—exactly what I was longing for when I left Virginia two months ago.)

The 5Rhythms practice relies very heavily on this notion of tribe; in fact, one of my favorite teachers from New York—Douglas Drummond–held a special workshop in Philadelphia on this very topic:

Embodied Tribal.

Here is Douglas’ description of the work:

The real measure of a leader lies in their followers. At the core of this power is the relationship between the Leader and the Follower. In these modern times, we are asking so much of everyone with respect to demonstrating leadership skills even when not the formal leader. Sometimes this is hard to understand and hard to demonstrate. So we’ll MOVE with it!

To emphasize this point, Douglas had us get into a few large groups and to NOT designate a leader. The direction was for everyone to continue to dance but then—through an unspoken, organic unfolding—somebody starts doing a repetitive movement. With luck, everyone eventually picks up on this movement, not quite knowing who the leader is but being able to “feel” the leadership and sense it out, as the individuals in the group conform one by one.

A great visual demonstration of such a phenomenon can be seen in this video:
{Watch 32 discordant metronomes achieve synchrony in a matter of minutes.}

The exercise was a bit symbolic of our greater work as a tribe: everyone being in discordance, doing their own thing, and eventually all coming together for a few moments. The repetitive movement was to be something simple, too—nothing too complex—just like how the simple act of dancing together builds such cohesion among our collection of ragtag individuals.

In another exercise, Douglas split our class into three groups of at least 10 people each, each “tribe” facing each other in the center of the room.

One person from each group took on the leadership role—standing front and center—engaging in a simple movement that everyone could follow.

Douglas had us speed it up, slow it down, experiment with different tempos. We looked like three tribes about to go to war with each other, or perhaps even three military units ready to sweep in and fight the same enemy.

Eventually, Douglas made both the leader and his followers pause; the leader then turned around to view his tribe behind him. In all instances, most of the followers were standing in the same position, arms poised in same place, stances all uniform.

I was fortunate to serve as one of the “leaders,” and let me tell you, turning around and seeing my tribe standing there in unison, poised exactly how I had led them was exhilarating.

It wasn’t even a sense of power or dominance, but rather, Wow, these people have my back, we’re all in this together. When I need them there the most, they’re there. I thought about how many times I’ve really needed them, just their presence for 2 or 3 hours; they’re my family, it’s my tribe.

In an active listening discussion afterward, Douglas made us answer the question: “What does the dance of the tribal mean to me?”

Some of the words I shared with my partner were support, family, and love. Sometimes I’m not even certain of everyone’s names or what they do for a living or where they live and what they believe in, yet I still feel a deep connection with them.

"Stillness in Motion" group. Charlottesville, VA, April 2013.

“Stillness in Motion” group. Charlottesville, VA, April 2013.

On the surface, your tribe may seem to be nothing more than a loose-knit group of friends and acquaintances to whom you ally yourself. Yet when you look deeper, you will discover that your tribe grounds you and provides you with a sense of community that ultimately fulfills many of your most basic human needs. [source]

Fear, Power, Beauty installation

Fear, Power, Beauty installation

The other day I wrote about England-based 5Rhythms teacher Adam Barley and his workshop back in March in Philadelphia: Fear, Power, and Beauty.

People outside of the conscious dance world get confused when I talk about “dancing fear,” because I guess they imagine ritualistic theatrics involving creepy masks and blindfolds or sitting around in circles sharing stories we would only confess to our priests or rabbis.

Maybe they envision a dictator-like teacher barking commands at us, scaring us intentionally, making us dance on our knees until they bleed, breaking us down.

That isn’t the case.

The process begins with an intention.

I remember one of my teachers commenting that a workshop truly first begins not at the designated start time but rather that moment when the student has RSVP’d. It means the individual has checked and set aside time on his calender, that he has secured the finances, that he is saying to himself, “I am committing my time, money, and energy to this occasion.”

With that commitment, the brain’s neurons begin firing—perhaps subconsciously—about intention. What was it that guided me to pay $200 to explore fear? Why did I carve out an entire weekend to do this work?

The answer might not be obvious. Some people have very clear intentions, for example: “I grew up fearing intimacy, and I want to move beyond that” or “I fear never being ‘seen.'”

For others, there may be no “elevator statement” on their reason for attending; nevertheless, the months/weeks/days leading up to the workshop involve a huge, simmering crock pot of “mental dances,” the brain working behind the scenes, knowing something big is coming up and beginning to direct energy accordingly.

As my therapist always reminds me, “Energy follows intention.”

The teacher usually helps with this process.

Here’s what Adam sent workshop registrants a week or so before the event:

Dear Dancer,

So you’ve got this workshop coming up where we’re working with fear, huh? 

Watch out!

Fear is scary. It’s particularly scary to your mind, and your mind is a tricky customer. Watch it come and go, create stories and scenarios that probably will not bear much resemblance to reality. 

Your best prep for the weekend is to do what we’ll be fundamentally doing there: stay aware of your body and your breath, because those two aspects of you will stay reliably present, unlike your mind. Stay present. Breathe deep often. Take steps so you can feel your feet. And watch everything else come and go, rise and fall. 

So, what happens when you first walk into a workshop on Fear?

You DANCE, of course! Throw your bags and belongings to the side, exchange hugs and kisses with your fellow dancers, tape up your toes/bandage your ankle/slip a brace on your knee, and find your way into Flowing.

Belongings

In fact, the Friday night portion of a big workshop is mostly dancing and is mostly fun. It’s establishing connection with others, getting in touch with the body, warming up for the bigger work to come.

I had so much fun on that particular Friday, that I didn’t even feel an iota of fear flutter in my heart.

(Which is a bit ironic, because then the “fear” was that I was entering a Fear workshop without any connection to the main topic!)

Then that night I had a nightmare, waking up in a cold sweat. The dream was terrifically realistic and basically flung all of my real-life fears smack in my face.

That said, on Saturday I had “material” to work with.

And so the process began.

* * *

> We don’t only dance Fear-–Adam also instructs us to strike a pose of Anger, Sadness, Joy, and Compassion. We hold these postures, then find a repetitive movement to embody the emotion.

Repetition is an effective exercise because eventually our patterns emerge, clear as day. When we become aware of our patterns on the dance floor, it becomes easier to identify them in the real world.

In addition, after exploring all of the emotions above through movement, Adam asks us, “Which one felt the most authentic to you?”

I hated to admit it, but I really enjoyed the sharp vocalizations and precise martial arts-like movement I was expressing in Anger.

In fact, for most of the workshop, I continuously made the mistake of confusing Fear and Anger, bearing my teeth and flexing my muscles like a tiger when the intent was really to feel more like the prey, not the predator.

(I guess it’s clear what my “shadow”/defense mechanism is.)

> Adam is firm about not wanting us to “check out.” For example, when you feel the need to get water, before you scurry off to get your bottle, pause and see if you’re honestly thirsty and need hydration or whether it’s a built-in routine—a mechanical reaction (“Chaos just ended, so obviously it’s water time”) or perhaps something deeper (“This song/partner/rhythm makes me uncomfortable, I will ‘take a break’ now so I don’t have to face the discomfort.”).

It’s not that Adam wants us to be parched or hungry—he’s just reminding us to be aware of the unconscious mind games that unfold when we’re faced with something we’re not 100% comfortable with.

“Be aware of thirst, tiredness, music you don’t like, a partner you can’t connect with…go with it, that’s when stuff happens. Don’t check out.”

We dance each rhythm across the room several times, reminds me of going “across the floor” in dance class, when we’d practice the same steps from one end of the room to the other until perfection.

This time there are steps but not choreography, just a long path from Point A to Point B for us to dance a Flowing Fear, a Staccato Fear, a Chaos Fear, a Lyrical Fear, a Stillness Fear.

Again,” Adam says with a simple hand gesture in our direction, compassionate fierceness in his voice. He never lets us check out.

There are chairs on the side of the room, but we are asked only to sit if we’re dealing with injury or pain. “If you’re tired, dance a tired Chaos!” Adam says.

> We dance to wordless music all of Friday and Saturday. On Friday, it barely registers in my mind. After Saturday, it becomes very noticeable that thus far we have danced to only instrumental music.

Without lyrics, the brain is able to shut off much quicker. You can’t use the words to help carry your movement; instead, movement becomes instinctual.

On Sunday, vocals began to appear in our music. Something in the air became lighter. It was like we were being pressed under water for two days, hearing only heartbeats and muffled murmuring, and now finally hearing the sweet sounds of the world sing clearly into our ears.

Here’s what Adam had to say about that, in a separate e-mail:

The intent was to take everyone into the dark at first, to encounter fear, find power, and then to emerge into beauty; though I had no idea of the exact steps we would take to do that, or what music I would choose along the way. All my music selection is totally intentional, and each track is chosen in the moment, none more than a few minutes before it plays.

> Energy indeed follows intention, even after the workshop ends and socialization begins. At a potluck dinner party after Saturday’s grueling class, I end up randomly sitting next to a woman, get into a conversation with her about mudra meditations, and then—holy coincidence!—nearly at the same time, we say, “Here’s my favorite one,” lifting our hands into the conch shell mudra.

Of all the possible mudras out there—so many combinations of finger placements and hand positions—how can this be?!

Just like having that fear-inducing nightmare on Friday night, I believe meeting “Elaine” on Saturday night was synchronicity, our work from the earlier part of the day culminating into a deeper experience to help us through the remainder of the workshop.

Turns out the conch shell mudra (which helps strengthen the throat) is so important to us because we both struggle with our voices, her physically and me energetically. In fact, our voice-related challenges are a huge part of our fear, the very reason we are at this workshop!

Well then, it should not be surprising that during the next day’s session, after a vicious, deep trip into fear—a plunge that leaves my nose running, eyes red and wet, hair askew, a dive in which I had been thinking about my voice—Adam tells us to pause, turn to the person closest to us, and that this person will now be our partner.

I open my soggy eyelids and find myself nearly arm to arm with—of course—Elaine. Energy follows intention even when there are 40+ other dancers in the room!

Adam asks one person from each pair to face the fear of fear, to place it in our bellies, to dance it out as the other partner stands off to the side and simply witnesses.

My eyes stay focused on Elaine, even as she moves among a crowd of several others. She circles and circles, her arms rising out to her sides, her mouth agape, a silent scream caught in her throat.

It is difficult to watch, knowing we share such similar restrictions. At times, I feel as though I am witnessing myself, decades in the future.

I eventually re-enter the dance floor, instructed by Adam to join our partner and stand by her side. “Not in front or in back of them, but by their side,” he emphasizes. “Be there with them.”

“For Stillness, what feels right?” Adam asks. “Taking their hand, touching, an embrace?” My one hand clutches Elaine’s hand, the other comes to back of her neck. My arms wrap her in a hug, her snotty nose in my shoulder. We make eye contact. Her eyes are glistening with fresh tears but so open.

When it is my turn out on the dance floor, I feel Elaine embodied in me, sensations of my throat being blocked off, barely able to talk. Even my movement is constricted. Yet, Elaine doesn’t have a choice. I can speak! Unlike the physical disability she has, I am only energetically impaired. What gives, Jennifer? You can speak!

I rip at my stomach, chest, throat, as though pulling a cord—maybe even a serpent—out of my mouth. Like a magician’s colorful mile-long scarf expanding from his sleeve, the snake keeps emerging as I tug. Wide open mouth.

Finally, there is Lyrical. Adam reminds us to take steps, as it is so easy to stay locked in one place after such a taxing Chaos. Such a relief to just take steps, no dancing, just walk and see what happens.

My robotic right-left-right-left pattern morphs effortlessly into something new, and with that miniscule change of footwork, I feel free, broken out of the restriction. I catch myself softly whispering “Yes, yes, yes” as my feet gradually slow down and I enter Stillness with Elaine by my side and her hand on my heart.

> I am relieved when Adam gives us time to spread across the room and journal. Finally, the energy that has been exploding out of me can collect on paper, an ink-infused take-home gift from all of this intense work. My writing is sloppy as my hands are shaking, and in this period of rest I realize I feel quite sick, a bit nauseous, extraordinarily thirsty, a throbbing headache at my temples.

But words come effortlessly from fingers to paper, and I begin to wonder whether the “illness” I feel is really just all the gunk worked up over the day trying to purge. Writing is my mental vomiting, and my sickness splatters all over the pages of my notebook.

So with that in mind, I receive Adam’s next instruction with apprehension: We are encouraged, one at a time, to stand up in this room of 40+ people and emphatically speak out our “summary statement,” a line from our journaling that represents the essence of our writing.

For some people, what they exclaim is enough, and Adam allows them to sit down and simply breathe in their classmates’ presence and receptivity. For others, Adam uses his best judgement to decide how to proceed:

– “Say it again, this time softer.”

– “Yes, now repeat that three times in a row. Make eye contact with everyone.”

– “Add just a little more softness to you voice.”

– “Where are your hands when you say that? Show me where your hands are.”

He pushes us. Offers comfort. Gently receives with a slight bow of the head. One man’s statement was so profound and gut-wrenching that Adam stood behind him in solidarity and took him into an embrace, the student enveloped in Adam’s arms.

> After the journaling purge, Adam tells us to find someone to be with. To truly, honestly just “be with” this person, whether it’s crying or dialoguing or sitting in meditation. A female dancer from New York is seated right next to me, and we situate ourselves shoulder to shoulder.

“What do you want?” she asks, and I say I just want to hold her like this—me straddling her between my legs as she leans back into my torso, my arms around her from behind. We roll on top of each other, her weight on me; the sensation of her sliding over my back and shoulders brings me to tears. I inhale her shampoo.

* * *

The workshop ends shortly thereafter, our group assembled in a huge circle, holding hands, our eyes taking in every person who has shared our fear that weekend. We all went through some pretty intense and perhaps unflattering moments, yet at this conclusion—amazingly—we all look radiant. Our eyes speak truth.

My headache is gone, and I no longer feel ill. My eyes are puffy, but they are not “sad” eyes. I am exhausted but invigorated.

As stated earlier, the workshop officially starts when one RSVPs and makes the commitment to attend. However, there is no official end to such an endeavor. The work continues even after the studio lights go out, the parking lot is empty, and Adam flies back to England.

We’ve been cracked open; now it’s time to get cookin.’

Fear_egg

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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