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RainbowShadow

Back in March, I attended one heavy-duty Heartbeat-level 5Rhythms workshop with England-based teacher Adam Barley.

I haven’t blogged about any of it yet because I’m afraid.

Which makes sense, because the topic was FEAR.

Ugh.

This was not a workshop to take for shits and giggles. Like, don’t sign up for this if all you’re looking for is 15 hours of ecstatic dance. Adam is a fun teacher, and sure, we danced a lot, but it’s serious work. Adam wants you to get your money’s worth. Which means that when the workshop is being billed as “Fear,” Adam wants you to get up close and personal with that super-scary F-word.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned in this particular workshop is how the “shadows” of each of the Rhythms serve as obstacles to truly facing what scares us.

I’ve gone through each of these shadows in an attempt to blog about this very workshop. These shadows are familiar and arise often when I’m faced with something that’s going to make me vulnerable.

The beauty is that now I’m aware of these little mind games, and somehow knowing what’s going on behind the scenes makes the whole process a little less scary.

But enough of the esoteric introduction. Let’s get to the nitty gritty, shall we?

Adam split our class into 5 groups—one for each rhythm/shadow—spread out across the room. The direction was to fully dance in that shadow for some time and then—when prompted—move to another group, exploring the movements associated with that shadow. So on and so forth.

> Flowing became Sleepiness and Complacency. Instead of firmly rooting our feet into the ground, we allowed our limp bodies to topple into it, the earth as our floppy pillow rather than the solid foundation it is supposed to be. Half-open eyes, yawning—how easy it is to just rest my head here on this person’s back. Why stand up when I can just…lie…down…right…here Zzzzzzz.

This shadow felt all too familiar. I resort to it all the time when I’m afraid, because instead of facing fear head-on, it is SO much easier to say “I’m tired” and succumb to that “I-can’t-keep-my head-up” heaviness. Can’t deal with fear when you’re asleep, right?

Granted, there are times I am legitimately exhausted but how peculiar that every time I sit down to blog, I suddenly feel verrrry sleepy

> Staccato became Anger, Rage, and Blame. When it’s too scary to step boldly into the empty spaces and be direct and honest, why not transform that intensity onto someone else? Bare your teeth, stomp in someone else’s boundaries, jut your head forward and invade their personal space. Suddenly Staccato begins resembling a kung fu movie, and no one is safe.

For me, this shadow translates to “It’s so-and-so’s fault I can’t write because he/she is [insert blame here]!!” or “There are just too many dance events, I have no time to write about them. The people who schedule every awesome event under the sun in June clearly have no respect for my schedule!!”

> Chaos became Loss of Control. Although it is important to let your head go when dancing in Chaos, it’s just as crucial to remember your feet’s connection to the ground. A room full of dancers engaged in an ungrounded Chaos will result in potentially dangerous collisions, driver-less cars hydroplaning in every direction.

This kind of movement is dizzying, exhausting, cross-eyed, flailing limbs striking others as you stumble from here to there to everywhere. A sense of panic arises—as though trying to escape a burning building—but you’re not even sure if you’re heading toward the exit.

Sometimes it’s easier to wear myself out then face anything challenging. If I mindlessly speed through a morning of working out, scrubbing the tub, pushing myself through a few sun salutations, running to the pharmacy, dancing a Wave, there’s no possible way I’ll have the time or energy to confront my fear. I’m a sweaty, exhausted mess in a matter of hours, most likely finding myself back at Shadow #1: Sleepiness.

> Lyrical became Distraction. Welcome to La-La Land, where all senses are on overdrive. You want to see, smell, hear, taste, and feel everything…but all at once and without being very mindful about what’s coming your way.

Movement is disoriented, eyes darting from one body part or person to the next, moving just to move but never feeling connection to anything you make contact with. It’s a blip on your radar, a quick Ooooh or Ahhh before something new distracts you.

I should refresh my Twitter feed. Have a bite of those brownies on the counter. Yes, I love this song! OMG, I can write my name in the dust on this table. What was that kid’s name in the movie about that monster? Lemme look that up on Wikipedia. Holy crap, it’s already 7 p.m.; I should get my work clothes ready for tomorrow so I’ll be all set, maybe make my lunch while I’m at it.

Before I know it it’s bedtime, and I’ve done everything but anything that really matters.

> Stillness became Blankness, Catatonia, Numbness. Nothing in, nothing out. When fear paralyzes you to the point of near-immobility, unable to emote in any fashion, unable to feel, locked in a state of physical and mental frozenness.

Movement is hardly movement at all, more like uncertain steps in no particular direction, eyes closed or gazing off into nowhere, moving solely because you are asked to move, not because you have any desire to.

That guy is raising his arm. Maybe I should do that too. … There, I just raised my arm. Now I will put it down.

Completely unaffected.

This shadow is usually the last resort when dealing with fear, after all of the other options above have been put to the test. I’ve worn myself out, played the blame game, distracted myself into a tizzy, fallen asleep, and now have finally sat myself down at the computer, opened to a blank page, and … … …

Look at that white screen.

There is nothing.

I need to write words because that is what a blog entails.

[Types “the”]

::sigh::

[Hits Backspace]

I need to pee but I can’t even leave this seat. I am so parched but I will just sit here staring at this screen and allow my throat to get drier and drier. I can’t feel my ass now, but I will continue to sit this way and allow my legs to feel as heavy as my mind.

The computer screen is as blank as my expression.

* * *

In the heart of this exercise, Adam stopped telling us when to shift shadows and instructed us to move freely from one shadow to another when the moment felt right.

What we were really doing was experimenting with defense mechanisms, exploring the things we call “Anger!” or Sleeeeeepiness, which are really just masks for the bigger emotion: Fear.

When fear comes up–whether it entails heartfelt, authentic blogging; telling someone what you really mean; or trying out a new class/applying for a new job—the brain kicks in with excuses, overshadowing the fear.

Fear becomes blame. Fear becomes distraction. Fear becomes muteness.

Adam’s exercise was a valuable lesson: By observing these patterns and being aware of our habits, we can transform fear.

The next time you find yourself yawning at a friend or yelling at a partner, staring mindlessly out of windows or spiraling out of control, ask yourself: What is this really?

Is this fear? Am I afraid?

After all, the full title of the workshop was Fear, Power, and Beauty.

Own your fear. Give it the power to be heard and seen.

From that, beauty will emerge.

A completed Wave: Atrium, National Museum of the American Indian

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After waiting patiently for 2 years for Maryland-based life dance coach Michelle Dubreuil Macek to return to my home turf, this past April I was finally able to dive back into Biodanza.

Biodanza's back in town!

Biodanza’s back in town!

With a nickname like the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia seems to be a perfect setting for Biodanza, as the practice—“a movement-based system that integrates music, dance, and authentic relationships with self, others, and the world to support health, joy, and a sense of being fully alive”—is all about exploring the capacity to connect with your classmates, your neighbors, and the human race as a whole. Bring on the love, yo.

LOVE statue

The practice of Biodanza reminds participants what it’s like to feel human—to breathe, to move freely, to embrace the vulnerability that comes with eye contact and individual attention, to brush past another’s arm or hand without getting flustered and feeling the need to apologize profusely for—heaven forbid!—having a fleeting moment of skin-on-skin contact with a fellow human being.

When I took my first Biodanza class in March of 2011 (detailed recap here), I was just starting out on my quest to explore my kinesthetic curiosity (alliteration intended). I had been dancing 5Rhythms for a year at that point, but was still relatively new to allowing myself to be fully present with others on the dance floor. I hadn’t done any 5Rhythms workshops or intensives at that point, and the videos of Biodanza that Michelle had posted on her website intimidated me, with all of the smiling and touching and laughing and dilated pupil moments.

I was used to dancing with myself, telling my story, with others in the background or as complementary characters. Biodanza was now asking me to incorporate these other people into my story, to make them part of my world too!

The first couple of minutes were hard for me. Then things got easier. Fun, even! That class 2 years ago was the first time I met (a different) Michelle, who has since become one of my closest dancing sisters, in that our souls have a secret and profound way of communicating with each other whenever we meet on the dance floor.

I hadn’t danced Biodanza since then, but if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I’ve amped up my 5Rhythms practice significantly during the past 2 years. 5Rhythms isn’t Biodanza and Biodanza isn’t 5Rhythms, but the two modalities work extremely well together in terms of exploring authentic movement and intentional connection.

In fact, both practices are based around “5s”: The 5Rhythms are Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness; in Biodanza, the “Five Lines of Vivencia” are Vitality, Sexuality, Creativity, Affectivity, and Transcendence. Imagine both of those frameworks being written on transparent paper and placed on top of each other: Can you see the overlap?!

The class last month was two hours long and included several exercises that transformed our group of 11 from mostly strangers and acquaintances into a pretty tight gang (in fact, several of us went out for a group dinner afterward to prolong the friendship).

BiodanzaGroup_Regular

In the spirit of that magic number, I’ll discuss the 5 exercises that impacted me the most and which I think are good representations of the Biodanza practice.

WALKING vs. DANCING
One of the first exercises we did after introducing ourselves was pair with a partner, hold hands, and walk around the studio to music. Seems easy enough, but the tricky part was being reminded to simply walk with our partner, not dance. Michelle instructed us to hold eye contact with our partner, to just be there with him or her without feeling the need to entertain or do something together. It’s one of the few times that walking became more challenging than dancing; the utter simplicity of being versus doing (with someone we just met!) somehow felt more intimate than slow dancing at the junior prom.

SENSATIONS and SOUNDS
Imagine someone standing behind you, placing their hands lightly on your ankles, and then sweeping their hands upward, passing over your calves, thighs, buttocks, spine, neck, and finally—with a grand flourish—through your hair or over your scalp. What would the soundtrack to that elongated caress sound like? Would it be “WooooooooooOOOOO!” or “AhhhhhHHHHHHH!” or “EeeeeeeeeeEEE!“?

As the receiver of this touch, are you able to fully tune into where your partner’s hands are in relation to how quickly or slowly you are vocalizing? Are you making noise just to make noise, or are you truly feeling the marriage of touch and sound?

As the “sweeper,” are you paying attention to your partner’s body or just quickly going through the motions? Is your partner wearing pants, or do you feel the skin of his/her calves? What does the fabric of your partner’s shirt feel like? Did your hands explode through a thick mane of wavy locks, or did your fingertips glide over a bald scalp?

Now, imagine your partner giving a gentle poke to your nose. A firm tap on your shoulder. Another nose poke, nose poke, nose poke, followed by a quick pat on your head. What does that sound like? Maybe that combination of touches sounded something like “Meep! Hmm. Meep! Meep! Meep! Ahhhh.

This exercise turned our bodies into instruments, and the “receivers” had very little time (milliseconds!) to emit a sound that paired with their partners’ exploratory taps, touches, brushes, pokes, and pats. It was fun for both the giver, for whom the exercise was a bit like playing the game of Simon without rhyme or reason, and for the receiver, who was often surprised by what came out of his or her mouth.

With five pairs doing this exercise at once, the studio sounded like a bunch of robots gone haywire, blipping and beeping, meeping and squeaking. I don’t think there was anyone who didn’t break out laughing at one point or another.

BE and BREATHE
After all that entertainment, we had a bit of a serious moment with our partner, as one person lay down on his/her back and the other person simply rested a hand on the other’s belly. For about 3 minutes, all we did was be quietly present with our partner, either relaxing into the ground and being receptive to the human hand resting on our rising and falling bellies or being completely enamored with nothing else but our partner’s inhalations and exhalations.

The exercise was simple but profound, a tactile reminder of the breath of life. My partner was moved, commenting that the exercise reminded her of her mother’s passing and the gratitude of being able to be present for those last precious moments.

HEART DANCE
During one of the few exercises in which we partnered with ourselves, we all found a spot in the room in which we felt comfortable, closed our eyes, and allowed our bodies to unfold to slow, sensual music. Michelle reminded us to stay close to our hearts for this one, to feel the movement begin in the heart and radiate outward, not to get too caught up in grand choreography. We had just done so much work being present with partners; this was the time to get intimate with our own hearts.

It was hard for me to stay in one place, as the swelling music was just tempting me to dive into the dance floor. What I didn’t realize was that that part was coming up next; the point of this particular exercise was to contain the movement, to feel it deeply in yourself before passing it along.

In the proceeding exercise, Michelle invited our heart dances to move outside of their confined spaces and among the group. The gradual build-up beforehand allowed my movement to grow, expand, and finally be fully shared with others. The light and airy weaving of bodies in and around each other reminded me of the rhythm of Lyrical, our arms and hands extending like kites dancing in a gentle spring breeze.

RELATIONSHIP
Partner dancing with someone when both of your eyes are open ain’t no thang, but what happens when you turn off the sense of vision and have to rely primarily on touch? This was the basis of the dance of relationship, joining palms with a partner, closing the eyes, and feeling where the dance would go next. Movements had to be slow, deliberate, and incredibly mindful; if your partner shot his arm upward without any warning, you’d be left standing there with an empty palm, the connection broken due to lack of kinesthetic communication.

The challenge of this exercise was to strike a balance between awareness and attention, to sink into a soft dance without being obsessed with or hyperaware of every gesture. How much do you trust your partner, and how willing are you to let go and have faith in this mutual movement?

~ ~ ~

Much like my last class two years ago, I left this most recent Biodanza class feeling very deeply for my fellow dancers. I may not have remembered everyone’s names, but I sure did remember their eyes, their smiles, their particular body language. It was hard to part ways immediately after the workshop, and that’s why a few of us extended the evening and went out to dinner. The desire to stay connected was palpable in the post-class atmosphere.

However, I also learned that night as I left the city that the essence of Biodanza ends on the subway platform, where “human encounter” is seldom poetry but rather a short story, sometimes nothing but a trifold pamphlet.

My eyes were wide open when I entered the train, willing to make contact with another, eager for my personal verse/stanza to be joined by another’s until the entire train car was a collaborative poem of human encounter. But no one wants to make eye contact on the subway; the M.O. is head down, earbuds in place, hands in pockets.

Let’s work on this, shall we?! Michelle has plans to return to Philadelphia on June 8 at Mama’s Wellness Joint in Center City. Will you help the City of Brotherly Love become just a little more, well, loveable? Like this happy group of folks?

BiodanzaGroup_Silly

Not even 15 minutes into a 5Rhythms class this past weekend, I started crying.

At first I thought it was just a random blip of emotion, but the blip continued to burgeon. Burgeoning eventually gave way to bawling.

I had been caught off guard by a movement-induced meltdown.

Fear_egg

(Photo from egg-themed installation,
Adam Barley’s 2013 Fear, Power, Beauty workshop in Philadelphia)

Dancing is normally such a joyous outlet for me, even on days I feel like the Tin Man for the first half of class. My muscles may be achy and I may feel a bit discombobulated, but I trust the practice and know deep inside that if I commit to continuous movement, my self-conscious skin will eventually shed and I’ll be a free woman within the 1-hour mark.

I’m aware that movement can also stir up the junk in the trunk and cause some pretty spectacular emotional escapades, but—at least for me—those have mostly been reserved for workshop-based settings; for example, Day 3 of a Heartbeat-level 5Rhythms workshop based around the concept of fear. In that type of setting, however, we are intentionally pushed to test our limits, and the exercises are specifically structured to move us gradually from the physical body to the emotional realm. Tears, sobbing, and moaning are pretty much the norm, especially when we have no physical energy left to stave off whatever’s been hiding underneath all the chaos.

I’ve had teary-eyed endings in several regular classes, even one class that ended with me shaking on the floor in a puddle of sweat. But after dancing for 2+ hours, I’d expect nothing less than at least some kind of emotional release, be it crying or shaking or even just smiling uncontrollably.

The difference with this release, however, was that it was so early in the practice, so sudden.

I remember being very cold. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, but the church hall we were dancing in had been locked up all morning and felt nearly 15 degrees cooler than the outside. People were dancing in their coats; several individuals who normally dance barefoot kept their socks on.

This was strike one. A hardcore vata, I hate being cold. Logically I knew that moving would no doubt warm me up, but it felt completely hopeless at the time.

As a result, I felt unusually uninspired, uncoordinated, and sloppy. I began to view my body as a hastily drawn stick figure, limbs angular and harsh, no softness, no fluidity, no sensuality. Even in the rhythm of Flowing, which carries such an earthy and organic quality, I found no inspiration.

I tried focusing on my feet, the body part associated with Flowing, but I felt like my left foot was now my right and vice versa. I did not feel steady or balanced.

A feeling of panic began to fester in my gut, a voice telling me that I was not the sensual person I thought myself to be. If my body and spirit were a utensil, I wanted to be seen as a spoon—curved, smooth, having a space for holding, an object that could cradle both hot soup and ice cream. Instead, I felt like a pair of cheap throwaway wooden chopsticks, rough and splintered.

I noticed there were more African American women in the class than normal, and every time I glanced at one of them, the gnawing in my solar plexus intensified. As I’ve written before, I have this unexplainable attraction to African-rooted dance forms and music. I envy Black dancers’ bodies, the way their hips and shoulders roll like butter. Black women are always making their into my dreams; most recently, I dreamed about a group of Black women entering a hotel lobby I was waiting in, pulling out instruments, and starting to play jazz/world music. I could not help myself from dancing, and in the dream I moved effortlessly, dancing like I have never danced before, my body and the music becoming one. I felt like magic!

Well, I did not feel like magic on that Saturday in the chilly church hall. Perhaps the post from fellow blogger Stephanie in which she writes about her dream of “the chocolate-colored woman” was clinging to my consciousness. In this post, Stephanie elaborates on the works of Jungian analyst Marion Woodman, who described the symbolism of dreams involving dark and white women:

“The Dark Goddess has to do with the Earth, the humus, the humility, the human. She has to do with sexuality, with the sheer joy of the body, with fecundity and the lusciousness of the Earth and with the love that can honour the imperfections in the human being. 

Whereas the White Goddess tends to make people idealize themselves and therefore develop a huge shadow, the Black Goddess, through her sense of humour and immense love for humanity, helps us to accept our imperfections. Not only that, she helps us to see that a lot of things that we may have considered shameful in ourselves are not shameful at all.”

Was that why I began to cry every time I looked at one of the Black women dancing, my frozen body’s way of wanting to thaw and lap up the lusciousness of the earth?

I’m not exaggerating, either. Every time my eyes crossed paths with a dark-skinned woman, I felt the heaviness in my gut grow and tears spring to my eyes. I wasn’t envious of their bodies, per se, more like what they embodied. And it was all coming to a head on the dance floor.

In response, I began to use a wall for support. It was what my body asked for, to lean against something rather than stand alone in space. The wall became my partner, and once I felt its support, I could not part with it. With the backs of my legs plastered against the wood, I bent forward, head dangling, hands in my hair, and BOOM—steady tears came flowing, then sobbing, that “point of no return” crying that crumples and contorts your whole face.

The meltdown.

What I knew I had to do was keep moving. It’s something every 5Rhythms teacher stresses, to allow the emotion to continue to dance, even when our natural reaction is to want to curl up in a fetal position and let tears take over.

It felt so hopeless at the time. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to peel myself from the wall, and I briefly envisioned doing an entire 2.5-hour class in that one spot. I tried every now and then to step away, but the separation felt terrifying. Back to wall I went. One of my classmates shared later that he had contemplated attempting to draw me away from the wall but then reconsidered, sensing I was where I needed to be and that I’d work it out on my own.

And it’s true, I did. Eyes swollen and face still puffy, I was eventually able to break free from the wall. I made sure to stay on the one side of the dance floor, the side with the windows where sunlight streamed through. It felt safe to stand in the warmth.

I survived the first Wave but just barely. I wasn’t satisfied with the way it ended, partnered for eternity with someone whose rhythm just didn’t match mine. I kept waiting and waiting for the instructor to call “Change partners” or “Dance on your own, ” but instead I slogged through Lyrical and Stillness half-heartedly, me doing my thing, my partner doing another thing, a lackluster connection that triggered the anxiety I had just worked so hard to vanquish.

Meltdown, part II.

As the first Wave ended and people gathered to listen to the instructor speak, I extended my Stillness in the upstairs bathroom, the need for something to lean on again a priority. I found a little space on the floor between the sink and the window, curled up in a ball, and found comfort in the gurgling, hissing radiator at my side and the blinding sunlight illuminating my face. I’m not usually one to “escape” during class, but I saw this as a much needed release, plus it wouldn’t have been very considerate of me to sob away during the instructor’s presentation. The watery, steamy radiator sounds complemented my tears, ultimately ushering me into my own version of Stillness.

When I finally ventured back downstairs to join the class, I felt paralyzed with raw awareness, awe, and appreciation, and even when the music started up again, I couldn’t rise from sitting; I just wanted to watch all of my classmates move, tears flowing down my face, like I was watching the final scene of one achingly heartwarming movie. I didn’t know if I was sad or had transcended to a heightened level of sensitivity in which every person was so divinely beautiful. All I knew is that I didn’t want to move, I wanted to watch, I wanted to witness each person in their moment.

Who knows how long I would have sat there, had it not been for the aid of one of my classmates, who approached me, leaned down with extended arms, and pulled me off the ground?

Of course that person was a chocolate-colored womanone of my favorite dancers, Michelle—making the class and all of my related emotional outbursts come full circle.

Skelton_WarmUp2

The rest of the class was refreshingly satisfying for me, and the lump I had originally felt in my solar plexus area had completely vanished.

Below are some of my own suggestions for dealing with an emotional release that crops up during dance:

1. Embrace this information; don’t fight it! Your body obviously has something to say to you. Movement happened to be the key to getting it out of hiding.

2. Don’t be embarrassed. You’re in a supportive environment, and most conscious dance tribes totally understand these types of releases.

3. Keep moving (and breathing!). Movement created the release, and continuing to move will allow whatever is speaking to pass through you. As Adam Barley said once during a long workshop, “If you’re tired, dance a tired Chaos.”

4. Stay aware of your movement but try not to over-analyze it. Approach dancing like meditation, taking note of a particular pattern or repetition (e.g., a desire to cling to the wall, clenched fists) but don’t dwell on it or try to make it a “story.” Just allow it to happen.

5. Be aware of your surroundings. If you feel like you’re going to have wild outbursts of emotion, consider moving to the perimeter of the dance floor so you don’t accidentally hurt someone else.

6. At the same time, try to stay a part of the group and don’t distance yourself too much. It’s why I waited until the first Wave ended before I escaped onto the bathroom floor, despite just wanting to get the hell off the dance floor.

7. Keep in mind that some people may feel compelled to “rescue” you from your “crisis.” If you’d rather work it out on your own, offer a simple hand gesture or eye contact that says, “Thanks, but I’m OK.” Other times, maybe you need that support, the way I reached my arms out to Michelle so she could lift me off the ground.

8. Offer gratitude. If someone’s smile, touch, or gesture provided just the slightest amount of comfort during your release, pay it back to them, either on the dance floor with a similar gesture, or after class, with a hug or comment of appreciation. This exchange is what builds community.

9. Take time during break or after class to journal about the experience or debrief with a trusted classmate/friend. It’s important for the information to be processed, even if you don’t necessarily know “why” it happened or what it means.

10. Be happy that your practice is so therapeutic, even if it doesn’t feel so in the throes of an emotional release. I may feel utterly exhausted at the end of an emotional dance, but the fear/panic/crying/nausea/headache/solar plexus-heaviness that was so present during class almost always dissipates afterward, reinforcing the notion that movement is indeed medicine!

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

“I see dead people.”

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

Skelton_DanceFloor2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sky mosaic

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

More often than not, the first hour of a movement meditation class is simply a warm-up for me. Even after the designated 10-minute-or-so warm-up period, my arms, legs, and neck still feel like rigid sticks and twigs protruding from my tree trunk of a torso. I am hyperaware of any stiffness, the creakiness in my joints, how angular and non-flowing I feel. I imagine myself looking like a collection of hard, plastic flesh-colored Legos assembled to resemble a human being.

There is also a bit of mental hardness that accompanies this physical stiffness. Mind chatter about what I’m trying to “work on” today, trepidation/nervousness about the possibility of having to partner with so-and-so, conversations with myself about why I keep coming back to the dance when I feel like what was once an “answer” to my quest for spiritual and physical nourishment now just bombards me with more questions every time I take my first step into Flowing.

In that first hour, I work hard to chip away at the crusty dirt that is caking my body and mind. I douse it with water, a baptism of sweat softening the earth that envelops my flesh, turning the hardened earth into pliable mud. By the end of the first Wave, I may still have tree bark in my hair and speckles of dirt between my toes, but I’m no longer as skeletal as a sycamore in winter or as rough as volcanic rock.

Sometimes the shift is profound, other times subtle, but almost always there comes a point during the second Wave where I feel my body become distinctively soft. It’s like someone used the “Blur Edges” filter on me in Photoshop. I still have bones, but a mystical force has allowed them to curve and bend like vines. My brain no longer feels like an intrusive anvil in my skull; it too is soft—not mushy, though—an enigmatic organ whose own waves have shifted from on-alert beta to more mellow alpha. When I bound across the room, I feel like I am leaping feet in the air as opposed to inches.

Instinctively, I move to the center of the room, my Play-Doh limbs wanting to mesh and mold with the other pliant persons around me.

I am a soft cotton square weaving its way into the patchwork quilt of humanity gradually taking shape on the floor.

I am a plump polyester tea sachet dipping gently into a warm water bath of bodies.

Ahhhhh.

By the end of class, I am an infant swaddled in the softest of blankets, curious eyes wide open, face round and creaseless. I feel fresh out of the womb, no weight on my shoulders, no labels stifling my spirit. I am not “Jennifer, the [editor/blogger/worrier/planner].” I just am.

If I am lucky, as I was during a recent class in Philadelphia with Tammy Burstein, the sensation of softness that pulses through my body as I rest in Stillness brings me to tears. I had slithered my way onto the floor, stomach pressed against the wood, and breath by breath, my pelvis melted into what can best be described as a slow ripple of waves. I often use imagery to help my dance, but this time the imagery came without cerebral command.

My hips, which usually feel like Barbie doll legs plugged crookedly into their sockets, had become liquid. It felt as though my body ended at my waistline and the flesh and muscle that lay below had become a shoreline in Maui: soft sand, lapping waves, my lower body a beach that extended beyond where my feet were supposed to be and into the ocean of energy around me.

I cried because it is so seldom my hips experience that kind of softness and openness. For someone who constantly has to pop her sacrum back in place and stomp her legs like a zebra to get the top of her femur bone unjammed from loose hip cartilage, those few moments of fluidity were a beautiful reminder that my essence extends so far beyond my bones, muscles, and skin. Despite the hard armor I wear, underneath, I am nothing more than a soft soul.

sleepy

It’s wintertime in the Northeast, and therefore it’s hard for me to convince myself that Yes, going to the pool today is an awesome idea.

But the truth is, once I get over the initial hesitation about plunging into a large body of water when it’s only 19 degrees outside, I really do enjoy swimming.

It’s one of the reasons this blog is named so, because swimming became my new form of cardiovascular meditation after my hips protested to the jarring nature of running. When I couldn’t achieve peace of mind through the open air, I dipped my face into water instead.

Sometimes I fantasize about creating some kind of swimming/5Rhythms hybrid. I haven’t had my gym’s pool to myself in a long time, but maybe one day when I do, I’ll create a water-based Wave. I mean, pool aerobics has been around forever, synchronized swimming is an Olympic event, and grandmoms are now taking Aqua Zumba classes. It’s time.

If that doesn’t work out, though, I’ll just think about how the act of being in water and swimming is its own little 5Rhythms Wave in and of itself.

Flowing: The art of adjusting to this new, wet environment, testing a pool’s depths. Where do my feet go? How can my arms support me? Where should my head be so I don’t swallow sea salt or chlorine?

Treading water.

Staccato: Treading water is tiring after a while. I need to move ahead! My arms need to go Thwack, Thwack, Thwack! Kick, kick, kick, Head up, head down. Freestyle! Breaststroke! Butterfly!

Doing laps.

Chaos: Doing laps is so repetitive; I go so far, hit a wall, turn around, and then hit another wall again? You’ve got to be kidding me. Where’s the fun in that? I need the ocean, somewhere expansive to move freely. Ahhh, yes, waves and currents, sloshing seaweed and sticky sand. Oh fuck, a rip-tide?! Shit, I’m going under, where’s the shore? Short gasps of air, choking, limbs thrashing.

Drowning.

Lyrical: Finding the surface. Air. Breath. Earth under feet. Allowing the calmed waves to cradle my exhausted body, strength returning in my oxygen-deprived muscles, arms and legs finding comfort through a combination of treading water and a gentle freestyle.

Taking long, luxurious laps.

Stillness: My body is one with the ocean. With my head underneath the water, I can hear my breath consume every cell. Salt on my skin, sunshine on my face, buoyant as though I’m in utero again.

Floating.

Ocean

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

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

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

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

RoseInstallation

“Fire of Love” installation, September 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*  *  *

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

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

CalendarArt_Tribe2

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

Taped Toe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beach feet

Open on Beach

I stood in the center of the yoga studio, arms wide open, chest expanded, head arched back and face directed toward the ceiling, imaginary rays of light emanating from my pores.

“Yes, that’s right,” my 5Rhythms instructor Richard said, observing the class. “Continue to move your body into a shape of being open, being receptive.”

I obliged. This felt good. My body loved standing this way, stretching upward and outward. I wasn’t even actively thinking about shapes or poses or where to place my arms and legs next. They just moved, stretching out like sunbeams. I could take deep breaths, I could relax, I could…

“Now, how does expansion transition to contraction?” Richard offered. “Move to a shape of being closed.”

Closed? You’re asking me to move from this luxurious feeling of openness to being shut down and closed?

::sigh::

OK, body, my brain reluctantly commanded my muscles. Listen to the teacher and move inward.

[body refuses to respond]

Um, body?? You heard Richard. We’re supposed to be doing “closed” moves now. Why are you still standing so upright and open? Do something different! Bend down! Curl into a ball!

…But my body would not acquiesce.

In fact, the mere thought of curling a finger toward my palm or bowing my head to my feet sent energetic red flags throughout my system. No no no no.

I stayed standing, my arms never coming down from above my head. The only thing that was closed were my eyes, so I wasn’t able to see my classmates do what I could not.

I did not want to close. In that moment, the request was like asking a mother to withdraw her outstretched arms as her newborn infant is placed in front of her. How could I? Why would I want to?

I’ve done this exercise numerous times in 5Rhythms classes. It’s one of the simplest ways to play with polarities and help 5Rhythms newcomers explore new ways to move. It’s never posed such a problem for me, but that night my body talked.

My body was saying, I’m tiring of retreating and contracting. I love openness, and that is where I want to be. I want to relish this receptivity, I want to continue spreading my arms, I want to embrace freedom. Don’t tell me to close down. Don’t tell me to be small and shrink and shrivel back into hibernation.

I have a quote from 5Rhythms teachers Sara Pagano hanging on my cubicle wall at work. I’ve never danced with Sara before, but I understand her words:

“Our bodies cannot lie. Our bodies will continue to express the truth. And our dance wants nothing more than to bring us home, into the truth of our hearts.”

5Rhythms is not a game of Simon Says. Sometimes a teacher gives an instruction that the body just cannot follow, not because of physical limitations, disability, or injury but because body language is the most basic litmus test of what’s cookin’ inside. It’s why doing Camel pose in yoga is incredibly difficult if you’re protecting your heart and why sexual trauma victims cringe at the thought of doing the wide-legged Happy Baby/Dead Bug posture.

Alternately, when we’re not really sure what’s going on inside, listening to our bodies can be a valuable source of information.

Sometimes it whispers. Sometimes it screams. And sometimes it just begs to remain open.

Open

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

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

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

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

Do I?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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