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I will dance to almost any kind of music, but there are few artists whose discography I know intimately, memorizing not just lyrics but CD track numbers, knowing that she hits the high note on the studio album but sings more alto on the unplugged edition. And because I am generally not a concert-going person, it takes a pretty huge musical obsession for me to shell out the big bucks to see someone live.

Meet my current obsession:

Florence Welch. Oh, Flo, how I love you. And how appropriate, too, that her name jives so well with my blog?

Ever since I heard “Cosmic Love” in the trailer for Water for Elephants and then starting seeing more of her music being used on So You Think You Can Dance (especially Caitlynn and Marko’s routine to “Heavy in Your Arms“), Florence and the Machine has become a regular guest on my computer playlists and in my car stereo. I ordered both Lungs and Ceremonials on Amazon; by fate, they were waiting at my house the evening I came home from a wildly wonderful 5Rhythms class on a Friday night in March. The fact that I had just danced for 2 hours didn’t stop me from dancing nearly 2 more as I excitedly slid the CDs into the stereo, my hungry body inhaling and consuming every last morsel from “Dog Days Are Over” to “You’ve Got the Love”, “Only If for a Night” to “Bedroom Hymns.” Her music simply fell into my lap at the right moment, my 5Rhythms-inspired energy field attracting and trapping each song like a moth to a light.

Watching Florence’s videos, particularly “Shake It Out,” added a new dimension to my love for her. Even now, just thinking about the scene with her in that black velvet dress, being seductively dipped and flung about by the mysterious masked men in the private bedroom (minute 2:05, to be exact), I get the chills. The way her fingers grasp her partner’s hand, flutter on the back of his shoulder…every move of hers is so deliberate and precise, as clear as the notes she sings. The whole video reminds me of most of my 5Rhythms experiences, one minute drunkenly careening left and right with my wide eyes fixed on some invisible force that has possessed my gyrating body, the next minute fixed in one spot, my trembling fingers reaching out for another’s arm, the way Florence stands in curious stillness as a gold mask is placed upon her nervous-yet-open-to-experimentation face (1:33).

That said, it’s not just Florence’s music and lyrics that move me; it’s her. She carries herself with a fascinating combination of elegant confidence and poignant possession, her eyes and hands fluttering with such delicateness during one song and then widening psychotically during the next. Her videos made me as obsessed with her demeanor as I was with her music, and I wanted to see her live. I didn’t care about production value—things like pyrotechnics, fancy choreography, or special guest appearances. I simply wanted to witness an artist completely one with her music, like watching a Kripalu yogi enter Stage 3 meditation-in-motion, prana at the helm. I wanted to see and feel that energy.

I missed out on her first Ceremonials U.S. tour when she was in nearby Atlantic City, but lucky for me she returned to my backyard in South Jersey 4 months later. I bought my ticket while at work; my manager knew how crazy I was about Florence and actually rescheduled a meeting so I could be at my desk at 10 a.m. when the tickets went on sale. I scored a great seat three rows behind the pit, smack in the center.

However, in the time leading up to the concert, I started to regret my purchase. I had only bought a single ticket for myself; none of my friends were obsessed or had already seen her in Atlantic City. It was pricey, and buyer’s remorse and the fact that I’d be there alone started to eat at me. I was afraid her music would make me too emotional, that I’d have some kind sobbing fangirl reaction and not have anyone there to help me through it. I actually tried to sell my ticket!

Well, luckily, no one bought it, and I eventually grew comfortable again with the notion of going alone.

But the beauty of the night was that I was not there alone. I was surrounded with men and women who were as touched by Florence’s music as I was, who felt that raising their palms to meet Florence’s was also a way of following the heartlines in their hands. So often I took my eyes off the stage to glance behind me, amazed at the hundreds of pairs of eyes all glowing from the glory of her sound. When I looked back at the stage, I felt like Florence was singing just for us—not for money or stardom or fame or fortune—her connection with the crowd so palpable, as if each time she reached her arms outward she was collecting the energy we were exuding, transforming it, and then radiating it back in our direction, a continuous loop of musical magic.

Here’s what she offered:

• Only If For a Night
• Drumming Song
• Cosmic Love
• Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)
• Spectrum (Say My Name)
• Lover to Lover
• Heartlines
• Leave My Body
• Breath of Life
• Shake It Out
• No Light, No Light
• What the Water Gave Me
• Dog Days Are Over

As you can see in the photo above, her stained glass, art deco-inspired set was pretty impressive, the background changing with each song; however, my eyes were focused on Florence for the majority of the performance. Again, the way her body reacts to the music made the concert a bit of an art show, like she was a living, breathing sculpture. During “Cosmic Love” she teetered on her toes like a beginner ballerina, but immediately afterward during “Rabbit Heart” she was making a mad dash in the aisles, returning to the stage with burning shakti eyes, her body popping sharply as though she was having a seizure, the music reverberating from her head to her toes.

Before Florence, the only other musician to whom I gave myself fully was Alanis Morissette. When Alanis performs live, her fingers and hands curl a bit rigidly into what look like spontaneous mudras; Florence’s hands have a similar energetic reaction but look more like the hands of a Reiki healer, a nurturing, angelic quality embodied in each fingertip.

When her beautiful hands weren’t doing the speaking, it was her eyes that grabbed the audience, at times so possessed by the music that she appeared to be in a trance. “Breath of Life” was probably the most viscerally powerful song for me; the music is intense, and she progressed from commanding the stage to losing control, her body thrashing around in a hypnotic dance of chaos—my body followed along. Emotionally, I was touched most by “Heartlines”; again, when she extended her palm to the audience, I felt like she was transmitting some kind of blessing, and I raised my hand in return. (I totally cried at the end.)

I loved that the audience knew by ONE drawn-out organ note that “Shake It Out” was next, and having the chance to see “What the Water Gave Me” live turned what was a so-so song for me into a new favorite. Now when I hear that song, all I think about is Florence whipping her flame-red hair around, casting a spell on the music that comes from her mouth. She’s a magician! A witch! An alchemist!

Her concert wasn’t so much a performance as it was an act of service: I have this gift, and I need to share it with you. It was one of the first times I understood why fans throw themselves at artists’ feet; I was so touched by what she was giving me that I knew no other way of expressing my gratitude than lifting my arms to the heavens, grabbing at the invisible energy above our heads, and lowering it to my heart, saying aloud, “Oh, she’s so beautiful.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other night it occurred to me that I have two homes.

(No, friends, don’t get excited, we didn’t buy a shore house.) 🙂

But along with our suburban bungalow, there is another place—with smooth wooden floors and music constantly streaming from the speakers—that I’m beginning to find refuge in.

My second home is the dance floor, whether it be above an African restaurant in West Philadelphia, in a former warehouse alongside the Delaware River, or in the basement of a South Jersey yoga studio, whether for 5Rhythms, YogaDance, or Nia.

Once I remove my shoes in the entryway and my bare feet touch that floor, I am home safe. Not only do I feel physically supported by my environs, but a feeling of emotional security greets me in that moment as well. My fellow classmates and I may hug before the dance begins, and even if we do not, there is still a silent exchange of energy that is the catalyst for movement, for magic.

This past Friday night, I was “home,” in a Let Your Yoga Dance class at Yoga for Living. Teaching the class was Nikki, who had to jump some medical hurdles between late last year and now to return to teaching. I was thrilled for her return and was glad to see she had not lost any of her charming ‘tude while recovering. When her playlist clicked to Florence and the Machine’s “Shake it Out” as a workout for our solar plexus chakra, I loved her even more. Classmate Suzie and I just couldn’t resist that opening church organ music and began shaking the devil off our backs before Nikki even gave us the directions.

By the time we worked our way to the upper chakras, that feeling of safety and openness was strong—very strong. Nikki had us get in pairs and showed us some simple choreography to dance with our partner to a heart-stirring gospel song. I didn’t know half of the people I danced with, but I could feel my anahata chakra swirling in all its vibrant greenness, a flourishing vine wanting to intertwine with everything it connected to.

One of the last people I partnered with was the owner of the studio in which we were standing in. With her yoga studio as my home, she is its mother. Our dance was profound and heartfelt, and it brought us to tears. We connected foreheads during a move in which we leaned forward like arching swans, a physical gesture that reminded me of the preciousness of this second home.

During a final private dance prayer, my dance turned into one of incredible appreciation of this safe space, this home. It started as a reflection on the physical space, the floor that has supported my feet, the Sanskrit on the walls that has mesmerized me during my chaotic 5Rhythms trances. This studio is where I first discovered 5Rhythms; its physical foundation is my emotional bedrock. Oh, the places I’ve gone while dancing within these walls.

But then the prayer expanded into appreciation for a greater sense of home, the feelings of comfort and belonging that dance and movement brings to me. The feeling of leaving behind a long day of work and stepping inside the doorway—coming home—relaxing with and giving in to that which greets me.

Living here in this brand new world might be a fantasy
But it’s taught me to love….so it’s real, real to me
And I’ve learned that we must look inside our hearts to find
A world full of love—like yours and mine—
Like home
~ “Home,” The Wiz

Between a transformational drumming workshop on Saturday, a euphoric 5Rhythms workshop on Sunday, and an impromptu trip to the beach on an unseasonably warm Monday, a lot of really soul-stirring stuff happened this past weekend, so much that I am almost tempted to bail out of writing about it altogether because I am still processing and letting everything soak in.

As 5Rhythms master teacher Lucia Rose Horan stated after our powerful Sunday workshop, sometimes it’s best after a particularly powerful event or experience not to rush back home and gush to the world about everything that just happened, despite a longing to share and attempt to make others understand what’s circuiting through your veins. Some things you just need to keep to yourself, she advised, kept in your heart as a private moment of gratitude until you’ve had time to work through the emotions.

However, writing is one of my tools for processing—one of my “flowtation devices,” so to speak—so I am prepared to take the plunge. Are you ready to dive in with me?

***

For five hours on Saturday, I was sitting with a djembe between my knees during Jim Donovan’s Rhythm Revival at Princeton Center for Yoga and Health.

The event deserves its own blog post (which it will get eventually), but in short, the workshop was more about self-reflection, self-improvement, and interpersonal communication than it was technique. While we learned the proper way to execute bass and tone sounds on our instruments, the drum was used more as a tool for personal transformation. In fact, Jim named his workshop wisely; it wasn’t just a drum circle but rather a revival, “bringing back an awareness that once was,” he explained.

So that, combined with being in a beautiful space, in the company of my dear friend Carrol, and the fact that, weather-wise, it was just a warm and delicious afternoon, was Gift #1.

As much as I yearned to dance on Sunday, especially after sitting behind a drum and in the car all day Saturday, I was also uncharacteristically nervous about the 5Rhythms workshop that afternoon.

First, the workshop took place in an area completely new to me, on roads I had never traveled before. This is actually both a literal and metaphorical statement: I was nervous about physically driving to the place (this is nothing new) but also nervous about the workshop in general. Even though I’ve been dancing the 5Rhythms for two years, I have been reluctant to take a master class, convinced that I didn’t need a master teacher or special program to help me explore the depths of my passion.

But with some gentle nudging from fellow dancers and mentors (and the blessings of Lucia for allowing me to attend only the second day of her 2-day workshop), I suddenly found myself on new terrain.

Despite stepping into Lucia’s workshop, “A Graceful Journey: Beginning, Middle, and End,” smack in the middle—having to meet new dancers, getting acquainted with a particularly unforgiving floor, and not having the wisdom gained from the previous day—this personal “beginning” of mine was not as scary as I set it up to be.

The group was welcoming, Lucia spoke with me before class to debrief me on what I missed, and once the first few steps of Flowing began, I was so enthralled to be dancing with this mass of “my people” that I felt like a kid in a candy store, almost giddily overwhelmed being surrounded by everything I could ever ask for. Several of the attendees have years of 5Rhythms experience, and—as was suggested to me—I can only grow by exposing myself to new teachers and dancers, taking my small-fish self and diving into the big pond.


One of the exercises in the workshop was to explore in which stage of a journey you find the most resistance or struggle: the beginning, the middle, or the end? I aligned myself with the Beginning group; after all, didn’t I just write about this? Also, the sheer fact that it took me so damn long to put on my big-girl pants and even attend this workshop was a clear indication of my struggle.

So, then, it made sense that when Lucia said each group was going to collectively dance out their stage for the others to witness, my brain said, “Maybe she’ll make the End group go first, just to throw us off!” But alas, the Beginning cohort stepped up first (womp womp). Panic hit again once we all realized we were to dance without music, meaning WE would have to initiate and be the beginning. As a final test of our strength, Lucia deliberately made each group dance in their most vulnerable stage the longest: Flowing for Beginnings, Staccato/Chaos for Middles, and Lyrical/Stillness for Ends. My fellow Beginnings and I spoke afterward about how we either (a) dreaded starting the dance; or (b) just wanted to rush past Flowing into Staccato.

The silent Wave was a new experience for me, and we did it again as a whole group. Of course music has an extraordinary influence over movement, but Lucia urged us to experiment working with the most basic of sounds: ahhhing, sighing, long and deliberate inhalations, forceful hara breaths, screams, yelps, murmurs, coos, and whispers. It didn’t take long for this “silent” Wave to become not-so-silent, as the breath of 30 or so people became our music.

The music returned for another Wave, at which point I fell into the rabbit hole and slipped off to Wonderland. I was overcome with sheer fucking joy, a big goofy grin spread across my face, holding my hands up to catch whatever was falling and cascading and buzzing around me. It was euphoria in all its wild, wide-eyed glory—everything was moving so fast, yet so slow and deliberate. The glistening bodies around me moved like gypsy scarves, colorful snowflakes whipping around during a blizzard. All I kept thinking was, Everyone is So Fucking Happy! I Am Happy! Dammit, I Am Really Fucking Happy!


Gradually the hypnotic pulse and expulsion of Chaos softened in Lyrical, which is when Lucia reminded us not to drop the energy, to hold onto what we had just created. By containing that energy, not just “giving up,” the experience blossomed into something raw and intense. I found myself crying from gratitude, confusion, bliss, just being able to see people so happy and being a part of it as well.

As Stillness came upon us, I stood with a small personal perimeter around me, isolated but still feeling surrounded and supported by everyone’s energy and the colors of their skin, their clothes, their hair. I felt a tear dwell in the corner of my eye; it begin its descent down my cheek, and when I finally opened my eyes, I saw Union in front of me, a coming-together of people, experiences, life stories, scars, gains, losses, lessons, dances, falls, injuries, and healing.

So, for our final exercise, when Lucia asked us to individually step to the front of the room and speak/dance out this fill-in-the-blank—“In the journey of my heart, I find ____”—I chose Union. “In the journey of my heart, I find Union,” I said aloud three times, dancing out the associated emotions. It came easier to me than any dance “solo”; I wasn’t displaying technique or showing off; I was simply dancing my heart. I was surprised at the clarity and volume of my usually mumbling voice and felt strongly supported by the group sitting in front of me and witnessing this exercise in ritual theatre.

Lucia encouraged us to try a similar experiment at home, dancing to “our” song (that song you could listen to again and again) three times in a row. Always start and end the exercise with the feet grounded, hands on heart and belly. See how your dance changes each time: How do your Beginnings, Middles, and Ends differ?

When I left the workshop, I felt like I was leaving Kripalu after my yoga teacher training: dazed, confused, and exhausted. What day is it? Where am I driving? I had to sit in my car for several minutes and decompress, physically unable to unclench my fist, perhaps trying hard to hold tightly onto the energy created in the past 6 hours. When I finally arrived home, I realized I had danced my socks down to almost nothing. Not only had I sweated out my prayers that day but I had worn out my socks. I proudly balled up the holy cotton and hung them alongside my very first pair of satin pointe shoes, a memento of another rite of passage.

***

On Monday, with the temperature rising near an unseasonable 90 degrees, I took advantage of my pre-planned vacation day and drove to my happy place, the Jersey shore. It was the perfect getaway after two very intense days, and I welcomed the long stretch of highway and finally the expansive blue sea to listen to my internal dialogues.

When my bare feet first touched the sand, I wanted nothing other than to dance.


With a relatively empty beach (a few sunbathers here and there), I plugged my iPod into my ears and stood as Lucia instructed, feet buried in sand, grounded, hand on heart and belly. It was a solo but it was not, as I was surrounded by the spirit of not just nature but everyone with whom I danced with earlier, the energy generated, their witnessing eyes. With my eye on the ocean, I started moving slowly:

Then all of a sudden, I heard a note
It started in my chest and ended in my throat
Then I realized, then I realized, then I realized I was swimming,
Yes, I was swimming
And now I’m swimming Yes, I am swimming
(Florence + the Machine, “Swimming“)

…standing on terra firma but still flowing in the foam, rising and falling with the waves. My feet nestled in the wet and solid sand, a sturdy foundation gripping my toes. The sand had me, it’s got me, and when I needed to jump it released me, and when I landed, it welcomed me back.

After closing my dance the same way I started (hands on heart and belly), I became mesmerized by the ripples in the sand, the rolls, the creases and jagged zig-zags, the result of wind and time cutting through the sediment.

As I began to photograph this observation, a police officer approached me and asked how I was, and it very soon became clear that someone had called the cops on me because my dance frightened them. “Just got a call that someone saw you dancing for a while out here, and I just wanted to make sure you’re OK,” he reassured me, most certainly scanning my body language for any signs of drug or alcohol use.

I felt a lump in my throat, not because I had a law enforcement officer standing in front of me (I was quite aware I was not doing anything illegal), but because it pained me that someone had perceived my dance as “wrong,” that someone had taken the thing dearest to my heart and challenged it.

I felt cheapened and violated by this intrusion and struggled to hold back tears. Dance is my expression; people can run and do yoga on the beach without question, but moving to music no one but I can hear was renegade. Would I have been stopped if I sat in meditation with hands in anjali mudra? This was was prayer, my Namaste to the world, and someone was scared of it. I had never felt so much like Paulo Coelho’s Athena and never so compelled to read his book all over again. The officer apologized for having to interfere and said I was welcome to resume dancing, but the sanctity was ruined and I opted to move a few blocks over and simply sit on the dune in contemplation.

Obligatory pensive beach self-portrait

As the winds picked up and the temperatures quickly dipped, I walked mindfully along the boardwalk, my hair windblown and tousled, eyes watering from the ocean chill, salt on my face, lips red and chapped, a pinkish hue to my cheeks after a day in the sun. As with all beach excursions, I was reluctant to leave, not wanting to let go of that union I experienced the day before, the connection of mind, body, spirit, and nature (and curly fries and custard, of course).

But with the setting sun sizzling like an orange egg yolk over the bay, fizzing into the water and trees, I drove home, a steady 65 from beach grass and boards to dogwoods and freshly mowed lawns, back to suburbia for this Witch of Portobello.

I’ve been dancing the 5Rhythms for two years now, but this past Saturday’s class felt like I entered a new realm of movement and expression, as though the past 24 months have been Level 1 of a video game, and only now have I been given the key to the secret portal.

I’m really struggling to put into words the pure awesomeness of my dance this weekend. And I’m a writer, so this means I’m dealing with some intense sh*t. I just keep imagining that scene from Contact when Jodie Foster stares out the spaceship window at the golden galaxy of stars, moons, and planets swirling around her, and all she can stammer is, “They should have sent a poet.”

Yoga people, you probably understand this. You know that moment after you’ve been practicing for a few years, and then you have a yoga “experience?” And you’re like Woah. And then something even more Woah happens in your body and breath, and you’re like, “WOAH, I get this now!”

Kinda like that.

Here are the tangibles: The class was held in an amazing restored warehouse with the brightest of bright sunshine streaming through the windows, warming up the expansive studio and causing our sweat to glisten like diamonds.

The guest teacher was Daniella Peltekova, a 5Rhythms teacher from NYC whose Bulgarian heritage blessed her with an exotic accent that, for me, sounded like a saucy hybrid between Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz. Every word she spoke was a verbal expression of Flowing. Her instructions filled the studio like water filling a tub for a warm bubble bath, and I just wanted to soak it all up.

The experience was surreal. When I first entered the studio, I felt like Alice walking into Wonderland. The room was warm, radiating with sunshine, the music was already pulsing, bodies were spinning and flowing around me.

Daniella played bass-filled, earthy, sensual music, punctuated here and there by loudness and softness, just the right combination of melodies and sounds and lyrics that I exhausted myself by the end of class because I wanted so badly to dance to every song.


Halfway during class, as we all sat sweating and glistening and drunk on dance, Daniella poised herself next to a shaft of sunlight and spoke of the beautiful space, the wicked sunlight around us, the full moon, Easter and Passover and things rising and coming to life. She noted that we were out of winter’s cold and darkness, the light is here (oh my it was), and that we didn’t have to do anything but be receptive. “The light is already here; just receive it,” she encouraged us in her Flowing voice.

I felt like a born-again Christian, but not quite sure of my religion. The words comforted me so deeply, I felt them rattle my soul, I wanted to believe but didn’t know what to believe in. Everything within me screamed Hallelujah! but instead of praying we danced, danced, and danced.

(cue the non-tangibles)

Daniella began a new round of Flowing from the floor, on our backs, instructing us to move just the hands, feel our flesh, explore our body’s largest organ. We roll onto our bellies, and from there I observe my loose strands of hair illuminated in the sunshine, doing their own wispy dance to the whir of the overhead fan.

The adventure into Wonderland continued, my body gliding by others, my arms intertwining with those of strangers, our audible, sharp Staccato breaths engaged in a dual of inhalations and exhalations. Palm to palm we gently push and guide and use our single hand to initiate a twisted tango.

Over and over again in my mind, I ask, “Where am I?” The light coming in the giant windows is blinding; I squint long enough to watch a woman across the street on her front porch paint a shelf, and my arms unconsciously imitate her strokes inside the studio. Up and down. Up and down.


Every song that plays is like one of Alice’s “Drink Me” bottles, and I gulp and gulp and struggle for a breath and gulp some more. Down the rabbit hole I dance; where the hell am I going? Is this a portal to reality? Or is it my imagination?

(See this video for an idea of how I felt for much of the class.)

When Florence + the Machine’s live version of “You’ve Got the Love” with Dizzee Rascal blasts through the room, I am thrust into reality because I am dancing so hard that I realize I am gasping for air, my face flushed. OK, yes, lungs. Lungs need oxygen, and this is real.

Reality stuns me again as I briefly partner with an older woman whose overarched feet, willow-like arms, and elongated neck are a dead giveaway of her former life as a classically trained ballerina, and I suddenly feel like I am dancing in front of a mirror of time, an image of me in 30+ years projected right in front of my eyes. I see her age, wisdom, the muscle memory in her calves and shoulders and torso, and I am her and she is me. For the briefest of moments I want to cry, an innocent, profound urge coming deep from my heart, one of pure lightness.

It is a wonderful encounter, and an invitation to see all of my other fellow dancers in the same light. Although my brain had trouble processing much of the class and labeled the whole experience as some kind of wacky adventure into Wonderland, in my heart, the afternoon felt like poetry, something more along the lines of this:

I know I am going to regret posting this the second I hit publish, but it’s about damn time I post a video of me dancing on this here dance-centric blog.

I remember being so excited when one of my favorite dance bloggers, Meg, first stepped in front of the camera in this post. I was reading about her wonderful dancing all of the time but until then never actually saw it in person. A few weeks later, she’s all like, “OK, I’m going to dance for y’all three times a week!” and started doing all of these cool experimental dance videos.

I came home from the office today with an intense desire to dance. I’m in the middle of this crazy work project that has me validating a database of nearly 600 of our archived articles, and so all day, every day for the past week I’ve been hunched over my computer like a 21st-century Bob Cratchit. The only thing keeping me going is my iPod and music–lots of sweet, sweet music. The only problem with listening to music all day is that my body wants to play along. I occasionally do a head roll here and a finger flick there, but otherwise I’ve had to resort to foot tapping and some torso bopping, when inside all of my muscles and bones and heart and soul just want to DANCE!

So upon coming home today, I went a little crazy in my living room. Unleashed the pent-up junk and–thanks to Florence + The Machine–just shook it all out. (God, I love that song!)

But then I got a little serious.

Because I’m a bit shy about just letting the world see me dance in my living room, I wanted my first video to be a little…mysterious. And by mysterious, I actually mean “I’m Not Going to Face the Camera and I’m Going to Dance in An Intentionally Dark Room in Silhouette.”

I also wanted to explore the concept of upper-body dancing. A lot of people say they can’t dance because they have “two left feet.” OK then, so try dancing with your arms!

Dancing is so much more than steps or counts or choreography. To me, dancing is the kinesthetic equivalent of writing poetry or singing a ballad. Sometimes you thrash. Other times the movement is ever so subtle. Particularly in the practice of 5Rhythms, the final rhythm of Stillness is sometimes no more than a slow gesture or even mindful inhalations and exhalations.

This is actually the second of two videos I shot dancing to this music (Hans Zimmer’s “Time” from Inception, FYI). I didn’t like the first because it felt so forced. The second I knew the camera was rolling, my movement suddenly became all rigid and inauthentic. (Also, my stellar videography skills had me cutting off my hands whenever I reached them upward, which was not ideal for an “upper-body” video.)

So I tried again, this time with a partner. (OK, so my partner was a set of curtains, so what?)

This is an experiment in the dance of Stillness (with a little bit of other stuff thrown in).

Truth be told, I still don’t like the video 100%. I feel the camera transforms me into “performer” mode, and that isn’t me anymore. I need someone to sneak a camera into one of my 5Rhythms classes. Also, please disregard the crap music quality, the Boeing 737 model on the table, and the cell phone chirping somewhere near the end. (I know, I know, I’m such a freakin’ pro over here.)

I’m going to shut up already and post the video.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SYTYCD Season 7 tour

About the Author

Name: Jennifer

Location: Greater Philadelphia Area

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

EXPAND my network of like-minded individuals,

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

FLOW and GROW with the world around me!

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