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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without steps, what do I do with my body?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CalendarArt_Tribe1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have learned to trust the process.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

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

When I am dancing by myself, I tend to find “partners” in various inanimate objects around the house, throwing my body against the carpet during an episode of chaos, draping my leg over the back of a chair, grasping onto a door frame as though it’s two arms on either side of me, pressing my back against the wall like there’s another human being supporting my weight, or engaging in a pas de deux with a set of curtains during a moment of stillness.

The aftermath of clawing on the carpet during Chaos

Recently, I even discovered that I can balance my arms on the kitchen counter while walking my feet seductively up the back of one of our wrought-iron chairs. It’s my sexy dance that I do while waiting for my corn to heat up in the microwave.

While I enjoy my creative ways of turning the whole downstairs into a jungle gym, there is one big thing missing from my dances with furniture and flooring: connection. No matter how hard I press my hands into the archway dividing the living room from the dining room, I won’t feel a pulse in return. My skin makes contact with paint and drywall; any energy radiating through my palms stops where the wall begins.

Even the curtains, so wispy and balletic in nature, are unable to cradle me like human arms. They make for a beautiful prop but not a true partner.

Many times during a 5Rhythms class, we are asked to take a partner. Sometimes the instruction is to do nothing other than dance your dance while simply being aware of the other’s movement. Sometimes, especially during workshops, the instruction is more specific and requires some level of trust, such as the time I had to dance while blindfolded, depending on my partner’s energetic cues to prevent me from colliding with other dancers.

The beauty in this work is that–unlike dancing with a wall or a kitchen chair–there is now some level of connection. The energy/prana/chi emanating from my hands and feet has found a safe place to flow, and in return, my partner’s energy mingles with mine. It’s a dance of mutuality.

For example, during last week’s 5Rhythms class, I happened to be partnered with the studio owner, Rhonda, for the last 10 minutes of Stillness. Our connection has been growing stronger by the month, but this time 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. It’s not something everyone can do right off the bat, but that night it felt like we were conversing on an emotionally deep level that words would never be able to justify.

To end class, we stayed with this partner 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? On the outside we may have been motionless, but it’s darn near impossible to look someone straight in the eye for 5 minutes and not feel things stirring inside. After class, we were both a bit weepy.

In this type of work, you may not know your partner’s stories or have an answers to their questions, but you can offer your unbiased presence. Likewise, the mere acknowledgement of your existence by another can be so comforting, a silent yet powerful dance that surpasses any exchange between human and home furnishings.

Winter time—with all of those holiday obligations, family gatherings, office parties, and pollyanas—tends to seem like the season of overdoing, but I believe my peak of exhaustion always comes in the summer, as in, right about now.

Ever since Daylight Saving, the hours of extended sun, the increasing heat, the mating bunnies and the birds, and just being able to walk outside without the need for a coat the strength of a sleeping bag has led to one huge steaming pot of prana churning in my gut that makes me want to dance, run, swim, frolic, chant in Sanskrit, and speak in tongues, all at the same time. The moment those clocks leaped ahead one hour, so did my heart, and my calendar has since been jam packed.

I have given my fullest to every engagement—whether dancing Nia, 5Rhythms, Let Your Yoga Dance, Wu Tao, Journey Dance, or even just dancing in the living room with the air conditioner intentionally off so I mean it when I say I’ve sweat my prayers—but now that it’s August—today is unbearably sticky and humid and everything August is supposed to be—I am tired. I am exhausted. My feet are dirty, I haven’t showered, my hair’s a mess, I am sleep deprived, and my husband just told me that I smell (it’s true).

This is me.

I attended a special 5Rhythms workshop this weekend, a 7-hour extravaganza titled “Riding the Wave.” This was the class description:

In this summer Waves workshop lies an invitation to experience moving with ease, effortlessly, from a place where we allow ourselves to be moved, a place of being rather than doing, a place where we let the music play us, where we become the dance. Come explore how to let go and ease into the caressing waves of the 5Rhythms, and allow them to carry you to the quiet shores within.

It sounds so idyllic, doesn’t it? Summertime waves. Seagulls. The seashore at sunrise. Ebb, flow, back, forth. Ahhhh.

Not for me. My dance was more like last year’s Hurricane Irene. A board-up-the-windows-and-prepare-the-sandbags kind of dance. The kind where it’s very tempting to just follow the “evacuation route” sign from shore to mainland, but instead I opted to stand out at sea and allow the waves to take me.

The exhaustion never sets in right away. I mean, check out this picture of me right after class, with teacher Rivi Diamond.

I am glowing! I survived a storm! I have salt all over my face and dirt on my feet, and I am loving it!

Part of this glow is that, despite throwing myself through one hell of a wave, I was fully supported the entire time. That’s the one really, really beautiful thing about dancing as a group—it’s a tribe, and everyone is there for each other. We do not dance to critique or judge or compete. We move to be moved, and when that movement gets scary or sad or intense, so many people are right there alongside of you, some friends, some strangers.

For example, this is me and Lauren:

I met Lauren once before, briefly, at a previous workshop. We didn’t even remember each others’ names this time around. But we were paired together for a “waves-versus-steady shore” dance, in which one person danced their waves and the other acted as the watchful island, a witness and support system to caress the crashing water. I felt comfortable with Lauren and wasn’t afraid to let my waves crash around her. Likewise, I enjoyed being Lauren’s shore, her movement stirring my sand, bits of me breaking off and entering her ocean so that we became one unit rather than two parts.

And this is my new BFF Valeria:

Valeria and I partnered up at the beginning of class, after instruction to make eye contact with someone you know least. We were complete strangers at noon and left the building at 7 p.m. hugging, kissing, exchanging contact info, and vowing to do coffee and dinner and dancing! We danced “Summertime…and the Living is Easy” together, easily following Rivi’s instruction to hold onto the partner’s head, neck, shoulders, back, and hips, the one partner’s hands being a supportive “shore” for the other’s ebbs and flows. At the end of class, during our final check-in with each other, Rivi gave us permission to tell our partner what we needed: talk? tears? distance? a massage? Valeria and I didn’t exchange any words, but our conversation was touching and profound. It was such an honest display of emotion and longing, with tears, snot, massage, and gentle touch. It is how every human should be held and received.

Even during the most wickedly intense portion of class for me—Chaos—the supportive shoreline was always there. We had stretched out in a giant circle; those needing to ride the wave went in the center, and those with more solid footing stayed on the perimeter. That perimeter saved my life. I was drowning in dance, throwing myself in the waves, screaming (literally), thrashing my now unbound hair, but my eyes always found a steady support there around the “life preserver” ring, whether just a smile or gesture or transfer of invisible energy. This tiger was on a rampage, but the cage around me expanded and contracted as needed, never constricting my movement yet giving me a sense of loving containment. In return, when I saw friends in need, I screamed, shook, and vibrated along with them.

Near the end of 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.

So yes, there was much thrashing and crashing during the workshop, but also so many moments of “steady shore” support, whether rocking shoulder-to-shoulder like a human raft out in the Caribbean, watching an amoeba of human beings expand and contract like seaweed, and using the rhythm of Stillness to support each of the other 4 rhythms (what a relief to dance Chaos with the undercurrent of Stillness!).

I emerged from the waters sun-kissed, salty, and a survivor! That was one helluva ride! But, as I mentioned at the start of this post, I’m feeling it now. It’s summertime, and the living is…sometimes exhausting. But the truth is, I don’t think I’m ever going to chill out and stop dancing. As long as I’ve got the rhythm of Stillness guiding me home, I think I just might be OK.

Our “beach.”

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:

At the conclusion of a recent 5Rhythms class, one of my fellow dancers shared with the group that she loves class because “I feel safe to be a child again.”

I understood what she was saying—5Rhythms is a space to be playful, uninhibited, curious, and spontaneous—but I was feeling something much different that night.

5Rhythms doesn’t make me feel like a child. It makes me feel like a woman.


The week leading up to class, I had been privately mulling over at what point in her life a female comfortably begins referring to herself as a “woman” (particularly a female who has not yet carried a child or given birth, which I imagine would be the tipping point for being comfortable calling oneself a woman). For instance, if I am writing up a blog bio, I struggle over what noun to use after “Jennifer is a 31-year-old ____.” Girl? Gal? Chica? Saying “woman” feels so…adult. So mature.

Most of the time, I do not feel like a “woman.” I am obsessing over big airplanes, spilling cereal and yogurt all over my cubicle, laughing about butt jokes, and dreaming about Disney World.

But during 5Rhythms…that is when I feel like a woman. Certain music, certain movers will extract that essence out of me, and I feel wise, vibrant, strong, feminine, proud, daring. There is a head-to-toe, bone-to-muscle-to-blood connection with myself, and I feel so whole, so womanly, so pure.

So Pure, just like Alanis Morissette in her music video of the same name. I have fun, I let loose, I sweat and open up and become the dancer that has always lived inside of me.

I am still replaying in my mind the moment during Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” when I was dancing on my own, my arms rising above my head to the lyrics “In the arms of an angel….,” and suddenly from behind me, another’s arms linked through mine, now intertwined like angel’s wings. My feet were solidly planted on the floor, but I felt miles above the earth. We remained paired together in the final stretch of Stillness, a wordless song that was eloquent, fierce, passionate, sad, and intense all wrapped into one. I gave myself fully into the movement in a way that no “girl” could do; this was the dance of a woman.

During the sharing circle after class, I began to blush as others in the group commented about being fascinated with our movement, how they loved watching the two of us dance together. Some even thought we were part of a modern dance troupe! One woman had very nice words to say about how watching us was like watching two spirits completely connected with each other.

It was all so overwhelming to take in (I have always had a hard time being complimented on my natural talents) but also so so so so very much appreciated. I had not felt this way since 2006, when during my Kripalu yoga teacher training Megha and I danced our separate solos together at the back of Shadowbrook Hall as Linda Worster performed at the front. That night, a few of my classmates kept showering me with compliments about how beautiful I was to watch.

Despite the words making me smile and squirm at the same time, the compliments from both my YTT and 5Rhythms classmates were a touching reminder that I am still a dancer, despite not practicing in a studio or wearing pointe shoes.

Likewise, even though I don’t necessarily feel “grown up,” dancing has certainly given me comfort in my femininity and allowed me to move beyond the boundaries of girlhood.

Thank you 5Rhythms, for making me feel like a woman.

I really surprised myself last weekend. I left the house rather reluctantly on Sunday for a 3-hour 5Rhythms workshop; despite being told last month that Staccato–the focus of the class–was my dominant rhythm, I entered the space with a rather ho-hum attitude.

I even had a pep talk with myself right before class, strolling along the grounds outside and telling myself to go in there and dance. Just dance!, I urged myself. Stop thinking so much about the people, the music, these other extraneous factors.

Maybe the talk helped. Or maybe it was the way I started class, lying on my back, staring up at the vaulted wooden ceiling, struck by how much it resembled the ceiling in the Main Hall at Kripalu, the place in which I told myself just to “Remember.” With that mantra and memory in the forefront of my mind, I was encouraged to dance how I danced at Kripalu–no fear, no inhibition, no holds barred.

What happened was that I had one of the BEST 5Rhythms experiences ever. Seriously, even today, 6 days after the fact, I am still daydreaming back to those 3 hours on the dance floor.

Our space.

Here are some of the highlights, by rhythm:

Flowing

I partnered up with a woman with a grand smile and big, inquisitive eyes. We exchanged names. As the music started, she stood in place, hands pressed together in anjali mudra, acknowledging me by touching her hands to her forehead, her heart. For the most part, I stood in place as well, flowing in and out like a spider plant in a breeze. The music swelled, my partner’s eyes widened, and she said “Woah…,” and then I felt it too: a sudden ball of energy between us. We glided back and forth, eyes connected, a curious connection holding us together. The song was short but the dance was glorious, and when we drifted apart my partner looked blown away by something I could not see, maybe an aura or energy field. She confided that she needed a break after that and stepped aside to regroup.

Later, I found out that this was the song we found so magnetic. It’s always best to learn that you’re dancing to a generic British boy band AFTER the fact.

Staccato

For an exercise in this rhythm, we paired up and were instructed to execute three sharp movements for our partner while they stood still. Then the partner reciprocated with his own three movements: BOOM BOOM BOOM. POW POW POW. We did this exchange for a while and then gradually melded it into one dance, so we were no longer pausing: BOOM POW BOOM POW BOOM POW. I was paired with a man relatively new to me, but we got in each others’ faces like thugs in a love/hate relationship. It was during this time I remembered that yes, I really do think Staccato is my favorite rhythm!

Later, our instruction for Staccato was to focus on our feet. For the most part, my partner was confined to the floor, giving his bum knee some rest. Still, we made the dance happen. Even with one person sitting, it is possible to stomp, shuffle, flick the toes, and engage in a give-and-take of ankles, toes, and arches.

Chaos

Sometimes in Chaos I am all over the place, running in circles, leaping, whipping through the room. This time my Chaos was mostly in place, a head-to-toe vibration that had me shaking and gyrating, lost in time and space with my eyes closed. I became so lost in movement that I had no idea of where I was in space; I thought I was facing the front of the room, but when I opened my eyes I was standing somewhere completely different. Woah.

Lyrical

The lyrical dance I shared with my partner was perhaps one of the most passionate, present pas de deuxs I’ve ever had in 5Rhythms. The song was Fiona Apple’s “Slow Like Honey,” and there was twirling, slithering, crawling, clawing, and grasping. At one point, my feet nearly left the ground, clinging onto my partner’s shirt as he spun me around and around. It was a big moment for me, because I tend to build these walls around me, and I don’t allow many people to get my full attention via dance. So it was an accomplishment for me but also a reminder that I am not a contestant on “So You Think You Can Dance,” and my body cannot always move the way I want it to. And that is perhaps why my hip hurt for the whole drive home and I needed to return to the post-activity Advil for the first time in a while.

Stillness

Ever since starting tai chi classes 3 weeks ago, Stillness is becoming a more intense rhythm for me to work with. We “hold the ball” a lot in tai chi, and I’ve begun incorporating that into my dancing, just the notion of harnessing prana/chi/qi and being aware of the subtle flow of energy throughout the body. More and more, I find myself ending a 5Rhythms class standing, rather than lying on the floor in savasana. I find that by the end of class I feel very grounded, and I like ending my session with my feet firmly rooted, a final sinking in.


What kind of mover do you consider yourself: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, or Stillness?
I’ve always thought of myself as Flowing, but there is significant Staccato influence in my movement. I love to go back and forth between balletic and B-Boy-esque.

Remember late last year when I took a Let Your Yoga Dance (LYYD) class with Nikki to help her fulfill her practice teach requirements?

One of the other students in the class was Suzie, who just so happened to be in the same LYYD training program at Kripalu. Suzie was a super-fun classmate, but I couldn’t wait to be one of her students. Like Nikki, she had a demeanor that just exuded Teacher. And, seriously, how cool is it to have not one but two LYYD teachers in my neighborhood?!

Friday night, in honor of the Go Red for Women campaign, Suzie held a heartwarming LYYD class where all proceeds went to the American Heart Association. It was a perfect tie-in: Raising money for charity by coming together and dancing our hearts out, getting our own cardiovascular workout through something as simple as dancing freely and openly.

I came into the class a bit tired and very cold. I felt like I was carrying weight of the work week on my shoulders, and I was afraid I would (a) just not have any energy; and (b) be a popsicle the entire time. When I am cold, I live with the fear that I will never warm up. Luckily, a few minutes of shaking around to Michael Franti’s “Say Hey (I Love You)” took care of that. 🙂

The thing about being a teacher is that you have to be ON, because you are the lighthouse for the rest of the class. If you begin to fade, the class energy fades with you. Suzie had some factors working against her: only a handful of students (one of whom [me] was sleepy and shivering) and the fact that we were dancing in the phys ed room of a small parochial school, surrounded by unflattering overhead florescent lighting, worn gray carpeting over a concrete floor, and hideous bright blue/yellow walls. She’d have to work extra hard to get us motivated!

Luckily, Suzie never let the conditions get to her and remained naturally ebullient throughout the entire class. It was hard to be grumpy when dancing with someone like this:

Those hats were used during our Broadway routine to “One” form A Chorus Line, when we strutted, shimmied, and kicked our way across the room. I have to say that was one of my favorite routines; props + musical theater = Happy Jen. It reminded me that as much as I love free-form dance, my past experiences on stage are still very much a part of me. (Maybe next time Suzie can play one of the songs from 42nd Street, with the tap-shoe sounds? Because how seriously fun would that be to pretend we’re tap dancers?!)

Our other props were scarves, which we moved fluidly and tenderly to RENT‘s “Seasons of Love” and then whipped around joyously to the Charlie Brown “Linus and Lucy” song. The colorful scarves were a great addition, and they helped add some vibrancy to the otherwise drab room. During the first song we were all inhaling and exhaling our scarves together like an opening and closing flower, and then when the Charlie Brown music came on, the scarves bobbed up and down with us as we shook around like cartoonish Peanuts characters.

And what’s a LYYD class without partner work? One of my favorite partner routines–not just of the class but, like, EVER–was standing in front of another person, eyes closed, and having their touch guide me into spontaneous movement. So the woman behind me tapped my right shoulder, and I moved from that touch. Then she touched my left knee, my right hip, the back of my head. Suzie instructed the “mover” to pretend as though we were in water, and that each touch from our partner created a kind of ripple effect. What made me love this practice so much was (a) the spontaneous factor, not knowing where I was going to be touched next; and (b) the “controlling” effect of being the toucher. It was like being a puppeteer in a way, me tapping my partner’s shoulder and watching her respond to that touch. I could control the speed I offered my touches and decide where my touch would go. And yet the movement she presented from that touch could never be predicted: Sometimes she rolled down over her knees, other times she reached up to the ceiling. What a seriously great practice in the dance between spontaneity and control, and also how one’s action can be so influential. The world continues to move via ripple effects.

I left class warm, both physically and emotionally. I wasn’t ready to be all Ya-Ya Sisterhood with my other three classmates, but I did feel more connected to them than when I first entered the room an hour earlier. I guess stuff like that happens when you roar like lions in each others’ faces and then later dance palm-to-palm, a la the Romeo and Juliet masquerade ball.

As much as I tried not to let the external environment get to me, I do wish the setting could have been a little more welcoming, maybe less harsh lighting and just a tad more visual warmth. I know the essence of yoga lives within us, but trying to cultivate it while standing under institutional lighting on a shabby gray carpet was a bit challenging. I joked that for her next class, Suzie should ask everyone to bring a small lamp or camping lanterns so we can shut off the overhead lights.

If not, though, I’ll just try to dive more into my practice and keep calm. 🙂

Friday night was another 5Rhythms class, this one just 2 hours of a traditional Wave. I was thrilled that my friend Amanda offered to take the class with me; she took a few classes back in 2010 and then fell off the bandwagon, but she is a fantastic mover, so it was great to have her back! The class drew in several new people, plus Michelle, a woman I connected with at Biodanza last year and who I have been longing to dance with again. She is one of those people who can just look at you and you feel overwhelmed with joy.

Here are some random notes from the evening:

The Watchful Hands

It is typical for the instructor to begin a Flowing exercise by telling us to dance with our hands. Before we introduce the arms, shoulders, spine, hips, and legs into the dance, we move only our hands, become fully immersed in the subtleties of the wrists and fingers. However, this time the instructor told us to imagine eyes on the palms of our hands. When we move our hands, what are they seeing?

What I saw was a sliver of everyone else’s dancing, and when we were fully given permission to dance with our entire body, I found myself tuning into my classmates’ movements, noticing a particular move they were doing, and completing a variation of that movement. Call it “copying,” but I saw it more of a form of connection with every.body there in that studio.

‘To Me’ vs. ‘For Me

To kick off Chaos, the instructor, as he has done in the past, had us join hands and form a circle, our arms shaking wildly as one form, our bodies being pulled one way and then another. Was it irritating that we were being pulled in several different directions at once or was it guidance for us to give into the moment? Is this chaos happening to you or for you?, we pondered after class. What if we shifted our perspective so that the chaos we face in daily living is happening “for me,” rather than the victimized “to me”? Is it possible to see the world that way?

This snowstorm is happening ‘for me’??

Amanda the Kite

At one point, when the majority of the class was either vibrating in place or making small steps around themselves, Amanda flew across the studio floor as though she had wings on her ankles, a Porsche speeding down a suburban street when everyone else was going cautiously at 25 mph. Her body was a kite whipping wildly on a windy day; her movement spoke joy, and it was at that point I remembered the instructor’s comment about seeing someone else’s movement and really, really liking it, so much that you want to try it out. So for that moment, Amanda inspired me to be a kite.

Shirtless

Chaos forced me to strip off my sweatshirt, and all I had on underneath was a black sports bra. Normally I really don’t like to remain “shirtless”; when not caught up in the ecstasy of dancing, having my midriff exposed makes me feel all kinds of vulnerable. Not that I have a beer gut hanging out from my yoga pants or anything, but the stomach is just a weird body part that shifts in appearance with every forward fold, backbend, side stretch, and jump. Every time I disrobe down to the sports bra, I’m reminded of the Seinfeld episode when Jerry’s girlfriend walks around the apartment naked and how he’s repulsed at seeing her clothes-less body cough, sneeze, and shake.

I had that nervous feeling for about 3 seconds after peeling off the shirt, but then I was back in the throes of Chaos, moving around every which way, the thoughts of a prana-filled, sweat-covered belly taken over by a deep appreciation of my entire being, the way it was whirling, curling, shaking, and gyrating. My hair, which I normally go great lengths to ensure is pinned back and held neatly in place, was a hot mess. Half of it had fallen out of the rubberband, a few ends were plastered in my armpit, and whatever was left was stuck in the corners of my mouth or covering my eyes. It is in those moments of naked sweaty stomachs and fly-away Medusa hair where my freedom is found.

Michelle’s Plateau Pick-Me-Up

After the pure wildness and rawness of Chaos, the Lyrical that followed was difficult for me to maintain. I was sweaty, exhausted, and had reached a plateau. My Lyrical began to feel flat, and just as I was reluctantly shifting into the dreaded “forced” movement, Michelle shimmied up to me and did a little shake-shake-shake here, shake-shake-shake there, the twinkle in her eye and smile on her lips infusing me with a new spark of energy, like I was a Super Mario Brother coming across a 1-Up mushroom. I didn’t need a new song, a caffeine shot, or a rest break to come back to life; all it took was a little exchange of energy, and I was granted a new reserve of breath and enjoyment.

Some Sweat and Sweetness

I was paired with the studio owner during the shift from Lyrical into Stillness. We clasped hands and engaged in a lovely pas de deux, our breath slowing and our movements growing softer and softer. Had I not been just utterly sweaty at that point, I would have given myself more fully, but I was afraid of pressing my glistening back all over her delicate blouse. It was still a sweet moment.

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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