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This past weekend marked the beginning of a tidal wave…of 5Rhythms, that is!

As I’ve written before, I’m a huge fan of the movement/dance practice called 5Rhythms. In a nutshell, 5Rhythms is the practice of movement through five different rhythms (duh)–Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness–which collectively are called a “wave.” This weekend was the start of a monthly series dedicated to concentrating on one rhythm (although we did the other rhythms as well. My god, I would collapse if we did three hours of just Chaos!).

I think of myself as a very fluid and flow-y mover (um, hence the name of this blog), so I honestly thought that focusing on the first rhythm, FLOWING, would be easy and fun for me.

Surprise! It was not.

I DO like Flowing…but only to a point. There came a threshold when after so many swoops and sweeps and flutters and airy turns that I wanted some definition. Some pizzazz. Some oomph. I wanted Staccato.

Now, I’m not sure if it’s because I got tired of the Flowing movement itself…or whether it’s because I love structure, and my OCD brain was thinking, “OK, time’s up! The blueprints say we’re supposed to move onto Staccato now. Chop chop!”

Nevertheless, lingering in Flowing for longer than usual began to feel like an aerobics class that never progressed beyond the warm-up.

After class during our sharing circle, people commented that I am very much a Staccato dancer, which surprised me because in real life I am far from a Staccato personality (direct, forthright) and probably closer to Flowing (indecisive, experimental, constantly changing direction). I linger in the supermarket aisles because I cannot decide which yogurt to buy. I hem and haw over what to make for dinner, which restaurant to go to on Saturday night. I wanted to be a yoga teacher. And then I didn’t. Currently, I edit during the day…but dream of flying Southwest jets by night.

Environmentally speaking, another factor that inhibited my Flowing freedom was the floor (How many Fs can I get in that sentence?). We were dancing in a school auditorium, and certain spots were as slippery as ice. That was a HUGE factor in how I moved, and I had to be very cognizant of which areas were the danger zones and what moves I did if I found myself standing there. It’s kind of tough to fully let go when you have only three options: flow, fumble, or fall.

The instructor had some great tricks up his sleeve to help facilitate the notion of Flowing. For instance, we took a partner, placed our hands against the sides of her chest by the rib cage, and simply stood there with a gentle touch to receive the expanding and contracting of the partner’s inhalations and exhalations. It was soothing as both the passive holder and as the active breather–it is so much easier to take full, deep breaths when someone is physically encouraging you. It’s also a good reminder that breathing doesn’t just take place in the front of the chest and that it’s a 360-degree action.

Another great exercise was getting the whole class to stand in a circle, collectively inhaling our arms up toward the ceiling and then exhaling our arms and upper body down toward the floor, a bit like unstructured sun salutations. We did this several times until it began to sound like the ocean. It was so calming…and pretty cool to see the entire group do relatively the same motion (as usually we are all doing our own thing). We then began incorporating our hips into the breathing, then the feet. Soon, our entire body was part of the inhalations and exhalations, and the circle began to slowly break apart ever-so-calmly as we flowed into our own dance.

Flowing like the Disney Concert Hall

As I approach two years of dancing the 5Rhythms, I am learning some interesting things:

I dance better at night. The monthly class I attend is on Friday nights, and it is there that I always feel my most free. I think there is something exotic about letting loose after work, as the sun sets, especially when there’s a full moon. This particular Flowing workshop started mid-afternoon (sunny) and ended at dinnertime (dark), and I definitely felt more “on” as the room grew darker and darker, until we were dancing only in candlelight and a small spotlight.

I am more responsive to some people than I am to others. The notion of partnerwork can either make my heart leap or have me cringing. I generally love working with people who exhibit a heightened sense of musicality and rhythm, but even some people with those qualities just make me feel oogy. I am aware that I energetically block them off from me, and I often wonder/worry whether they can sense that.

The simple act of looking someone straight in the eyes can be both terrifying and electrifying, like unlocking a door to a whole new realm of connection beyond movement. It takes A LOT for me to let my eyes dance. I can twirl and curl and shimmy and shake, but allowing my face to get involved is a huge feat. It’s why practices such as Biodanza are so important.

There is still a lot of chatter going on in my head when I dance. Sadly, it is usually about other people in the room. I am somewhat of a storyteller and tend to develop these imaginative back stories of the people around me. I usually need to complete a full wave of dancing before this judgmental jibber-jabber dissipates and my brain is rid of unhelpful junk.

Barring any winter storms that prevent me from driving over the river and through the woods to February’s workshop, next month I’ll be focusing on my supposed dominant rhythm: STACCATO!


“My fiancé sulked around the house this weekend after I told him I didn’t want to eat the same breakfast as he did,” my friend recounted. “He wanted bacon and eggs; I wanted a smoothie. We had to talk. I told him it’s like 5Rhythms.”

5Rhythms, a movement/dance modality, being used to neutralize a disagreement over opinions of what makes a good breakfast? How so?

Part of a 5Rhythms class is exploring moving with a partner. We’ll each be doing our own thing in, say, the rhythm of Staccato, and the instructor will tell us to find a partner. But the difference between partner work in 5Rhythms and that in other genres is that the two dancers don’t necessarily have to be on the same page. Maybe the person I pair up with is flailing every limb in double time and I’m having a good time subtly tapping my feet and bobbing my head. What happens then? Does one of us freak out? Does the instructor split us up and have us find more appropriate partners?

Of course not. We just dance. We grow to be comfortable in our differences and maybe, just maybe, find inspiration in the other’s movement, even if it’s just a certain way the partner flicks his wrist or rolls his hips. You think, “Hmm, that looks cool, let me try that.” ::tries new hip rolling thing:: “Nah, that doesn’t feel right on me.” The point is, you open your mind to some diversity, learn to live with it, and perhaps even try it out yourself. If it doesn’t feel right, then so be it.

As my instructor Richard always says while explaining the concept of partnering, “Oh, this person is smiling and having a good time, but I feel like shit. And that’s OK.” The point isn’t for the “good time” person to make the “shit” person turn into a smiling Fred Astaire, and it’s not the “shit” person’s place to drag his partner into his personal drama.

Smiling. Shit. Tango. Fox Trot. Bacon. Smoothie. Get it? Dare I say 5Rhythms is simply a moving metaphor for life?

So what my friend was trying to explain to her fiancé was that their weekend tradition of sitting down together for Sunday breakfast could still be accomplished peacefully, even if he wanted the lumberjack special and she the vegan’s liquid delight. It’s like those “Coexist” bumper stickers, except instead of a cross and Star of David theirs would have a Denny’s sign and a bundle of kale.

My friend’s story came at such an appropriate time too, because this past weekend I attended a 5Rhythms class that was heavy on partner work. Now, even though I can explain the concept of 5Rhythms partner work ever-so-eloquently, by no means am I the Princess Diana of working with others. Sometimes I’ll pair up with a tired-looking person, but I’m feeling awesome. I try my best not to be disappointed that they’re not able to match my energy levels, but yeah – it’s hard. It’s a challenge that’s better to hash out on the dance floor first, before something similar happens in real life and you flip out at someone on the subway or curse at a coworker.

At one point I was partnered with a woman whose loose and flowing dance was not at all syncing with my refined, precise movements. I acknowledged her and did my own movement, but then out of the corner of my eye I caught her doing a little foot thing…and I thought, “Hmm, maybe I want to try that foot thing too!” And I did, and I may not have copied it exactly, but what I had done was made a connection.

Later I was partnered with a woman who was just busting with energy, but after nearly 1.5 hours of dancing I was pretty exhausted and wasn’t feeling as bold as her…more balletic. Her moves made me feel guilty for taking it easy, but I had no energy! A few minutes into our dance, she passed me; we were back to back, and with that near-contact I felt a rush of energy, and suddenly I was inspired! Her one simple move was like a hit to the chest with a defibrillator, and I was shocked back into movement. From that moment on, I felt like our movement was complementary, rather than just individual steps executed simultaneously.

Then came the intense partner work. It started off simple: Stand back to back, with actual, physical contact. Feel your weight in your partner’s back. Shift weight. Then we were instructed to move to the floor, keeping in contact with each other.

Source: Andre Andreev, http://www.postnatyam.net

At first we simply danced with our backs, me rolling into a forward bend and my partner falling back for the ride. She exhaled — a long, audible sigh that sounded like she was collapsing onto the couch after a long day at the office. When it was my turn to drape over my partner’s spine, I released the same kind of exhalation. It was very humbling for a complete stranger to be giving me such a release, and it felt both awkward and totally awesome.

We then moved on to a kind of contact improv-esque dance, the instructor telling us to now move freely, but always remaining in contact in some way with the other. He cautioned us that not every move is 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.

We connected with each other at the hands, the arms, back to back, hand on head, head on neck, side to side. It’s times like these when I’m glad the dance studio has no mirrors, because even though we may be curious about what we look like, what shapes we’re forming, the visual appearance of our improvisational art is most likely not as “pretty” as it feels from the inside. The process felt organic, human, inquisitive, and exploratory; to outsiders, it probably looked like two people acting like bugs, crawling all over the place.

Source: Drue Sokol, http://www.campustimes.org

After class, we all agreed that the partner work had actually energized us. Most people approached the practice with apprehension but then later discovered that keeping contact with another human being gave them the stamina to finish the class. Perhaps the exchange of touch also meant an exchange of prana, chi, qi — life force?

We are all different ages and races. I live in the suburbs; other classmates live in the city. My partner is a chef; I’m an editor. How nice is it that we can all be so different but still move together — maybe not at the same pace or with identical movement — but with a certain kind of harmony, without colliding?

Sounds like an occasion that calls for a toast. With that, let’s raise our glasses of green smoothie (or our plate of bacon and eggs) and enjoy this meal together!

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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