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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embodied Tribal.

Here is Douglas’ description of the work:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

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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