Today is a rare interlude of Stillness in a typically dynamic city. The windows are impossibly bright. Snow is caked on the screens outside. Still-falling snow makes the air seem opaque. Piles of white obscure Brooklyn’s sharp edges and make everything blur together. “Are you ready for Snowmageddon?” I was asked yesterday. “Yes!” I answered emphatically. Though tempted to roll my eyes at all the hype associated with what looked like a relatively normal weather event, I love the shared excitement of an impending minor disaster like a blizzard. In New York especially, we literally participate in “the word on the street;” and experiences like this unite us.
In addition to the unity, I also love the slowness. I just relax right into it. There wasn’t a single footprint in the snow on our sidewalk today until after 11AM. We had plans with friends this morning and none of us even bothered to call to cancel. I am not late for anything, not planning anything, not trying to squeeze anything in, not running any important errands. It reminds me of a blizzard perhaps ten years ago, when I remained in the clothes I slept in, listened to a John Coltrane marathon on the radio, and worked on one drawing literally from sunrise until sundown, quietly watching the white light brighten and fade away as I worked steadily, without speaking to a single person.
The snow had not yet begun when I made my way to Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class last night, but there was little traffic and I made better time than usual. This was convenient because my son, Simon, and I had been on a long errand looking for a sled—in high demand everywhere—and I was running slightly late.
I stepped into the room and into a soft hug with a friend who was dancing near the studio’s door. My knee was bothering me slightly. (Remember when I wrote about knee soreness after an extended period of breakdancing in a recent Sunday class with Simon?) I knew I would have to moderate myself or risk a more serious injury. I found a spot on the floor and began to move in the same radial, circular dance—moving over and undulating from the crown of my head—that I keep thinking has shifted and yet persists.
Shortly, I got up and began to move throughout the room. I felt very released and happy (slightly gooey, even), fully taking on all of Tammy’s suggestions. Remarkably, I was not down in any way about having to be careful. Instead, it was an invitation to be gentle and to find a different expression. I recalled a workshop Lucia lead in 2013 when she encouraged us to totally let go of our edges. Although I love my edges, I took on her suggestion; and as a result was torn into tiny, tender bits—shattered completely, wide open.
Moving into Staccato, I knew I couldn’t be in the deep, powerful squats rising up into dramatic suspensions or the sharp, punctuated spins, or the emphatic, knee forward steps that I have enjoyed lately. I found Staccato nonetheless, working with subtle muscles in the pelvis and lower back. I became fascinated with my gentle edges and with strategic tightening.
In Chaos, Tammy proposed a litany of opposites—tight/loose, thinking/not thinking, slow/fast—pushing us to experiment with the places where we are comfortable and, too, with the places where we are not comfortable.
I found a playful and whispering Lyrical with a tall friend. We spun and coiled into, around, and under each other, our palms and fingertips in careful communication.
We paused after the first wave to listen to Tammy’s direct instruction. She began by quoting Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, “You didn’t think this was really about dancing, did you?” Tammy went on to say, “That’s the difference between recreation and practice, and this is practice.”
During her talk, Tammy surprised me with the comment, “In New York, Staccato is so good! It is better here.” I thought she was being facetious, that she was going to castigate us for our famous New York arrogance. But she meant what she said literally. She went on to describe cities where they don’t really do Staccato. Not really. Not like us. She moved as she spoke, expressing her love of Staccato through her gestures. Perhaps being with our edges unlocks authenticity in a way that self-help cannot.
This is one of the reasons that I love Tammy’s teaching approach; and why I have such faith in her. As much as it is a wonderful experiment to let go of all of my edges, too, it is glorious to be with my edges, to exaggerate them, to investigate them. Except for perhaps a very few enlightened beings, most of us are absolutely riddled with edges. Knowing this makes me feel like I can be myself. And it is not just acceptance, but is also, in a way, celebration. Though my ultimate goal is absolute freedom, absolute integrity and absolute love; it is the very complex and sticky and fascinating shite that we are riddled with that helps to make us so rich—that makes life life. That gives us something to work with.
This is also why I love New York. From 1996, my very first year in New York, I said, “New Yorkers are not nice. At all. But we are without question extremely kind.” Also, we have so much good shit here. We are inclined to reject fake, inferior shit.
In a speech at her husband, Lou Reed’s, induction into the Hall of Fame, Laurie Anderson explained a set of rules for life the two had come up with. “One. Don’t be afraid of anyone. Now, can you imagine living your life afraid of no one? Two. Get a really good bullshit detector. And three. Three is be really, really tender. And with those three things, you don’t need anything else.”
Tammy went through the 5Rhythms for the benefit of new and seasoned practitioners, and I particularly liked her description of Lyrical. “When you are in Chaos, and you suddenly feel like you could just go on letting go forever, then you are no longer in Chaos. You are in Lyrical!”
In the second wave, I continued to receive quiet messages from my knee, especially when I stepped hard directly forward. I danced with a friend who I usually bound all over the space with, twirling and upending ourselves, but this time kept my feet relatively grounded. I was itching to dance with another friend who I hadn’t seen in several weeks, but instead located myself on my knees off to the side. I discovered that if I spread my knees apart and bent forward I had a lot of power and leverage. There, I arched and pulsed my back, tossed my head around like the back car on a roller coaster, and explored the feeling of having my hands on the ground. I managed to avoid exacerbating the knee injury, and still connect with the rhythms and with moving.
I ended the wave on my feet and in my hands. I scanned my own body with my palms, my eyes nearly shut, internal, keying in to subtle energies.
After class, as I stepped out of the Joffrey Ballet’s 434 6th Avenue building and into the street, where the snow had just begun to fall.
January 23, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
(Informal footnote: I remember Gabrielle once following the remark “You didn’t think this was really about dancing, did you?” with, “This is just the little black dress that I put on for you.” In addition to the interpretation offered above, I think this quote of Gabrielle’s hints that the 5Rhythms are not just dance, but are—more broadly—a map of the creative process itself. As such, practice might take many different creative forms such as drawing, relationship, music, cooking, storytelling, home design, conversation, theatrical works, parenting, writing or poetry.)
The first 5Rhythms workshop in NYC to focus on visual, artistic expressions of creativity, 5R Visual, took place at the Joffrey in the West Village on Sunday, January 10th. The workshop—IN Sight: In Pursuit of Magic—was lead by Martha Peabody, who worked closely with Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, for 39 years.
Arriving slightly late and stepping into the already flowing room, Martha approached me and whispered, “I’m so glad you’re here! Do you have an object that represents the present that you want to add to the table?” I nodded and went to the bag of objects I had gathered to bring to the workshop. I had received an email the night before letting me now that I should bring an object that represents the past, one that represents the future, and one that represents the present. I gathered many more than three things, unsure of what I wanted to put forward. I spent a few moments pondering my options, then selected a small lighter with rainbow colors and a graphic of a tiger on it and added it to the front table, which Martha had already graced with numerous items devoted to the faculty of sight.
After the opening wave of the IN Sight workshop, with Martha’s on-mic suggestions and music offered by Daniela Peltekova, we set into an investigation of the objects we chose to represent our present. Martha offered many phrases about past, present and future, interspersed with suggestions about the rhythms themselves. She periodically suggested we partner, but moved us in and out of partnership throughout the day. After the conclusion of the wave, we each placed our object on the dance floor. Then, we walked around and chose one object that appealed to us. I selected a circular disc, with a Prussian blue ground and a metallic gold sun painted on one side, and a metallic gold moon painted on the other side. Then, we arranged ourselves like an audience, and took turns, three at a time, standing to face the audience with our selected object. We each had to take a shape—and in some cases a repetition—arising from our selected object.
Inwardly, I groaned. As I have written about recently, taking a shape is often challenging for me. I watched with interest as the experience unfolded, hesitating to step up. When I finally did, I took a shape that was somewhat familiar to me, not necessarily what was arising from the object that I was in temporary possession of. This seemed a little easier than usual, but I was still glad when my turn was over and the exercise dissolved.
On Sunday morning, before the IN Sight 5Rhythms Visual workshop began, I attended the Sunday Sweat Your Prayers class, just one floor up, also at the Joffrey in the West Village, along with my five-year-old son, Simon. I had invited him to join me the day before, laying down my expectations for his behavior, and letting him know that he would have to cooperate and have himself ready to leave in time. To my surprise, he was dressed and by the door with boots, coat, hat, mittens and selected toys forty-five minutes before we needed to leave. He stood by the door telling me, “Hurry up, Mommy! We don’t want to be late!”
Because I knew I would be attending the IN Sight workshop the same day, I was lighter than usual with my expectations for the class with Simon. Part of me is very invested in raising him with the tools of 5Rhythms. If he doesn’t want to engage with the activities in a given class, it can feel like an affront and make me nervous. I beseech him, sometimes, hoping to engage him. Also, I often want some kind of “experience” for myself, reluctant to give over to his needs completely.
As is our custom, we stood holding hands outside the studio, then took a deep breath, and, releasing it, jumped into the “Magic Dance Room.”
Simon wanted me close for most of the class, though he did range through the room at times. He started out huddled near one of the room’s center columns with a small pile of toys and some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches he was working on. Gradually, he stretched out on the floor, and began to circle on his side—similar to a kind of movement I have been experimenting with lately—keeping a watchful eye on everyone around him. As he got more comfortable, his movements grew, but he continued to want me close. The most active we became was in a kind of spinning, bounding breakdancing that had my knees sore for several days after. He kept stopping in front of me and pointing emphatically to me, then to the ground, asking me to please get on the ground with him. Most times I obliged. As the music slowed, Simon lay on top of me, both of us facing up, with Simon’s upper back arched over my bent knees, in a shape he has loved since he was pre-born. We were in the closest gesture we can now get to of him being born. I reflected on how close we still are, and how surreal it is that the entirety of this little son once fit completely inside my small body.
Simon made it through almost the entire class. During Chaos in the second wave the room got very energetic and some dancers started to let out screams. Simon stopped in front of me, looked at my face and pointed abruptly to the door. We stepped out and found a girl of about 8 or 9 with her mother, who also wanted to leave the studio during Chaos. There, too, we found Simon’s father, who was there to bring Simon home when I continued on to the IN Sight workshop downstairs. Simon and I stepped back in for a few more turns, then concluded. I felt proud and content, and smiled, silently mouthing “Thank you” to Jilsarah Moscowitz, who had taught the Sunday Sweat Your Prayers class that day.
Which brings us back to the IN Sight workshop—the first ever workshop in NYC devoted to exploring the rhythms through visual expression. After presenting our borrowed objects and our chosen shapes and repetitions, we took a break. Small talk seemed incorrect; and I slipped out to buy a tea, hoping it would combat the tiredness I was starting to feel.
I returned to a miracle—a spectacularly manifested double rainbow over Manhattan, viewed from the fourth floor windows of the Joffrey on 6th Ave and 10th Street, facing north. Earlier, Martha had shared that she had seen a rainbow on her drive from New Jersey to Manhattan that very morning. “A rainbow in January,” she proclaimed with wonder, gesturing one arm in an arc. I pushed the window up, climbed onto the sill and bent double over the window guards, trying to get a photograph of this miraculous phenomenon, then sitting and observing it with reverence.
Conversation lingered as Daniela began the music; though I moved immediately to the center of the room and started to twist and rotate, my body glued down, arching my back and using the crown of my head as an axis to shift into a new movement, continuously moving, in Flowing.
Martha gathered us into a circle, then asked several people to step into the center. She revealed that all who were in the center were 5Rhythms teachers, some of many, many years—“lifers,” she joked. Then, she asked them to simply walk, changing direction and looking for the empty space. She asked us to take a step in. Then another. She described this as the most basic of all 5Rhythms exercises; and I reflected on the beautiful humility of Flowing. The un-flashiness of it, fundamentally. She asked us to take another step in and the center became more and more compressed, determined.
Martha, described as an historian of the 5Rhythms by one highly respected teacher in attendance, shared the story of how this exercise evolved. Originally called “The Porpoise Dance” it arose in the early years of the work Gabrielle was doing with mental patients, when just getting them to move and shift directions was momentous. With seamless prompts, Martha wove the rest of us into this exercise of walking, moving into empty space, and changing direction together in the field of Flowing.
As the wave unfolded, Martha offered suggestions about past, present and future, setting us up for the visual experiments we would undertake shortly. The room that was lively in Flowing became rooted in place in Staccato for some reason, perhaps preparing to choose a spot for our visual creations.
At last, Martha invited us to set to arranging our objects and materials in a visual representation that was meaningful for each of us. I had my eye on a small set of metal stairs that leads to the studio’s fire escape. Laying out many of the materials and objects I brought along, I went to plug in a long strand of white Christmas lights. Finding an outlet, I climbed under the ballet bar, which was laden with coats, sweaters and bags, and plugged in. Nothing. Hmmm. Was it the outlet? The lights? I traversed the room and tested them in a different outlet. This time they worked. I had to scrap my idea and relocate. Before I gathered my things once again, I opened the book, “Maps to Ecstasy” by Gabrielle Roth to a passage about the limitations of ego. And again, to another. In a different part of the book.
Most people were finalizing their choices and I still hadn’t settled in to work. I traversed the room diagonally again. The outlet I wanted to use was across another dancer’s work. I asked permission in a whisper, but I couldn’t find a way to cross her work without interfering with it. Finally, I found another outlet that worked and plugged my lights in. Next, I submerged half of the white Christmas light strand inside a large Ball Jar. As far as my objects went, that was all I had been sure of. I lay out the rest of the pile of things, working quickly to select what I wanted to include. First was a yellow-orange cloth, an orange, infant-sized tiger sock, and the little rainbow tiger lighter. I also included some orange wool, a fabric rose, and a tiny drawing of a pelvis bone and ribcage holding roses inside it.
Martha had laid a number of objects we could borrow on top of the room’s piano; and I selected a little wooden man who was segmented into head, torso, upper arms, lower arms, upper legs, lower legs, hands and feet; and held together at his joints by strings. I placed him onto my shoulder like a baby and carried him gingerly to my site, placing him with care amongst my chosen objects.
Martha was calling for us to begin the next segment of the workshop, and I hurriedly finalized my work. Though I never felt it was really resolved, I had no choice but to trust that it was correct in the state that it landed.
Next, paper and a pen were placed in front of each person’s visual representation; and we were asked to circulate, regard each, and come up with a possible title. I enjoyed this part of the workshop, and strove to offer each presentation my relentless attention. At first, the titles I selected were simply what I observed, but as I moved around and saw how serious our lists were, I began to create poetic or humorous titles, such as “Squished Puppy” and “Homage to a Column”. At last, we began the activity of visiting each presentation as a group and listening as the person presented their three favorite titles that people had written on their paper, and adding a few words of commentary. Given the seriousness of the content people shared, I hoped that I hadn’t been facetious with my title choices.
I am itching to tell you some of the stories that emerged, but as I am constrained to speaking specifically and only about my own experiences, I will just say that it was a fascinating tour; and one that required and produced tremendous attention and energy.
Martha concluded this activity with a quote by Simon Weil, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity,” and went on to share, with great feeling, how meaningful it was for her that Gabrielle Roth had granted her so much attention for so many years.
When we got to my piece, at nearly the end of the line, I wasn’t sure what I would say. I found a folding chair and sat in it while I spoke, like an elder would. The titles people had written that I chose to share with the group were, “Broken Wholeness,” “Little Bones Grow Old Too,” “Tiger Light,” and “Transparency is Scary. Luminescence is Radiant.” I said a little more, “This (pyrite) is past. Earth. Mineral. The future is light. And the rest (I made an expansive gesture) is all that is in between.” I shared that in a tradition I am initiated into, the tiger is a symbol of humility. Of ferocity, too! But of humility.” I wanted to explain somehow that everything in between past and future is the display—is the big, tangled up, beautiful, exquisite fucking mess of living that rises up out of spectacular emptiness minute by minute. Instead I said, “And I found this little broken man on the piano. And he just broke my heart.” A shuddering sob wracked me. “So I wanted to include him. I don’t know why.”
After three more stories, the activity dissolved and we were instructed to replace our things into their bags and containers.
I walked over to Martha and stood in front of her, looking into her eyes. I wanted to gulp air and say, “Help! I feel like I am going to fly off of the earth’s body! Please help!” Instead, not wanting to seem too much like a crazy person, I said, “Martha. I need to ask your advice, please. I am nowhere near ground. Do you have any suggestions?” She likely saw the panic in my eyes, and, pressing her palms firmly onto the tops of my shoulders said, “Don’t worry, I have no intention of letting anyone leave here without landing gear.” She gathered us into a closing circle before people started to drift out of the studio.
As I reflected more on my own experience, I came away feeling like there is more pain in the “in between” than I have fully reckoned with. It is a lifelong process—finding the shifting point of balance between wallowing in pain and denying it. I also came away feeling like even the positive ego-stories that I tell myself—the constructions I have erected to help me to cope with trauma—no longer serve me. To have the best shot at being free, really fully free, I think I have to dismantle even these relatively positive stories, even at the risk of unleashing things I would rather keep tied down.
Martha gathered us again into a circle. She coiled us skillfully into a beautiful collective spiral, than back into a circle. We ended the workshop still in the circle and each holding the mudra of humility, standing quietly together for several moments before being reclaimed by the world.
January 15, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
I had an urgent errand this morning, but it cooperated and I was able to make it to this Sunday’s Sweat Your Prayers class, which was taught today by Daniela Peltekova. Stepping into the already vibrant room, I happily greeted many friends, found a spot on the floor, and fell into circular movement.
Today I was exceptionally grateful to step into a 5Rhythms class. Being away for the holidays kept me out of classes for nearly two weeks. Also, during my time away, I attended a brief not-5Rhythms dance retreat. I wanted something satisfying to do for New Year’s Eve and the retreat seemed like a good option. Although I am not one to bounce around to many different spiritual practices, I remain receptive. If I find that if I am insisting on 5Rhythms, I know I am in danger of making a dangerous identity affiliation that could deaden my very vibrant relationship. The practice doesn’t need me to validate it. It speaks very much for itself.
In Maps to Ecstasy, Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice wrote, “Identifying completely with one spiritual way is not spiritual freedom but imprisonment. You can’t see beyond it. You make the teacher a god, the teaching becomes absolute truth, and you end up unable to see the value and the meaning of anything else.” (184)
At the retreat, there were a number of people in attendance who had never in their adult lives danced. I was touched to witness their joy and awakening as movement began to unfurl. Despite how powerful it was for many people, I had a hard time getting into it.
One aspect of the retreat experience that is relevant to the writing I am doing here (this will make the most sense to those who read my last post about attending Tammy’s recent “Rhythms in Waves” workshop) is that the not-5Rhythms workshop included a huge dose of tribal-type exercises. That is to say, exercises that involve one person leading the group with a simple movement and the others following the movement. A bit like aerobics class, some might say. One of the dominant threads in that last post was how much I hate tribal exercises. I had to laugh, noting the irony. There were no easily-narrated, cathartic insights—only the universe insisting on a particular point it is trying to make.
Today’s class with Daniela, for me, began with a lot of joyful energy. Though I arrived fifteen minutes late, Flowing was still unfolding; and I continued to investigate the category of flowing movements that have been coming up for me lately. As I write, I realize that I have gotten good at this particular way of moving, and that it has lost some of its creative energy.
Staccato eluded me slightly during the “Rhythms in Waves” workshop last week, but today I found Staccato without much difficulty—at one point, bounding with angular front-and-back, diagonal gestures inside the joyful resistance the music offered.
A long selection of drum music somehow zapped me halfway through. I have a sore neck that has been constraining movement and perception and it started to exacerbate at that point.
In conversation with my (much adored) father on New Year’s Day, I reflected that you have to have deep faith in something in order to be transformed by it. For example, at the not-5Rhythms workshop I just couldn’t give myself over, and in part because of that, my experience was not deeply transformative. Maybe the biggest part of the challenge of transformation is finding something that deserves your faith. Faith, for me, isn’t a decision, but is rather an embodied process of inquiry.
January 3, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
The first night of Tammy Burstein’s “Rhythms in Waves” 5Rhythms workshop at the Paul Taylor Studio on the Lower East Side followed an extremely unpleasant day in my own small life. I stepped into the high-ceilinged rectangular room, with its clean, metal theatrical fixtures and foot-scuffed black floor and immediately collapsed, touching my forehead to the floor, grateful to enter the charged space of dance, and looking forward to three consecutive days of intentional moving—hoping it would provide me with some kind of antidote.
The premise of the workshop was that we would investigate not just the “pure” five rhythms: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness; but also that we would also investigate each of the five rhythms as it is intersected by each of the other five rhythms. For example, a Flowing wave (in 5Rhythms, a “wave” is the thing that is created when we move through each of the five rhythms in sequence) might have the following sequence: Flowing, Flowing-Staccato, Flowing-Chaos, Flowing-Lyrical and Flowing-Stillness. A Lyrical wave might consist of Lyrical-Flowing, Lyrical-Staccato, Lyrical-Chaos, Lyrical and Lyrical-Stillness. If this sounds confusing, maybe we could just say that the workshop was about investigating each of the five rhythms and their many nuances.
During the first wave of the workshop, I felt happy and connected to everyone in the room. I noticed that there were many brand new dancers and wondered if that would affect the “depth” of my experience. Asked to partner, we were instructed to verbally share what rhythms felt comfortable and what rhythms felt uncomfortable for us. I said that nothing felt particularly uncomfortable, though I noted a hint of disengagement in Staccato. Tammy offered, “Where it is uncomfortable, that’s really the site of inquiry,” letting her words sink in as her gaze traveled among the dancers gathered on the floor around her.
I continued to find it difficult to connect with Staccato—the rhythm of expression, of linearity, of boundaries, of clarity, of the heart—in exercises devoted to its exploration, though felt at ease in every other rhythm. My mind offered me, “I think I need to repair my relationship with Staccato.”
On Friday, I loved being in Chaos. I noticed that I was especially in the mood for songs in the category of Chaos with grating, bass resistance that drew me toward the ground and inspired dragging, weighted gestures. I danced with one of the brand new dancers and my questions about being in a workshop with so many new people dissolved. The new dancer and I entered into an ebullient Lyrical dance. I started with some of the gestures I have lately been investigating in Lyrical, then discovered some totally new ways to move, thanks to this wholehearted and enthusiastic partner. Next, I continued in Lyrical, stepping into a high-energy dance with an old friend, playing along with some of her favorite footwork that I have by now incorporated a version of into my own movement vocabulary.
We had tea. We danced another wave. This one ended with groups and repetitions, which I hated. We had to participate in a circle and each person had to offer a gesture the others would follow. I had a hard time picking a gesture when it was my turn. I was also resistant to some of the gestures offered by other dancers, and enacted some of them only reluctantly.
At the end of Friday’s final wave, we sat in pairs and were asked to take turns telling our own story of Chaos. I expressed that I had embraced and enjoyed Chaos during the evening’s work. I self-deprecated, saying “Maybe I just tend to be chaotic in my life,” then later circled around to my original statement, revising it, “I don’t know if it is that I am really so chaotic. I think I’m just really driven by creative energy. I hate structure. I hate the structures around me right now. I really just want to be immersed in creative work all the time.”
Saturday’s session began late. Most weekend workshops include a daytime session on Saturday, but in this case, due to scheduling constraints with the studio, Saturday’s session was from 5.15pm-10pm.
My five-year-old son, Simon, and I spent the day before the Saturday night session together. We set out to find a group of his friends in Prospect Park. Running late to begin with, we had a very difficult time finding the appointed place. As you may know, Prospect Park is big and rambling, and it can take a long time to get from one end to the other. The play area wasn’t on any version of the map, and I couldn’t figure out where to park. After much futile research, we took our best guess and headed into the park. We asked several people and no one knew what we were talking about. I was getting frustrated and feeling urgency, not wanting to let Simon down and fearing that his friends would have already gone home by the time we got there.
A gentle witness—an elderly woman on a park bench—inspired me to shift the frame. By then, Simon was getting upset, too, and I knelt down in front of him. “Listen, sweetheart,” I said. “I know we are having a hard time finding the play place. I’m getting frustrated, too. But I think we have to push the re-set button. We are in the park now. Let’s enjoy being in the park. We will still try to find our friends, but let’s decide we’re going to have fun no matter what.” We did shift, and as a result entered into a series of adventures and pleasant exchanges. We eventually found the visually discrete play area, which was tucked behind a wide field around some ancient trees that had fallen during a hurricane. Most people had already gone home, but Simon’s current favorite classmate was still there, and they were able to play together for nearly an hour.
Simon’s friend laughed when I used one of the many terms-of-endearment I have for him, “Pumpkin.” Walking back through the park, I asked him, “Simon, do you want me to not call you pumpkin around your friends any more?” “Mommy, you can call me that any time. You can even call me pumpkin in a big crowd of people and I won’t mind that at all!”
After an opening wave for Saturday’s session, in a formal discussion with a new dancer, I was asked to tell the story of my relationship to Flowing. I floundered about, beginning with, “If we really have no edges at all, no directionality, then Flowing is just air. There is nothing there.” This is a thought that has been with me for a long time now. Sometimes I feel like I need to apply just the tiniest bit of force so Flowing has responsiveness. This question is subtle and is not plaguing me, but it would be good to ask some teachers and practitioners to find out what others think. My partner offered me advice at that point, which was not in keeping with the construct; but I let it pass through me, neither leaning into it nor pushing it away.
Tammy proposed an exercise in which we partnered and alternated roles between “passivity” and “receptivity.” I stepped right into a dance with someone I find it hard to be receptive to, entering fully into the experiment regardless. “Passivity” felt uncomfortable—constrained, breathless, worried. “Receptivity” felt much more comfortable, but was difficult to enact, as I wanted to move toward and around my passive partner, which started to feel like crossing the line into Staccato, simply with the act of approaching. I noted with interest that I perceived that the passive partner was the one who drew the energy into himself, whereas the receptive partner inevitably seemed to move toward the passive one. I wondered about the implications of these insights for my relationships; and I absolutely loved moving back and forth between the two ends of this very particular continuum.
We moved in many different flavors of Flowing: Pure Flowing, Flowing-Staccato, Flowing-Chaos, Flowing-Lyrical and Flowing-Stillness. On this day, I particularly loved moving in Flowing-Chaos and found wild, uncontrolled spinning and dramatic, frozen suspensions.
We took a short break halfway through our Saturday night session. The producer had provided snacks and tea, which I gratefully gathered, then sat quietly in the massive bay windows facing a now-darkened Grand Street and the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge.
As we began the second wave of Saturday night—our Staccato wave—we entered into conscious inertia, the shadow of the rhythm of Flowing. I noted that I have a bias against inertia, and posed the question to myself, “Is there any positive aspect of inertia that I can let in?” I realized that inertia could be experienced as a kind of slow langor. At just that moment Tammy offered something about “moving in honey” into the microphone.
As we began to get into the Staccato part of the Staccato wave, my mind was deliberating on a work problem. I had a hard time shaking the inertia, as well. I had moments when I felt connected to myself and to the others in the room, but overall I wasn’t fully engaged and my energy was dipping. I remembered the previous day’s thought, “I need to repair my relationship to Staccato.” I reflected that my workplace structure causes me to suffer, and that I feel trapped and oppressed at the moment.
To explain a tribal exercise—when one person creates a simple gesture and a group of people follow it—Tammy pulled me forward to help her to demonstrate. She correctly read my resistance and called me out publicly, mimicking my gesture and naming it, saying, “That’s great! Do that again.” She was right. Tribal work is the least comfortable, least pleasant and least interesting category of 5Rhythms experiment to me at this time. Truthfully, I hate Tribal. Tammy explained that Tribal exercises are about learning to follow and learning to lead. Perhaps I have issues in these areas. I find it very hard to select one simple gesture when I am leading. It is like putting all my eggs in one basket. Choosing a favorite color. Flattening myself out to make myself easier for someone else to understand. When someone is leading, I grow bored easily with the many identical repetitions. I lose interest. I watch the clock. I also get irritated and don’t want to follow if I decide to believe that the person who is leading (and who I am following) is full of shit, for some reason.
Being enmeshed in a painful hierarchy at work might be a bigger factor than my inherent ability to lead or to follow. At any rate, I did my best. I felt no shame at being called out, nor at fumbling to find a gesture, but simply noted it. Tammy said we should each pause when we reached the other side of the room and turn to look at the phalanx of dancers moving toward us with our own created gesture and ask, “Did I create confusion or clarity?” My first go seemed to create confusion. The second go had more clarity to it, relatively speaking. Later in the workshop, when called to enter into another similar exercise, I willingly stepped up without hesitation, pushing myself, but feeling no less awkward or resistant.
Again and again the theme of needing to repair my relationship to Staccato emerged. To revamp my ability to create clean boundaries, untainted by aggression or insistence.
After the conclusion of Saturday’s final wave, we gathered briefly. One new dancer expressed that although she feels like she is very oriented toward Flowing in her life, she was surprised to discover that she could step right into Staccato on the dance floor. She wondered aloud if she might not also have the capacity to enact Staccato in her life. I love that next she asked Tammy if it is possible that dance could change how you are in life. I don’t think I could have formed a question like that in the very beginning! Such a very direct and staccato move, in fact. Tammy answered her sincerely, explaining that in her own experience, dance did just that. As things arose on the dance floor and she worked through them, she also started to change in her life off the dance floor. The new dancer seemed to like her answer, and nodded with a head-tilted look of concentration.
At the end of the session, I walked pensively to the car. Arriving home late, I did nothing but have a snack, make a few quick notes, and go to bed.
On Sunday, I headed to the Lower East Side with adequate time and no need to rush. Driving, I listened to a story on the radio that explored theories of the “multiverse,” a perspective that holds that time is not linear, as we often perceive it, but is instead curved and overlapping; and may in fact be occurring simultaneously in more than one dimension. According to the reporter, the multiverse did not start only with Einstein. The story traced the idea historically, beginning with a group of ancient Greek philosophers who believed that the entire cosmos was wiped out every 40,000 years or so, then every event, structure and being was exactly duplicated, and then enacted the exact same history until everything was wiped out again. And again. And again.
I stepped onto the dance floor quivering with awareness of the vast, unknowable cosmic mystery that is constantly unfolding around us. I lapped the room several times—exploring the perimeter, noticing things at the edges. As I write I realize that, too, when I was walking the perimeter of the dance floor, part of my intention was to help to create sacred space—a place where the false distinctions we inhabit can more easily dissolve to show us infinity and the fundamental truths of existence.
As Sunday’s wave opened, this time at noon, I found a totally new expression in Flowing. For months, I have been exploring a clock-like, radial, stuck-to-the-floor, folding-in-and-out-of-myself series of movements. Recently, these movements have gained lift and twist, becoming athletic and emphatic—with a strong influence of 80’s style breakdancing. On this Saturday, I also began to move back and forth from this radial series of gestures into a compressed, spinning little ball. Though we were just beginning the session, I was already sweating and breathing hard. It was almost like an interpretation of the early universe—when swirling dust began to coalesce as form—leading eventually to our earth and planets.
It is not uncommon to ask another dancer, “What are you working with lately in dance?” There is often a movement that presents repeatedly over a period of time. It might be a stuck memory working its way through. It might be an aspect of self that needs attention. It might be a hint of a different lifetime, or of a forgotten experience in this life. It might be a way of moving that simply feels correct at a given time. A movement itself might have something to teach us. As I write this text I ask myself, “Is there something this way of moving is trying to teach me?” My mind answers back, albeit cryptically, “As I learn to worship the ground, the entire universe opens up.”
Shortly after, I entered into an exercise in a group of three, in which we all experienced a shared event from our own point of view. The event involved one person dancing through each of the 5Rhythms in a wave and another moving in the rhythm of Chaos only. One of the trio members shared that witnessing the person in Chaos next to the person dancing an individual wave was like watching her younger self, when she danced huge all the time and felt very identified with Chaos. She also said something about “garbage” to get rid of. The other trio member shared that when one person in Chaos blazed with intensity she “Was like, enough already! Like if I had two kids and one had her ups-and-downs and the other was at maximum all the time, I would be like, that’s enough!” She also shared that she just wasn’t interested in dancing so hard any more. That it was just too much on her body.
I loved hearing their insights, but a little piece of me wanted to defend Chaos. Even as lately I have been more interested in investigating other rhythms, I note that I am still very identified with Chaos. I don’t think it is just about getting rid of garbage, but that, too, it can be about moving with full awareness in ever-changing, completely unpredictable circumstances. Groundlessness. Uncertainty. I think Chaos is a representation of the tangled, beautiful fucking mess of living—all that is in our exploding, relative reality. (And I love it for that. How do I love it for that!)
I noted with interest that while I was dancing an individual wave and another dancer was in Chaos with all the intensity she could muster, I had no problem with sharing space with her. At moments I felt concerned that she would exhaust herself, but, for myself, I was able to have my own experience. This was comforting to me, as I often fear that my sometimes-gigantic Chaos is just too much. I was happy to know that I was completely ok with offering space for another’s gigantic Chaos. It made me feel more at ease with myself, somehow. Maybe in letting myself be gigantic when it comes, I open the door for others to be gigantic when their time comes, too.
I circled back to Tammy’s guiding questions: What do the places we are comfortable have to teach us? What do the places we are uncomfortable have to teach us? I am very comfortable in Chaos and in the face of others’ Chaos. I am very happy within constant change. I love to be immersed in creative work. I love to be spontaneous, responsive, dynamic. The question of what the uncomfortable places have to teach me will have to be contemplated more over time. At this time, the rhythm of Staccato and tribal exercises seem to be the places that I find most abrasive.
We took over an hour for lunch on Sunday. I felt introverted, protective. I just wanted to be quiet and let the previous dances sink in. I ate the lunch I had prepared the night before, then settled into an edge of the dance floor to make a few notes and perhaps lay down discreetly in the dimmed room. Soaring birds in a big, curved pattern passed the light-filled high windows on one side of the studio when I happened to look up.
Unfortunately, one of the participants, who was also in the dimmed room, was listening to her headphones and began to sing loudly, a yoga-chanting type of number. I repaired to the area off the dance floor with the giant bay windows looking onto Grand Street. I sat next to an open pane, and unseasonably warm air, perhaps inspired by the El Nino current, drifted inside. Though it was just lunchtime, dusk was quickly approaching.
When the singing finally concluded I returned to the studio floor, leaning against a wall. I spent a few moments catching up with a friend, and found tears as I narrated my recent experiences, especially when I talked about work and the structures I am now immersed in.
In addition to dancing many waves during the workshop, the workshop itself followed the format of a larger wave, with early investigation of Flowing, then Staccato and Chaos. After lunch on Sunday, we moved into an investigation of Lyrical. I was weary, we were all weary, but somehow Lyrical still came through. I reveled in easy movement, smiling and connecting with many in the room. My hands caught fire, and then, too, my heart, burning a hole right through my chest to the back. My spirit entourage appeared, supporting me in every gesture as I moved intuitively, my hands still on fire.
This vision persisted through the workshop’s final investigation—of Stillness. I was so tired I left the room to eat a square of chocolate, hoping it would help to revive me, then returned to complete this final wave and to complete the larger wave of the workshop.
We ended in a semi-circle around an exquisite installation created specially for the workshop by Anahita Mekanik. It featured cantilevered ropes attached to the black velvet stage curtain behind it like flying buttresses, carefully selected texts, both ephemeral and weighed objects, and two graceful spirals, representing various aspects of each of the 5Rhythms—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness.
“Movement is my medium and my metaphor. I know that if a wave of energy is allowed to complete itself, it yields a whole new wave, and in fact that is all I really know.” -Gabrielle Roth, Creator of the 5Rhythms
December 23, 2015, Brooklyn, NYC
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.