“I think we’re here to learn to be calm. And gentle. And also to be fast. And to notice things.”
-Simon, age 7
Have I mentioned recently that I adore my son? Absolutely, totally and completely adore him. Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, provided a model for me in this. She adored her son, Jonathan Horan, too—unabashedly, wholeheartedly—and made it no secret. Sometimes I think my own wounds might have kept me from fully embracing and displaying this love if it hadn’t been for Gabrielle’s powerful example.
This week, my son, Simon, turned seven. We had a jam-packed, rollicking party with nearly seventy people in our apartment that included singing, dancing, playing music and rough housing—a chance to practice a manageable version of chaos in the face of the growing chaos of the national arena. The day before his birthday, Simon called me back to the room after I put him to bed, crying. “Mommy, I’m sad for you that I’m getting older and I’m not a baby now!” “Oh, no! Simon, I’m a little sad that you are not a baby anymore, but I’m even more happy and proud about the young man you are becoming!”
The times I have felt closest with Simon and most aware of the love I have for him have been inside 5Rhythms classes. I started dancing two years before Simon was born; and I danced throughout pregnancy, right up until the very last week before giving birth. A short time after he was born, he started to come to daytime 5Rhythms classes; and he has been attending classes periodically ever since.
Simon is too young to come to Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class (though he has been trying to convince me otherwise), but I thought of him during the class this week, especially since his birthday was just the day before. In the first wave—what we call it when we move through each of the 5Rhythms in sequence: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness—I entered the studio after Flowing was already transitioning to Staccato, but still felt I had enough of Flowing, somehow. Though I have noted some reluctance toward Staccato recently, I entered into Staccato with ease. Trying to work against my recent impulse to rush through Staccato straight into the next rhythm, Chaos, I lingered in Staccato. In the process, I missed Chaos completely, waiting, as I was, for it to fully arrive. I vowed to let loose in Chaos during the second wave if it was at all available to me. At moments, I thought about the chaos of the country and how it might affect Simon’s life.
In the gap between the first and second waves of the class, Tammy offered spoken instructions as she moved through the different rhythms. Her words caused me to reflect on what I consider to be “normal,” and how much my perspective on what is normal has shifted since November’s election. Given that affronts to democracy have become frequent, frequency does not mean that these affronts are normal, by any means. There is absolutely nothing normal about the current moment.
In the second wave, I made sure not to miss Chaos. As Flowing began, Tammy encouraged us to turn in, and I had a flash of the starry cosmos inside as I lowered my eyelids. Stepping in to Staccato, Chaos seemed to come quickly. I shook, almost violently, rocking deep in the pelvis during the transition from Staccato to Chaos, then continuing to shake. More than one rhythm operated on me at once. I intersected with a friend briefly, and we were wild, creative, expansive. We separated, then came back together again in Lyrical. Lyrical kicked in like a switch had been hit, with a flick, and with a rush of delighted inbreath. I noted the millisecond it arrived, thinking, “Lyrical! Here it is!” We twittered and flew, but retained the ferocity of our earlier Chaos.
Next, I joined with a dancer I hadn’t ever seen before in an athletic Stillness. We bounded and leapt, on and off the ground, in an attitude of breakdancing, sliding and twittering, pulling and gliding, pausing in curious, emphatic shapes the whole while, once with my cheek pressed to the floor, weight in my hands, and my legs twisted and raised, with tension in the balls of the feet. I tossed myself under the bridge of his back, both of us laughing. We disregarded Tammy’s instructions when she said, “Change” into the microphone, inviting us to take a new partner, but after the third “Change” we bowed melodramatically to each other and finally moved on.
I joined, once again, with my creative and expansive friend, both on our knees, our hands fluttering a gentle dance.
Simon and I had decided to attend the Sunday Sweat Your Prayers class the night before, and waded through the considerable rubble of Saturday’s birthday party, deciding to leave the bulk of the cleaning for later in the day so we would have enough time to get a snack before class. He was short-tempered as we were preparing, and I told him, “That’s it! You can’t use a screaming voice. I don’t think we’re going to be able to go today.” “No! Please! Please, Mommy! Please! Please, I promise I won’t scream anymore! Please take me to the class!” I told him he would have one final chance and we set out.
We arrived at the Joffrey Ballet, where most 5Rhythms classes in NYC are held, with enough time to pay and get settled. There was a line all the way up the stairs and out the door that seemed to be made up of ballerinas, based on the tights and smooth ballet hairstyles. We learned that they were trying out for a professional ballet company as we threaded past them and into the crowded elevator. In the elevator, people were generous with their attention, and Simon felt seen and welcomed. The class’s producer, too, kindly welcomed Simon’s hug and kiss with open arms after we arrived on the 4th floor.
Simon and I have a ritual for entering a class, designed to help him understand and notice sacred space. This was especially useful when he was smaller, to help him notice that once we enter, we don’t speak with words. We stand in the threshold of the studio door, hold hands, take a big breath in, then, as we exhale, we jump into what we call “The Magic Dance Room.”
Once across the threshold, we found a spot, tucked into a comfortable corner near a pile of coats, and Simon got himself settled as I started to move around the room in Flowing. He pretty much burned through all of his snacks during Flowing in the first wave, then got up in Staccato to join me on the dance floor. He wanted me to hold both his hands, and he made this very clear when I tried to release one hand and extend my range of motion. When he was tiny, he often wanted to be carried during a class. If he was on the ground, he would wrap his arms around my leg. I found a whole way of moving, even with one leg restricted, that I never would have otherwise uncovered. In this case, I still moved very much in Staccato, though my dance remained attentive to his needs. He trotted out some fancy footwork as we moved around the room, still holding tightly to my hands, and looking at all the dancers around us. As Chaos arose, Simon went back to his spot in the corner and played with his Legos. I moved around the room, then joined with a good friend in Lyrical, letting extensions pull me upward, and following her pendulous spinning. The dancers close to us influenced the dance, too, as we found unending new forms.
In Stillness, Simon and I both stretched out on the floor and rolled, side by side, slowly into the middle of the room. Before long, I sat up and moved near him, but he remained on his back, pushing himself slowly through the room with his bent legs, gazing upward at the dancing adults.
At one point, someone triggered my anger. I perseverated for a few short moments, then let it go, not wanting to taint the experience for myself or for Simon.
As the next wave started, Simon took another Legos break. In Staccato, we danced near his spot. For the first time, he let go of my hands and got creative with his feet as we moved toward Chaos, letting me loop around him and ranging over several feet. As Chaos deepened, Simon went back to his spot in the corner again, while I moved into an exceptionally creative Chaos with one of my favorite dance partners. We found new patterns, as one of us would express a sequence and the other would fall into it, each delighting in surprising the other with a new idea or expression. The room was crowded, and our usually unbridled dance was softer (though still wild) and slotted in around the dancers close to us, but still taking up all the space we needed.
In Lyrical, Simon pointed to the door of the studio, and we both stepped out briefly. “The music is too loud. It’s hurting my ears,” he said. “OK, we can stay out here for a little while.” “We can go back in when the song is done,” he said, leading me back into the room as soon as the music shifted.
Coming back through the door into the studio, Stillness had already begun to unfold. Simon poured his weight onto my forearm, as he does when we are walking home and he is extremely tired. We were invited to partner, and to take turns telling the other, “Why are we here?” We snuggled with his head on my shoulder and our arms wrapped around each other. I said, “Do you want to talk about why you think we’re here?” “I think we’re here to learn to be calm. And gentle. And also to be fast. And to notice things,” he said, prompting me to kiss him on the forehead. I took my own turn to speak, saying, “I think we’re here to make others happy and to make ourselves happy.” We continued to snuggle and to rock back and forth gently. At one point, I gathered him into my arms, sideways, like when he was a small baby, and rocked him gently. As the final song began, Simon rested his head on the tops of my feet, leaning back, relaxed. I felt a rush of love and gratitude, as we held hands and gently moved each other’s arms, listening to the last song Gabrielle Roth ever recorded.
When the music concluded, the mood in the room was reverent. Simon lead the way to our things. We quietly picked them up, then headed out of the studio. I said, “Simon, I’m so proud of you. When the teacher asked us to leave the room silently, you followed the directions.” He said, “I didn’t even hear that, Mommy. I just knew I was still in the Magic Dance Room and I couldn’t talk.”
We ended our adventure with a special lunch, and talked about our experiences. Of everything that I do as a parent, I think that giving Simon access to the 5Rhythms is, quite possibly, my best offering. Every phase of his development and of our ever-evolving relationship has been reflected in the 5Rhythms. I am grateful for the many moments of glorious connection, when the practice draws back the veil of mundane experience, and reminds me of the divine blessing of my sweet little boy, my darling son.
February 7, 2017, Brooklyn, NYC
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
“There is only one of us here.” –Gabrielle Roth, creator of the 5Rhythms practice
Packed body-to-body with the many hundred thousand protesters who attended the Women’s March in NYC on Saturday, one friend led the way as we tried to squirm across 2nd Avenue to join our group on the other side. When I reached behind me for my other friend’s hand, someone squeezed my hand enthusiastically and I turned around to meet the shining eyes of a stranger, who continued to hold my hand lovingly for several seconds. This was the first time of many that I was moved to tears during the massively attended event. Then I took my friend’s hand and, holding onto the friend who was leading, continued to make my way through the dense crowd.
I was reminded of how proud I am to be a New Yorker as I joined with my city, witnessing inspiring humanity all around me: the “Angry Grannies” group, the spectacular hand-made signs including the one with a Dr. Seuss-style poem lampooning the new president, the handsome Russian-speaking man who carried a sign that said, “I am you. I fight for you,” the wearable sculpture with the raised-fist, black-power iconography of the Black Panther activists rendered in rainbow colors, the golden uterus hand tattoos of the Lady Parts Justice League, the signs reminding us of an American vision of social justice—though never perfectly manifested—an American vision every bit as real as the vision framed by the new administration. Even our mayor joined the event, carrying his own sign of protest.
Peter Fodera led Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class this week. I hadn’t realized that Tammy would be out of town, but sighed happily as I entered to see Peter at the teacher’s table. Tammy once shared publicly that when she first met Peter, he seemed like such an angel that she almost didn’t believe he was human. When The Moving Center organized a series of one-day workshops each on one of the 5Rhythms—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness—Peter was, of course, called upon to teach the Flowing workshop.
Since the election, I have found comfort in the rhythm of Flowing. It reminds me of my formative experience of perfect love—when my father would sing to me and rock me in a special rocking chair. On several occasions I have felt resistance when the music shifted from Flowing into the next rhythm, Staccato. Analogously, during the week, I had trouble deciding which creative work to focus on, and what to do with my small ration of discretionary time. I had been finding and embracing pockets of joy wherever I could since the election, but the actual inauguration was a sobering reality. I listened to the new president’s speech in the car on the way to class and bellowed with grief. I was happy to see Peter because I was sure he would guide us in the grounding energy of Flowing, where I would find comfort and belonging.
To my surprise, Peter kept us in Flowing for just a brief period without any real earthy snuggle, then, in what seemed like a short time, he began to shift us into Flowing Staccato and into Staccato. I groaned inwardly as the music shifted. The majority of this hour-and-a-half long wave was spent in Staccato and in Chaos.
That week, I had entered a deep investigation of some chronic tension in my right shoulder with my therapist. Several images came up, including that the shoulder was a key player in how my body expresses fear and defensiveness. I also noticed that my right side was much less alive than my left side, and that my right foot seemed remote. My therapist said, “There was a different kind of movement today. Often, you move kind of like water in a container, close to the core, but today, there was something about the way you integrated your arms and raised them up that felt more expansive.”
The first wave gave me many chances to use the dance floor as a laboratory for this new physical information about my shoulder. I connected with a friend in Staccato who seems to be led by her shoulders, and I twisted and tumbled with her, letting my rolling shoulders pull me down and into motion. I also enjoyed a gentle staccato turn with a tall friend who rolls easily out into his extremities and inspires me to do the same, still noticing the role of the shoulders in my gestures. Next, I joined in an inspired Chaos with a friend of many years, remembering a time when the two of us let loose in the middle of a giant Chaos circle, amidst whoops and cheers. More than once, I encountered a new dancer who easily matched my high energy level, bounding, up on our toes, and twisting backward into the hips as Lyrical delighted us into beaming connection, my arms rising up from underneath, the shoulders as released as they can be at this time.
At the end of the class, Peter brought spoke briefly. I left with the message of a strong call to action, though I can’t remember his exact words. If even Peter, who seems to have an especially strong connection to Flowing, seemed to be urging us toward Staccato and toward action, well, I really have to take that in. Maybe I need to stop wallowing in the harsh reality of circumstances and get on with it. At some point, I have to pick a point to move toward, and commit myself to goals and the specific actions they require.
A close friend responded to my rhetorical question, “How to work with anger, and yet to act with love?” She sent copious resources, and though I found the resources helpful, I realized that many of us have been training for years in preparation for this very moment. I have a practice and a community that will carry me and that I have a responsibility to carry. It is only when things get hard that the integrity of practice is truly tested. Practice has become—now more than ever—an emotional, political, and spiritual imperative.
As we made our way to the march from the subway, I nudged my friends to notice an elder of advanced years, who sported a pink coat, the trademark pink pussycat hat, and a cane with a chair feature. I was moved by her participation, and, you will not be surprised to learn, found myself crying. During the day, I saw many other elders, who could not have had an easy time of being on foot for many hours in the huge crowds.
Standing in the solid-packed crowd for hours before the start of the Women’s March, I was grateful for the teachings of Flowing. Though I am just five feet tall and could not see beyond the bodies immediately thronging me, I felt fine about being so close. I enjoyed breathing the people around me in, though it kept bringing me to tears, touched as I was by so many images, overheard comments, and exchanges. It was a powerful antidote to Friday’s speech, which made me feel afraid, sad and angry.
Saturday after the march I sat talking politics for hours with a friend whose political leanings tend toward anarchy, grateful for the opportunity to discuss politics in depth with someone I both agree and disagree with. In her opinion, America has never been a functioning democracy. I see her point, but I am an American, too. My deeply committed, progressive parents who have worked for social justice causes throughout their lives are Americans, too. The thousands and thousands of beautiful humans of all colors, orientations, nationalities and abilities who stepped into the march on Saturday are all Americans, too. We are also America. I don’t think it is fair to call America a completely failed project.
On Sunday morning, I attended the Sweat Your Prayers class at the Joffrey Ballet, where today’s teacher, Jilsarah Moscowitz, wove in similar themes. As with Friday’s class, I was right on time, anticipating a long, patient Flowing. After some exploratory strolling, I lay on my back on the floor where I continued to tune in to my right shoulder. Before long, I moved into a curling matrix, pausing to arc from the side of my foot and up the rib cage into my extended arm, and to stretch in my hips, hamstrings, quadriceps, and in the fronts and backs of my shoulders. Continuing to moving in a patient swirl on the ground, rising occasionally from the back of my hips with my hands and feet still down, I began to make my way through the space, still on the floor. After a loop or more, I moved through the room on my feet, silently acknowledging every person in the space and saying internally, “I see you there; and I am grateful for it.”
Jilsarah gave us a tiny bit more time in Flowing than Peter had on Friday, but still moved us into Staccato much earlier than I wanted. One low, slow staccato song inspired me and I danced deep into the hips, pressing my backside far behind me, my shoulders forward, feet dragging and rising.
Jilsarah narrated as Stillness of the first wave transitioned into Flowing of the second wave. “Some say that we are in a time of Chaos. Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, said that Chaos is a combination of both Flowing and Staccato — the combination of masculine and feminine energies.” Although Gabrielle did not express this, Jilsarah indicated that we could experiment with Chaos as grounded action. She invited us to “add breath” to the rhythms as a way to express the purity of each rhythm. She said she hoped we might find a way to be both grounded—Flowing, and in action—Staccato, both on and off the dance floor.
In Chaos, I tipped sideways and lightly touched one of my favorite dance partners on the upper leg with the top of my foot, playfully inviting him to partner. Our exchange was marked by dramatic cross-overs, weirdly-timed stops, collapses, flings, bursts, keeling spins, top rocking, and even by rollicking, back-and-forth running motions. We laughed and laughed.
Lyrical was pure, weightless joy. It continues to amaze me that Lyrical is available no matter what. That deep acceptance is available even with the necessity for resistance. The Dalai Lama, for example, is downright mirthful despite the many traumatic events he has experienced. I moved in a flat plane, twittering up and sideways in my feet and hands, still opening the shoulders, letting air fill my underarms, flying, barely touching down.
I was at the march from 11am until about 4pm. Though I had no phone reception during the event, I learned that almost everyone I know in NYC was in attendance, that my father attended the Women’s March in Hartford, Connecticut, and that my mother attended the march in Sacramento, California, where she was on a work trip. The march went until at least 9pm, with fourteen city blocks packed solid with people called to action, streaming throughout the midtown Manhattan route for upwards of ten hours, with good humor, patience, righteous anger, and, too, with love—all the necessary ingredients for a true revolution, the one that must by necessity start from within, but must, by necessity, not stop there.
January 23, 2017, 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.