“Dance like this is your last dance,” Ray Diaz, who is teaching this morning’s Sweat Your Prayers class at the Joffrey in the West Village, tells us. “Because you never know when that last dance could be.”
Stepping in to the studio, the room is very full. People are sprawled all over the floor, beginning to stretch and unfurl. A little current of wind turns me right away, and I rise and fall, one hand touching ground the other reaching to sky, my shoulder rolling open and turning me in the opposite direction – big, weighted circles on the ground’s plane and on every diagonal, my head blissfully released.
Ray encourages us to move slowly and softly, and to begin to “fill up the inner reservoir.” I find a spot near the middle of the room and stretch to my full length, rolling over the back of my head, stretching my hips, leg muscles, pressing my chest down to stretch the front of my shoulder. Before long I am on my knees, with a raised leg that crosses behind me and drags me into a spin, sinking to the ground again, coming up onto my shoulder blade and using its momentum to pull back up into my hip and raise my heel high up behind me, undulating back again, and beginning to move toward rising.
Before class, I filled myself with inspiration. I listened to a Buddhist talk on stillness, that included the idea that although the positive behaviors and habits we cultivate are an important part of the path, ultimately, even these are a mask, and if we are to fully wake up, we have to let go of even these positive stories that we tell ourselves. In the morning also, I read some selected excerpts on Dzogchen, a spiritual system that emphasizes opening to bare, naked, luminous, absolute reality, on the spot. Here. Now.
Staccato’s appearance is unmistakable, and Ray encourages us to let go of the hips. The room is wild, expressive. I move around, connecting with many successive dancers, including my favorite dance partner of all time, who I circle in a twittering lasso, my hands grazing the ground as I greet him, entreating him to dance. After my first turn with him, I partner with a young woman who I haven’t seen before, and she teaches me a new way to engage my knees, opening possibilities for moving. “Go even deeper, with breath,” Ray offers. Next, I join with an exuberant dancer who seems to move from her inner thighs. I imagine that I am moving in her body, exchanging myself for her, exchanging self for other.
Chaos appears exactly when it should; and it is everything. Sometimes it is hard work for me to be in Flowing and leave the edges out. I am grateful to be in Chaos, where anything goes, and I can be as sharp as I want to be, as soft, as tense, as released, as gigantic, as minute. The room continues to be dynamic, with some people dancing in a given spot, and others moving quickly around the space. A thought comes and I say “thinking” and return to awareness, moving totally creatively and as part of the entire organism at once. I imagine that I remove my skin, hang it on one of the room’s center columns and dance around in my bones. The outer boundaries of me are not so clear, the other bodies might be my body, too. I dance my friend’s heart, feeling the pain of her heartbreaks, feeling her incredible tenderness, her magic, her power. Chaos and Lyrical dance back and forth with each other as the wave finds its closing expression. In Stillness, cold wind from the window causes a strong sensation on my exposed skin; and I turn to dance with it, beginning with the rocking and bouncing tree branches below the height of the window, then with the wind itself. Turning toward the room again, I move with inner winds that swirl around inside and near my body, especially along the sides of the spine.
After the first wave, Ray pauses us only briefly, not calling us to sit around him, but instead inviting us to stay where we are and just turn toward him for a moment. “We have to dance like this could be our last dance,” he says, “because you never know.” He goes on to say, “I’m going to share something with you. Almost exactly twelve years ago, I lost my wife.” He shares that this tragedy is what compelled him to step over the line into 5Rhythms. He goes on to say, “Hold nothing back. Just give it all you’ve got,” and “I invite you to dance, too, with those who are no longer with us.”
Ray appears to be in a place of humility and strength, of vulnerability and clarity, and capable of transmitting this clarion call, this urgent message, in a way that we can hear. Hold nothing back, his entire self communicates, hold nothing back, you have no time to lose, you might not get another chance to give more, to give better, to give fully, this could be your only chance.
I feel a gasp of sadness rise up into my throat and the woman next to me starts to sob. I don’t know her and I don’t want her to think I’m trying to fix her, but after a momentary hesitation, I reach out and put my hand behind her upper spine. She turns and hugs me, still shaking. She smiles through her tears, eyes shining, mouth closed, and puts her palm on my cheek.
I think of a work colleague who died this summer, young, in a car crash. In a circle discussion at work, we each had a chance to offer our thoughts. “If my time comes,” I said, “I only pray that I have emptied my whole self out. That I have been of service. That I have offered everything that I have in me to offer.” Breath snagged on something inside; and I cried for several aching heaves.
Ray starts the music again, and I check out for a few short moments, then say “thinking” and come back in. Energy flags slightly, I note slight inertia in Flowing. We glance through Staccato and then dive fully into Chaos again. “Release!” Ray cries out from the teacher’s table, and the room explodes. Chaos keeps going and going and going, rings of a tree, going back to its start as a sapling, as an acorn, when the tree was already contained in it. I connect with a dancer I’ve never seen before, delighted by her unique expression. I remember my maternal grandmother and cry, wishing I could have loved her better. I think of my paternal grandmother, who just died this past spring, and how she left in a whisper. Friends of similar age to me who have died come next. My friend Gerard, who died at 36, tells me again, you just have to do it, Meg, just open up, step up, let it in, you don’t need anything but what you already have. Howard, another dear friend, who died just a few weeks before Gerard also comes to mind. When I got the phone call about Howard’s death, I was with my son Simon, then an infant, dancing to the flights of birds from a rooftop pigeon coop who swoop in a rolling loop over Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, while Simon watched me from his stroller, the reflections of clouds rushing over the planes of my eyes, my arms raised and turning all of the planes of me.
As I move through the room, the energetic bodies that extend beyond the skin pass through me.
The sky beckons me. I ache for it. I start to climb up over the ballet bar, but am sure it’s against the rules and withdraw my leg. A new friend seems to think I need help and holds my elbow, unwittingly encouraging me. I know I’m going to get into trouble, but I just have to. I mean I have to, so I climb up over the bar, through the window, onto the cold metal fire escape. I keep my feet planted and soar up into the sky. I think of the Dzogchen teaching of open sky, the principle of space, of unrestricted awareness. My movements are unmoored from intentionality, totally intuitive. Tears pour down my face, drawing around the curve of my chin and neck. I am barely visible, with my back to the bricks, my feet on the cold metal, but a member of the crew spies me and comes and says, “This is not safe. Sorry, but you have to come down from there.” I climb down into the room and continue to move, near the window, to the wind, the sky, with space. I move again throughout the room, whispering through, not separate. I find one dancer sitting in meditation, and lower myself down next to him. Thoughts come but awareness dominates. I reflect that I can wake up fully in this lifetime, that I am destined to, that all of us are. The room is luminous, bodies alive. Ray mixes a tonal track with a recording of Gabrielle Roth, the revered creator of the 5Rhythms practice, speaking. She says, we believe that if we keep dancing, over years and hundreds of dances, we can shed what doesn’t serve, we can let go of what no longer serves. Tears are a river down the whole front of me.
Ray brings us all into a circle that completely fills the spacious studio, and enacts a closing ritual that allows each person to be heard and seen, re-membered after having been shattered and scattered and taken apart during the course of this Sunday morning 5Rythms class.
If this was my last dance ever, I know that I stepped up with everything I had to give. What else is there, really? Nothing but boundless love, the cessation of all that blocks it, and the chances we are given to live it. Nothing but this tiny life and what we choose to fill it with. Ojala, gods-willing, let me choose well, let me not die wishing I hadn’t held back during my very last dance, let me empty out my whole heart first, in service and in love.
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher. Unedited Image “Riskall” copyright Meghan LeBorious