Daniela Peltekova, who moved from NYC to Los Angeles a year ago, taught the Sunday Sweat Your Prayers class at the Joffrey in the West Village today. For her, a homecoming, for me, an occasion of unbridled joy and unflagging engagement. I asked Henya, the class producer, “Daniela’s teaching today, right?” just as a friendly hand rubbed my back, which, it turned out, belonged to Daniela, who sort of waltzed into the studio wearing a long, red dress.
In part because I have been teaching mindfulness to teens, I have been reading “Mindfulness in Plain English” by Bhante Gunaratana. He writes that although at a high degree of attainment, compassion will arise spontaneously, for most of us we need to enact some intermediary steps, when we consciously cultivate compassion to help us along. He writes that resentment is by far our biggest relative impediment, and implies that we need to divest of resentment at all costs if we want to progress on our paths.
Stepping into the room, I move through a Tibetan practice, then offer, “May I be of service” and bow deeply, acknowledging the sacred space of the practice room. I take a slow lap around the room’s perimeter, carving around the piano, pausing by the teacher’s table to share a softer and more flowing hug with Daniela, then continuing my lap, carving around the speakers, and around the occasional edge-hugging bodies who are warming up slowly on the floor.
An installation has been created especially for the class. It includes a table draped with several shades of red fabric ranging from tomato to almost-purple red. There is also a large, red glass Buddha head, and several other sparkling red objects. Shambhala teacher Irini Rockwell has written extensively on the idea of the Five Buddha Families, including the idea that we each tend more toward one of the five. “Amitabha,” she writes, “the Buddha of the Padma family, is red and represents discriminating-awareness wisdom and its opposite, passion or grasping.”
A practice intention to rid myself of a difficult-to-extinguish thread of resentment began to form.
After my opening lap, I lowered myself to a spot on the floor to the left of Daniela’s table. A tonal version of the mantra of the sort-of-Tibetan-deity, Tara, pulls me into coiling motion as I circulate, extending the side of my body, stretching my ribs, grabbing my toes as I rise and turn around, stretching the big muscles of my upper legs. I sprawl out flat on the floor, both on my back and stomach as I continued to move through every spoke of a great wheel.
Not sure I was ready to let the ground be so far from my heart, I drew myself up to my feet with slight hesitation. A woman who has triggered resentment for me over the last few years danced exuberantly, taking up space. Resentment first snagged at a workshop, when the teacher invited us to partner and I joined with the man closest to me. We began to move together, but this woman very boldly stepped sideways right between us, facing him and casting her hand up, her back to me, seeming to totally disregard me. I felt annoyed, but moved away and found a new partner, enjoying an overall delightful workshop. In the years that have followed, though, whenever I see her, I remember that experience, and I just can’t be happy for her when she is exultant. I rehearse what I want to tell her about how she wronged me. I notice her in the room. It is a perfect manifestation of resentment, that harms no one but me. Intellectually, I know that resentment doesn’t give me more power, but some part of me still seems to believe that it does.
My mother-in-law used to tell an allegory about a churchgoer. The woman would say again and again on her knees, “Lord heavenly Father, please remove these hateful spider webs from my heart. Lord heavenly Father, please remove these hateful spider webs from my heart.” After years of this prayer, another churchgoer finally said to her, “Sister, I don’t know about all this praying about the spiderwebs. I think what you need to do is get that old spider out of your heart!”
The wave carried me along delightfully, delivering perfect energy. Moving with open, expressive hips and leading shoulders, I noticed the friend who had reminded me Daniela would be teaching this day. She was beaming, casting her arms behind her as she leaned deep forward, her released head keeping the beat, deep in her hips, too.
As we moved from Staccato to Chaos, I shared several brief dances, thinking I would dance with the whole room, then unexpectedly found myself in partnership. Another excellent friend, my favorite dance partner of all time, appeared as I was starting a swooping lap, and I leapt into movement with him. We were wild as Daniela mixed a track with a house club anthem from the 1990’s that I love. We were also totally available to each others’ surprises, extending and falling, wiggling and rolling energetically on the ground. He started to move around me in a circle, and I started to follow right behind him, laughing, changing direction abruptly to meet him face-to-face in his arc, then both of us spinning out, extending the space our dance took place in. I felt incredibly stable on my legs and feet for some reason, and did a lot of experiments with raising, twisting and engaging my knees, sometimes on one leg for long stretches, reaching my fingertips to the ground, my knee and leg up.
Soon, I found another friend, and we shared a subtle dance in Lyrical, carefully carving the air around us and tracing designs on the linoleum floor with our toe tips.
Instead of stopping everyone and sitting down between the first and second waves, as often happens in two-hour classes, Daniela kept us moving, speaking briefly as she moved among us, talking about “picking up the many pieces of ourselves” as we moved. I didn’t know how to relate to a few of the tracks in this middle transition, and engagement flagged slightly, but very soon I was swept away again by the second wave. I danced with the entire room, tunneling through avenues of legs, soaring and gliding into the spaces above and between.
The spider in my heart grew transparent, a white line drawing. I directly invoked the spirits and asked for help, not for getting rid of the spider webs, but for help with eradicating the spider completely forever, asking for an end to resentment, letting the dissolve and then realizing it needed a more dramatic gesture, and envisioning it being blasted instead.
In Lyrical of the second wave, I joined with another good friend, released, joyful, creative, digging into tiny details on the ground, and alternately extended in flight.
A rain of gold leaves came down, landing on the upward planes of me, then entering and filling the volume of my body, cancelling out the spider. I looked to their source and saw only vast, endless space and the glittering of falling blessings.
November 12, 2017
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher. (Images copyright Meghan LeBorious, 2007)
“Moving with the spirit has taught me all I know.” -Gabrielle Roth
I didn’t have much time to contemplate what I might experience when I signed up for “Journey into Trance,” a two-day workshop with Jonathon Horan, who is both an experienced 5Rhythms teacher and the current holder of the entire 5Rhythms lineage. Stepping out of the elevator onto the 5th floor at the Joffrey in the West Village, I happily greeted many friends and prepared to step in to the studio, bringing many ongoing narratives into the room with me. Right before I entered, I ran across Jonathan and embraced him in greeting. Immediately after, I wished I had been more discreet, thinking that he probably has people coming at him from all sides, and may not have actually wanted to be hugged. I let that go and moved across the threshold of the studio, feeling a knot of emotion in my throat, along with a rush of gratitude.
A few days before I’d had a conversation with my seven-year-old son Simon about the difference between brain and mind. The brain, I shared, is a thing in your head with complex electrical wiring to the rest of your body. The mind is your brain, but also stretches past just your own head. Because all that you think and perceive and experience is influenced by things outside of your body, you could say that your mind also includes everything that ever is or ever was. After that, he asked several profound questions about the nature of existence and consciousness. Then he said, “Mommy, can we still get that book to hold all my Pokemon cards?”
Another thing I carried into the studio was the experience of teaching Mindfulness to teens. I have been dabbling for several years now, but this is the first year it has become a significant part of my schedule. The technique I taught students this week was “First Thought,” when you watch for a thought, then when one appears, simply label it “thinking” and return to the object of meditation. My experiences with the students (and also some with the adults) crowded my mind, and I kept reviewing my inspirational speeches, past and future. Then, I would catch myself and say, “thinking” and return to the experience of feet, breath, body, rhythm. Truly, I gave myself few escapes this weekend. A fortunate thing, because it doesn’t seem like Jonathan would have accepted less.
I started most sessions with laps around the perimeter of the room. I felt like it helped me to arrive in the space. I also imagined I was helping to establish an energetic container. On my first lap, as I walked past the beautiful black-feather-themed visual presentation created by Martha Peabody Walker and Peter Fodera, I discreetly dipped my hand into a metal washtub of salt that was part of the installation, scooped up a small amount, and rubbed it onto the soles of my feet. Initially, I moved gently around the space, saying internally, “I see you there; and I am grateful for it,” as I encountered each person.
As the wave progressed, drenched with sweat and thirsty, I paused to drink water, facing out the 5th floor window onto Sixth Avenue. For the first time ever, I saw people high up on an outdoor walkway by the clocktower of the historic church across the street. Smiling, I raised my hand in greeting. One woman waved back, and nudged a man next to her, who did the same. Delighted, I continued to be strongly connected to everyone in the room, and also to the world outside the studio throughout the weekend, often picturing the sky on the other side of the ceiling, and occasionally, the curving, vast earth. Once in Stillness I sent energy from one hand to another, but it took a long route, traveling not just across my hands, but around the entire sphere of the earth to arrive in my other hand, creating a long, circular arc that I completed into a circle with my own body.
In this opening wave, I danced a ferocious Chaos. At times, I wasn’t sure which rhythm we were in. Lately, I have had work to do in Staccato, and have been deliberately holding myself in Staccato rather than charging on directly into Chaos. During “Journey into Trance” there were times that I suddenly realized we were already moving into Lyrical without ever having really let loose in Chaos. As a result, my neck was very sore the first day.
Continuing to reflect on my own students, who are mostly people of color, I thought also of the courage of people of color who are part of the 5Rhythms community. That week, I had led circle discussions about the events in Charlottesville. During the same week, a student in a different class spoke out hotly during a reading, “This is making me feel a certain type of way!” he said. “How are you feeling exactly?” I asked. He started to explain that a character’s remark seemed racist. A teacher, who identifies as white, like me, and who I share the class with, tried to talk him out of it. “Well, I have a neighbor who…” I let her talk for a few moments, then said, “You could definitely read that statement as racist.” “Thank you!” gasped another student. I thought about how many times I’ve been in full 5Rhythms rooms where there has been just one apparent person of color. I thought about how incredibly important diversity of all kinds is for the integrity and vitality of the 5Rhythms community. I thought, too, of the incredible courage of my fellow dancers. How despite the daily ravages of racism, how somehow many people of color have managed to step up to be courageous, surrendered and vulnerable, fully in the dance. And how remarkable and valuable that is. And how inspiring. A point of hope in this ugly world that seems to grow uglier daily.
We took a break in the late afternoon. I didn’t feel like socializing, and ate in the nearly empty studio. I made a few notes about the morning in my journal, then followed the suit of another dancer and sat in meditation with my back to a column. Then, I lay myself down and entered a chthonic, deep relaxation, falling into the floor, the earth and darkness. As people returned from the lunch break, they thundered by me with their pounding footsteps, but I continued to rest until the music started again.
Instead of leading us into a wave right away, Jonathan gathered us together and began to speak. He talked about Gabrielle Roth, the founder of the 5Rhythms, first. He said that witnessing her dance, she was so transparent and embodied, you could just cry looking at her. Gabrielle Roth was also Jonathan’s mother, and he spoke of growing up with her at spiritually radical Esalen Institute in California, then moving to New Jersey at the age of 7, where he felt out of place.
At this point, he switched from his own experience to ontology. He argued that we have all pretty much entered into a fool’s agreement, “That I won’t see you, and you won’t see me.” Why be half-hearted? He posited. Gabrielle, herself, was not a rule follower. Instead, she relentlessly sought what was real and true and beautiful. What I heard was, Wake up! Wake up! Your very life is at stake. I’m making it all sound funny because it is, but we don’t have time to languish in generalities. Let go of the many limiting ego stories that are stifling you. Life is passing so quickly. Before we know it, we will die. Jonathan said later, “After all, we may only live once.”
Next Jonathan invited us to consider the frame of “Journey into Trance” and reflected that trance might look differently for different people. He also suggested that we approach the weekend with curiosity and an attitude of spaciousness, accepting that some might need to roll around on the floor screaming, make odd noises, or act in other socially unacceptable ways.
After Jonathans’ talk, we began with simply walking around the space. We experimented with allowing ourselves to be led with our bellies, and then with allowing ourselves to be led by our heads. I noticed that I had a much lower center of gravity when the belly was leading, and that I felt like part of the collective field, as opposed to when the head was leading. Despite a sore neck, I danced a very athletic wave. Every time a thought arose, I said, “thinking” internally and returned to the physical experience of my body, finding endless new ways to move: big back steps, a new complication of low-weighted spinning with open shoulders moving my hands up and over me like coiling carnival rides, deep front and back movement in the pelvis and sacrum, sunken with my heels touching the backs of my knees and then stepping forward, my heart bursting open, then coiling my entire abdomen back inside, then bursting my heart forward again, sometimes continuing this arcing in the space in front of my spine, and through the hips and pelvis.
“Are you in or out?” Jonathan asked. “And if you’re out, can you come back in?”
At a moment when my energy dipped, I encountered a friend at the outer edge of the moving room. She, too, seemed tired, and somehow we fell into each other, quivering, shimmying, small, precise. We rolled inside discreet shoulders, cascading forward and back. Making oblique eye contact, we both smiled. Moving from our bellies, I recalled images of Fela Kuti’s many wives who accompanied him onstage, dancing with vibrancy, the rhythm of the body pouring out at the heart, with arcing, arching intensity.
At day’s end, I was thoroughly exhausted, and my neck was very painful. I recalled that not only had I perhaps not given myself fully over to Chaos, but also that Simon had woken up very early and put on a movie, which I half-watched along with him, my neck propped awkwardly onto pillows and twisted for the duration of the three-hour film. I darted out, making my way to the subway, where I made the happy discovery that I had a little bag of snack food in my bag, then spent several minutes trying to open it. Struggling, I finally resorted to attempting to pierce the bag with one of the sharper keys on my keyring, when I finally looked around. Just across from me on the same platform stood Jonathan, two blazing sapphires staring out of his face, his arms crossed over the railing, one forearm over the other, grinning and giving off sharp little glints of light.
My parents were in town to care for Simon, and I met up with all of them. I was too tired for intelligible conversation. I went to bed as soon as I got Simon organized, tucking a sheet onto the couch in the living room since my parents would sleep in my bed, and settling in as quickly as possible.
Saturday night I slept very deeply, and, miraculously, woke Sunday with no pain in my neck. I went to brunch with my family, then made my way back to the Joffrey for the second day of “Journey into Trance.” As I pushed open the glass door from Sixth Avenue into the Joffrey, Jonathan was entering too.
As the music started, I did a few laps of the perimeter, then found Flowing easily. I was gentle, small, with my arms close to my torso, totally fluid, slotted in among the many prone dancers, almost crying, connected to the entire field, not separate. Moving around the space, I did what I call “Passing Through Practice” where I sort of energetically whoosh through everyone and everything–even the columns–and let them all whoosh through me.
Jonathan spoke of a “deep inquiry into the interior self.” Listening carefully to the teacher’s talk is a practice itself, and every time my mind drifted, I directed it quickly back. “Are you in or out?” he asked again, “and can you know when you’re out? Can you stay in?” I rebelled internally, thinking it would be better not to grasp and push, and instead to just notice. But maybe this is a different level of practice, I thought, maybe it is possible to stay in the entire time. Maybe even all the time, on and off the dance floor. Jonathan also suggested that we experiment with “soft eyes” rather than direct gaze, to support the experiment of working with trance.
eHe also said to the group, “If I were you, I might have come in with resistance today after dancing like you danced yesterday.” I reflected that I have, in a way, encountered very little resistance to 5Rhythms over the years. Even when I am aware of how vulnerable I am, how torn to bits, how connected, how surrendered, how energetically porous, even when I have felt judged or left out–even at these times I am not late on purpose, I don’t lie to myself and blame others when I don’t feel good (even when I do), and I always step into each rhythm with the sincere willingness to fully bring it to bear. It is a curious thing. In other practices, such as yoga, I have encountered much more resistance. Sometimes the edge is razor sharp, though, and when I go very deep I may spend ensuing days feeling irritable or otherwise “off,” perhaps my ego’s desperate attempts to re-assert itself.
At one point, Jonathan said something about how ridiculous it is to pay attention to how you look in the mirror. Here, too, I rebelled, realizing I had been so intent on not looking in the mirror, that it had acquired the flavor of aversion. So I spent a little time right next to the mirror, turning to the side so I could fully examine the complicated sways and arcings of my stomach, lower back and pelvis.
After the talk, I glued my belly to the floor and moved with weight, pulling myself around with my arms and coiling spine. I pulled up onto my knees and set about finding as much movement in my spine as possible, my head forward and simply following and completing the many ratcheting, twisting and undulating gestures of the spine. I stayed deeply connected to myself as new forms arose in Staccato. At one point as we moved from Staccato into Chaos, I played with balance, staying on one foot, and swinging, bounding and descending with the other, looking for the farthest edges of balance.
I recalled that when I first started dancing, I pretty much always kept “soft eyes” as it seemed rude or intrusive to look straight at anyone. Back then, almost a decade ago now, I often stayed inside a heavy trance for the duration. For me, it became most intense during Chaos. I was kind of a trance junkie–craving that depth, that intensity, the shamanic glimpses, the sense that life is deeply meaningful, that “this” layer of reality is just a tiny piece of the picture. Then, I started to open my eyes more, literally. I found the ground, I met people’s gazes more directly, more often. I felt like instead of privileging transcendence, I was connecting with greater awareness to the world. Trance would still come in pockets, spirits would visit, ancestors would soothe me, visions would present, energy would move tangibly and visibly. But I never experienced the sustained trances that I did in the first two years of dancing again. To my surprise, “Journey into Trance” was, for me, an opportunity to re-integrate those early experiences, and to enter into other dimensions with the full support and protection of my spiritual community and teachers.
Call on your guides, your ancestors, your spirit animals, your lineages, Jonathan invited at one point. I spread my arms as wide as the room and grew very tall, regal, a great trailing cape rushing from my arms as I moved in sweeping ribbons through the space, my spirit entourage in a phalanx beside and behind me–my emotional support system, my protectors.
During this wave, I was very released in Chaos, unleashing a massive proliferation of forms, including everything, somehow, leaving nothing out. In Lyrical, I again moved through the room, passing through people and objects, feeling the whoosh of merging. In Stillness I had a vision of eyes on the palms of my hands. Even with my eyes shut, I could see everyone in the room, could see the sky through the ceiling, and could see inside of my own body and the interior bodies of people in the room.
Before Sunday’s break, Jonathan lead us in a guided meditation. Laying with my full back on the floor, my arms and legs extended, he spoke into the microphone, suggesting an image for the cessation of ego defenses. At its conclusion, I had to remind myself where I was.
I floated down the elevator, avoiding eye contact, not wanting to dissipate, not wanting to disperse. I went to a local health food store, and chose food as efficiently as possible, thinking that I would write after eating. Unfortunately, I had forgotten my journal on the bench in the locker room at the Joffrey, so I didn’t have any way to write. Instead, I listened to the most curious, avant-garde recording of two older women in a fascinating conversation about movie stars from the 1980’s that was playing on speakers in the dining area. Slowly, I realized there was also music playing. Then, I realized that only music was playing, and the conversation I was listening to was actually taking place in real time, between two women just a table away from me.
I thought of a story about a conversation between Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the founder of the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, and His Holiness Dilgo Kyentse Rinpoche, who was the head of the Tibetan Nyingma lineage. As the story goes, the two friends were sitting in contented silence on a bench in a garden, enjoying a pleasant afternoon. After some time, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche pointed and said to the other, “They call that a tree!” at which point they both broke into peals of laughter, which went on for some time.
After lunch, Jonathan started us off with intentional self-care, guiding us as we massaged our necks. Most stood up for this, but I remained on the ground, sticking various parts of me to the floor emphatically. At this point, I moved around the room in Flowing, my eyes soft, saying, “I feel you there, and I am grateful for it,” rather than what I often say internally in Flowing, “I see you there, and I am grateful for it.” During this wave, I partnered less, turning more and more inside, “cruising the emptiness” as Jonathan said, quoting Gabrielle.
“What’s real, what’s true, what’s deep, what serves the big dance of love,” Jonathan chanted, ever suspicious of sanctimonious bullshit, calling out our egos stories, our feeble escapes, our neurotic self-making again and again. In Chaos, I moved with total engagement and energy, released, erased. I hung my skin onto a nail while I danced around in my skeleton, near a friend who always inspires me, both of us totally plugged in, but on different journeys. Moving into Lyrical, my bones glowed with ancient writing, light on every bone’s surface, the plane of my shoulder blade, the big femur bone of my leg, on every separate link of my spine. Then, a spirit visited me (or so I imagined). I remembered him from many years ago, when he came to dance and overlapped with me, weaving in and out of me as I swooned and tears poured down my cheeks, teaching me the Passing Through practice. This time we danced again, becoming one body and then separating, ending with swaying, my hands pressed to his hands.
Jonathan selected a soaring, tender song with the lyric, “There is a place I know. Only I can go there,” that I associate with the passing of his mother, the beloved Gabrielle Roth. A low, grazing groan of grief dragged out of me, a deep-bass lowing. I moved in a gesture that finds me nearly every time I am in Stillness, looking down, moving my hands slowly to the left, turning my body around, and felt I could see the origin of this gesture, many lifetimes ago, in a scene of trauma and destruction. I was a gigantic, swooping, flapping vulture, and the air displaced as I beat my wings. Still groaning, crying, breath totally moving me, not separate. Even as I gasped, every muscle echoed it.
Though I was totally lost in this place, I gently settled back in, like a feather landing.
At the end, my breath was rich and resonant. Like some ancient grief had cleared. In the coming days, I would experience the irritability and emotional volatility of an ego that feels seriously endangered after it has managed to step into the sky, into the vastness of experience, where its tiny stories are drowned out by the deafening hum of existence.
At the end of the day, I made to leave, still feeling private. I changed my mind and lingered for a little while, talking with several friends with whom I had shared gestures or insights. I made my way to Jonathan, remembering that my earlier hug might have been overkill, and stood with my hands in prayer, touching them to my forehead as I made a tiny bow, my eyes smiling. “Thank you. This has been so beautiful.” He gave me a generous hug and a kiss on the cheek.
The five-year anniversary of the death of Gabrielle Roth was just a few days after the “Journey into Trance” workshop. I hope we honored her memory this weekend. I hope we served her vision. I hope trance continues to unfold for all of us, in Jonathan’s words, inside this “cathedral of bones” this “wilderness of the heart.”
October 16, 2017, Brooklyn, NY
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher. Images are copyright Meghan LeBorious.
My close world is torn apart with natural disasters – hurricanes in Texas, and in Florida & the Caribbean, earthquake in Mexico – at the same time, it is a spectacular day in New York. Temperatures in the 70’s, low humidity, blue skies with the kinds of clouds that are easy to see as friendly animals or as elaborate castles. In the Sunday morning Sweat Your Prayers class at the Joffrey Ballet in the West Village, taught today by Jason Goodman, I held both realities.
I have been teaching high school students for the past few years and the beginning of the year makes me feel joyful. Meeting new students, I can’t wait to find out what they can do. I’m twittery, imaging all the great structures we will co-create, thinking about how to set things up for them, reviewing my inspiring speeches and clear explanations. Imagining all of us having fun together at the first dance. Having done this for a few years, I also know how much I will come to love them by the end of the year; and I can feel it already. I’m choked up in advance just thinking about it, even as I write.
At the same time, sadness and fear visit me. People all over are suffering terribly, in particular as a result of the hurricanes and earthquake. I keep feeling wracked by sadness. And I am afraid. As of late, the Christian concept of apocalypse no longer seems as far-fetched as I once believed. As a human community, we really don’t seem to be moving in a good direction.
There was a time when I wouldn’t have let myself have access to joy in the face of this suffering. I would have thought that feeling joy would be an affront to others’ pain. Now, I feel differently, though. I realize that if I am suffering too, I haven’t actually helped anyone. There are just more of us suffering.
Stepping in to the fourth floor dance studio, movement nuzzled me from all sides and I felt free and inspired. I delighted in the clear blue sky pouring in the windows, smiled to greet many friends, and found myself a spot on the floor. There, I moved in big, arcing circles, attenuating my body in long gestures to stretch at the same time, pulling my feet up to warm up my quadriceps along the floor, rolling over my shoulders and over the crown of my head.
I wore wide-legged pants with a tucked-in tank top, which allowed me a full range of motion, and that I exploited with every angle, level and gesture. Lately, I have a good relationship with Staccato, and I sunk deep into my hips, playing with rocking my pelvis and taking big backsteps – at times holding my leg up and rocking my knee forward and back before placing my foot emphatically on the floor, garnering tremendous momentum and force in the process. Jason spoke of the need for Staccato, sometimes for ferocious and sudden action, since staying in Flowing all of the time would, at minimum, mean we might get nothing done; and at maximum, might mean we fail to act to save our own life or the lives of the people we love. Sometimes we don’t have the luxury of a patient warm-up, instead when the situation calls for it, we have to step into Staccato instantly, as warriors, with all of the power and force that is required of us.
We seemed to spend more time in Chaos than in any other rhythm today. Jason spoke directly of the devastating hurricanes and earthquake; and also reflected on the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, which he, like me, personally witnessed. I recalled a class Jason taught in the same room just three days after the election of Donald Trump, when he also kept us in Chaos for song after song after song. I reflected on the words of my yoga teacher, Maria Cutrona, in the days after the election, “As painful as this may be, as hard as it may be to take, this is exactly what we have been practicing for over all of these years. This is it. Right now.”
The ultimate test of our practice is to keep moving even inside a swirling maelstrom of Chaos. To find a way to ride the Chaos so it doesn’t destroy us. As the rhythm of Chaos unfolded, I was often low, finding a growling thread of Staccato, realizing the need for action. Deep in my knees and hips, I held my arms cactus-like and rocked and cracked into my upper spine at great velocity. I joined two friends, including the very woman who brought me to a 5Rhythms class for the first time over ten years ago, and we leapt and twisted and spun, inspiring me into a whole new set of gestures and ways of working with weight and extension, every minute muscle of my feet steering me into unending expression. I moved around the room and joined with several others in sequence, including with a man I hadn’t seen before whose lyrical expression of Chaos softened me into joy.
This school year, I will be teaching mindfulness & meditation to nearly my entire school community, going into many different classrooms for 20 minutes each week. I thought about how I would introduce the work. “Dear Ones, this world is crazy,” I rehearsed in my head, “We have hurricanes, earthquakes, racism. Donald Trump. There is pretty much nothing in the external world around us that we can count on. Even if you are lucky enough to have a safe home, enough money, classrooms where you feel respected and valued. Even if you have all that stuff, at some point, you, too, are going to feel like the world is crazy. Because that’s what the world does. It’s always changing and throwing new stuff at us. Since the external world is so crazy and is constantly shifting and changing, we can’t rely on it for our sense of peace and safety. Our only hope is to develop our internal world, what’s inside, so that we have at least one place of refuge we can count on, that’s always available to us, regardless of our shifting circumstances.”
In the second wave, I grew slightly distracted as a result of rehearsing my speech in my head. I forced myself to return attention to my feet, telling myself my speech would all still be there later on, after it was no longer time to practice; and I moved around the room in Flowing. I met the blue-green eyes of a woman who was close to my own diminutive height and felt flooded with sadness, receiving, feeling the emotions around me. I noted that I had hunger pangs and put my hand to my lower stomach. My energy dipped slightly. Playful regardless, I knelt with my forehead down next to two friends who were back to back, and they inched their feet apart, delighting me by making a little bridge for me to crawl under. I squirmed to the other side of them, then pushed hard on the ball of my right foot, leaping high into the air and curving into emphatic motion like a cartoon wizard casting a lightning spell.
I had another wind during the closing gestures of the class. In Lyrical, I, like many others, swooped throughout the room, joining other dancers in brief partnerships. In Stillness, I keyed into tiny articulations of my coccyx and lower spine, closing my eyes and feeling the movement of energy throughout my body, moving my hands in space as these quiet modulations swept to my edges. Jason gathered us into a big circle where we continued to move in Stillness, ending at last with several deep, collective breaths.
At the end of the class, I chatted for a moment with an effusive, beaming first-time 5Rhythms dancer who I had helped to greet. Then, I spoke with a friend who had seemed interior during the class, and learned that many of her family members live in the southern part of Florida, where they were being pummeled by Hurricane Irma even as we spoke, her eyes pinched in pain, her shoulders raised, her tone incredulous.
September 10, 2017, Brooklyn, NYC
( First image: of St. Thomas after Hurricane Irma from nydailynews.com. Second image: nbcnews.com of Florida during Irma)
“Wave anatomy is very simple. The highest surface of a wave is called the crest, and the lowest part is called the trough. The vertical distance between the crest and the trough is called the wave height. The horizontal distance between two adjacent crests or troughs is the known as the wavelength. … But wave behavior is a complicated dance, choreographed by the forces that cause them and the ocean around them.” –National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
I’ve been on Martha’s Vineyard for over a week and I still haven’t found a place I love to practice. After dropping my son Simon off at camp, I spent an hour or more snarled in errands, in part arising from a minor car accident the previous week. I decide to try South Beach in Edgartown, and discover that it is just 11 driving minutes away. I find the sea spectacular, but the beach crowded. I look west and see open space, so I walk in that direction. I get happier and happier as I walk along, thinking I have finally found my place, how wonderful, how blessed. I am pretty much skipping. Then a bellicose man with grey teeth drives up to me on an ATV and tells me I have to go away, this is private property. “Don’t worry,” I say, wide-eyed, “I know I can’t go above the high tide line, and I’m not going to put down a blanket or anything, I’m just here to find some peace.” “You can’t be here. This is private property.” “But you can’t own the sea! The law says…” “I know the law. Are you saying you’re not leaving then? Do I have to call somebody?” I think about pushing it but instead say, “I’m leaving for today, but I’m going to do some research; and I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“The wind not only produces currents, it creates waves. As wind blows across the smooth water surface, the friction or drag between the air and the water tends to stretch the surface. As waves form, the surface becomes rougher and it is easier for the wind to grip the water surface and intensify the waves.” –National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
In the morning I do a yoga class and it pours heavily, visible as white lines in the space of the air through the big window of the studio. I decide it is a perfect day to dance on the beach.
The loose sand of high tide gives me sore calves as I dance in Flowing. I move with the cresting and ending waves, rushing back under, folding into the next, curving to block. I try to hold myself in each of the rhythms a little longer than feels intuitive to stretch out my practice and give myself time for the rhythms to act on me. Staccato moves me quickly, still the thick sand crowds my ankles. My outbreaths are audible, rushing. I am not totally alone anymore but I can still move, letting the head go letting the diaphragm go, avoiding eye contact in case the family that just arrived thinks I’m crazy. Lyrical is the rhythm that most calls me today, though even when I feel light and my gaze lifts upward with the soaring sea birds, I still have no lift owing to the soft sand that doesn’t offer a foundation to leap off of. In Stillness, arms around, curving, gliding hand-to-hand and arcing up.
After Stillness draws to a close I practice sitting meditation for 20 slightly-distracted minutes, then have a brief swim in the swelling waves.
“As the waves close in on the coast, they begin to feel the bottom and their direction of travel might change due to the contour of the land. Eventually, the waves run ashore, increasing in height up to 1.5 times their height in deep water, finally breaking up as surf.” –National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
At Norton Point Beach in Edgartown. Black sand with striated markings like german shepherd fur. It is high tide again and my feet sink into the coarse sand. Two children are making a sandcastle when I arrive. It is huge, spanning 10 feet or more. They are using the same tools that are used for demure, small castles, but the open ocean and big waves seem to inspire things on a grander scale. In heavy fog, I walk out of sight.
There is no horizon. Flowing is the waves washing back being subsumed again to the ocean, form washing away, the backwash and the sea’s depths and their connection. I let it catch my back and pull and dip me, feeling the wide sea, deep and heavy and heaving. I could do this forever, I think. My legs too tired in the deep loose sand, a big hill of black sand dipping down to the waves. Staccato is the waves as they barrel toward shore. Staccato and I take forceful breaths out, deep and low, elbows bent like a destructive goddess, fire exhalation, the sand still deep. Chaos is the flowing backwash crashing into the staccato wave, the collision, the twisting, sometimes the diminishing of the big wave – cresting to end, sometimes they multiply each other, sometimes they crash and collide. Chaos and I let my head go. I have an audience now I try not to care, I want to be seen and I don’t at once, I keep giving myself permission to let go, let go, why such constraint and pessimism when life is so short, so infinitesimally tiny. Ferocious heartbeat, sweat between my breasts, my strapless dress drifts down becoming a skirt, a wave reaches us, saturating its hem. Fine mist kisses my exposed skin. I no longer feel limited by the deep sand. Gliding down the little sand cliff, finding suspensions with the uphill side of me, looking toward the fog-obscured horizon, for the first time seeing the birds, gliding, skittering, flapping, coasting. I am on and off the sand, on my knees, arcing up and around, to a knee then up in one powerful gesture. In Stillness I bow forward toward the sea in a reverent curtsie. One hand creates an arc drawing in the sand in front of me, then the other, from the other side, then the other again to make a little rainbow. I bow lower, then end standing with knees bent out to the sides, arms bent at the elbows, up and open – receptivity fused with strength.
I spend 19 restless minutes in sitting meditation, trying to force myself not to look at the timer on my phone.
“After the wind begins to blow for a while, the waves get higher from trough to crest, and both the wave length and period become longer. As the wind continues or strengthens, the water first forms whitecaps and eventually the waves start to break. This is referred to as a fully developed sea.” –National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Hoping to get to another beach with surf, I type Long Point Beach into the GPS. It leads me down what seems like an unpaved cowpath, but seems to have expensive private homes set behind thick brush comprised of pines trees, shrub oak and tangled vines. I come to a gate, deep in the pine wood, and decide to continue forward into what appears to be a Wildlife Reserve. After 20 minutes of slow driving over ruts and rocks, I park and head up a path over a dune to the beach. Descending the dune, the waves are impressive, four feet or more, crashing with great force. I look to my left and see empty beach, so I head in that direction.
Before long, a sign announces that the area is not accessible because of wildlife preservation. Though I am tempted to continue on, I stop just before the sign, still in view of the beachgoers near the path, but far enough away to feel relatively alone.
Beginning to move in Flowing, I let the waves drag me into curves, attentive to the undertow – to the lacy, diagonal layers of swash – my feet sinking into the deep sand. I let my head release down, spine spiraling into gravity, into the coiling ended waves. As an ended wave rounds back into itself, I turn my body around, low, low, weight in my thighs, in my calves, in my feet, arms extended down from the shoulders. A cold breaking wave touches the skin of my feet and I move again toward the sea, feeling the magnetism of it, its pull. I consciously choose to stay in Flowing a little longer than I want to. It has a hint of inertia to it, and I am eager for the more vigorous energy of Staccato, which overtakes me soon enough. Now, I lift my gaze to the four foot waves racing toward the beach, piling one on top of the other. My arms come alive, as my feet are still in coarse, unpacked sand. Sharp angles and exhalations arise as the waves draw up, I draw my arms up too, arching my spine, deep into the back of my hips. As the wave crashes I arch forward, drawing my fists into my belly and rocking my pelvis. Bending my knees low, then lifting my legs one at a time, I start to gather energy, sweat on my skin, audible breath, strong heartbeat. At times my feet are still moving to the undertow and its curving pull, while the rest of me is arching and crashing. Chaos comes and goes quickly. As I start to release my head into it, a little current of Stillness flutters by and I honor it, pushing behind it with both hands in a plane. Then, I bound and twist, my head flailing, feeling the coming together of the heavy, spent undertow and the raw break of the wave. Before long, I extend my range, including the birds and horizon in my aperture. Feeling the broken waves on my skin, rising into extensions, letting my fingertips take over. Settling, hearing the hum under the breaking waves, a series of slow, tracked gestures arises, my hands are again moved by currents, my feet sinking into the sand as the waves lap around my ankles.
From there, I create a little pile of sand and dig a hole for my feet so I can perch comfortably, then sit in meditation. Absorbed, precise mindfulness shifts with my stream of awareness. After 20 minutes, I realize there is a slight vibration under me, and wonder what it could be. I remember my alarm, and realize I can’t hear over the crashing surf, but I can feel it from its place in my bag on the sand next to me. I had forgotten about the time.
Given the wave height and fast breaks, I decide to move back toward the more populated section of the beach before swimming. Because of the huge breaking waves, I have to time my entry carefully. Then, I am doing butterfly, flipping up into the fronts of waves not yet breaking, and briefly floating on my back. I check to see if I can touch the bottom and am knocked down by roiling undertow behind me. I gasp and wonder briefly if I am in a riptide, then it dissipates. I decide I should get back to the beach, and get knocked down two more times before I am on dry land thirty feet or more down the beach from where I put in. My hair is matted with sand, seaweed, and tiny blue-black mussels. My skin is a layer of salt, my eyes marine light, my spine a ululation.
“Winds drive ocean currents in the upper 100 meters of the ocean’s surface. However, ocean currents also flow thousands of meters below the surface. These deep-ocean currents are driven by differences in the water’s density, which is controlled by temperature and salinity.” –National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
A white, chilly day, I head again to South Beach, hoping to find it quiet. I walk a short distance, then start moving with the waves – much smaller today, one to two feet at most – rising, falling, and turning as the waves wash up onto the shore, slow, and fall back away, receding and dissolving. I feel the changes of direction in the backwashing water deep in my belly, and sink lower, being lead from there. Staccato sparks but doesn’t ignite. Instead, Flowing keeps re-appearing, gentle. I could do this all day, I think. I start running back and forth in a little curved dip that is horizontal to the breaking waves, rushing up, turning, falling to the middle, then rushing up the other side, like I am at a skate park. Facing the waves head on, my arms raised like a cobra’s hood, sinking deep and flattening the plane of my arms definitively, I find momentum briefly, raising my knees, bounding, articulating small gestures in my pelvis, occasionally balling up my fists and drawing them in.
Using 5Rhythms creator Gabrielle’s Roth map of the 5Rhythms helps keep me engaged, even when I am practicing on my own. I could just come to the sea and dance, and sometimes I do, but giving myself new problems to investigate and holding myself in a given rhythm at least until it fully manifests (in some way) offers the possibility of greater insight.
Today, Staccato keeps wavering. I am edgeless, patient. I tell myself, face the sea, greet the waves as they roll in and gather force, the bottom of the wave slowing as it reaches the shallows, the top of the wave still racing, rising up, cresting. I sink deep again, and put my hand on my crotch over my black bathing suit bottom, rocking my pelvis forward and back with the muscles of my lower back and stomach, then find clipped, precise movements in the shoulders, elbows and legs. Finally, I accept that I have drawn Staccato out of myself, if briefly, and let myself move into Chaos. Chaos, like Staccato, is quieter than usual today. I have dug in and worked hard and know I can let Chaos act on me as it wants to. I release my head and bound around, shimmying my legs one at a time, shaking and spinning. I am happy to let go of the weight of Flowing, to rise up but still have the edgelessness, the unceasing movement, here becoming emphatic and expansive. Within just a few short minutes I let myself transition into Lyrical. I am covering ground, moving parallel to the sea, and away and toward, high up on my toes, arms outstretched, dancing a lilting waltz. I could do this all day, I think. Stillness finds me again moved by and creating currents, my hands in a unified plane, wind making my hair into a horizontal flag.
I am alone on the beach and I set up a throne for myself in the sand and sit for twenty patient minutes. Toward the end, I let go of formal practice, and instead eat a boiled egg and look at everything, the tiny ships sitting on the line of the horizon, the birds in their trolling arcs, the breaking waves, the lifeguards who have just arrived.
I consider not swimming today because it is so chilly, but I decide that going into the ocean every day is a practice, too, and I don’t know if I will have another opportunity today. The tide is starting to come in and the surf has picked up. I stand facing the waves for some moments, then finally take a few steps and dive, swimming butterfly straight into the horizon, then floating. The cold is sharp and exhilarating. Back on land, I am happy I pushed myself, happy for the influence of the sea on my body.
July 14, 2017, Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard, MA
At Riis Park, the solitary birds are my first dance partners this morning. Before long, however, I join with an entire flock, soaring as they soar, holding my arms out wide, twisting in an arc as they move to the farthest edge of an orbit, sinking deep and looping one arm through the other as they change sides, rising suddenly and falling back into my edge, my feet grinding circles in the cold winter sand, covering vast distances on the deserted beach. Seeking solace and insight in these deeply troubling times, I planned this artwork performance—a ritual, of sorts—hoping to find some clues to show me the way forward.
Another place I go to seek solace and insight are 5Rhythms classes and workshops. Created by Gabrielle Roth in the 1980’s, 5Rhythms is a dance and movement meditation practice that embodies Gabrielle’s vision, “A body in motion will heal itself.” The five rhythms are Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness. Each rhythm has its own character, which becomes territory for endless experiments. To dance a wave is to pass through each of the 5Rhythms in sequence. In a typical two-hour class, we move through two waves. On first glance, a 5Rhythms room would probably just look like a wild dance club, but for most people it is also much more. For me, it is laboratory for life, encompassing psychological, emotional, philosophical, interpersonal and shamanic levels.
At a 5Rhythms class just a few days before the performance at Riis Park, 5Rhythms teacher Tammy Burstein says, “We don’t have to just be at a loss, because we have a map,” remarking that many people seem to be stepping into the class “still carrying a lot.” In having a map, we have the comfort of knowing that we have a way forward that doesn’t rely solely on our own initiative or motivation. This is particularly useful when we feel stuck or overwhelmed, as many, including myself, have felt for the last several months.
Waiting in line for the bathroom before class, a woman I had shared a dance with the week before says, “I love your dance. It is like you are always weaving, somehow.” I think she is talking about the way I move through the room, sharing dances, winding gestures inside the empty spaces, and following the currents caused by the many moving bodies. I introduce myself and smile, thanking her for the compliment and for the feedback.
Just two days later, I find myself weaving the air with my arms as I undertake the performance artwork at Jacob Riis National Seashore. I had been thinking of doing this performance for many months, but when I finally decide to actually do it, I have less than a week to prepare. I send an invite to a few close friends, but I send it late at night, just a few days before; and I anticipate that it might be just me and the photographer.
In frigid temperatures, my hair a taut flag in the caustic wind, I set up a wooden box as a table, a dozen glass bottles with corks, a pen, and a ream of paper—barely held in place by a jagged piece of brick. Then, I begin to move with the ocean birds as they appear in the sky. I watch them carefully, doing my best to revive the lost art of augury—an important ritual for several groups of ancients—divination, or fortune telling, by the flights of birds. I hoped to draw some meaning from the sky that might offer hope and direction in the coming months, especially since the political situation has grown increasingly worrisome of late.
Stepping into the 5Rhythms class a few minutes late, I do not start down on the floor, as is my usual custom, but instead stay on my feet and join the group in moving my attention slowly through different body parts, as led by the teacher. I find vibrant movement quickly, releasing the shoulders, releasing the spine and releasing the head’s weight, which cascade me into circular motion in the first rhythm of Flowing. Flowing is characterized by rounded, unending motion with a strong emphasis on the feet; and I move softly, with weight, the soles of my feet in in close contact with the floor.
Still engaging in the Body Parts exercise, we segue into the second rhythm of Staccato, and I begin to move around the room. Staccato is characterized by sharp, clear movements with an emphasis on the hips; and I sink low, my knees sharply bent, moving forward and back, my elbows forming pointed triangles and leading me into movement. Tammy suggests that we could make a choice to just let go of everything we are carrying. I stop thinking of things outside of the dance and step into many successive, brief partnerships. Wondering if she perhaps prefers to be left alone, I nonetheless join with a friend who often favors the periphery. As I move toward her, she smiles and steps forward to dance with me. Another friend joins us, seeming to boing upward as he approaches, then twisting and weaving around us. We both become even more activated, the three of us moving in an elastic matrix, swapping places and moving around the edge of our small group, and taking turns moving through the middle.
The third rhythm of Chaos and the fourth rhythm of Lyrical reveal the miracle of being totally unique and totally universal, at once. I join with a woman in Lyrical with whom I have shared many dances of rolling shoulders and circling hips, each of us bending forward in turn as our shoulders descend and cross downward, losing eye contact, then rising again as the shoulder pulls back from blocking the jaw, smiling, and moving similarly around each other’s backs, always arriving again at smiling eye contact. This time we find new patterns—intricately-syncopated steps inside of steps—as a playful, remixed disco song booms from the powerful speakers.
I learned that the Ancient Roman augurs—the ritualists who read the flights of the birds for official purposes—would have had a great deal of say in who would lead Rome. If the signs were interpreted favorably, a king or emperor would be crowned—the origin of the word “inauguration.” It was believed that the birds transmitted the will of the Gods, and reflected the relative chaos or harmony of the larger cosmos. I wondered what would have happened if anyone read the birds’ flights on January 20, 2017; and if dire predictions would have mattered.
Total porousness comes a little easier after so many years of practice; and it’s been awhile since I’ve had the pleasure of being totally shattered as a result of feeling integrated into the collective field. In this case, during the fifth and final rhythm, Stillness, I move through the room gently, like breeze, passing through people’s energy fields and allowing them to pass through mine.
Again on the beach in the performance ritual, as words arise, I kneel in front of my little table and write down any phrases that come to mind. Then, I roll up the paper I have written on, push it into a glass bottle and cork it. It is very cold and I have to sustain vigorous movement, but I do this a dozen times, quickly, preparing the bottles that will be thrown into the sea at the conclusion of the ritual. Of my attempts at divination, one stands out:
“In times of fear,
Turn to community-
Fly in formation.”
The following week at class, the experience of having undergone the performance ritual with the birds works its way into my dance.
This time I begin with my body in full contact with the floor in the first rhythm of Flowing, moving in concentric circles in every direction, edgeless, finding tension at the most extended points to stretch my muscles, arcing through my side, shifting over the back of my head onto the spine, then back around. Still moving in concentric circles on the floor, I begin to move through the room, one leg reaching far behind me and pulling me into another level of circling. While rolling over the back of my head, I gaze up at the standing people around me, finding empty space as it opens up and moving into it, still on the floor.
I’ve been working with a therapist lately; and we begin each of our sessions with five minutes of movement. Recently, I started with my ear on the soft oriental carpet. Hums from the building became audible; and I heard two voices from the floor below in conversation. I thought of 5Rhythms teacher Kierra Foster-Ba, who has often said, “Just like any other animal, we receive a lot of information from the ground.” With my ear to the ground, literally, I felt like I could listen for danger, read the signs, and respond appropriately—engaging my primal instincts during a time when I might otherwise be tempted to rationalize the signs of danger to convince myself I am safe.
A recurring dream came up then, too. I am at Cape Cod in a rented cottage on a cliff by the sea with several members of my family. The ocean has receded by miles, exposing the sand beneath; and an eerie quiet had arisen. Although when I first had this dream I didn’t know the early signs of a tsunami, somehow I knew that a gigantic wave was about to erupt from the silence. Walking through the screen door, I plead with my mother and sister to leave with me, to flee to high ground. They decline, peacefully resigned. I get into a car and drive uphill, overtaken by complex emotions—a sharp desire to live, both grief and admiration for my mother and sister, and fear that the massive wave will overtake me.
On the way in to class, I feel annoyed and unreceptive. There is someone in attendance I always have a lot of mind chatter about, believing she is superficial for some reason that surely has little to do with her. But before long, the music hooks me and I am moving through the room. A dance version of Erykah Badu’s “On and On” offers me a Staccato door to enter through, and I step into multiple partnerships, moving low and backward, ratcheting different body parts, and articulating movements with precision and thoroughness.
Before dance that night, my seven-year-old son, Simon, uses the phrase “magical sweat” in relation to some wet socks that have surprised him by drying quickly. The phrase “magical sweat” repeats for me several times during the class, and particularly as Staccato gathers fire. As Staccato transitions into Chaos, I let loose, grateful for a reserve of easily available energy. My hair falls over my face and eyes as my head whirls freely, leading my entire body in spinning. I note the woman who I had judged as superficial dancing right next to me, and realize the smallness of my petty resentment. The truth is that we are all superficial to some extent, myself included. As I let go, I inwardly celebrate that she lets go, too, and move with many emphatic and wild dancers in close proximity.
In Lyrical and then in Stillness, I spin and leap in the center of the room, my wings held wide, recalling the movements of my many bird partners the week before. Several successive dancers join me in flight, each seamlessly integrating into my dance of sky, swooping and soaring very close to me, then spinning off into new partnerships.
Realizing that my feet will get wet when I go to the edge of the sea to throw in the bottles, I know I have to move quickly or risk frost bite. I make three trips, carrying several bottles at once, and toss the bottles into the waves. As soon as the last one hits the water, I sprint to put on my boots and winter jacket, considering the performance complete.
Regardless of whether the signs I have divined in any way foretell the future, and, too, regardless of the direction the map may or may not take me, I am grateful to have a map, grateful for a way forward, and grateful for the unlikely blessing of this life, this tiny glimmer that reflects the magnitude of infinity.
“Good hope is often beguiled by her own augury.” -Ovid
March 19, 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.
“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