Flowing and What Is Not Flowing


I caught Tammy’s eye as I stepped into her Friday Night Waves class after nearly a month away.  Smiling and meeting her gaze across the room, I tapped my heart with my right fist, then held my hands together in a gesture of excitement and gratitude, bowing as I passed through the door of the studio.  The day was hot, with a heat index of 100.  Even at 7.30pm, it was a delicious 96 degrees.  Though I was only away for a few weeks, it felt like a homecoming; and I was overjoyed to encounter several longtime friends in the crowd.

I missed most of the Flowing part of the first wave; and the room was already moving toward Staccato when I joined the group.  I swirled in, then lay on my back on the floor to help myself find the ground.  Immediately, a smiling friend leaned over me and our arms united in cheerful, fluid movement.  I know there are risks if I don’t ground myself in Flowing before moving on, but still I rose quickly to my feet, swept away by quirky, ardent movements in Staccato and then in Chaos.

Having spent nearly a month practicing individually on beaches and cliffs in southeast Ireland, I was incredibly grateful to step without hesitation or thought into partnership again and again. Dancing individually as I did in Ireland has deepened my practice and has given me insights that I could never find in community.   At the same time, it is both revealing and engaging to move in partnership.  I am beginning to think that I need both individual and community practice.

Tammy played a popping, crackling song in Lyrical that always makes me think of an old fashioned toy—the wooden person with jointed legs and arms who is bounced on a straight board.  I let my arms go slack and fling themselves around as my feet touched down and were cast quickly back up again, much like the little dancing man toy (that to this day resides in a low drawer in the living room at my great grandparents’ house).

In a typical two-hour 5Rhythms waves class, we dance two “waves.”  A “wave” is a structure that was designed (or perhaps described) by Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice.  A wave is what is created when we move through each of the five rhythms – Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness – in sequence.

Between the first and the second wave of the class, there is often spoken teaching.  In this case, Tammy emphasized the rhythm of Flowing, connecting it to “instinctive wisdom.”  She began by showing what Flowing is not by flitting about haphazardly for a few moments.  I have occasionally noticed dancers moving with grim determination from site to site, or perhaps moving randomly, not noticing the different strains of gesture around them.  Though in Flowing we are encouraged to keep moving our feet and not to get stuck in one spot, it seems, most certainly, that Flowing does not mean being non-committal, or moving around the room so quickly you slip out of any potential intimate exchange.

In some Buddhist teachings, a desirable concept is often paired with its “far enemy” and also with its “near enemy.”  I love how this blogger explains the near enemy, “The near enemy is a kind of counterfeit of what we’re actually aiming for, and it’s unhelpful because while the genuine article helps free us from suffering, the counterfeit doesn’t.” (wildmind.org) For example, the far enemy of compassion is cruelty.  The near enemy of compassion is pity (or is sometimes translated as grief).  We might get tricked into thinking we are developing compassion, but the truth is that pity is not productive because it entrenches us more fully in our own ego, rather than opening us up to a broader experience of humanity—one of compassion’s hallmarks.  As for 5Rhythms and Flowing, I guess you could say that the far enemy of Flowing would be non-movement.  There are perhaps many near enemies of Flowing—but I would put distracted meandering high on the list.

Tammy spent much more time describing the field of what Flowing is, in its own form and as it gives rise to and is threaded through all of the other rhythms.  Flowing, she said, is unselfconscious and intuitive—not thought about. She went on to say that we bring the instinctive wisdom of Flowing into all the other rhythms; and that all of the other rhythms are really just an extension of Flowing.  In Staccato, we find the instinctive heart.  We even bring that instinctive knowledge into Chaos.  In Lyrical, we find fascination.  In Stillness, grace.  

Flowing was the rhythm that very much dominated for me during my recent trip to Ireland.  Truthfully, it was all I could manage on some days.  Dancing with the cliffs and the sea and the rocks, I remained in Flowing for long stretches before even a hint of transition to Staccato. I would then drop back into Flowing again and again even as the wave unfolded.

Fundamentally, the rhythm of Flowing is characterized by circular and fluid motion, energetic receptivity, and the relationship of feet, weight and body to the ground that holds us.  5Rhythms teacher Kierra Foster-Ba has said about Flowing, “Like any other animal, we get a lot of information from our feet.”  For me, Flowing is an homage to the mother, a refuge, a touchstone.  It is also a secret password, and a key that unlocks infinite doors.

Although for many years, I confess that I found Flowing too humble to merit keen interest, from the beginning it has been my most important teacher.  In a workshop with one teacher, she rolled on the floor as she spoke, describing and demonstrating her passionate relationship to ground.  She also talked about how it took her years to “find the ground,” and how much her practice opened up when she did.  For me, it was only after years of working my way into the ground that the elusive rhythm of Lyrical finally began to up for me—a miracle I didn’t anticipate, but one that I welcomed with ecstatic gratitude.

Mild inertia oozed through me after Tammy’s talk.  I had to leave class before the second wave because of a scheduling issue, but it wasn’t that sense of inertia that lingered on into the hot summer night.  Rather, I left with the imprints of unbridled movement, drenched humidity and the joy that comes from stepping into space and finding a perfect partner, again and again.

July 24, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC

This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.


Sacred Places, Otherworldly Fog & Cheerful Good Byes


Otherworldly fog took over the landscape on Monday.  After dropping my six-year-old son, Simon, off at camp in Dunhill, I went to the unmarked beach again.  Suffering from heavy anxiety, I paused to look out over the vast beach from the top of the steep cement stairs, and the line of vision was severely blocked by the heavy white cloud.

Exploring and seeking an inspiring place to dance, I walked west, passing several beaches that were framed by giant, fallen boulders.  I came to a cave (or perhaps the shaft opening of an old copper mine) and investigated briefly, then suddenly realized that I had no phone reception whatsoever. I was nervous about being out of contact while Simon was at camp.  Lately, I have been unusually nervous about keeping us safe, given a series of mishaps.  Simon has also been nervous, asking me to sketch out endless scenarios of what would happen if one of us got hurt or died during the trip; and he has been unwilling to be apart from me in any room of our friend’s 300-year-old cottage, as he believes it haunted.  I have tried to calm his fears, but at times I have also felt afraid.  I held the phone in my hand and walked back toward the cement stairs, staring at the screen and pausing whenever it said, “searching.”  I settled on a still-remote-from-the-stairs spot with very black sand where the signal flickered in and out.  I put the phone on a rock where I could check on it, created a large circle in the sand that I could dance inside of, then settled into a patient Flowing.  As Staccato arose out of Flowing, I went to check the phone and realized that it was again saying “no service.”  I tried to talk myself into letting go of the nervousness about being out of contact.

In the end, I was able to re-connect with Flowing despite pausing to check my phone.  I danced a brief wave, moving through each rhythm:  Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness.  Resuming after the pause to check the phone, I realized that despite the fog and mist, the day was warm.  I took off my clothes.  The feeling of the cold mist on my skin helped return me to my senses and release the anxiety I was feeling.  It was exhilarating after being so wrapped up in garments for so many chilly days.  Before long I returned to a bathing suit, completing the wave fairly quickly.  Stillness emerged vividly and the felt senses of the cliffs, the sea, the mysterious and heavy air, and the rocks and boulders found their way into my movements.

Then, I moved to the opposite end of the beach, where it was much less remote, but where I did have reception.  For this second wave, as with the first, I started by creating a circle in the sand to dance inside of, though I did not stay inside it except for in the beginning of Flowing.  This wave was definitely practice.  Bits of beauty flecked it, but I was not particularly inspired.  I was left thinking about how anxiety blocks receptors to everything—to danger, to joy, to fluid experience, and to the constant stream of information we receive from the world around us.

In the brief time I had before picking Simon up from camp, I made an unsuccessful attempt to find an ancient site that my friend had urged me to visit, but the next day (Tuesday) I was determined.  I re-traced my driving steps, remembering not to turn down the tiny, stone-walled lane where I had aroused suspicion the day before.  I had a map my friend’s archaeologist neighbor had given me, which included all of the small rural roads.  Even armed with it, it was very difficult for me to navigate.  I was told the site was just next to a cow field, and that it was locked gate but that there was a stile—a gap in the gate—that allows people to enter.  That description seemed to match pretty much every gate I passed.  I asked a woman who was walking on the road if she knew of the site, and she scrunched up her face, looking upward to think and pointing downhill.  “I’m not sure, Pet.  I think it might be down there, but they’re building a house there now.  I suppose you could go there and ask if you could enter.”  I felt discouraged, but decided to go just a tiny bit farther down the road.  Shortly, I actually did find what I was looking for—indicated by a discreet arrow sign that said, “Gaulstown Dolmen.”  I walked through the stile, down the driveway, through another entrance, then down a wooded path.

The monument is remarkable.  It consists of six very large, flat stones that were placed in a Stonehenge-like configuration around 5,000 years ago.  No one knows exactly how, as they appear to be extremely heavy.  According to the archaeologist, it is likely a burial site, based on nearby similar sites that have been excavated.  There was a small clearing around the dolmen, but it was very much enclosed with grown over trees and grasses.  I sat for a few minutes, then got up to walk in a circle around it.  Prickers caught my long skirt; and I moved into a flat spot to dance in Flowing.  Absorbed, I imagined a low, chanting hum as I listened and sensed the place.  I saw a moving black shape out of the corner of my eye that could have been the farmers’ dog, but that got me to thinking of ancient spirits.  Staccato was brief but expressive.  In Chaos, I stepped right inside the dolmen, wondering if it had also been intended as a portal.  I was slightly afraid of the possibility of possession and at once totally fascinated.  In Lyrical a flash of creative energy entered into me.  In Stillness I moved with reverence—an homage to the ancients.  I was left feeling like I should do what I can to develop my capacity as a mystic, and that all I need is available in every moment, if I know how to pay attention properly.

Later, I went again to the secret beach.  Reception was better without the fog, and I choose a spot that was not as remote.  Still, the phone came in and out.  The day before I’d told myself, “Maybe I can be ok with being out of reach for a little while.”  When it came to it, I was still nervous, and couldn’t bring myself to practice until I found a spot where the phone would have at least one bar.  I stayed in Flowing for a long time, returning to the image of the dolmen again and again.


As with previous dances, threads of Stillness continued to present, for example during Flowing when I witnessed a bird soaring absolutely in place, not moving at all, buoyed by strong wind.   I realized that at times I have confused Inertia—which can present as a lack of energy and is considered to be the “shadow” of the rhythm of Flowing—with Stillness.  Stillness, as it continued to present during my many dances with the land and sea in Ireland, was very much invigorated and alive.


The rest of the wave unfolded.  Staccato started only after a long time in Flowing; and I returned many times to Flowing even after I had fully entered Staccato.  Staccato was not very energetic until Chaos began to appear, then the last burst of Staccato was very vigorous.  I covered vast ground, moving far beyond the little circle I had drawn in the sand at the beginning of Flowing, all the while taking in the landscape even as it flashed across my field of vision in Chaos.  In Lyrical I again played with my version of Irish step dancing. In Stillness I experimented with concentrating my energy field close to my body, then extending it far beyond my own edge.  I ended the wave with my feet firmly planted and wide apart, holding my hands together in front of my chest, standing still and facing the sea, sensing myself as a colossus—taller even than the high, green cliffs.

The next day was the final day that I was able to dance in Ireland during this trip.  As soon as I dropped Simon off at camp, I went to the secret beach, where it was again overcast and deserted. I spent some time creating an artwork, then drew a circle in the sand around myself and began to move in Flowing.

From the beginning, this wave was alive.  In Flowing, I moved with ease and freedom far beyond the outlines of my little circle.  The weather started to improve and a few people made their way down the cement stairs.  Shy about occupying so much territory, I moved back behind some boulders, though I was still partially in view.  Flowing shifted into Staccato and I covered even more distance, discarding my concerns.

I tracked the subtle shifts of energy, moving intuitively.  The wave followed this pattern, if I recall correctly:  Flowing, Staccato, Flowing, Staccato/Chaos, Staccato, Flowing, Flowing Chaos, Chaos, Flowing, Lyrical, Chaos, Lyrical, Chaos, Flowing, Flowing Lyrical, Stillness.  I let everything in, deeply sensing the enormity and vast power of this incredible place.  I went into Lyrical two or three times inside of Chaos, rising up onto my toes.  In Stillness, I returned again to the original circle I had drawn in the sand.  I invoked deities, helpers and guides, including Gabrielle Roth—the creator of the 5Rhythms practice—asking for help on my path, a clean heart, and the courage and insight to live my life in service to love.

I picked Simon up from the little, rural camp a little early since it was his last day.  The camp included only children from the small, local villages; and most had multiple siblings.  I told Simon I was incredibly proud of him for having the courage to step in and find his place there.  As we moved toward the car, many of the children hung over the fence, waving, and calling out, “Bye, Simon!” The next day, we set out for home.

This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.

Falling Rocks & Strong Currents

Yesterday we woke to blue skies for the first time since we have been in Ireland.  After dropping my son, Simon, off at camp, I set out to explore the local beach again, hoping to find a place to dance.  Given the fair weather, there were several people enjoying the beach and I didn’t feel comfortable dancing there.  Because it is exceedingly dangerous, I’ve sworn off the unprotected cliff path that departs from the east end of the beach, despite its compelling beauty.  I spotted a different cliff path at the west end of the beach and decided to at least try it.  This time, most of the path was set back from the cliff’s edge (with the exception of one short section) and I felt more at ease.  The vast horizon was striated with deep emerald and turquoise water.  Views from the cliff walk included huge rock formations topped with greenery, toppled boulders, squared green fields, rock walls and the endless crashing waves far below.

Absolutely by chance, on the secluded cliff path I ran into a childhood schoolmate of the friend who is hosting us and we chatted briefly.  “I think it is a little bit dangerous up here.  There has been a lot of erosion lately,” she shared.  I nodded and told her that I decided I wouldn’t go on the other cliff path anymore; and that I am trying to play it safe, given a number of holiday calamities.

Reaching the end of the cliff path, I saw a beautiful, unpeopled beach far below.  There were only sheer cliffs in front of me and there didn’t seem to be a way down, so I decided to try to reach it by way of the road.  Returning, I avoided the one very dangerous section of path by detouring through a heavily prickled patch.  I turned off the path and walked through a field, hoping I could avoid returning all the way to the beach I’d started at, but a wire fence that I feared might be electrified blocked my way.  I returned to the beach where I’d started, then turned onto the road and tried to find the secret beach.  I regretted my choice to walk, as a long section of the road was treacherous for pedestrians, but I jogged along in my flipflops, hoping to get out of the way before any cars came barreling along.  I got off the road as soon as I could, then walked parallel to it through someone’s field.  Again, I reached a dead end, totally blocked by impassable shrubs and brambles.  Determined still, I returned to the cottage and got into the car.  Driving west, I spotted a nearly concealed, unmarked road in the middle of a hairpin turn and turned onto it.

The graveled parking lot was at a 45-degree angle and I made sure to engage the parking brake to the last possible “click” before getting out and gathering my things.  This was, surely, the secret beach that I had seen from the cliff path.  Despite the first-in-many-days blue sky, there wasn’t a single person besides me.

There were two graphic signs on the stairs leading to the beach below indicating falling rocks and strong currents.  The stairs were made of concrete with big, coarse rocks cast inside, and were very, very steep.  The first flight was relatively intact with the exception of a few crumbles, but on the second flight the stairs were severely eroded, smoothed almost to a flat ramp in some places by powerful high tides.


The beach itself was remarkable.  Soaring and crumbling cliffs formed its north face, with fields and endless plants and grasses visible above them.  Green-topped rock islands jutted into the sea at both its ends.  Rocks and boulders were cast throughout the water, causing the powerful waves to act erratically.  Thankfully, it was near low tide, since based on the most recent high tide line, the beach would be treacherous at high tide, if at all accessible.  On a stormy day at high tide, the waves could reach the top of the long stairs, pummeling the cliffs and beach and making access impossible.

Looking up, I could see the crumbling cliffs with the turf edging hanging down like thick carpeting.  I resolved once again, firmly, to stay off of high cliff paths that are right on the edges of cliffs.

I wasn’t totally sure what stage the tide was at, and I eyed the sea warily.  This is dragon land, without question.  I ventured a short way down the beach, but chose a spot to dance that was a short sprint away from the steep, cement stairs in case high tide came in fast.  I made a circle of stones for myself and also noted a cluster of round stones a short distance in front of me.  If the sea reached those stones, I decided, I would call it day and head for the stairs, no matter what phase of the 5Rhythms wave I was in at that point.

I broke the crusty surface of the warm sand with my bare feet.  As with the previous day, moving brought tears almost immediately.  I don’t know how long I was in Flowing, but I do remember that it was characterized by totally unselfconscious, fluid movement.  In Staccato, I moved along the beach so I could dance on the unbroken sandy crust instead of in the sand that was already churned up by my circling feet in Flowing.  I felt a tiny bit restrained.  Respectful of the danger around me.  Chaos, as in the previous days, was slightly restrained, also.  I endeavored to release my head, but never moved with wild abandon.  In Lyrical, I traced the gliding movements of birds with my hands while raised up onto my high toes, seeking sections of unbroken sand to help with lifting upward.

Stillness in the first wave took its time.  I let in the energy of everything around me—cliffs, ocean, sky—and it was almost overwhelming.  I had the thought that if you really let in the reality of the absolute, you let in the reality of your own death, too, and let in the reality that those you love will one day die.  I staggered a little at the enormity of it, and at the wondrous enormity of the landscape around me.  Perhaps that is why it can be so frightening. Sometimes.  For me.

One of the biggest benefits of practicing independently is that I can really work with the mercurial shifts of energy as they arise.  I realize that (in previous days) it made no sense to “hold” myself in Flowing.  The fact is that even once I did move into Staccato, I moved back into Flowing many times.  It wasn’t an all-or-nothing thing.  Even when I got to Chaos, I still found myself going back to Flowing.  I have often felt that I needed to keep myself in Flowing longer than felt intuitive so I could be responsible and find the ground beneath me before taking on any other investigation.  Here, the stakes were different.  I needed to attend to the many small subtle shifts of energy as I fluctuated between different rhythms.  And in doing so, the energy of the land started to reveal itself to me.

It was not what I expected, to say the least.  The land or anything else about Ireland.  I have contemplated my relationship to this place at length.  My Irish American grandmother and aunties were very Irish identified, but as I became an adult, I related uncomfortably to this heritage.  I can see how identifying strongly helped them to feel empowered (perhaps in the face of discrimation), to connect with their families and community, and to find meaning and purpose.  For me, though, several generations removed, taking it on has felt more like an identity decision, not a real connection to a living culture.  Before this trip, I thought, “Perhaps I could connect with this lineage in a real way, and claim this one of many parts of who I am.”  I felt strong emotion in the Waterford museum in Dungarven reading about the famine, the independence movement, the seafaring history.  And in talking with one well-dressed, sweet, old Irish lady, who strongly remembled my now-gone beloveds.  And again, at a country fair, seeing teenagers in a dance performance—jaunty, alive, lyrical.  The peasant history, the mystical strains, the aching land.  I know all of this in my body.  And yet I have felt distant.  And more afraid here. I hope I haven’t betrayed my ancestors.  My heart wants to be open, though.  Perhaps there will be a breakthrough.

The second wave emerged organically.  Again, in Flowing I moved in linked, concentric circles, totally unselfconsciously.  I found a melody that has appeared in independent practice again and again, feeling like an ancient song.  Since I was totally by myself (except for one lone man in a blue jacket, a tiny dot far on the other side of the beach), I sang it with full force.  It morphed into a chant—an homage to the sun that had tremendous density and power, and that persisted for most of the second wave.  A thread of Stillness passed through as I danced with five black birds who soared together overhead—crossing, dipping, and gliding.  The gestures of Chaos arose totally from the angles of my feet in the already agitated sand.  In Lyrical, I again found lift, in my own joyful version of Irish step dancing.  In Stillness, I let the waves pass through me; and at the end of the wave, I sat briefly in meditation, cross legged on a towel on the sand.

Today, I went again to this achingly beautiful, secret beach.  First, I carefully checked the tide charts, since I did not want to be caught far from the stairs in a rising tide.  This time, the sky was not blue, but white; and I walked west instead of east.  The horizon was a vague shift in densities.  Although according to the tide chart I should be ok for over an hour, I continued to fear the possibility of a quickly rising tide and watched the sea carefully.  I explored at length, passing the first open beach to a set of giant rocks that would surely be islands at high tide, and on to another open beach (this one with black sand) and to another set of giant rocks.  Everyone makes such a big deal about the greenness of Ireland, but here, the power of Ireland’s ancient rocks and stones presented.  The stones became anthropomorphic as they began to reveal themselves, and I saw not only people, but animals and otherworldly creatures.  I shot them with the phone camera like I was doing portraits; and they revealed themselves even more.

I crossed paths and chatted briefly with the man in the blue jacket that I had glimpsed far down the beach the day before.  I noticed that he was attractive and we chatted about the weather.  He asked if I planned to swim.  In keeping with my recently established personal guidelines about safety, I asked, “Is it safe to swim here?”  He said, pointing, “Well, you don’t go out too far, just in that part there.”  I didn’t fully take it in, believing the sea much too cold, and said, “Well, have a great morning!” and moved on.

I finally had my fill of exploring, and selected a place close to the sea-damaged escape stairs.  In fact, I found another cement staircase and the remains of a man-made walkway that had been totally pummeled and melted by the sea.  I fell in love with it—this sturdy man-made creation that was easily felled by the raging power of the ocean.  It was both humbling and heartening.  Humbling because of the failed hubris of creating human structures on this wild beach.  Heartening because nature so quickly reclaimed and restored itself in the face of human intervention—making our constructed foibles look like mere flashes in the pan.


In Flowing, I was happy and at ease.  I felt no exertion, no inertia and no self.  In Staccato, I felt no urgency or strain.

I saw the man I had spoken with swimming far down the beach, and began to feel like we were sharing a dance.  After a long while in Flowing, I realized he had finished his swim and was standing by the escape stairs, drying off and watching me.  This was an interesting development.  I let Staccato emerge fully, rushing into space far beyond the original circle that I occupied in Flowing, some bold back cross-steps and deep squatting gestures working their way in, as I grew taller, smiling and engaging fully with the sometimes conflicting gestures of breaking waves.  I kept glancing at the man, very aware that he was watching, but never made eye contact with him.  I wanted to speak with him, to connect with him, but I lost my chance.  As Staccato transitioned, I saw that he was walking up the stairs.  I had suspected that he was naked but at this time it was confirmed.  I waved good-bye to him, wishing he would come back and telling myself, “Oh well, he’s probably married anyway, like almost everyone in Ireland.”

This got me to thinking of physical love, and of the many memorable lovers I have met in my travels over the years.  I thought about another beach meeting, near Puntarenas, Costa Rica.  In that instance, I was on a long vision quest on the beach, lone, ecstatic, far from the village I was staying in, when a beautiful man literally rode up on a black horse, stopped short and said, “I want to dance with you!”  Yes, I said, “Como no?”  (Ironically, I never had sex with the horse riding man, who I quickly fell in love with, but instead entered into a primal tryst with an itinerant surfer from Argentina who sold jade jewelry to tourists and lived in a lean-to on the beach.)

For a spell, I was distracted from my senses.  Chaos did not so much arrive as support my intention to complete the wave.  Spinning, I quickly grew dizzy on the tilted plane of the beach, then found a familiar way of moving in Chaos that I realized is just a very articulated and weighted way of spinning.  I moved in and out of Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness again and again, letting the flow of energy have its way.

This place, where two twisting strands of my ancestors hail from, is not what I expected.  The pre-digested Ireland of cartoon leprechauns and Blarney Stone kisses is only a tiny piece of the story.  In reality, it is much scarier.  Much darker.   Incredibly beautiful.  And still, totally foreign.

July 16, 2016, Annestown, Co. Waterford, Ireland

This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.


Ruined Castles, Faery Doors & Patchworked Fields


While everyone in New York is suffering through a heat wave, I have been wearing sweaters and still shivering.  This is my seventh day in chilly Ireland, traveling with my six-year-old son, Simon.  First, we explored the astonishingly beautiful western region of Connemara.  In Connemara, there is water everywhere.  Lush vegetation goes all the way to the edges of every puddle, lake and river, giving the impression that everything is extremely full.  Rock juts up through the green in impressive, unpeopled, ancient mountains.  Rolling fields patchworked in different greens and hemmed by squared stone walls stretch all the way to the ocean’s edge.  Textured layerings of green plants cover everything, even overtaking rock walls and sea cliffs—though in an entirely cheerful proliferation, nothing of sinister engulfment or of overwhelming insistence.

On our first full day in Annestown, on the Southeast coast of Ireland where we are staying at the house of a good friend, Simon got completely soaked.  I didn’t even bring a change of clothes to the beach because it didn’t cross my mind that he might frolic in the waves on such a foggy, cold day; but he met a new friend and they raced happily in and out of the water.  (It should be so easy for all of us!  “You are about my size.  You are willing to run with me.  You are my friend!”) Truthfully, it seems almost that easy here with adults, too.

The next day, Simon and I trekked from late morning until evening in search of a local castle.  With some trial and error, we managed to locate a nearby path our friend had mentioned that leads to the ruined palace.  As we neared the castle, the path grew narrow and steep, with vegetation enclosing us as we ascended.  Having been stung by nettles the day before, Simon moved forward hesitantly.  Emerging, we were the only castle visitors.  There was a discreet board with information in Irish, but no other signs of tourism.  The castle rose above us, overgrown and chipped away, but nonetheless impressive.  I put the picnic bag down on a flat, grassy spot, thinking we would explore the interior, then picnic there.  Ascending further, I realized there was yet another, higher, even more beautiful grassy spot to picnic that looked for miles over green farmland.  We explored the one room that was left of the castle’s interior, looking out through the window opening on each of four sides, then sat down to a picnic of Irish brown bread, sliced turkey and plums.

After our picnic lunch, we spotted a way to climb up a ledge of stones to the castle’s second floor. Perhaps against my better judgement, Simon and I climbed up and took in the views from this even higher perch.  I held my breath and kept him away from the edges, still noting that even the roof sported lush turf and abundant greenery.  Descending was more challenging; and there was a moment that I gasped with fear, but Simon followed my directions carefully and we made it without injury back to the level of our picnic.

We continued to walk along the path all the way into the next village, and slowly became cognizant of the tiny faery doors that dotted the woods.  One was a four-inch tall wooden door carved with celtic scrollwork.  Another featured tiny stairs.  And yet another—moldings and trim.  Most were at a convenient level for faeries and attached to a lower tree trunk.  We made offerings of flowers at each door and asked the faeries to help with many special intentions.  To my swelling pride, Simon included prayers for the happiness and well-being of the faeries, in addition to many prayers for him, for me, and for friends and family members.

Simon slowed down considerably as he grew tired.  At one point, he stopped moving forward and closed his eyes.  He began to move his hands slowly, perhaps imitating people he has seen doing tai chi in the parks of New York City.  He wanted me to follow him, but soon realized that for this kind of dancing, it was more fun to do it on your own.  I, too, moved slowly, my arms gently guiding my my gestures, my breath audible.  Wind rustling through the marsh grasses passed through my body.  For the first time, I noted that the direction of my gesture might not be the same direction as the energy that moved around me, but the different fields could be in harmony, like the different forces at play in a tide.  My shoulders and upper back wanted to unfold and unfurl. (Stillness reveals itself to me in stages.)

Eventually, Simon started moving forward again, and we went to try to find a shop in the village near the end of the path where we heard we could get some ice cream.

Although there are 5Rhythms teachers and practitioners in Ireland, there are no scheduled events during the time of my stay.  I am planning to undertake formal, individual practice as soon as Simon starts camp on Monday, though I am not tricked by the pretense that the practice happens only when I declare that it is happening.  Instead, I hope I will be open to all the magic that presents—especially when it is as obvious as faery doors.

July 8, 2016, Annestown, Co. Waterford, Ireland

(Note: After this writing I learned about two new instances of police killings of black men in the US, and of the rising tide of rage and mixed feelings in response.  I hope this lyrical foray does not offend anyone who is deep in the throes of agony, praying for a new dawn of tolerance and of enlightened policy.)

This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.

On Open Sky, Going Anywhere & Partnership

For the second week in a row, I unexpectedly attended the Sunday Sweat Your Prayers class. For the second week in a row, the class was guest taught by an accomplished teacher from another country, in this case Hannah Loewenthal from South Africa. And for the second week in a row, I explored new and delightful aspects of partnership.

I took a long time to gather myself on entering; and I went silently through a ritual of bowing into the space. I felt emotional and took tiny steps, moving like water through the many floor-moving bodies that were distributed equally around the studio. I found a spot near the middle of the room and began to move in energetic circles, rolling over the back of my head again and again and letting the gestures cast me in arcs, pausing to tense in key stretches as I was quickly called to action.

Hannah, perhaps noting the quickening of the room, dialed the music back to tonal and encouraged us to take our time in arriving. To find the breath and our relationship to it. Most of us were on our feet by then, and the room seemed to move inside clear gel, slow and graceful, dipping collectively into the Stillness inside Flowing. Hannah coaxed us through a meditation of body parts, beginning with the feet. Interestingly, the only part of her narration I recall is about attention to the spine, which I reveled in, remembering that one partner of many years told me early in my 5Rhythms career that I flow with my spine, not just with my feet. Before long, I stepped into this very partner—someone I rarely meet in Flowing—but on this day it felt like the parts of our spines that sit behind and inside the rib cage were enacted, and palpable energy from that part of the body mingled as we moved. We were gentle, but retained a hint of the precise edges that I love about dancing with him.

I have often been amazed at this partner’s ability to meet me exactly where I am. For a long time, I assumed he could just go anywhere. For example, he seemed to be the only one who I could meet in the sharpest of Staccato fields. Over time, I have come to believe that it only looks like he can go anywhere, when in fact it is because he can see the room so clearly that he knows who is in the same energetic field, and then moves into the dances that call him directly.

With my eyes nearly closed and sunken low into my hips, I luxuriated in the coiling and whipping of my spine. A partner I shared a long dance with recently stepped right beside me. I felt him and opened my eyes, laughing, as the last time we met I felt I had stepped into a clearing and felt like I surprised him. This time, he playfully surprised me—a lovely kind of balance.

In the first wave, I hung back in Flowing Staccato and never fully expressed Staccato before the room was barreling into Chaos, loud with joyful vocalizations, including my own. I loved seeing Hannah move in unbridled Chaos, her long arms sailing up and down around her, her long neck in concert. Somehow early in my 5Rhythms career, I got the impression that raising the arms high up is a no-no, but in the last several years, I have been investigating more and more of the sky and the expansive space above. In fact, Hannah repeatedly invited us to dance with the space around us, even when we were told to take partners.

Indeed, there was an unusual amount of space in the room, owing in part to the fact that many people seemed to be drawn to gather in small, quietly moving groups. At moments, the room looked like a sea-bottom kelp-forest, waving collectively with the energetic currents.

Hannah taught the class in two waves, as is the usual custom in a two-hour class, but did not pause for verbal teaching in the middle of the class. Although the frame was two main waves, many tiny little waves expressed inside the larger structure; and Hannah repeatedly chanted, “The rhythms inside the rhythms.”

In Chaos, I spent long periods dancing with myself. I note that during Chaos I am least likely to partner. I wonder if I can extrapolate that I am very self-sufficient in Chaos, very comfortable and confident in Chaos—at least at this point. Often, for me, trances arise here; and I am inclined toward my own inner world. I am much more likely to meet a partner in any of the other four rhythms.

My dance was delightful throughout. My energy level was constant except when I was swept completely away by effusive expression, which gave rise to uncontainable bursts. I found joy in partnership, and was receptive (on this day) to everyone in the room. I found joy in my own inner experience. I found joy in brand new ways of moving, rolling out completely uncontrived. I found joy in stepping into moving with a brand new partner, and, too, stepping in with an intrepid long-time friend who is always willing to off-road from the basic map and from the many notations and traces we have recorded over the years on our uncharted, unchartable adventures.

Leading us from the Stillness of the first wave into the Flowing of the second, Hannah did something curious. Instead of guiding from the feet first as is nearly always the instruction with Flowing, she invited us to begin with the hands, working our way through the body and into embodied Flowing from there. I recalled Kierra’s aside the week before when she taught the Friday Night Waves class, that in many cultures the hands are considered to be the “messengers of the heart;” and I wondered if the hands might be particularly important in Hannah’s personal practice. As I remarked about the class the week before with Anne Marie, taking class with a teacher I have never encountered before can be very valuable—perhaps just as my grandmother, Muriel Grigely, used to feel about stepping into a different church for the first time.

Hannah invited us to partner; and I found a good friend. Both of us were faster than the music; and we giggled and super-sped up, then slowed down and leaned in toward each other: slowing, moving around. Instructed to turn the partnership into a foursome, two others joined us, though the group remained very porous, with several people from other groups or dancing individually moving partially in the field we created. Without instruction, the group dissolved and my partner and I returned to each other briefly before moving on to other parts of the room.

I noticed a friend I recently shared a sublime dance with standing a bit off to the side. I considered trying to engage him, but thought better of it, wondering if it might not be best to let him have whatever experience he was having. I also felt hesitant because our most recent dance was so beautiful—sometimes I feel shy after sharing an experience like that. I noticed that another dancer did succeed in drawing him out and that he seemed to move cheerfully and fluidly, as their group at moments intersected with ours at the point when we were told to dance in groups of four.

During both waves, in the bridges from Lyrical into Stillness, repetitions bubbled up. In the second wave I found a gestural expression of the disbelief that precedes grief, my hands sobbing, crying, “No, no, no, no, no!” I didn’t connect it to a specific experience. It didn’t make me cry, but I could feel its resonance. In Lyrical, I experimented with an awkward groundedness, then took off and sailed throughout the room with luxurious, expansive gestures, pouring my smiling eyes into whoever’s eyes I could manage to meet, high on the toes and raised into the front chest.

As the final wave of the class began to draw itself to a close, I stepped into a partner’s field who I recently shared a long dance with, slightly hesitant. He smiled, inviting, and we resumed a previous class’s investigation of tiny, crossed over steps, flashed foot soles, elbows held close to the torso, occasionally moving in a way that was as closely contained as could possibly be without touching. I moved in and out of more stretched and extended gestures and big, back-crossing steps, but drew back closely into this minute and quirky investigation again and again, delighted.

We came seamlessly into unselfconscious contact, each planting the outside of one foot to touch, side by side. He leaned into me and I returned the gesture, at once pushing and yielding, then stepped around his planted foot, curving us into an arc. The room fell away, the sound of breath grew stronger. We moved in a little matrix, opening at moments into a kind of ballroom glide. At other moments we balanced, finding small swinging movements inside the balances. I noted that he is closer to my small scale than many men, and found balancing exceptionally dynamic and available, feeling like the animations you see of shifting crystalline forms, alive and clear, seeing and seen.

The process of leaving was overlayed with a conversation with a friend. As we took the elevator from the 5th floor down and stepped onto 6th Avenue, he expressed that sometimes he feels like he has to really make a commitment to be in “his” dance. Otherwise, he would just be partnered all the time, doing someone else’s dance—a sentiment I have heard expressed hundreds of times. He was already hugging me goodbye; and we didn’t have time, but this is what I wanted to say:

“This might be unique to me, but at this moment I don’t feel that I have a “my” dance. And I don’t think there is a lack in that. Just as there is no “me” that is separate and self-existing, there is no “my” dance. My deepest, most emotional, or most idiosyncratic personal expression is not separate from any of the dances I have shared with partners or in community. For me, dancing alone and dancing with others are not opposites, but are shades of difference—all part of the beautiful display comprising the myriad forms of this tiny, precious life.”

June 19, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC

This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms®dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.

(Images: The tangled rainbows is an image from my own studio.  The beautiful sunset photo of the Brooklyn Bridge was taken and shared with me by 5Rhythms teacher Hannah Loewenthal .)

I See You There


“When we dance together, even when we dance near each other, I feel so good.  It is like you bring out the spirit in me, somehow.  You are like a little shaman.”  This compliment, delivered by a friend after a recent Friday Night Waves class, was perhaps the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.  It made me very happy to hear not just “I love this thing about you”, but “I love the way you make me feel about me.”

During the week, one afternoon I got down to floor with my forehead touching the rug.  I started to move through the spine and began to experiment, wondering how much movement I could find.  I had been feeling constraint, but great undulating movements overtook me, originating in the spine and slowly whipping through my head, arms, and the rest of me, curving and twisting, prostrating emphatically and then rising again, the spine stacking and moving in all of its increments, and at once as a whole.

Jason Goodman guest-taught Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class this week.  I enjoyed many of his musical selections and found it easy to move.  Jason seemed to be drawing on multiple themes, but at the very end of the teaching interlude between the first and second waves, he briefly talked about partnering in a 5Rhythms class.

I thought about my friend’s generous compliment, and about my own way of relating to partnering.  It is important, of course, to investigate both the state of being alone and to investigate the state of partnering.  In a given class, many spontaneous partnerships may arise.  The teacher might also suggest that everyone take a partner, with the understanding that we should turn to the person closest to us and enter into some kind of relationship—sometimes with specific suggestions by the teacher.  I love to connect, love to see and be seen, love the many interesting insights that arise when I am happy with my partner, and, too, the insights that arise when I am not.  Partnering also gives me the opportunity to be curious about when I am lead by intuition vs. when I am simply compelled to escape discomfort—for example in deciding whether or not to exit a partnership.  For me, another thing about partnership is that I take on new ways of moving, sometimes leading to new insights, sometimes leading to creative inspiration, and sometimes leading to deepened empathy with my partners.

A personal practice that is part of my own 5Rhythms path is to say internally to each partner, “I see you there; and I am grateful for it,” a practice that is adapted from a teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh.  I wonder if what my friend expressed might not be related to this practice—my secret magic formula.

I have been experiencing back pain for the first time in my life; and it has me worried—afraid, even.  Whenever I feel pain, I fear that I will lose the ability to dance.  During Friday’s class, I had no pain, but I was careful to move gently, staying out of my extreme edges, careful not to cross-step behind myself too far, careful not to twist too emphatically on the floor, careful not to step deeply and sharply at once.  Sometimes this very softness, this conscious holding back, opens unexpected doors.

On Friday, I was happy.  I realize that a majority of the time that I am dancing, I am really, really happy.  Beaming, little-flowers spontaneously-growing-where-you-step, the-room-is-filled-with-angels-and-I-am-one-of-them, leaping-and-sailing, life-is-perfect kind of happy.  On Friday, for the first time this year, it was hot enough that everyone in the room was slick with sweat, indicating that my favorite season has arrived, which made me even happier.

There are also plenty of times that I am not happy at all.  It is ok with me, that I am not always happy.  It is only through accepting whatever arises that I find my way to joy—the real joy that arrives, uncontrived.  Curiously, it seems to be through delighting in the people around me that joy is most likely to open up, not because I set out to be happy, and not because I think it is a measure of my practice.

June 1, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC

This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.