The birds have been downright rowdy this week. It still looks and feels like winter, but the birds seem to think spring has arrived.
I went to Jacob Riis Beach today, as I have on countless Sundays since the start of the pandemic. Part of me wondered if it was time to let go of my weekly practice of dancing with the sea, to clear space for other, perhaps less solitary practices, possibly to make more space for activism and community action.
I had to keep the windshield wipers on the second highest setting on the way, and I wondered if it was worth getting cold and wet. I had faced bigger obstacles to dancing with the sea in the past, including snow, ice, sub-zero temperatures, and heavy winds. These challenges gave me the chance to choose practice again and again, to remind myself that practice means you do it consistently, even when it’s inconvenient or uncomfortable. That’s when a practice really gathers traction. But I started wondering if all the heroics were really necessary.
Sometimes it’s time to soften and allow a practice to shift and change. The biggest clue is if it’s starting to feel rigid. Finding the right zone for a healthy practice is always a balance between giving up too easily, and clinging on too tightly.
Discipline is essential, but rigidity is death.
I made my way across the wet sand, noticing several species of birds – soaring, tottering along the beach, criss-crossing each other in the sky, screaming each other’s names, and bobbing on waves just past the breaks.
I gathered a few objects and bits of beach glass as I crossed the wide beach, shifting back and forth between looking down to panning the wide horizon.
I passed the spot where I had seen a snowy owl earlier in the winter, and scanned the dunes in case she was there again.
I used the objects I’d gathered to set up a small altar, then drew a giant circle around it with a long stick, and walked around it two more times, defining a space and setting the intention to listen on every possible level.
Beginning to move in Flowing, I wandered all through the circle I had created on the packed sand closest to the water. There was a slight incline and I let this help to pull me into circling, almost a kind of swooning. I noticed a slight pull of inertia, perhaps of general exhaustion, and kept bringing attention back into the sensation of the bottoms of the feet again and again. I softened and let in, pulled and swirled by any current that swept through. My feet felt curiously gentle, almost stealthy. I imagined that I was moving with the snowy owl, that she was teaching me to move through the woods at night, teaching me to see what is invisible to most eyes.
In the past I’ve associated the rhythm of Lyrical most strongly with spring, but lately I’ve been interested in exploring the staccato qualities of spring.
Spring isn’t just about joy for me. It’s also about action. It can feel like a damn of energy that breaks and then is gushing out everywhere – sometimes in the form of “spring fever.” It can also be the push toward light that comes after a long period of waiting, contemplating, and gathering strength in darkness. It can be very directed.
Even so, when I’m dancing alone, sometimes the spark of Staccato is slow to ignite. Today I moved through a body parts practice, beginning with the feet, then the knees, hips, spine, head, shoulders, and arms. For each body part, I experimented with internal and external rotation. I saved the elbows for last, knowing they could lead me directly into Staccato.
Given the rain and chilly weather, I was mostly alone so I could sing, growl, coo, and groan as much as I wanted to. Today I found definition, engagement, format. Partway through Staccato, I noticed a person in a yellow raincoat watching me from far away. Soon a lone walker crossed the top of my circle, too. I tried to avoid eye contact and dug deeper, cutting and stepping back across myself, staving off Chaos until I could again be alone.
I thought back to an in-person class I had attended the previous week, and of all the new ways of moving I brought into the group dance. I had found a new way to shake my head free, sinking low and finding the flinging momentum of diagonals. I brought it into the studio, and it visited me again on the beach today. In Chaos I also tottered downhill, skittering at the edge of balance, and hopped from side to side until the rush of manic chaos whipped me into wild spinning again.
Lyrical passed like a patch of sun moving across the sand and expanded the spaces between my ribs. Then I moved in Lyrical Stillness for a long time, with whispering feet – interior space merging with exterior space.
I think I will keep this practice for now, but perhaps hold it a little more lightly to make space for new possibilities and new priorities. To make room for the coming spring and all that it offers.
“It’s 2019. Just thought I’d let you know that,” jokes Tanya Goldman, who is leading the first Sunday Sweat Your Prayers 5Rhythms class of 2019 in New York City. She doesn’t specifically mention New Year’s resolutions, but she does say, “One thing I’ve learned is if you want to change, you have to move. Physically, mentally and emotionally. It doesn’t just happen.”
Tanya doesn’t talk much during class but somehow manages to bring out the best in people. For this Sunday morning class, the big dance studio is jam-packed and notably porous, the many selves melting in and out of each other, part of a big, collective self.
As the class begins, Tanya leads us in a long, patient Flowing. She seems confident that we’ll stay with her, even if she doesn’t rush to entertain us. In Staccato and a wild Chaos, I dance with a friend who’s seated in a chair, bringing me down low. I also share several dances with a friend who has been a frequent partner over ten or more years. In contrast to our usual ebullient, wide-ranging partnership, we tuck into a pocket, sustainable, riding energy patiently. In Lyrical, I join with another friend, leaping into flight with my shoulders and chest wide open, tears streaming down my face.
At the height of joyful intensity, Tanya plays the 90’s club anthem ’Last Night a DJ Saved My Life with a Song‘. I recognize it immediately, sinking low in a pumping warrior cry as the room explodes.
Tanya has a way of doing this. Of building things up and building things up, then dropping the exact perfect song at the exact perfect moment; and if I had had any sort of conscious thought, it probably would have been: This is heaven. Life could not possibly get better than this.
At the end of the class, I pause to chat with one of the friends I’d partnered with. “That was just amazing,” he says, wide-eyed. I nod. “She is incredibly trustworthy. I feel like it’s safe to totally let go. Like she is holding space and witnessing what is unfolding in, like, a clean way, or something.”
I think back to a Heartbeat workshop that Tanya and I both attended ten years before. I was having a joyful and pleasant experience, but it shifted when we were placed into groups of three for an exercise. One person was to move with a certain prompt in mind and the other two would witness the person who was moving, then we would change roles. One of my partners was this very expressive woman who had a huge dance. I had cheerfully joined her in partnership many times during the workshop, but this time when she was supposed to witness me, I didn’t feel like she was seeing me at all. Like she was just totally wrapped up in her own awesomeness. I’m pretty extroverted and don’t feel invisible very often, but somehow this really hurt me.
Thankfully, Tanya was my other partner. Curiously, it wasn’t until I reflected later, still nursing wounds from the experience, that I realized that although one partner had failed to see me, Tanya had very much seen me. I realized what a valuable friend she is and hoped that I could return the favor of her clear-seeing, something I continue to try to live up to.
Tanya, who has been a 5Rhythms teacher since 2014, sat down with me last spring to share some thoughts on her life and process. We planned to get together after a different Sweat Your Prayers class in the West Village for this interview. I hadn’t really thought through where we would set up but considered a few local restaurants without fully appreciating how much Tanya has to think things through in advance. Tanya has a disability that affects motor ability and uses a walker to get around, so accessibility is an issue, and she also let me know that she is not able to eat solid food. So instead of a restaurant, we went to a smoothie place at the corner, then sat down together at the closest Starbucks.
Once settled, Tanya patiently blinked her clear, blue-green eyes, and sipped at her smoothie, inviting the first question.
“When did you start practicing the 5Rhythms and what brought you to 5Rhythms for the first time?” I asked.
“I started practicing in 2008,” she began. “I’d already been doing Contact Improv for many years, since college.”
Tanya shared that she went to Oberlin, where Contact Improv was invented, and in fact practiced in the very studio where Contact Improv originated.
“I loved it, and learned that I could really be there, could really be in it despite my limitations. As my disability progressed, it got harder to do Contact Improv. It’s really all about partnering. In partnering, it was like my partner shared my disability, so it would limit what they could do, and not everyone was ok with that.”
She also shared that she didn’t always feel like she was included in the community, and added, “I decided I needed to find another dance community where it would be ok to dance on my own.”
Next, she became part of the Dance New England community and someone there suggested she try the 5Rhythms.
“For my first class, Jonny (Jonathan Horan, the director of 5Rhythms and son of its creator, Gabrielle Roth) was teaching. I didn’t understand it at all, but I felt accepted. Then, it was many years before I started to learn what it was all about.”
The next question I asked was, “How has your practice changed over time?”
“Well, my body has changed. The biggest change is that I now use a walker. That’s been in the last six-to-eight months. In the beginning, my balance was so much better. I could skip and run. Particularly after I got the walker, I was aware that my balance was really changing. For a while, I was falling all the time. My mind wanted to dance faster than my body could handle. The mind doesn’t want to accept the body’s limitations, but once you can go with the changes, then it’s so much easier. And now I’m not falling! But I’m definitely still moving.”
“Do you feel more comfortable with being off balance?”
“I don’t feel out of balance. I’ve come to accept and find the grace within my own dance. But it’s not a definite. One day it’s there and the next it’s like ‘where is it?’”
Then, I asked, “Do you have a ‘home’ rhythm?”
“Not really. For me, it’s all about change. We’re always changing and life is always changing.”
“Tanya, what made you decide to become a 5Rhythms teacher?”
“I did a class with Sylvie Minot and she talked about teaching 5Rhythms to inmates in prisons. I thought that was amazing. Not that she was teaching in prisons, but that she was bringing the work to disadvantaged people. I’m trained as a social worker. I always wanted to help people, to change lives for the better. In fact, when I started the teacher training, I was still working as a social worker. Halfway through the teacher training, I got laid off from my job, along with my social worker colleagues. After, I was too exhausted to go back to work, but I feel like being a 5Rhythms teacher is my offering, my contribution.”
“Did you have to overcome significant obstacles to undergo the teacher training?”
“I definitely had to overcome obstacles. The first was financial, especially after being laid off after the first module. Maybe even more significant were the mental obstacles. I had an internal story that I wasn’t even fully aware of that I had nothing special to offer. At an Open Floor workshop with Andrea Juhan this story came out and I was finally able to deal with it. That was a big turning point for me.”
“While I was going through this, though, I felt supported by Jonny (Jonathan Horan). During the training, we had to learn a kind of two-step pattern, which was obviously pretty hard for me, but I did it.”
She also shared that Jonathan said, “When you do this with Tanya, hold her hands,” and how much she appreciated that Jonathan seemed to get her needs.
“What, in your opinion as a 5Rhythms teacher, is the essence of 5Rhythms practice?”
“For me, it’s about permission and possibility; and it’s about getting out of your own way.”
“What, if anything, makes your perspective on the 5Rhythms unique?”
“I think as a person with a disability, I give a lot of permission to people in general. And, as a person with a disability, I also bring a lot about being willing to be vulnerable. My experience is about being very vulnerable every day. I wear my vulnerability on the outside.”
Tanya and I shared a workshop this weekend that was focused on the 5Rhythms emotional map, Heartbeat. At one point, we were working with the emotion of anger, and the room was explosive. We were instructed to line up at one end of the room and several sets of partners at a time would cross the floor to the other side, expressing the emotion of anger with our bodies.
One issue I’ve personally been working with is how to know when to help people and when not to, and how I relate internally to those two options. In fact, in a Sunday class the week before, a man had come in with a walker and paused at the side of the dance floor. I happened to be near him and asked if he wanted a chair. He was irate: “Why would I need a chair? There’s nothing wrong with me!”
Although I have never discussed it with Tanya, I wonder if, because of her disability, she has to contend constantly with people projecting their ideas of what her experience is and should be onto her. When I was pregnant in 2009-2010, I struggled with the visibility of my pregnant body and how much people wanted to tell me about my experience. I felt like a walking screen for everyone’s projections, and that if I heard one more birth horror story I might possibly harm someone.
With Tanya, I want to be available to help, but also don’t want to insult her by offering, and sometimes I get myself tangled in stories about helping/not helping instead of simply trusting myself to communicate effectively and do what’s needed. When we were lining up in the anger exercise, Tanya, who happened to be next to me, turned to me and shook her head, blinking her eyes and looking unhappy. “Does this feel like too much?” I asked. She nodded. “Do you want me to get you a chair?” She nodded again. I carried a chair over, placed it off to the side, and she sat down. The week before, I’d shared a dance with a broken-ankled friend who needed to stay seated, and, deep in a vigorous chaos, she had traveled laterally at least ten feet without harming the floor surface at all. Recalling this, I asked,
“Tanya, do you want me to push you across in the chair?”
Her eyebrows raised and her face lit up. “Really?”
She gave a clear “Yes” nod, so I moved behind the chair and pushed her forward. Tanya seemed delighted as I gently zigged and zagged across. My own dance had vigor and specificity, a Staccato I’ve been searching for lately – a self I’ve been searching for lately –especially as my roles in the world become more complex and I step into more positions of leadership. When we were almost to the end, I signaled to another dancer to please take over and she got the message immediately. I ran back to the first side of the room and crossed again, on my own this time, in an individual anger dance, unselfconsciously ferocious, owning my power without insisting on it.
The next time across, I asked a mutual friend to join Tanya and me. We were just as wild, zigzagging across both in partnership and as a trio, and changing roles halfway across.
I’m sure I benefited much more than Tanya in this exchange, and remain grateful to her for her willingness, courage, and openness.
The next and final day of the workshop, when we greeted each other, Tanya took the time to say, “I feel seen.” I recalled my resolution following a Heartbeat workshop more than a decade before to return the favor of Tanya’s clear-seeing when I had felt painfully unseen by one dancer, but seen by Tanya.
I don’t know if she meant specifically seen by me, but however she meant it, I looked at length into her light eyes and my heart flooded up. So many of the lessons Tanya teaches me are the ones that we already know deep down but conventionally forget, such as the fact that one of the deepest human needs is to feel seen, and that one of the greatest gifts we can offer is to see each other.
“Do you have any advice for new dancers?” I asked as our interview drew to a close.
“Have fun! Try not to take yourself too seriously and don’t worry if you don’t ‘get it’ at first. I tried to read one of Gabrielle Roth’s books in the beginning and I didn’t understand it. I couldn’t really hear what the teachers were saying at first, either. I’m very kinaesthetic; I learn through the body. I had to practice before I could get it intellectually.”
“And do you have advice for experienced dancers?
“Same thing! And also keep your mind open, keep your eyes open, and don’t get fixed on a certain idea.”
The final question was, “In closing, do you have a favorite quote or passage from Gabrielle’s teachings?”
“Waves move in patterns. Patterns move in rhythms. A human being is just that – energy, waves, patterns, rhythms. Nothing more. Nothing less. A dance.”
by Meghan LeBorious, based on an interview with 5Rhythms teacher Tanya Goldman on May 27, 2018, and journal notes from 2008-2019.
Originally published in the 5Rhythms Tribe newsletter on April 16, 2019. Photographs courtesy of Tanya Goldman and Jonathan Horan.
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)