Antique Clothespins, Feathers, Glitter, Pearls, Collected Baby Forks & Paper Lace

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

Peter Fodera’s one-day Flowing workshop was held at the Paul Taylor Studio on the Lower East Side.  I remember once during a class Tammy said that when she first met Peter, he seemed so divine she wasn’t sure he was actually of this world.  I try to attend every teaching he offers in New York City and have always felt challenged, supported and inspired by him.  It was my first time at Paul Taylor Studio, and novelty peaked my attention as I made my way in the door and up one flight of stairs to the foyer.  The space struck me as clean and chic, with high ceilings, open stairs, translucent walls, and cut-out spaces for sunlight to move freely.

The rhythms of Gabrielle Roth’s 5Rhythms practice include Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness.  Flowing is the first by design; and we are taught that Flowing is the essential foundation of every other rhythm.  Its hallmarks are being aware of the feet on the floor or ground, unending circular motion, looking for and moving into empty space, in-breath, and an attitude of receptivity and curiosity.

After greeting many smiling friends, I stepped into the lovely studio, bowing as I crossed the threshold, as is my habit.  The black floor was marked and scuffed in subtle, layered patterns that, upon inspection, seemed to have marble-like depth.  Crossing the large black rectangle of the dance floor, I stepped into a balcony-like space with a white floor and an entire wall of curving windows that look onto the lower east side and the raised subway tracks peeking from behind a stand of tall buildings.

Martha Peabody had created an installation between the threshold of the two floors and facing onto the large dance floor.  Its setting was rectangular, as well, and featured leaf-green netting over a soccer-goal shaped form and fabric of an array of shades and textures of green—the color associated with the rhythm of Flowing.  On this foundation, Martha had placed a curving line of wooden shoe forms, mature plants potted in sculpted tins, balls of moss, candles and white roses.  She also created perhaps a dozen little wooden stands, each holding a dense cabbage like a head manikin, and each topped with an exquisitely-rendered crown or headdress.  Materials included antique clothespins, feathers, glitter, pearls, beading, decorative sewing pins, collected baby forks, a tiny bird, veils and paper lace.  A special pussywillow crown had a place of honor on a small, wooden child’s chair in the middle of the installation in honor of Peter’s birthday.

Leading up to the workshop, I was nothing but eager.  I noted that I had no ambivalence whatsoever about spending a day investigating the rhythm of Flowing.  My one mild hesitation was that I wondered if a one-day workshop would allow time to both come apart and to re-member.  I noted that I was a bit nervous about the possibility of coming apart without being able to work through it.  In the past, I have only done three-day workshops or workshops that meet once a week for multiple weeks; and in most cases, the narrative arc of the workshop involved some kind of descent, unraveling or release, and then some kind of re-integration.

Peter’s choices of music made it easy to move; and I stepped directly into the river of Flowing—with seemingly perfect release, engagement and fluidity.  I felt emotional and was moved by artistic visions, finding infinite new ways to move.  I investigated the room, flowing into all its corners and looking into the high-above theatrical works. I felt like a spring stream finding its way downhill, rushing around rocks and fallen trees, swirling, crashing upward, falling back, and then being pulled forward with vigor.  It is beyond joyful—these rare moments when movement is perfectly aligned with the inner and outer environments.

I anticipated that we would engage deeply with the “pure” rhythm of Flowing, as opposed to its shadow, but Peter had different ideas.  When we say the “pure” rhythm, we mean the rhythm itself, when we talk about the “shadow” of a rhythm, we are talking about a face of the same rhythm that could be read as a different—or even as an opposing—aspect.  For example, the pure rhythm of Flowing is Flowing; and the shadow of Flowing is Inertia.

Which is why the day before, when we had blue sky in New York, and a little kiss of spring, I said, “Yes! Let it in, let it in, let it in!” With in-breaths—with inspiration—with open arms, and with feet moving with gratitude on the soon-to-awaken earth.  After a grueling winter with many prolonged periods of constraint and a long, thick illness, I was more than ready.  I note that letting in joy is not the easiest thing for me.  I might even freak out if I get too happy. In fact, I have often prioritized investigating my dark, complex recesses over engaging with simple joys.

Of all of the five rhythms, Flowing has been my most valuable teacher, especially since it is so far from how I experience myself in the world.  I was surprised after the opening wave when Peter pointed us toward the shadow of Flowing, since I felt like the pure rhythm of Flowing was unusually available to me.  This may or may not have been true for my fellow practitioners; and no doubt there were at least a few who were unintentionally in Inertia, the shadow of Flowing, throughout the workshop.  I guess I had assumed that there was so much to investigate just in the straightforward rhythm that the shadow of Flowing would not be a dominant theme.

I am an absurdly compliant student when it comes to the 5Rhythms.  Believe me, you would not say this of me in other arenas.  They probably have my face on a dartboard in the department office where they administered my most recent college degree, for example.  But in 5Rhythms, I wholeheartedly take on whatever investigation I am assigned.  So when Peter pointed us toward the shadow, I tried every experiment, at once realizing that I remained very much in the pure rhythm of Flowing.  I guess it is possible that only in the face of the shadows can you really find the depths of each rhythm.

At any rate, I felt shining, ecstatic.  I had the perfect reserve of energy to draw on and I moved effortlessly throughout the space.  I knew I couldn’t force the Shadow’s hand; and that to do so would have been an act of aggression against myself.  Within the meditation tradition I am trained in, nothing is wrong.  It is not like anything goes, though.  On the contrary, it is very precise, but it is all about how you relate to everything.  To me in this moment, opening to the joy of letting spring in was skillful, even if it meant I couldn’t fully enact the instructions.

In the middle of the day, Peter asked why some of us take ourselves out of the dance when we get to Stillness.  “Did I take myself out of the dance?” I wondered.  Faces around the big circle we sat in looked quizzical and slightly tight.  “Did I do something wrong?” I wondered.  Peter mentioned that according to Gabrielle, it is important to keep the eyes open.  I have often wondered about this, since what, exactly, to do with the eyes has been an important consideration in the meditation tradition I have trained in, also.  At a 5Rhythms workshop, I once posed this question to the teacher.  “Is keeping the eyes open an important part of the practice?” In contrast to Peter’s suggestion, that teacher explained that the instruction to keep the eyes open is really more about safety than anything else.  I continued to wonder about this point.

Some practitioners and teachers in attendance shared that the chance to close the eyes and turn inward might be valuable, and we might seem to have stopped moving, but to instead be moving with such subtlety that we only appeared to have stopped.  I experimented with applying the idea I was trained with in meditation practice: what if nothing is ever wrong, per se, but the question is, rather, how am I relating to this?

I realize that there are many reasons I might choose to close my eyes.  One is because I have been swept away with the abandon of the room, and need to find the beat again inside my body.  This is especially true when a new song begins in Staccato.  I often need a quiet moment to turn in and find out how the rhythm of the song affects my heartbeat, so I don’t just rush into it without awareness.  Another is that with my eyes shut or lowered, I may discover a different kind of seeing that is not available with my eyes open.  Yet another is that sometimes my body has to go all out, with total abandon and maybe even with artfulness.  I am afraid of showing off, and if I shut or lower my eyes, I can’t tell if anyone is watching or seeing me, so I don’t hold myself back just to not-show-off.  I have spent huge amounts of life inappropriately trying to contain myself, and sometimes I need this little trick to let wild grace overtake me when it arrives.  And yes, sometimes I shut my eyes because I don’t feel like dealing or because I want to withdraw.  Which might be ok, too.  Maybe even correct at certain moments.

I think Peter said we did a wave with the Shadow of Flowing in each of the other rhythms.  This is a bit tricky for me to understand. I understand the idea of doing a Wave in the shadows of each rhythm, but this is another step removed.  Whatever the nature of the frame, I continued to move with joy, creativity and specificity.

When prompted to experiment with the restless aspect of Staccato’s shadow, I began to pace between four doors which were situated in each corner of the dance floor.  When Peter asked, “What do you do when you get restless?”  I went right into a currently unfolding situation.  I really  wanted to huff away—to leave dramatically; and I kept storming toward each of the four doors.  After many charges, I found a sharp little dance of “this can’t be this can’t be this can’t be yet I have no power the only thing I can do is be sharp show contempt and walk away.”  No further insights have emerged; and the situation I was sketching continues.

After so much emphatic movement and so many wholehearted experiments, or perhaps because the shadow fell over me at last, I grew tired and stayed more or less in one spot.  The day ended with people actually wearing and dancing with Martha’s spectacular crowns.  I approached the altar several times, wanting to wear one crown in particular.  It had a netted veil that could be drawn over the eyes and a tiny toy bird perched on it.  It seemed too immersed in its environment to remove it, but eventually I gathered enough courage and danced briefly with it on my head—thinking it an auspicious ritual as we move into spring, into new beginnings, into subtle and un-subtle unfurlings, and (I hope) into joy and inspiration.

March 10, NYC

Pregnancy, Birth & The Creative Process

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

The most spectacular human being on the planet was born five years ago tomorrow. I mean my own small son, of course. Gabrielle’s unabashed adoration of her son, Jonathan, who is now the lineage holder of the entire 5Rhythms tradition, opened the door to openly admitting my feelings, without embarrassment, holding back or making light of it. I wish that every child could be loved as much.

At this time five years ago, I was eating dinner with my son’s father. I had spent the day doing errands in Manhattan, and had been for a swim in the Chelsea Pool. I had to walk slowly, slowly as my body was beginning to cramp around the baby. I did not identity it as labor until after we had eaten and had settled down to watch a movie. The realization dawned on me slowly. “I think I might be in labor,” I said. He reacted badly, suggesting angrily that I call my sister. I tried, but could not reach her. She had just completed the Miami marathon, went out drinking after and was fast asleep. I called the midwife and started to gather some things I might need. We got into a car service. Then, it became very clear that I was, in fact, in labor. The first rounds of real pain caught me off guard. I turned and kneeled on the black leather seat facing out the back window, literally biting the upholstery and calling out in pain.

We arrived at the Brooklyn Birthing Center around 11pm, ahead of the midwife, and found the door locked and the lights off. I could barely stay on my feet at this point, and was becoming shrill with pain. The midwife arrived shortly after and let us in. She examined me and decided to have me move and walk before formally admitting me. At this point, she became strident, “You have to focus. You can’t totally lose it now.” She encouraged me to breathe through the contractions, and showed my partner how to press on the back of my pelvis to help relieve the pain.

I danced throughout pregnancy. In the very beginning, I stopped going to classes because I had heard a rumor that loud music could be bad for a developing baby. I couldn’t find any good evidence to support this; and since things were turbulent at home, I realized I had to return to classes or risk harming my little son with held-in sadness and anxiety. I even did an intensive, weekly shadows workshop that met late on Wednesday nights during the fifth and sixth months of my pregnancy.

It was in dance that I connected with the miracle of pregnancy. For the first time in my life, I was completely filled in every way. I was dancing three rhythms at once, my own, the baby’s, and the rhythm of us together. I was awestruck when I thought about the fact that I had two heartbeats; and I could hear and feel both.

In the Shadows workshop, my process of working with fear-entrenched patterns accelerated, as I hoped to evolve, somehow, before welcoming a new human into my life. I danced hard! It must have been a remarkable sight. When we investigated Chaos, I remember laying on the ground at the end fearful that I might have harmed the baby.

I spent hours and hours in the days immediately before birth tilting gently side to side on an upholstered rocking hasset, sitting in front of an altar that I made—of chandelier crystals and the little rainbows they cast, my grandmother’s glass Blessed Mother statue, and transparent blue and white fabric. I was beginning to turn in, to gather energy, to enter a trance that (in retrospect) lasted for several months after my son was born.

Before and during this period, I felt pulled to spinning. I was powerful and engaged inside a spin, and I dipped and cut the air with my hands, slowing and speeding up for long stretches. It might be interesting to note that when my son was tiny, the best way to calm him was by holding him in my arms and spinning—very fast and very gently.

Because I danced all the way through pregnancy, I don’t think I ever moved like a pregnant woman. Instead, I was able to adjust to my fast-changing body, including to the shifts in balance.

I wasn’t afraid leading up to birth—at least not of the birthing process. In fact, I was interested in testing my limits. Once the midwife re-set me, I got into a rhythm. Between contractions I danced Flowing in the hallway at the birthing center, moving in gentle spirals, my feet in constant motion. When a contraction came, I put my hands on the wall and breathed until I came to the other side of it.

Before long, the midwife declared that it was time, and I was helped into a warm bathtub. In the bath, I felt totally supported. My son’s father, the midwife and a birthing attendant were in the room with me. When the process got very intense, I turned to the side of the bathtub, held onto a metal bar and learned to beat a rhythm on the wall as my body radically adjusted and my pelvis stretched to make way for the baby.

I had to leave the bathtub when it was time to push, and for some reason I insisted on putting on my bathrobe as I was assisted to the room next door. I was patient, ethereal at this time, asking for a sip of water. Then, things got very urgent. The midwife said that the umbilical cord was totally wrapped around the baby and that we had to get him out immediately. I was immune to stress, but followed directions, pushing like I was doing a resisted sit-up. After all the pain leading up to the pushing, I was surprised that the last stage was painless. He emerged easily, with just a couple of pushes hours before dawn.

He gazed at us, centuries of wisdom in his tiny eyes. We spent the morning in the birthing center—where it was warm, dark, quiet and private. My sister also appeared and we took turns holding this still-otherworldly creature.

The year he was born—2010—was marked by blizzards, and we spent our first weeks silent and flowing. The beauty of the snow, the white sky, the silver line of the subway sliding by in view of the window, and the quiet cadence of the soft rocking chair folded into days that slid into nights and opened again into dawn.

The first time I was due to meet Gabrielle was on my son’s first birthday. We were out of town and had to travel back literally during the height of another blizzard. My father drove us to the closest Amtrak platform and waited with us for the long-delayed train. It eventually came trudging down the track, its metal snow plow carving a path ahead of it. Shortly after we boarded, the train went out of service and we had to wait in a station for hours, take a bus to another place entirely, and re-board another train. Gabrielle was already sick by then, and she had to cancel that day because her voice was weak.

After I had been dancing for about a year, I noticed that my relationship to creative work changed completely. Before, I had wasted time on neurotic activity, wondering if I was really a good artist, if I should really be a writer instead, if being a good writer would automatically mean that I was a bad artist—and on and on and on. After, I stopped asking myself these questions, and found that I had (without making any resolutions) started to actually trust the creative process to unfold and show me the way to a form. Creative work started to pour out of me. I was no longer serving my identity as an “artist” in the same way. Instead, I rode the winds of inspiration like a galloping horse.

After my son was born, I shed yet another layer of inane self-talk that held me back from creative activity; and I stepped without hesitation into ambitious projects and opportunities that arose.

A good friend told me about Tammy’s class a couple of days after my son was born. The friend put a picture of my son, showing his tiny head cradled perfectly in the palm of his father’s hand, on the altar. Tammy announced to the class that he had been born, and, according to my friend, many people were moved, some even cried. She said they felt like he was their baby, too, since we had all gone through the experience of pregnancy together.

February 1, 2015