Bringing the Dance to Life

June 28, 2014

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

Kiera taught in Tammy’s stead on Friday. I loved her comments on Stillness in particular—that in Stillness, ingrained patterns or ways of moving rise up as a repetition, then fall away again. Although I have heard this teaching before, somehow she enhanced my understanding of Stillness. I have often been confused by instruction about making shapes with my body. Thinking about letting movements rise up changes the directionality. Instead of me imposing something on my body, I am letting it tell me and the world a secret about my unconscious life. This is much better aligned with how I actually experience Stillness.

On a totally different note, something lead me to visit a book I wrote about a trip to the Dominican Republic in 2004, which I hadn’t read since I wrote it shortly after I returned to New York. In the book, I write about how after some time wandering, I found myself in a small vacation town, Las Terrenas, in the northern state of Semanà. There, I learned that many people had been dancing nearly every night for their entire lives. I met many cherished friends, including a master dancer named Nelson, who swept me away and became my mentor. In a short period of time, thanks to his empathy and input, I became competent with bachata, merengue and, to some extent, salsa. Toward the end of my time in Las Terrenas, he and I would break into dance any time we heard music, no matter where we were—on the beach, in the street, in the billiard parlor, in the local store. By the end of a night at the local discotequa, we would be sweat-drenched and exhausted. At the time, I was in a committed relationship, but the passion and affection with which we met each other on the dance floor surpassed many sexual encounters I have experienced.

Why am I writing this? Maybe it is just for the sheer love of living it again. Maybe because it has something to do with dance. Thank god I am dancing, thank god for 5Rhythms. If it weren’t for 5Rthythms and the people who have held space for it, I might have let dancing drift away, just as I lost contact with Nelson and with my Dominican friends. How can it be that ten years have passed since this life-changing trip, and how can it be that I have never pointedly asked myself how I could possibly fail to return?

I sit waiting to know if there is a strain here that has to do with the recent themes I have addressed in this blog. I can’t find a thread, though my eyes fill with tears, my throat wells, my heart grows swollen and I know there is something important for me to take in.

Kiera reminded us on Friday, “Gabrielle always used to say that the practice is really about what we do in our life—how we take it into the world.” Obviously, I need to visit the Dominican Republic as soon as possible; and I have spent the entire day trying to find a way to work with the strong emotions that have come up. There is gratitude—for having been blessed to live such a beautiful story, for my younger self who took the time to write this story I can now re-visit, like personal terma. There is nostalgia, for a younger version of myself, for a place that I will certainly find changed, for moments of un-hesitating, clean, boundless joy, even as I learned about the dark sides of the community that adopted me during my brief visit.

Grief is most cutting when I realize that I have missed a chance to love; and when I look into my heart after reading the book I wrote I find layers and layers of grief. Why didn’t I return every year, as I promised? Why have I not traveled with such a wide open heart, fearless and shining, since my trip to the Dominican Republic?

I love the man I spent the intervening time with, but when I look with unflinching honesty, I see that I grew into a constrained and smaller version of myself—one who cared very much about being in a stable relationship, even to the detriment of my mission to mine the entire world—including my own heart—for love. I have been too afraid of something vague—something unpromised and unrealized that falls apart even as I try to articulate it.

This, now, is the part of the practice that is life. Maybe, with the guidance of my heart and the blessing of practice, I can live the next ten years fearlessly, in service to love, without the useless constraints that I impose on myself.

The Lion’s Cage

June 22, 2014

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

Two posts ago I wrote about how I have worked with having aversion to someone in dance.  In the last post I wrote about how I have worked with really wanting to dance with a particular person.  This week, I have been thinking about the ways that I connect with people who I don’t necessarily have a strong response to. 

Whether I connect right away or not, I often try to notice what part of my partner’s body is leading their dance, and put my attention on that part of my own body.  Some people seem to move from the forearms, the shoulders, the top of the head, springs under the arches of the feet, the edges of the arc of the arms, the high part of the belly, the low part of the belly, the line that draws the jaw.  An intuition about which part is guiding can help me to perceive key patterns in the way someone moves.  Perhaps it is just in my head, but sometimes when I key into something, my partner brightens and gets more into our dance.  Part of me hopes it can be a little gift—an acknowledgement that how they are is just right and I know it.

My own dance never leaves me, of course, but since my dance is always available, I don’t have to worry about insisting on it.  I can afford to open up to completely to anything that comes.  That is always my intention, at least.  In fact, I have often meant to ask people if my dance looks radically different depending on who I am dancing with, since it feels completely different to me. 

Along with seeing and connecting with my partner, there is another oblique benefit.  In testing something new out, for example moving from the shoulders and twisting the plane of my body, I often find a way to move that I never would have discovered on my own.  Streams of memory might open, I might find a new movement theme that I wind up investigating again and again, or I might just have a moment of delightful engagement and specificity. 

When I am dancing by myself, I bring my friends into the room with me, suddenly realizing I am doing a piece of their dance.  As I write this, I wonder if as my friends age and die, I will be able to keep them alive by moving like them—one friend’s happy knees that kick her heels sideways, another’s whoosh and rush from the heart and throat as he parts the seas of the room, another’s belly-low, hip-down birth story, yet another’s bouncing and coiling cadence coming right from the elbows.

Another thing I do when I am in partnership is try to catch my attention if it drifts.  I sometimes borrow a practice from the Thai Buddhist master Thich-Nhat-Han.  I look at my partner fully, saying to myself, “I see you there; and I am grateful for it.”  Sometimes, it just takes a few minutes to arrive in one another’s orbit.  Then we might wind up in an intimate, creative vignette.  At other times, no matter what, the dance is disconnected and contrived. 

Last week, Tammy gave a long, danced talk in the interlude between the two waves.  She touched on a huge array of topics, almost seeming to be channeling.  One thing she talked about was the idea that we are afraid to give all of ourselves.  We are taught that giving everything, holding nothing back, is like going into the lion’s cage, where we might get torn to bits. 

If it worked to hold back, if there was some benefit to it, I would be all for it.  I have been thinking, though, that in 5Rhythms and in life, there is actually no point in holding anything back.  It is not like something is saved for later-we are not saved for later, instead we are just wasted. 

Yesterday, I attended a fortieth birthday party for a friend.  Before the cutting of the cake, her husband made a generous toast to her.  He spoke from the heart and sang her praises, telling her and everyone in attendance how much he loves her.  It was very moving.  There was no reluctance, no hesitation, no edge, no distancing sentimentality, no string, no qualifier—just this wholehearted acknowledgement of his wife’s gifts and of his love for her. 

Writing this passage has been a little hard for me, since it has brought to mind the many times I have held myself back from loving fully and from being fully available to what is happening in a given moment.  I have written about some of the things within my own practice that seem to help my heart to open the world; and to surrender the illusions that cause me to waste myself in holding back, fearing the lion’s cage.

Pull, Push and Related Factors in Dance

June 8, 2014

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

My last post was about the phenomenon of aversion in dance—how I work with it when I discover that I really want to disengage or move away from someone.  Today, I want to write about the phenomenon of feeling a pull to dance with a particular person, and about the times when I very much want to stay in partnership.  In my view, although aversion and attraction (or let’s use the word “pull” for now) feel very different, in effect they are two sides of the same coin.  As with aversion, either deciding to go toward who I feel pulled to and whether or not to stay with them; or to resist the pull and turn away, can both lead to insight.   

Ha! There is my set up.  I am just itching to get into this next section.  There are people who I love to dance with (I blurt out in an exclamatory rush!)  Take the example of a friend I couldn’t tear myself away from last night in class.  We have been dancing together for almost eight years now.  When I step into partnership with him, it feels like the continuation of an ongoing conversation.  Both of us tend to move around the room a lot, and every time we encountered each other last night, we dove into a high intensity dance. 

Even after all of these years, we keep finding totally uncharted terrain.  He is not always in class, but whenever he is I am overjoyed.  The whole experience is marked by joy, in fact.  We move about like crazy people, quickly finding something interesting in a movement, in an energy, even in an altitude or in a way of working with weight or momentum. 

After so many years, we each catch the other’s discovery quickly, and make it our own, as well.  For example, he found a percussive way of moving his arms and elbows that seemed to delight him.  I was delighted for him, then briefly tried it on for myself.  Repetition might arise if one of us catches a glitch, but I never feel trapped by repetition, as I often do with other partners.  In fact, the whole exchange is dynamic.  Each thing fully expresses itself, then we move on, never beating dead horses, but returning occasionally to our persistent refrains.  We move in response to each other, leaping and falling and spinning and curving down and around or up and back or even away and toward.  I have never discussed this with him, but I feel like we at once support, celebrate and challenge each other.

I have written much of my love of massive chaos.  This is very much in evidence with this partner.  I realize now, as I write, that it is really not just the chaos of chaos, but rather the chaos in everything, in every rhythm that is the timeless, endless, constantly changing dance of the creative process itself—when every single thing that arises is perfect art in its full expression.

The things that come up in dances with this friend may or may not relate to the issues that are presenting for me in the room at large.  It is always a conscious expression of spiritual energy, even when it is fun and playful.  At times it becomes overtly shamanic.  For a time, I came to feel like a portal was opening above us as we danced.  I had to scratch certain messages with my feet in the ground—some kind of symbols.  I literally became afraid—crazy as it might sound—because I felt like we were creating some kind of message for beings from another world; and I feared I might accidentally be colluding in some kind of apocalypse.  Too, I have found many movements that brought me into memories of past lives, such as grinding corn on a stone.  Images and visions of all sorts have come up, as well, including jewels pouring from my palms, the engagement of dragons, and the room alive with rainbows, pouring from everyone’s arms. 

At one point years ago, I became fascinated by the powerful and graceful way Peter (the teacher) moved through the crowded room—a sweeping, parting of the seas, and I took the liberty of trailing him to see what it felt like.  I investigated this with the same partner—only when we were dancing in partnership, it became more about trying to get behind him, rather than following him.  It was far from easy to get behind him, and this introduced an interesting force that, for me, pushed the dance into more precision, more awareness and more insightful investigation of edges.  To make it even more interesting, he also seemed to experiment with trying to get behind me. 

Why, oh why, would I want to leave this partner for another dancer, you ask?  Gabrielle said often, “There is only one of us here.”  To some extent, developing attachment to one dancer is just as problematic as developing a difficult-to-work-with aversion.  It all depends on how you relate to it.  Let me say that again, because this is the most important thing in this post.  It all depends on how I relate to it!  I don’t want to be attached to this partner.  Nor do I want to be attached to not being attached to this partner.  There is no way I am going to stop dancing with this him, but even when he is present, I hope I will be open to engaging with new people and with people that I have neutral or even aversive feelings toward—or at least that I will notice that I am not dancing with them.

During our dances, my mind often tells me I “should” disengage and move on.  We take up a gigantic amount of space, and although we always welcome others into our dance, sometimes I fear it could be inhibiting someone else in their dance.  An old tendency that I have—I have written about  it in an earlier blog—to NOT be too big, to NOT take up too much space, gets set off.   I felt like Peter (who was subbing for Tammy) was speaking directly to us as he instructed the room repeatedly to “slow down.”  I feel guilty for this unbridled, full-on expression of everything, but most of the time the voice is overpowered by other impulses.

In fact, I rarely if ever leave a dance of partnership when I am enjoying it—even if it feels like the dance has come to a logical ending—yet another interesting insight that I can transfer directly to my understanding of my life. 

Speaking after class, my friend and I thanked each other for the dance with a sweaty embrace.  He said, “There is just no separation,” and I agreed. “It is just sublime.  A miracle that we always keep finding new material.”

Feeling pulled to someone can be frightening, as well.  There are some people I want to dance with who I am just too shy to approach, but I tend to keep my eye on them, conscious of where they are in the room.  This slightly faltering confidence when feeling pulled to someone can also express itself when I am already in a pleasant partnership, and another dancer comes to join us.  This has lessened in the last four years, but I used to assume that the two of them would prefer to dance together without me, and continue on my way—like a weak-kneed bow, not recognizing my own value or power. 

I am a major advocate of following your heart, of heeding intuition and of trusting your gut, but also notice the limitations.  The problem of always letting my heart guide me is that sometimes the deeply ingrained traces of habitual patterns and responses are so unconscious that I mistake their influence as the call of the heart.  Every action deserves a rigorous investigation into its motivation and nature—anything less leaves too much of our humanity open to being directed by our own ignorance.

Many life-changing dances of partnership, of a given moment or evolving over several years, come to mind, but I think I will leave this post here, as the story feels finished and it is time to let the page be still.




How I Work with Aversion in Dance

May 18, 2014

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

Friday I arrived to class twenty minutes late. I tried to find a place to stretch on the floor, but the room was too energetic, the mood too ebullient and I felt pulled into it instead. I told myself that I should connect with my feet first so I could be responsible in the way I stepped in. I spent a few minutes investigating the planes and pressure points on the bottoms of my feet to satisfy this should.

I shared many joyful and interesting dances, including two with close friends. One in chaos—we held onto each other’s arms and bounced and bent ourselves, smiling the whole time. Another was with a friend who has been away for awhile—a friend who has been like an angel to me—who has literally been there to catch me at the apex of many instances of difficult emotion that have emerged on the dance floor.

In this case, we encountered each other at the very end of the night, happily, in a similar energetic space. He seemed to dance the experiences he had accumulated on his trip. I listened in movement, then told him a little about what I have been up to, myself, for the past few months. Our arms moved in sync at moments with the attenuated music. We took turns or joined each other on the floor, emphatic though with few edges.

In speaking with him later, we discovered that we had both been unpleasantly triggered during dancing with the same person. We acknowledged that the feeling of aversion that comes up with some people—in dance and in life—really has everything to do with our own perspective and understanding, and very little to do with the person who is rubbing on one of our edges.

In my case, Tammy instructed us to take a partner, and one women greeted me in a way that felt too conspiratorial, too knowing for someone I had never before met or danced with. She locked eyes with me and smiled ironically; and I was instantly pickled with irritation. Thinking about it later—it seemed like a parody of myself, somehow. I made the huge assumption that she was making fun of herself, of dance, of me, of the whole situation. By no means do I think it is a good idea to take yourself too seriously, but there was something there in her flippancy that I found distasteful, some lesson for me.

The experience reminded me that for a very long stretch, the issue of aversion and how I worked with it in dance was of central importance. First noticing that aversion has arisen, then noticing what it does in my body, then deciding what to do about it is a fascinating process. The decision to stay with a partner who is triggering me, and work with the edge that is revealed, can lead to enormous insight. The decision to move away from a partner who is triggering me can also lead to enormous insight. Either decision can be skillful, depending on myriad factors.

Partnering in dance and even forming groups is something that happens all the time, but when the teacher actually instructs us to join whoever is closest to us and stay with them until the next instruction—well, all kinds of things arise. When I pair with someone on my own, it tends more often to be who I want to dance with, rather than necessarily who I need to dance with. At times, I have felt un-safe. I can’t exactly explain why. It can feel like aggression, like threat, even if my partner’s intentions are scrupulously kind. I might back up, I might sharpen my elbows, I might force myself open and feel myself tighten up, I might force myself open and wind up connecting joyfully. I might stay in a totally different orbit, nominally connected. I might even spend the entire time praying that the teacher would instruct us to change partners so I wouldn’t be stuck at length with the object of my aversion. Sometimes it is absolutely magical—like the person with the greatest charge for me instantly appears, and perhaps an important insight arises.

Then there are the times that I walk away. Sometimes I take on the challenge of doing exactly what my intuition indicates in every interaction during the entire evening’s dance. On such an occasion, if I feel averse to a partner, I leave them and dance alone or pair with someone else. I notice that I never want to risk hurting someone’s feelings, and sometimes it feels harder to walk away consciously than to stay in an unpleasant partnership—interesting information for me on my own path.

Once, just days before I formally broke up with my partner of eight years, I was dancing with a woman I felt little connection to. A friend, the angel I mentioned previously, happened to return from the bathroom. Without pondering it, I abandoned the woman I didn’t feel connected to and joined my friend. For me, our dance expressed dimensions of human grief, pathos, heartbreak and impossible beauty. My broken heart poured out, and I found myself tender, shining and at ease.