Dance Is My Religion

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

“Kids:  they dance before they learn there is anything that isn’t music.” –William Stafford

Dance is my religion. I go to 5Rhythms class like some people go to church.  I participate in the community, give and get support, and intensively study the writings and teachings.  Where I notice God, or Gods, or God-ness is in dance, in moving.

Class on Friday night was divine.  I arrived a few minutes late to find Tammy talking rhythmically about the many ways we might choose to enter the class as people began to stir and circulate.  You could move about and investigate every part of the room and every person in it.  You could find a spot and attach yourself to it for a period, stretching, investigating the weight of the body on the floor, or moving slowly, for example.

What was so good about class on Friday? First of all, nothing was wrong.  That is an extraordinary thing to notice.  No aches, no tiredness, no dominating anxieties, no notable irritations.  I had abundant energy for every moment of class, and did not note any wavering in attention or engagement.

Early in the class, I felt like it was difficult to move around the room, as many people seemed married to the spot they were in.  The moment I articulated this to myself, Tammy offered instructions that had us relating to the spaces between ourselves and the people in front of us, behind us, and to the sides of us.  Suddenly, the room came alive in four dimensions—dynamic and fluid—and people seemed open to connecting.

Daniela taught Tammy’s class two Fridays ago night since Tammy was away at the 5Rhythms teacher training.  Her teaching in the middle of the class had to do with finding ways to manage complexity in our lives.  She talked about how we simultaneously hold multiple things that might even be contradictory.  I am a lover of beautiful chaos—the exquisite proliferation of forms, the universe’s forceful expressions of life, the dynamic and wild activity of reality. Part of me loves even the tangled mess of it.  This is what came up for me when Daniela spoke about complexity.

My creative work reflects this tendency toward complexity.  I am grateful, for example, to have found this written form—wherein I write more in a relational field than as a linear proposition or polemic argument.  Often, several different threads are woven together.  They may converge into fabric or woven tapestries, or they may, at times, simply co-exist as threads, un-willing to be tamed into a larger narrative.

In a past workshop with Lucia, she encouraged us to engage with complete simplicity.  This was a difficult proposition for me!  It was not easy to let go of the edges, the glitches, the problems, the stories.  The investigation was fruitful; and I found myself torn apart in the most beautiful possible way.  In Lucia’s workshop, I learned that I have to watch in case I am creating unnecessary complexity just for the sake of it.  Daniela’s proposition that we observe and investigate complexity was another (and very welcome) way to investigate this territory.

During that week, I waited with hand-clasped longing to know if I would be allowed to take three days off work to attend the Mirrors level workshop with Alain Allard this week.  After several canceled meetings, I resorted to sending a long, impassioned email to my supervisor.  I kept checking inboxes and not seeing a response.  I began to develop a disgruntled retort and became increasingly heartsunken, wondering if I would have to decide between waiting twenty years to do advanced 5Rhythms workshops or quitting my job.

I am proud of myself for even asking. I had briefly considered calling in sick for the three days, but decided against it.  To ask, I had to put a lot of eggs into a basket; and it frightened me.  I realized I was expending considerable social capital; and wondered if it was an impossible request anyway.  I very much believe in setting firm intentions, but I kept letting myself slide—for example missing the opportunity to do the Cycles workshop with Jonathan in Philadelphia last October.  Which is why I was elated when I finally received an email from my boss giving me permission to take the three days off of work so I could do the five day workshop.  Amazing!  Extraordinary.  Scary.

Lately, my five-year-old son has been asking about religion.  This week he posed the question, “Mommy, what is religion?”  The best I could do was, “Religion is a way that people relate to God—or Gods or divinity—usually in community.”  That, of course, meant nothing to him.  I tried to explain a little about the Hasidic people who were in view outside the car window.  I explained that our family is Catholic and that Daddy’s family is Seventh Day Adventist.  “Mommy, what religion are we?”  This was an even harder question to answer.  Finally, after casting about at length, I offered, “I actually think my religion is dance.”  He replied, “Well, I think my religion is play.”  I smiled and let the conversation rest there for now.

As I was saying, Friday night class this week was divine for me.  The moment that I noticed that it was hard to move around because everyone seemed rooted in their place and Tammy proposed that we notice and investigate the spaces between each other, we shifted into a different plane entirely.  The room was alive with awareness, and I moved seamlessly from partner to partner.  Typically, when I am delighted it is because I love how I am moving.  On this night, I was delighted because of the availability of connection and participation.

During the parenthesis for verbal teaching and demonstration in the middle of class, Tammy offered a teaching about curiosity.  She started by asking if anyone was brand new to the practice.  Then, she reminded us that we are all, in fact, brand new, since we bring something different to the dance every time we come to it.  She modeled sort of a bored wave—but by the time she got to the end it seemed to overtake her and the boredom opened into something else.  She spoke as though she were a practitioner who thought she really had a handle on practice and knew just how to do it.  When she got to the Lyrical part of the wave, she said, “I have a responsibility to curiosity,” as she moved her hand in a kind of growing circle.  From this perspective, an honest dance becomes a matter of integrity.  Curiosity becomes not simply capricious, but necessary, fundamental and correct.  Wholesome, even.

I shared many exquisite dances.  With my friend Daniel, who I have not really danced with in months, I found a playful Lyrical—filled with stops and bursts.  I also shared a fascinating and engaging dance in Chaos with a small, powerful woman who kept her face entirely covered with her dark, matted hair.  At the end of the first wave, I danced with a man I have never seen before.  I was totally drawn in and we moved together with influences of Latin, Brazilian and Afrobeat music, though the instructions were to move throughout the room.  With him, my mind kept telling me to slow down, settle in, stop doing.  I suddenly noticed that I had spent a period of the class with a slightly frantic energy and was able to open to a more relaxed mindset.

The More Than This (Mirrors) workshop starts today.  Wish me luck!

April 15, 2015, NYC

Chaos in Tiny Increments

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

In Tammy’s class last night, she led us through two long, gentle periods of Chaos.  I noticed that I was already feeling the pull of Chaos, even when the room was still in the rhythm of Staccato.  I was happy when Tammy announced that our first period of Chaos—the rhythm I feel most at home in—would last ten minutes.  I imagined that I was hanging my skin onto a hook on one of the room’s center columns so I could dance around in my bones.   My body felt released and kinetic, though without the exuberant brand of release that often leads to catharsis.  I greeted three friends I hadn’t seen in a long time with exhaling gratitude and long embraces.

During the interim in the middle of the class when we gathered around Tammy for verbal teaching, she asked, “During that period of Chaos, did anyone wonder-When is Chaos is actually going to begin?” No one raised their hand.  Then she asked, “Did anyone feel like-God, when is this going to end?”  Again no one raised their hand.  Someone offered, “Well, we are a pretty chaotic group!”

One thing I admire about the way Tammy teaches is that she seems to be finding her way into the themes and content on her feet.  I have no doubt that she prepares extensively, but she seems to cast around in the beginning of her talk until she finds a groove.  In her groove, her words can be arrows that directly pierce my heart, refrains that remind me of the deep themes of practice, or phrases that connect with uncanny similarity to exactly what I have been personally contemplating.

At the beginning of the second wave, a Flowing exercise had all of us walking throughout the room.  One person would stop, then everyone would stop as we noticed the activity around us.  Then, one person would start moving and everyone would follow and start moving, as well.  It seemed like the stop kept coming very quickly.  Before long, I figured out who was responsible; and I silently willed her to please give a little more time to move before engaging another stop.  I very much wanted fluid motion.  As the stops kept coming so quickly, I started to feel disengaged.  It reminded me of the feeling of being interrupted again and again just as I start to get immersed in a project.

In school on Friday, I assisted students I teach to hold a reception for their close friend who is going away for cancer treatment.  In 11th grade now, this is his third bout with lung cancer.  They say he will be going away for a year.

When I asked if it would be ok with him if we had a small reception in his honor, he smiled and gave me a hug, putting his very thin arms right around my neck and bending down to me.  I said, “There are so many people here who hold you in very high esteem.” He responded, smiling, “It really does pay to be a good person.”  Later, when some students became distraught, the guidance counselor pulled the afflicted student from his own class, and asked him to cheer them up.  Remarkably, he did.

Partway through Tammy’s class, I noticed a rush of chemicals in my legs.  It was a little like being on a drug. I can only imagine that something my muscles were holding was released, though I am not sure exactly what.

As spring arrives, I find that I am thinking about death.  And too, about life in the face of death.  Today, I heard a radio story about a video game designed to represent the experience of losing a five-year-old boy to cancer, and of his last stretch of life.  As the designers went through the process of helping the little boy to fight cancer in their lives, they started to design the game.  Users move through the game by interacting with the little boy, such as swinging him on the swings of a virtual playground.  They came to believe that he would beat impossible odds and survive, but he did not.  For users, it becomes clear early on that the child will not survive and the objective—if you could call it that—becomes about loving the little boy as well as possible in the short time that he has.  About cultivating grace.

Shortly after, I attended a wake for my boss’s mother.  I never met her, but felt waves of grief nonetheless, taking in the emotions of the bereaved family members, and, no doubt, re-visiting my own sadnesses for all of the people I have lost over the years.  It was a Catholic wake and the traditional prayers were familiar to me.  The priest also offered, “We can take comfort in the fact that she no longer has to deal with the problems and troubles of life. ” This lanced me.  I thought, my Gods, please bring on the problems and troubles, please.  Bring on every messy bit of it.  It is a miracle to be alive.  Truly.  As the NASA research astronomer Natalie Batalha said, “I am aware of the billions of years it took for the atoms to come together and make the physical portal to the universe that is my physical self.”

How do I grieve the millions of moments I have lost to anger or distraction!  It occurs to me that it is a choice in every moment—whether we turn toward love or away from it.  The smiling young man with cancer shone in his humanity.  I came to Tammy’s class wishing for the catharsis of Chaos after an emotionally intense week, and found myself instead luxuriating in the quiet expression of Chaos—life force as it winds its way through a life in tiny increments—dynamic, ever-shifting and miraculous even in the face of pain, loss and grief.

March 29, 2015