I have a confession to make. This is hard for me, but here it is. I have been cheating on Chaos. It all started during the summer, when I spent extended time in Costa Rica playing in the waves with my small son, contemplating rainbows, and dancing for long stretches with the sea, soaring kites and the shadows of the sopilote birds flying overhead.
Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice taught that each of us has a “home rhythm”, the one of the rhythms that comes most easily to us. Although sometimes this construct feels essentialist to me, I have often considered my relationship to my home rhythm. At first, it seemed clear that Staccato was my home rhythm. I felt comfortable with edges, elbows, strong direction, bold gestures, lists, accomplishments, knowing-it-all, and with indicating my boundaries. Gradually, as the practice eroded me, I came to believe that Staccato was merely a front for my true home rhythm—Chaos. I thought my affiliation with Staccato was a cover my mind had created to hide me from the whirling power of my chaotic nature, since I was so afraid that if I was gigantic I would cause too much harm. Finding true Chaos for the first time was a revelation accompanied by weeks of weeping.
In 2009 I wrote:
“One day, I accidentally forgot all of my criteria. I found myself dancing Chaos, saturated completely. Although I moved with enormous energy, there was no sense of exertion. I was completely aware, completely gentle, and completely porous. Tears streamed out of my eyes, wetting the whole front of me.
As the energy of Chaos rises, I symbolically hang my empty skin on a coat hook and imagine that I dance around in just my bones, without the burdensome weight of flesh and organs. I become the Sumerian goddess Inanna, who was killed and skinned by her sister when she went to visit the underworld, and was later resurrected by her allies. Her flayed skin was left, forgotten, on a hook as she embarked on the ultimate descent; to rise later more powerful, more complex, and more clarified.
Later, I realized that it was the first time I had ever actually been in Chaos. I had to let go of all my complex cantilevering first. It took a long time to cultivate enough awareness of the dancers around me and of my own body to know that I could be utterly uncontrolled and abandoned and still trust that I wouldn’t hurt anyone.”
Lately, I am tempted to change my affiliation once again—this time to Lyrical.
It is quite possible that a person’s home rhythm might change over time. It is quite possible; too, that circumstances and volition might lead us to align with a particular rhythm. It might not matter at all; and perhaps it is even ego-entrenching to take it too seriously. Interestingly, Meaghan Williams, the teacher who led the 5Rhythms one-day workshop “Expand Lyrical” on Sunday believes that Lyrical is always underneath all of the other rhythms, simply waiting to come out. (Meaghan acknowledged, on reading this text, that although she holds to this statement, a flowing teacher might believe that Flowing is always under every other rhythm, just waiting to come out..) If it were true, then I wonder if you could argue that Lyrical would be everyone’s true home rhythm.
Paul Taylor Studio, where “Expand Lyrical” was held, is a big, airy, clean, light-filled studio in Lower Manhattan. I spent some time searching for parking and finally settled on a nominally legal spot just a block from the studio. I arrived and organized myself with, remarkably, no obstacles or challenges, though I did suffer from a nagging concern about the parking spot I chose.
I began the first wave, which lasted for two solid hours, on the floor, moving in attenuated circles, my limbs extended like the hands of a clock, but in all dimensions, stretching and coiling and curving into myself both on my chest and on my back as I found my connection to the ground and warmed my muscles up. My parking spot kept coming to mind, but kept receding again. I was on my feet before long, eager to investigate the space, visit each corner, peek behind curtains, look through the door windows, and feel the diagonal distance from corner to corner.
Of the five rhythms, Lyrical has always seemed the farthest from my range. Even two years ago, I doubt if I would have even attended the “Expand Lyrical” workshop. It makes me think of a friend—a fabulous gay man who is the child of Mexican Catholic parents. The idea that he would ever come out to them was completely unfathomable. Then, when he finally did come out to them, all they said was, “Well, OK, thanks for telling us.” Maybe Lyrical hasn’t been as out of reach as I have lead myself to believe.
I know that Lyrical is not just about joy—it is actually much grittier than that, and contains several other aspects—but it is definitely the joy aspect of Lyrical that has scared me away. There is a huge list of reasons for this. The dominant reason is that I am not always convinced that I deserve joy. Also, part of me thinks that embracing joy is an affront to the world’s suffering. Another (snobbier) part of me thinks that joy is only for people who are less intelligent, less complex and less driven. In addition, I am afraid that if I let joy in, it will be ripped away from me again, perhaps leaving me even more bereft. Also, I am suspicious of faked joy, and especially unforgiving when I spot fake joy in myself.
The studio is remarkable in that there are several angles that allow you to glimpse the sky. On either side of the high-ceilinged room, there are sky-facing windows high above eye level. As you cross the large, rectangle-shaped space, there is another antechamber with huge bow-shaped windows that look out onto the city and again, the sky.
During the first wave, I shared many beautiful dances. I had the thought that in Chaos, I could express the full range of every possible experience. My small mind said, “That’s impossible! No one can know everyone’s experience!” But another voice countered with, “I think that through deep connection and fully participating in the human field, we can and do express every possible human experience even within our own small selves.” Here, I found an incredible, expressive range. In one dance I stepped into moving with a woman who has a totally different center of gravity than me—in her waist, leaning back. I took on her gestures, finding new possibilities. She seemed delighted. We were both delighted.
I danced with everyone who showed up in front of me, including with a woman whose everything was totally different than mine. I showed up for it, experimenting with her gestures, and moving back and forth from there and into movements that felt more intuitive for me. Soon, we were instructed to pair with another two, then four. Shortly, we began to weave in and out of our new, larger group. Briefly, we formed a circle moving clockwise—a job we had failed at on Friday night (see previous post), but now managed with ease. I noticed the moving circle happily; and, too, noticed that the circle dissolved as soon as I noticed it. Before long, we were told to join another group. Again, we wove in and out of each other. Somehow, we all came together as one breathing group. I was in the middle, along with a friend who I feel protective of. At one point I slid down to the floor, and a hand pulled me back up. We pulsed together for many moments, smiling and nuzzling each other as we moved in unison.
We wordlessly agreed at once that it was time to invite space into our formation and began to move, liltingly, around the room, carrying our dance of connection with us. We reached out for each other, meeting each other’s hands, and often the hands of one, two, or even three other dancers at once, coiling gently around one another, passing under the clasped hands of a couple, delicately passing messages with different angles and pressures on the palm, wrists, back of hands, fingers. At some point, it turned into a party trick and I decided against it, but as the game overtook me again, I cheerfully surrendered.
One friend in the room was a man who I experience as incredibly precise. His dance is characterized by specificity, sometimes even by beautiful control. I was shocked when, years ago, we were asked to step up and dance in our “home rhythm” and he stepped up for Lyrical. I have many times contemplated that. I was so sure that he would have picked Staccato.
There was a pause in the dancing so Meaghan could use words to help deepen our understanding. Meaghan gathered us all into a big circle and asked that we each offer a gesture and say our name. She asked that the group mirror the gesture and say the person’s name together. I hate this activity! It is hard for me to distill myself into one gesture. Everything feels so contingent, so contextual, so complex. I overthink it. I got through it somehow, sharing a gesture that to me says, “I see you. My heart sees you. And I am happy to see you,” as I said “Meghan.”
Meaghan’s talk ranged vast territory. She moved with gliding grace as she sketched the parameters of a wave for the two new practitioners in the room. She talked then to more advanced practitioners, intending to dislodge misconceptions. For one, she explained, Lyrical can be seen as playful, perhaps even childish. It is that. It can be that, she elaborated. “But it is also the rhythm of maturity—the Dance of Maturity. The place we arrive at after we work with great commitment through each of the other rhythms.” She quoted Ani Defranco, saying “If you’re not getting happier as you get older, then you’re fucking up.”
After a ten-minute break, we re-convened. We were instructed to partner and I fell into an exquisite, breathy spin with a friend I have danced with for years. Meaghan offered us images of birds and wings—exactly the image I was already holding as we moved. At one point, we both came up quickly, our stomachs meeting, and dissolved into giggles. Before long, we extended our range, and swooped throughout the entire room, chasing and receding amongst our fellow dancers. At one point, we found each other in the outer orbit of the room and moved together in its arc, our heads nuzzling one another as we sailed along.
Often, my writing includes the comings and goings, the enterings and exitings between the dance floor and the not-dance-floor world. On this day, it was contained. I did not leave once. I had tea and leftover dinner from the night before with me. I had everything I needed on hand. I didn’t need or want to escape; and I was ready to start again long before the breaks were over.
Shortly before the end of the first break, I sat myself down in the exact center of the dance floor. I know it was the center because there was a taped x right underneath me. Although the room had dissolved into cheerful conversation, I had avoided conversation, or even eye contact. The truth is that I was feeling very sensitive. Also, I didn’t want to be dispersed, diluted. Something about my fundamental relationship to Lyrical seemed to be shifting, and it didn’t feel like a good time for small talk. Three friends came to join me, and I chatted and joked with them, anyway. I was happy that they wanted to be near me.
In a workshop format, we often gather on one end of the room, then receive some kind of instruction to carry us, dancing, to the other side of the room. Likely, there is a practical reason for this: an entire day of dancing can be grueling; and it gives us a chance to rest while others are traversing. Also, part of the practice is seeing and witnessing our fellow dancers, and, too, being seen and being witnessed.
Meaghan offered several Lyrical experiments and I sailed, elated, from one side of the room to the other. I don’t think it looked very differently from how I would have done this exercise in Chaos, but I felt completely lyrical, airborne, skywalking.
One rambunctious friend stomped on a balloon that had been liberated from the artwork installation and everyone jumped, laughing. I danced over to him, smiling, rambunctious myself. My hands met his playfully, and we turned each other, laughing. Another couple intersected us and we dipped and melted right through them, under them, never missing a beat or losing eye contact. We spun each other, rolling our backs together while holding hands, then blended again into the room at large.
During the final wave, I was ecstatic—melted, de-materialized—and I shared an unexpected dance. I met the eyes of a man who frightens me a little because it seems like every time I have been in a workshop with him he has expressed anger or aversion during group conversations. During “Expand Lyrical” our eyes met with love, we reached our hands out to each other and shared an exquisitely sweet turn.
As I was leaving for the day, I connected with my precise friend, asking about his affiliation with Lyrical. He explained that he is absolutely Lyrical in nature, though as a result of leg injuries, it might not always look that way. “You’re Lyrical, right?” he asked. “I…I don’t know. I guess I’m coming out of the closet now! I feel like I’ve been cheating on Chaos! But yes, I do think I might be Lyrical.”
I exited and discovered the sidewalks wet with post-rain. I meandered the short distance to the car, looking skyward and counting my blessings. At the car, I found a parking ticket for $115. I tucked it away, without even a whispered curse word. Driving, I reviewed the events of the day. I have only seen four rainbows in my nearly twenty years in New York City, but as I crossed the Williamsburg Bridge toward home in Brooklyn, a rainbow appeared. I sobbed with gratitude and joy.
I dreamt of rainbows.
They came dancing in.
-Poem from 2010
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.