Despite the fact that the babysitter arrived right at 7pm and I left promptly, I arrived an hour late to Tammy’s Night Waves class on Friday. The car was literally stationary, embroiled in constipated traffic, on Broome Street just east of Broadway for over half an hour. With the car in the middle of the street, I got out and walked a block down to see if I could figure out what was going on. The snarl remained a mystery. I returned to the car, which was like a ship trapped in arctic ice, and sat, becoming increasingly foul-humored as light cycle after light cycle concluded without the slightest forward movement.
I reflected that the day before there had been heavy traffic delays in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, mostly because of police activity. Fortunately, I was not affected, but everywhere I went, people were driving furiously. One Hasidic man in a black Explorer sideswiped my car dangerously on Nostrand Avenue near Eastern Parkway, cutting me off, then nearly plowed into a teenager on his bicycle. This happened again and again, both in the morning and afternoon. I think because people were so heavily delayed, once they got out of the traffic they drove recklessly, enraged and trying to make up lost time.
Someone tried to cut into my lane on Broome Street. I drew myself forward, hunching over the wheel. “No way!” I called out. Suddenly I recognized myself as identical to the road-raging maniacs that had plagued me in Brooklyn the day before. I was still tight, but formed the intention to relax and to try to avoid being an asshole.
When I finally made it all the way down the agonizingly slow stretch of Broome Street to where I would turn right on 6th Avenue, it was 8.24 PM. I gathered that the traffic was leading to one of tunnels to New Jersey. I knew that if I didn’t arrive to the class by 8.30 I wouldn’t be allowed to enter. I willed the flowing traffic on 6th Avenue to move even faster.
Remarkably, I made it to class during the pause in dancing between the first and second waves when Tammy was giving verbal instructions and demonstrations, and was able to slip in without being too disruptive. I didn’t catch her whole drift, but I noted that she was speaking about inspiration—an elusive quality that I have considered lately, especially as it was absent for me in my last two successive dances.
I sat with crossed legs close to the studio door, and immediately began to move, rolling my head, and undulating down over my knees. I absolutely felt pulled to move. I hoped Tammy would understand and not find me terribly disrespectful. After such a trying delay, I was perhaps overly ardent, moving emphatically and with full ranges of motion.
Tammy very carefully set up the next exercise, involving groups of five or six. Rather than telling us to get into groups and hoping for the best, as sometimes happens in a 5Rhythms class when we are in the thick of a rolling wave; she took the time to make sure that the groups were organized. We were just four until another dancer sidled over to make us a complete quintet. Tammy asked, “Does any group only have four?” One man in our group flapped his hand insistently, his back turned to the group, failing to notice that our ranks had already been completed.
She then asked if one person in the group would please raise their hand. I considered raising my hand, since of course I am a natural leader (or so my mind thinks), but the hand-flapping man beat me to it. The leaders of each group were asked to hold the group by following the instructions associated with the body parts meditation—releasing and moving with different body parts in sequence according to Tammy’s instructions. The rest of us were free to move as we wanted, perhaps attending to the body parts exercise, perhaps not.
Sometimes I find body parts meditations tedious, but this time I was delighted. During a body parts meditation, I tend to go deeply inside and have a hard time finding my way back out to connect again with the other people in the room. On Friday, the freedom to follow or not follow put me at ease; and I was surprised that I embraced the body parts meditation anyway, slipping completely out of it then completely back in, undulating in a fast Flowing. I arched my back and rolled over the crown of my head on the floor repeatedly, completing circling gestures and moving seamlessly into the next. I was on the ground and up, moving individually or with the people in my group, at times matching the pace of others, at times moving as quickly as my body wanted to.
We were instructed to let go of our quintet and to move through the room, seeking the empty space. Ever a compliant 5Rhythms student, I took on the instruction whole-heartedly. You will not be surprised to learn that I overdid it—rushing into empty spaces both low, by people’s shins, and high, above people’s heads—bumping into my fellow dancers a few times. I adjusted, pointing some attention toward the people, but still letting the shifting empty spaces pull me throughout the space.
I beamed, meeting the gazes of both friends and new faces as I swooped around the room. Instructed to partner, which always means to pair with the person closest to you, I connected with a woman I met a few weeks ago before class. She was a present and willing partner and generously encouraged my playful antics. We separated and, by chance, partnered again several times during the class.
Told to change partners, the next person I met was an energetic new dancer. We locked eyes, realizing immediately that we were both game for fun. We were downright jaunty as we leapt and spun, bursting. I have recently become addicted to soccer practice with my small son; and I perceived a lot of soccer in my partner’s movements—both grounded and light, his gestures sometimes through their full arc, and sometimes clipped precisely in mid-air halfway through, tricking his opponent, me. I tricked him right back—like stealing the ball with a staccato pull-back and a sudden, unexpected turn when my eyes indicated a different direction entirely. We, too, danced again later in the class, meeting just as playfully, just as airborne.
Today, at my son’s soccer practice, the parents got as much play as the kids. For the third straight day, the sky was sheer, uninterrupted, blazing blue with a hint of white ombre just above the horizon line. The air was perfectly temperate. I sailed around the field, feeling joyful and light on my feet, laughing the entire time.
This class, for me, was characterized by flight and play, and its ending was the perfect expression of the hour-long narrative. A long-limbed friend who I love to dance with trotted over to me; and we met each other, smiling. He is graceful and confident and inspires me to roll out to my farthest edges.
My own grace is developing. At the moment, I have some bumpiness, some awkwardness inside the grace, since I have let go of some of the habits that might look (to the naked eye) like grace but have really been slight constraint—smooth tracking at the expense of authenticity. In one crouching gesture, I accidentally bumped my head on his knee, giggling. We jettisoned each other, suspension and extension casting us up onto our toes; our palms and fingers intelligent and articulated—communicating; balancing each other and at times falling cheerfully out of balance.
As the music ended, we were both facing in the same direction. I leaned into him, beaming again, and he folded his long arms around me. We stood paused for several moments, both of us with heaving chests, totally out of breath, as the dance came to an end.
October 11, 2015, Brooklyn, NYC
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
Sometimes I am tempted to keep a running tally of “good” dances vs. “bad” dances. The more “good” dances that I have in a row, the more surprised I am when I have a “bad” dance. In the past three weeks, I am 0 for 2—unless you count the elation of dancing at my much-adored and only brother’s wedding—but let’s say 0 for 2 in formal classes. I was tempted to avoid creating a post about these experiences, since it is always much more engaging to write about engaging dances and vice versa; but I decided instead to lean into the un-inspiration to see what happens. I am telling myself that I can always hide it from you if the text turns out to be just one long, painful yawn. I don’t have anything to lose, really, and so I step into the room.
The official word is that there are no “bad” dances. Tammy and countless other teachers have reminded us again and again that we don’t go into a 5Rhythms class hoping for a particular experience—or if we do, we are bound to be disappointed. I note that there is no way to anticipate what will actually show up for me on the dance floor at any given time. I could walk in feeling anxious, self-abusive and vitriolic and leave feeling spacious, compassionate and relaxed. Conversely, I could walk in feeling eager and kind-hearted and leave feeling withdrawn and defensive.
What I flippantly consider to be a “bad” dance is really to say that the dance wasn’t pleasant for me. Maybe I am tired or pre-occupied. Maybe I just can’t find my feet on the ground, no matter what I do. Maybe I want to dance with other people, but my timing is off and I keep finding myself alone or awkwardly forcing partnerships. Maybe I don’t want to dance with others, and as a result overdo my expression of boundaries when approached—with the result that I accidentally isolate myself. Maybe I have an unsettled stomach; maybe I am feeling triggered by someone in the room; maybe I don’t connect with the music; maybe I am struggling to cope with an injury.
The teachings of Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, are very clear on this point. No matter what happens, keep moving. (Back to my words now) There is no good or bad, there is just moving. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t suck. Whenever I lack inspiration, I get a little afraid that I will never be inspired again. It is a little flash of grief—that might or might not linger.
Over the years, I have learned that inspiration comes and goes. It is an interesting intellectual exercise to analyze the factors that might influence an un-inspired dance, but, ultimately, the nature of practice is to keep showing up no matter what. No matter what arises and no matter what obstacles conspire to keep me away from practice. And accepting (if grudgingly) that it won’t always be glorious. Sometimes it is just work. Sometimes it even sucks.
But I wax dramatic to create a cohesive story for you! The fact is that I have had much longer “bad” streaks than 0 for 2. I wrote in the past about a “bad” streak that lasted months. Though I was a new dancer, somehow I had already developed enough faith in the practice to keep showing up, again and again. Also, the two recent “bad” classes weren’t all bad. In fact, there were moments of inspired moving and of beautiful connection interspersed within. For example, I found myself several times moving in partnership throughout the entire room with the same friend with whom I shared a playful, spacious dance that kept recurring during the “Expand Lyrical” workshop. We would engage, perhaps follow each other, remain in partnership though several people separated us, then drift apart again, only to find one another a short time later—picking up where we left off.
Three weeks ago, before I took a week off to travel to my brother’s wedding in Vermont, Peter covered Tammy’s class. Peter is an exquisite teacher—a smiling, intuitive audiophile and I love to be near him. Despite this, I just couldn’t get into it.
Recently, I have written extensively about a sustained, enraptured engagement with the rhythm of Lyrical. Walking into class, I considered myself Lyrical, somehow. I decided to let go of all my edges and relax into the practice completely. Perhaps this was a factor and perhaps not, but I left thinking that the planned surrender of all edges had the effect of making me go flat. Making my expression of movement, and my perception of my expression of movement, and my engagement with the people around me—go flat.
My brother’s wedding was beautiful. Of course, a wedding holds so much—there are always counter-narratives; but the big, open-beamed Vermont-red barn was filled with smiling faces. My son, Simon, as one of the youngest attendees, enjoyed a lot of positive attention. He kept leaping into the middle of the dance floor and showing off his robot dance and his fast, staccato-like footwork, occasionally taking to the floor in his version of breakdancing amid supportive cheers. I danced many happy turns with his Daddy, who I have been spending a lot of time with of late. I also danced an expressive, tango-influenced turn with my sister’s partner, feeling playful. Near the end of the night, the DJ put on a Bluegrass jig, and I found flight. Enjoying myself thoroughly, I dropped to the ground to perform the 1980’s classic move, “the worm” but could scarcely pull it off I was laughing so hard. My brother’s friends complimented me generously on my ability to move, remarking particularly on the “Riverdance thing” I was doing during the Bluegrass jig song. I thanked them, and said, “I love to move. I love to be high up! I have never really tried to move to that kind of music, but it is always a joy to experiment,” thinking to myself, “Ahhh! I love this Lyrical rhythm/partner who has been dancing with me for months, I am so grateful to find Lyrical everywhere, to find it here, maybe it will stay, maybe it is who I am.”
Although 5Rhythms is not really about dance, but is much more generalizable, any time that I am dancing, the practice is to some extent engaged. After so many years of practice, any dance brings me near the field of 5Rhythms. Though of course it is not 5Rhythms practice, these not-5Rhythms dance experiences often arise in the writing for this reason.
I returned to Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class this week after the break for my brother’s wedding, and felt similarly un-inspired. As with Peter, Tammy is an exquisite teacher. She seems to see everything that arises in the room (in all dimensions); and I have soared literally hundreds of times under her skilled guidance. Despite this, I remained mostly flightless throughout the class.
In the interim between the first and the second waves that is often reserved for verbal teaching, Tammy said, “You didn’t think it was really about dance did you?” and went into an unusually long explanation of the rhythms—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness—perhaps in part owing to the many new dancers in the room.
During the second wave of the class Tammy asked us to group in threes. I turned to a partner right away, but there were no other unpaired people near us. I found someone and moved around another threesome, toward the individual, expecting my partner to move with me. He did not, and stood looking around for me, confused. I returned to him, not wanting him to think he had been abandoned. I couldn’t entice him to follow me, so I settled into trying to follow Tammy’s three-person directions with just two people. She asked us to take turns in the middle, with the two people on the outside holding space for the person in the middle. I thought at least we could take turns letting loose and holding space, but my partner didn’t seem to get that either. I wondered if he was hard-of-hearing. Eventually, another joined us, but I was already pretty disengaged. To make it worse, I thought Tammy asked us to find some kind of repetition to do together in our threesomes. I really don’t like this practice. It always feels forced and uncomfortable for me. If I find a repetition on my own—if my body catches some kind of glitch—it can lead to great insight. If I contrive it, and set out to find a repetition, I wind up feeling like a fake, and get bored quickly with whatever the repetition is—except in rare circumstances when I am extremely connected with my partners. This time, it was unpleasant and uncomfortable. The third to join our group let out an enraged yell, and left us to move through the room. I waited until Tammy released us from the exercise, then moved quickly away, myself.
Let’s see how my sports stats evolve. Maybe some day I will be in a place that there really are no “bad” dances and there is no running tally. Maybe even the not-inspiration will feel like bliss. Maybe I can find total freedom from the constraints and fluctuations of my small mind; and stand shining—individual and archetypal at once—in the glory that is my birthright, that is the birthright of each of us. I aspire to nothing less—nothing less than total everything—than all that we are.
October 3, 2015
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.