Putty in Its Hands
I arrived early to today’s Sweat Your Prayers class at the Joffrey Ballet, and stepped in to an already breathing room. Amber Ryan, who lead the class, played tonal, attenuated music and I langored on the floor close to one of the mirrored walls, moving in great circles, my body at times stretched star-like, finding circularity, my limbs and head threading around me and back into the arc of the circle. As Amber added a song with a touch of a beat, these pendulous motions gained lift and twist and lead into a group of energetic gestures that felt like breakdancing—perhaps inspired by four aging b-boys whose performance I witnessed during a walk through Times Square on Friday night.
Several times I bounded to my feet, then, finding myself at a loss, dropped down again to the ground. Finally, I gained my feet, and began to move through the room. As is often the case at this point, I saw and experienced the people I shared the room with, my movements being influenced by the gestures and paces of everyone around me. I was a little confused by the music at this point. I couldn’t figure out what rhythm Amber was indicating through her song choices; and I noted a slight lag in energy. I meandered to the edge of the floor again, and got back to the ground, re-connecting with the ground-level family of gestures that I had started the class out with.
There was a person in the room who was waiting for a project from me—a project I have had a hard time finalizing. I realized that as long as something is easy, it is no problem for me to jump in, but that once it gets harder and starts to take up more time, I start to lean back a little. Afraid, perhaps, of being swallowed by my many initiatives, and of losing contact with my own creative work in the process. I realized that there are hints of resistance all over the place in my life. Then, I had the tear-accompanied insight that 5Rhythms practice itself is one of the very few things in my life that I meet with absolutely no resistance. I am putty in its hands, truly.
I noted that I was slightly concerned that this person might be angry with me, and that I felt guilty for even being in the class instead of at home working on the project. I was tempted to allow my inner dialogue to defend me and make excuses. Instead, I decided to allow whatever the person was feeling, without even my own internal resistance, and simply resolved to make a sincere effort to deliver a final product today after class.
I danced worlds just inside the class’s first wave—what we call it when we move in sequence through each of the five rhythms: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness. I connected with many new faces and with old friends, moving fluidly from one partnership to another.
My all-time favorite dance partner was there and together we moved into every outrageous extreme we could wiggle, burst, shake, collapse, spin, freeze or leap into. We alternated between surrender and the wordless exploration of all our edges—playfully facing our many characters and habits, even re-casting old explorations that we spent countless hours investigating in past dances.
I often get swept along when someone dances by me, and found myself following behind many dancers. One who I followed is a woman I am always very happy to see. She and I shared one of the most beautiful gestures of my entire 5Rhythms dance career. She is a white woman from Greenwich, Connecticut—a category of people that I sometimes feel resistant toward (though I am not far from that category myself). I followed her and she noticed me, turning around to smile and share a dance. Her heartful, grounded and welcoming presence brought tears to my eyes.
As Chaos began to transition, I moved through many brief partnerships, then found myself with a friend who I have shared many emotional dances with over the years. In Lyrical, I flied, sailed, and dropped to my knees; smiling and extending my arms to their limits. I was delighted with how I was moving, and had the thought that I would really like a video of myself right now, so I can have it when I am old. I went quite a ways into that planning—even losing myself in thinking of how I might present this idea to Tammy, who prohibits photographs or video during classes (maybe I could blur out all the faces except mine, maybe I could ask people on the way in, maybe I could agree to never make it public….) Just then the song changed and the lyric was something like, “Someday we will be old; and we will think about all the stories we could have told.” The synchronicity was remarkable. I started to cry, and to feel strong pressure on my throat. I let myself sob. My partner noticed immediately, showing up for me without trying to fix or adjust me. Next, I had the thought that when I die, I want two images to be included in the ritual—a photograph of me and my tiny, newborn son, sleeping on my chest; and a video of me dancing, at a moment when I am totally surrendered to the dance, to the universe, to all that is. That is how I want to be remembered someday. This made me cry more. And, too, soon after, I turned to the question of how I want to live, knowing that before I know it I will be old, will be facing death. Amber uttered one of her signature phrases into the microphone, “What is your intention?”
“Radical freedom,” my mind answered. Freedom from my self-imposed constraints. Freedom even within the constraints that arise—that I have no choice but to deal with (and that have been exceptionally present lately). I gently took the hand of my friend and tried to entice her to dance through the room with me, but we moved only a short distance, finding a still dancer with a frozen cry and dancing spontaneously around him. He quickly regained his motion, and soared off into the room. My friend stayed with me still, hugging me as I cried while Amber gathered the room around her and offered brief verbal instruction.
And that was only the first wave!
The feature presentation—live drumming—was still to begin. I lost myself completely in the layers of rhythm offered by Robert Ansell and Sanga of the Valley. In the past, I haven’t always been able to find my connection to live drumming within a 5Rhythms class, since I couldn’t find Flowing easily. In this case, however, the opening wave, Amber’s added DJ’ing and the subtle changes in rhythm and intensity lead me seamlessly through the wave. The entire room was alive. Spontaneous conjuctions of three, four, even five dancers arose and fell away as we responded to Robert’s big, steady drum and to Sanga’s skillful syncopation.
I just managed to catch the down elevator and encountered a friend inside. She shared that she had known Robert and Sanga for over thirty years, and that at one point during the class she had looked over at them, and had also seen a vision of a very young Gabrielle Roth—the recently deceased creator of the 5Rhythms practice, and also Robert’s wife and Sanga’s long-time musical collaborator.
The class unfolded in its own interstice in time, folding us all into it, collapsing the distinctions between us and between our own many selves. Then, I went home and did my best to finish my project; and after that, sat down to write.
December 5, 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.