One Clean Wave

Today I danced a clean wave.

A wave – in the 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation practice, that’s when we move through each of the five rhythms: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness – might feel heavy, spastic, reluctant, spacious, inspired, cathartic, precise, or any other way.

Today it felt clean.

The heat stopped working in my car yesterday, and I debated if I wanted to go to the beach to dance – a personal practice that has emerged in recent months – in such frigid temperatures. I was afraid I would be uncomfortably cold when I arrived, cold on the beach, and cold when I got back into the car to drive home.

Since the start of the pandemic, many of us have gotten a lot heartier about cold. All over Brooklyn, friends are posted up dining at plein air restaurants, kids are playing outdoor soccer in January, and people are meeting up on park benches to laugh and commiserate together.

I put on my son Simon’s bib snowpants, a heavy coat, balaclava, winter hat, wool socks, and ski gloves and made my way.

Arriving at Riis Park Beach, the wind was strong at my back as I headed across the vast beach to the water. The tide was extremely low, and the water was unusually calm, with the waves moving almost parallel to the beach. I was delighted that this revealed a huge section of packed sand – a much larger dance floor than usual.

Beginning to move in Flowing, I noticed that it was easier than usual to let go of thoughts as they arose and drop my weight down, settling the body as the slope toward the water pulled me into circling. I felt dragged by the ending waves, as they too were pulled by gravity, and I dipped and curved with the waves’ contours. In my heavy coat, my arms looked stiff in the shadow cast on the sand, so I unzipped the coat and softened my shoulders, allowing the arms to rise, fall, and circle along with the rest of me.

Often when I dance with the sea, it takes a really long time for Staccato to spark, if it comes at all, but not so today. A staccato song I love came to my head and I played with the energy of it, though the only soundtrack was my own breath and the gently lapping waves. A seagull came close, standing on the strong wind with her wings up, probably hoping I would toss out some Taquis or french fries or something. Birds don’t usually bring Staccato to my mind, but this one was literally suspended in a pause ten feet from me, eying me directly, in my mind wanting to connect. I dropped into my hips and played with her, moving my own elbows and shoulder blades, open to her message, willing to share mine.

After this spike of Staccato, I sank back into Flowing again – the river under every rhythm – with a deeper ability to luxuriate in circling.

I took off the heavy coat and put it down on sand. The wind kicked it over, also picking up little rivers of sand, looking like the ancient spirits who were accidentally released in the 80’s adventure movie Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Before long Staccato came back and I beamed, playing with small, tight movements then bursting overtures, before long adding crossovers, stepping one leg back across the other and leaping into spin, crossing one arm over the other and finding a descending angle with a hip sharply to the side. As I turned the planes of my body, there was a precise fulcrum when the wind faced one side of me, then shifted onto the other side of me as I turned.

I noted a man walking two big furry dogs a short distance away, and a family with two kids on top of the sand hills that the beach rangers erect in winter to protect the park buildings from being battered.

This distant potential audience gave me a tiny push to get bigger, and I shifted into a relaxed Chaos. I expanded to a wider radius, noticing rolls of Lyrical, drops back into Staccato, and the easy, sustainable momentum of a patient Chaos that’s fueled by both the underground river of Flowing and the heat of Staccato. 

Chaos with a flavor of Stillness visited, as I raised my eyes to the horizon and followed a soaring bird with my gaze and gesture.

By now I was sweating and breathing heavily, but there was no sense of exertion.

Lyrical emerged right on cue, taking me to an even wider radius, casting me down and up again. A tiny bird scurried by and I followed her, sinking low and shimmying my hips along the edge of the water, then leaping up into the fingertips and stretching my chest with each soaring opening of the arms, one at a time, then both, casting down and rising up, extending into the farthest reaches of me without dropping my weight, relying on a different kind of balance.

Stillness called me; and I felt the sea’s depths and the wide horizon. I closed my eyes and moved with wind and breath. I emerged on the other side of this wave feeling cleaned out, and ready for the next wave.

January 24, 2021, Brooklyn, NY

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

Insurrection, Terrorism & Preparing for the Work Ahead

Today I danced with the sea. 

I seriously bundled up with a heavy coat, sweater, wool socks, ski gloves, and hat since the last time I danced at the beach it was frigid. But to my surprise it was relatively mild. I was able to dance in just a sweater, and before long I also took off my gloves.

The week has been another rollercoaster. During the work day, I usually ignore news, so on Wednesday it wasn’t until 4pm when I turned on the radio that I learned that a mob of white nationalist Trump supporters who refused to accept the results of the US democratic election had invaded and looted the US Capitol building, in an act of terrorism and insurrection.

It was only later that I learned that Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff both won runoff races for Georgia’s two Senate seats, shifting the balance of power in the Senate to the democratic party. But this was even bigger. 

Before the election the two Republican Georgia Senate incumbents joined forces, one of them saying, “We are the firewall. Not just for the Senate, but the future of our country.” No one misunderstood what they were trying to say.

Georgia, like most of the US, has a history of suppressing the votes of Black people to shore up white supremacist power, through a host of mechanisms. Leaders like Stacy Abrams and legions of activists went all out to analyze and combat voter suppression tactics. These tactics include the propagation of false narratives that certain people’s votes don’t matter. But Black voters turned out in droves, proudly cast their votes, and had a massive impact on national politics, in the process dealing a blow to white nationalism.

Like many, I expected that Trump supporters, stoked by his racist rhetoric and ongoing lies, would resort to violent action. There is a debate about whether he has amplified white nationalism or if he has just brought it out of the shadows, but for his supporters to actually take over the US Capitol, for the National Guard to be so slowly dispatched, for lawmakers to be huddling in fear, and to watch gleeful terrorists ransacking desks and cavorting through the halls of the US Capitol, at least one brandishing a confederate flag, and the lynching platform they erected outside, was horrifying. And perhaps the most bitter pill of all, the knowledge that they got into the Capitol, when people looking a different way than white would never have made it up the steps, and would likely have been shot on sight if they had entered and tried to ransack the Capitol.

I listened to the ongoing coverage, dismayed, and at once furious that Americans who are happy about the historic outcome of the Georgia Senate races – like me and like the people who worked tirelessly on the campaigns and who dared to hope that their vote mattered, and then found out that it really did – didn’t even get one day to celebrate. 

I had been dancing all week, but was eager to bring this matter to the sea.

The tide was rising but there was still a wide section of packed sand to move on. I settled in, also removing my shoes and dancing in my knee-high, polka dotted wool socks.

There were barely clouds and the sky was endlessly blue. 

I turned my attention to the waves, feeling especially the pull-back of ended waves, and the pull of gravity as it drew my body down the sandy inclines and into circles and loops. I thought about a book I’m working on and different phrases and ideas drifted by, occasionally catching hold for a brief time, then dissolving again with the ending waves. 

I really settled in, wishing I was totally alone but avoiding eye contact with passing beach strollers, at least during this period of settling the body. 

One thing I love about dancing with the sea is that there is no external soundtrack telling me what to do with my body, no external prompting. It is just me, and I can be as patient or as manic as I need to be. On this day, I felt like I could stay in Flowing for a very long time, sometimes attending to gravity, feet, and circling; and sometimes shifting attention to the ocean to inspire my weighted gestures, breathing its power in, letting its lowing depths sigh right through me.

Staccato sparked when it was ready, reminding me to move my truth, to speak my truth. I thought the book I’m writing was going to be about teaching mindfulness to teens. In the chapter map, there was one chapter dedicated to racial justice and reparations, and I knew racial justice would make its way into other chapters, too. But when I sat down and started to write, the book tore itself out of me. I wrote seven chapters in seven days between Christmas and New Year’s Day. And as it turns out, much of the book is about racial justice and injustice, white supremacy, and oppression, and what I hope are ways to combat these complex, interconnected systems, on the granular, implementation level of an individual classroom. 

I’ve been on fire and in agony, contending at once with my own complicity, my own white privilege, and contemplating my small trajectories of activism and how to amplify them.

Staccato came and went, shifting before long into Chaos. I took off my hat and placed it uphill with my coat and sneakers so it wouldn’t fall off and go tumbling into the icy sea. I let my head flail around, getting an eyeful of sun, then seeing red afterimages everywhere I tossed my spinning gaze.

The only Lyrical that seemed likely to emerge was in tiny pockets inside Chaos. I could already feel Stillness pulling me and accepted its invitation.

Just when I’d accepted that Lyrical might not fully emerge, I shifted fully into it, opening up my radius, rising onto my toes, rolling my arms high and out, beaming with my face toward the blue sky. I stayed in Lyrical and in Lyrical Stillness for a long time, whisper dancing, and at last coming to a grounded stop, feeling the vast horizon, the endless curve of the sky, and the mysteries of the ocean’s depths. 

Gazing outward, preparing for the work ahead.

“History will rightly remember today’s violence at the Capitol, incited by a sitting president who has continued to baselessly lie about the outcome of a lawful election, as a moment of great dishonor and shame for our nation.” – President Barack Obama

January 10, 2021, Brooklyn, New York 

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