RelationShifts-A 5Rhythms Heartbeat Workshop

My notes from the RelationShifts workshop that Heeraa Sazevich led nearly a month ago in NYC look like an explosion of graphite squiggles – poking out in every possible direction, crammed into the margins, sideways, diagonal, and even upside down, but I’m going to try to make sense of them and see what I can bring to light and language. 

On Saturday morning, I took the subway from home and was surprised when I emerged from underground already within site of the venue, Gibney Dance, steps away from City Hall in lower Manhattan.

This initial ease shifted temporarily when I had a miscommunication with a friend on the way into the workshop. 

I felt a medium level of nervous system activation as I considered this exchange. Everyone else had already spent time attuning to one another the previous night, but I hadn’t been able to attend on Friday night. In a partnered speaking exercise I couldn’t think of anything to say (for once!) and instead let it wash over.

At the first break, I asked my friend if they would be willing to hear me out. They agreed, and listened patiently while I shared my feelings and explained the context. We hugged and moved on. And, at least from my perspective, our relationship shifted into a deeper level of trust.

This was just in the first hour. 

RelationShifts’ main theme was inviting inquiry and awareness to our relationships and our ways of relating.

In the past, I might have stewed over something like this. I might have let a thousand threads get pulled at the edge of the sweater as I unravelled around what had been triggered. I might have catatrophized, been tempted to rage quit, or blamed others.

But in this case, I just stated my feelings and my needs. And recognized that the relationship is very much workable and valuable. And that the stuff that got triggered – all that, too, is workable. All just part of a process.

After that, my nervous system started to settle down as Heeraa guided us into an exploration of the first of the 5Rhythms, Flowing. She began with a body parts meditation, inviting us to move with awareness of different body parts and to ask ourselves what each specific body part needed, such as “What does my head really need right now?” 

Also on Saturday morning, we were invited to step into a totally individual 5Rhythms wave, as opposed to being in partnership. I lowered my gaze and softened as Heeraa offered periodic suggestions. 

Many shared that they loved this exercise, but I found it challenging to stay engaged. I love to dance by myself both in classes and alone in nature, but in this case I found that I had to keep reminding myself not to flow into anyone else, not to catch anyone’s eye. I even tried to avoid being inspired by the way others were moving. For me, it was challenging to specifically NOT interact with anyone else. 

I’m sure I overthought this. But I didn’t enjoy this part as much as most everyone else seemed to. The cold hard truth is that long stretches of Flowing tend to bore me. Some tiny part of me wondered if it was a character flaw, but another voice reminded me that it’s all just information.

One participant made a fascinating comment, that they felt like it was delightful to dance totally independently. They went on to say that so often in a room everyone was trying to reinforce their personality by forcing everyone to interact with them. 

I loved hearing this perspective, which is very different from my own. To me, our personalities are just one part of the cosmic display, one delightful, temporary expression of who we are in our tiny life in this tiny shifting instant.

I admired their integrity, and considered how important it is to be attuned to consent in connecting with people. What for me feels affirming, to be seen and acknowledged, might feel manipulative or disrespectful to someone who has a different orientation or is in a different place in their process.

In a way, this very internal individual wave acted as a counterpoint to all of the other external relationship configurations we explored as the weekend went on.

After lunch we moved into the key of Staccato, and my engagement got much stronger.

During the course of the weekend, we explored many relationships, and one that we explored at this point was what Heeraa called “smother mother.” My partner in this exercise was wildly present and wildly creative, at times chasing me through the space with her arms up, and crowding very close to me. I loved this kind of closeness, perhaps reflecting my very close relationship with my own mother, who I adore without any caveat.

There was also an experiment where we each related to a toxic substance as a partner, where one person danced as the toxic substance and the other related to it. I also loved this engagement, pushing and pulling the toxic substance toward and away. 

I remembered a time in my life when I began to lapse into an addiction and gained a valuable insight. I had been telling myself a story that the addiction was inevitable, and would eventually, inevitably win me over, as it had in the past. Once I was able to identify the story, I was able to push back on it, and own that addiction was in no way inevitable, that I was fully empowered to make a different choice. 

We danced a full wave, moving through each of the 5Rhythms, and I found myself in tears, grateful for the many wonderful relationships in my life, including with several people in the room. 

With one friend, I got to be the grounded one. Sometimes I have not loved that role, but this time I felt honored as we moved together, that I could take a turn holding space while they freaked out, and that we could take turns supporting each other.

With another old friend, I loosed my hair and expanded my radius in a ferocious Staccato-Chaos, saying “Bring it!” with my entire body as they said the same to me.

With yet another, I lifted off, letting go of gravity and flying, barely touching down, my arms raising spontaneously, continuing a journey we have shared for over a decade.

I put my shoes and coat on to go out to get something for lunch, but changed my mind, instead deciding to stay close and enjoy the snacks that were generously provided.

Next, we moved into the rhythm of Chaos. We started with a very gentle, extended, vibrating shake and then moved through a short wave.

We explored another relationship, this time to someone who we were saying good-bye to forever. My partner moved deeply into this exercise, and I witnessed and moved with them, not fully knowing what was arising for them but intuiting that it was significant. I moved away, but then caught myself and came back, remaining connected.

Later, Heeraa put us into small groups, and we each took a turn dancing an offering of grief while the others bore witness. Then, we sat in a circle and each person shared their own story of grief. Every story moved me deeply.

I wish I could share the beautiful words of my fellow dancers, but I can only share my own experience. 

I said something like, “I think grief is beautiful. At a workshop just two weeks ago, I bowed down to the grief of a friend who had just lost her mother. I haven’t lost anyone in my parents’ generation yet, so my feeling might change on this, but for me grief comes and goes. I’ve been dashed on the cliffs of grief countless times. In a way, we don’t have to let go. We are infinitely interconnected, and that doesn’t ever end.”

After that, we shared a very long chaos wave. At the end, I landed in a place that felt very clean and clear.

The last chapters of the workshop were in the key of Lyrical and Stillness.

In Lyrical, we stepped into a ritual theater exploration. Initially, I groaned internally. But as it unfolded, I was delighted and fascinated. Ten people formed a small group, who then formed five couples. Each couple was assigned a rhythm to enact, and the others were to write – poetically, non-literally – what they witnessed. 

Then Heeraa had each person in each couple select a line from what people had written to move with, while their partner moved with their own line. Configurations with other couples shifted and morphed; and the resulting tableaux were touching, funny, and insightful.

After it was over, I lingered for a long time, not quite ready to leave the field of practice, grateful for all it had offered me, grateful to Heeraa, and immensely grateful to this powerful, flexible, transformative practice that just keeps revealing new aspects to me and spiraling me closer to truth, again and again and again.

Meghan LeBorious is a 5Rhythms teacher, meditator, artist, mother, and writer. She has been on the 5Rhythms dancing path since 2008. She was moved to write about her experiences following her very first 5Rhythms class; and has been writing about them ever since. This blog in independently generated and is not sanctioned or produced by the 5Rhythms organization.

My Body Breathes a Sigh

My body breathes a sigh today.

Yesterday, Saturday, the bright sun was too much for me. Grey clouds parted in the afternoon and instead of feeling the joyful charge of spring, I stood in the middle of the sidewalk blinking, unable to take it. The bright, warm afternoon just felt like too much pressure.

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been struggling. What is that tiny shift that happens when things go from workable to hopeless? The truth is that there is nothing wrong – at least not compared to what people around me are coping with. I know better than to try to talk myself out of feeling bad, but still there I was. Miserable and shaming myself on top of it.

I did yoga in the living room in the morning. It helped to move, but a few times I noticed myself stopping. Not like taking a break, not even like holding my breath, really. More like just blanking out in the middle of a chaturanga with my face to the floor. And thinking vaguely of some ancient reason I should beat myself up until I gave a little shake and restarted the breath and movement.

My thirteen year old son, Simon, was feeling down, too, and I was happy that he decided to join a friend’s family for dinner and a sleepover.

Almost simultaneously, I learned that Amber Ryan was offering a 360 Emergence class at Paul Taylor studio on the Lower East Side; and I bought a ticket immediately. Amber is a former 5Rhythms teacher; and the 360 Emergence is a new practice with deep roots in the 5Rhythms.

I barely had time to gather my things, bring Simon to his friend’s house, and find parking. On the way, I learned that a powerful storm was in the forecast, and that there was a tornado watch.

Me and a crowd of afflictive emotions walked up the stairs, and they all entered the studio with me. I paused to move through an energetic ritual as I crossed the threshold, then walked across the wide floor. 

One friend’s gaze seemed to skitter over me, not registering when I tried to catch his eye to silently say hello.

I moved around the edge of the room to orient myself to the space and the group, bringing attention to my feet, and occasionally glancing my fingertips or inner arm along the wall to wake up sensation in different parts of the body.

And soon delight arrived.

It’s not always like that. You never know what will happen when you step into practice. Sometimes you even feel worse at the end than when you started. But on this evening, I made the barely perceptible shift from feeling like things were hopeless back into believing they are workable.

Within ten minutes, I was ranging softly through different levels, stretching intuitively, and tasting the air in the different parts of the room.

Amber guided us through a practice to connect with different energy centers in the body. As encouraged us to engage the ribcage in moving energy around the solar plexus, a wide groan escaped me along with unleashing some painful teen and early adult memories.

Since Simon has become a teen recently I’m finding that I have new strata of unresolved trauma – trauma that I thought had been long dispensed with. I recognize the need to move with it quickly, so I can be clear and direct in parenting this extraordinary human, and not mire him in the tangles of my own psychology and the fears that arise for me.

A friend from my long-ago days in the underground dance world found me this week, too. She wants to hold a reunion – a rave, actually – for those of us who are still alive. I was happy to hear from her, and plan to participate, but it knocked on the door of some pesky demons.

My whole face was wet with tears as I threaded throughout the space, slipping through gaps between bodies, sliding in and out of partnerships, and collaborating with the circling room.

Amber kept inviting us to pause and return to “zero” throughout the class.

Many years ago, Amber led a workshop in this very same space called “Zero Zone,” which was the first time I heard her talk about zero.

I wondered briefly if “zero” was influenced by Dzogchen, an energetic Tibetan practice of dropping into raw awareness on the spot. And I wondered how it relates to Stillness in the 5Rhythms. And a chain of other associations. Then, the thoughts receded again into the background as my own body and its experiments emerged in the foreground.

At one point, Amber invited us to very intentionally move with the breath, then opened up the music again to allow us time to integrate these new seeds that had been planted. 

When the intensity peaked again and again, I found myself right in the middle a lot of the time, moving with all the energy I could need, sinking to the ground, then spiraling back up, casting upward, diagonaling myself back down and across, sometimes finding myself face to face with a partner, and sometimes on my own.

I was so engaged that I didn’t notice darkness shining through the many windows until there was a flash of lightning outside.

In an experiment that involved taking turns with one person in the middle while three others supported them and held space, I felt heat rising to my face and crown when it was my turn to be in the middle. And I felt just as engaged when it was my turn to hold space. I remembered my nature as a healer, as an energy worker, and that we are all healers and energy workers.

In the final stretch of dancing, some stayed with their small group, while others moved through the space. Amber put on an electronic dance song with an engaging beat that pulled us deeper into motion. Then, to my surprise and delight, the beat dropped fast in a low, heavy bassline and the room exploded.

I found many new ways to move, sometimes quirky, jerking, skimming, bursting. I found a new loop around the back of my neck, a new way to rise up through my back from the hips, a new flutter in the heels, a new triple count step to stop short without jamming. 

All that is to say that I found new ways to be alive.

Before stepping in, I wondered if I would have the energy to move given how disheartened I had been feeling. 

By the end I felt grateful again. Grateful to be alive, grateful for the dancing path, grateful to have the chance to do my best as a parent, grateful that my body has accumulated decades of athletic experience yet still hasn’t broken down, grateful for the spirits and ancestors who I believe dance with me. Grateful for all of it. For everything. 

My body remembered why I set foot on this dancing path to begin with. I also remembered what my body never forgets – that the mysterious tiny shift I was contemplating is really just a matter of being embodied. Of being alive to this moment, to this precious life. 

Thank you, Amber. Thank you, Gabrielle. Thank you, my son. Thank you, this body. Thank you, this life. I am blessed in every sense. My path is strewn with flowers, and I can again see the gentle rain of blessings. 

Meghan LeBorious is a certified teacher of the 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation practice. This writing is not sanctioned or commissioned by the 5Rhythms organization and is solely the writer’s personal experience.

Into the Woods

I went into the woods on December 26th with a heavy heart.

Like most years, I spent the holidays with family in Northern Connecticut. It had been a delightful few days and I was counting my blessings. 

Still, I couldn’t shake this heaviness. 

Parenting has been a heavy lift lately. I’m working hard to find the right construct for my bright, talented 12-year-old, where he feels included, motivated, and inspired; and we definitely have not hit the right balance in the past year and half.

I tried to talk myself out of it, arguing that my parents are growing older and I should be enjoying every second I have with them.

But still the painful heaviness persisted.

The air was frigid as I made my way to the river. I chose a favorite spot and picked up a branch to clear dead, wet leaves away, creating a sandy circle. I invited my ancestors, guides, and deities to help me see what I needed to see. 

There was agony in my chest and back and I wondered if I would even be able to move. Almost as soon as I began to drop my weight and circle – the soft river sand yielding under my running shoes – I began to sob. I continued to allow difficult feelings to move through me as I invited more and more of me to release to gravity and to endless, circling motion. 

Flowing is the rhythm of the ground, of the instinctive self, of receptivity,  and of raw, unfiltered experience.

I stayed in Flowing for a long time, late enough that the winter sun started to shift and spotlight through the trees on the other side of the river. 

I realized that anxiety had taken me over in recent weeks, especially with respect to my son’s schooling. I was focused on the future, toggling through all possible dangers and scenarios. I was sacrificing the present for a desired later time, and I was acting out of fear. 

I told myself that I had to find a way to be in this present, even if it is uncertain and frightening, and even as we continue to make plans and make moves. I also realized that my fear could easily be interpreted as a lack of confidence in my only son. At moments I howled with emotion, thankful I was alone in the woods.

After an hour or more, I shifted into the rhythm of Staccato, with the sun dipping low and dappling and the white sky draining of light.

Anything can happen; and practice doesn’t always shift painful and difficult states, but on this day it did. I moved through the rest of the rhythms with engagement, eventually growing quiet and moving like a whisper. 

Resolving to be a more skillful parent, I went home and hugged my son tightly, telling him how proud of him I am and how much I love him.

The next day was warmer. 

My circle was still visible on the sandy bank, and I redrew its edges with a stick, then began to move in Flowing, the first of the 5Rhythms. After a short time, I naturally and seamlessly found myself in Staccato, the second rhythm. I exhaled, I moved with clarity, found angles with the knees and elbows, and explored the different shapes that were coming through. 

Staccato is the rhythm of taking bold action in this world, of making moves, of creating systems; and it is the rhythm of the heart. I realized I was dancing prayers, and, as the day before, moved through each of the rhythms, and remained engaged for a long time. Once I moved through a full wave and found myself in Stillness, I pushed off of the 5Rhythms map and simply moved with the woods, the river, and inner and outer forces.

The third day was warmer still. It is over a week ago now, but I can remember my delight at finding my circle still undisturbed, the comfort of redrawing its edges, and the feeling of losing myself in movement, of total immersion. After moving through all of the rhythms and drawing a ribbon of prayer through each, I danced a snowy owl, imagining what it would be like to sense the edges of things with the tips of my powerful wings, and scanning for subtle movement in the underbrush.

I ran back up the big hill toward home, feeling grateful and bright. My eye caught on a white feather on the side of the road. I looked up and the first thing I saw was a snowy owl statue on a neighbor’s front porch, its wings outstretched, ready to soar, ready to greet a new year.

Meghan LeBorious is a 5Rhythms teacher, meditator, artist, mother, and writer. She has been on the 5Rhythms dancing path since 2008. She was moved to write about her experiences following her very first 5Rhythms class; and has been writing about them ever since. This blog in independently generated and is not sanctioned or produced by the 5Rhythms organization.

360 Emergence Workshop in NYC

After bowing to the space, to all of my teachers, and to practice itself, I took a slow lap around the perimeter, absorbing information with all of my senses, excited to join such a large gathering of dancers. I paused to put my fingertips on the speaker, to directly feel the vibrations of the music. I also traced my forearm along the soft black fabric lining the window-opposite-wall and moved my feet slowly, noticing slight shifts in the temperature of the floor.

Aside from one brief online session, this was my first experience with The 360 Emergence, an embodiment modality created by Amber Ryan and Kate Shela.

I had been groggy before the session, but brightened with curiosity as soon as I started moving inside the space.

In Saturday’s session, after my lap around the room, I wandered to the middle, spiraled for a short time, then lowered myself to the ground to stretch, undulate, and prepare. Before long, I soared throughout the space, delighting in the seemingly infinite exchanges given such a large number of dancers. I was happy to find elation, and cascaded through multiple patterns and gestures and vignettes, sometimes catching someone’s eye and sharing a gesture or an embodied conversation, then moving back into the collective field or dancing with my own internal impulses. 

Amber kept inviting people who were embodying “spider energy” to weave through the space, and I felt supported in continuing to move and thread throughout. At the same time, I was careful to monitor when there was a flavor of grasping and reminded myself to slow down if I found myself roaming and searching, rather than simply present to whatever I found or found me.

The second half of the session on Saturday was a marked contrast to the soaring, effusive first half.

A conjunction of factors flattened me out.

The rest of the dancers seemed to be having the opposite experience. It seemed like they were slow to light up, but now they were exploding with life, veritable fountains of creativity.

I was grounded. Dull. Disconnected. Disengaged.

Whereas in the first half, I moved with grace and power, glancing by, slipping through moving gaps between bodies, finding expression and connection with partners and with the whole room, now my feet were flat. Before I was a moving matrix, easily making my way to the ground, the sky, and back around. Now my knees hurt, I was afraid of damaging them, and I couldn’t remember what it was like to range with ease through many different levels.

During the second half, one good friend bore me up in a joyful, bluegrass-sounding jig, but other than that, I stayed flat, though continued to move at least some part of me.

Whereas in the first half I moved easily even through very crowded parts of the room, now I was afraid of getting hit or crashing into someone, energetically opaque, and knew that if I stayed in the middle where the energy was most intense I risked getting hurt or hurting someone. 

At the end, I packed my things and darted out, feeling isolated. Then I remembered that there were many close friends inside, who I had missed during the long pandemic years. I talked myself into going back in to visit with them. I remained flat, however, and now also added on socially awkward and anxious.

I finally headed home, deciding not to take too much stock in this unpleasant and uncomfortable mood. My twelve-year-old son, Simon, was away for the weekend, and I was alone in the apartment. I ate a simple dinner, made a clutter-mess, and decided to get to bed, wondering if a good night would improve my aching knees and my feeling of isolation.

I slept deeply, for more than eight hours. Sunlight was peeking through my sleep mask when I finally woke up, and I was happy to see that I had slept until 8 AM, three hours later than my weekday rising time.

The morning flowed easily; and I arrived at Mark Morris Dance, the home of the workshop, in good time.

Without negotiation or incident, the awkwardness dissolved, and I greeted friends and acquaintances in the foyer of the giant James and Martha Duffy studio happily, excited to have the whole session in front of me, and wondering what would happen.

Kate and Amber appeared to be well-aligned, and moved back and forth seamlessly, using the pronoun “we” often. In their teaching, they emphasized presence, consent, permission, and energetic alignment. 

They also invited participants to attend not only to the visible, but also to the invisible, and even mentioned ancestors. The room seemed alive with spirit. I found one ancestor lingering at the margin of the room and took them by the hand, escorting them into the middle of the dance. 

There was a pause for some teaching in the middle of the session, and Amber and Kate invited people to verbally share what was coming through for them. Many expressed relief, gratitude, and delight to have the opportunity to move inside such a uniquely inclusive and affirming container.

I shared something myself, and noticed a burst of chemical activation immediately after. It settled quickly as I passed the mic (humorously renamed the “michelle” by Kate!) to another participant.

For nearly the entire four hours, I stayed bright and engaged. 

At one point, I was dancing enthusiastically near Kate and Amber’s table when Kate said something like, We really have to take our medicine in measure, and we have to take care of our bodies. We can’t go throwing our bodies around like we’re 14-year-olds when we’re actually 50! 

I had to smile. I teach 14-year-olds in a public high school, will be 50 in less than six months, and frequently jump in to dance with them, even doing dramatic drops on the spot with no warmup whatsoever.

Just the day before I had gimped down a steep flight of stairs, feeling tender in the fronts of both kneecaps. At the time, I had given myself a stern talking-to about taking it down a notch and acknowledging my age and limitations before I cause irreversible damage. 

Kate’s offhanded comment hit home in a way that somehow managed to delight me, even though she was, perhaps unknowingly, calling me to acknowledge my vulnerability and give up the hope of being a hero and/or the impossible (though compelling!) dream of impressing the 14-year-olds I teach.

I continued to weave, delighting in infinite exchanges throughout the journey, once in a lifetime intersections. Some I will forget, some will live in my memory forever.

At the middle of this glorious day, when we paused and sat together to speak, taking turns with the “michelle,” Amber brought up Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation tradition. Both Amber and Kate were trained in the 5Rhythms, and were 5Rhythms teachers for many years. Amber acknowledged Gabrielle as the root teacher, and told the story of her path to the 360 Emergence with a fully engaged heart. 

Then, she paid homage to the 5Rhythms tradition, and invited all of the 5Rhythms teachers in the room to stand up. That includes me now, and I was self-conscious as I stood, along with five or six others, and my heart swelled up with gratitude, joy, and a crashing tide of other strong emotions, bearing along years of experiences, thoughts, and emotions.

Finally, Amber invited a handful of interns, the first generation-in-training of 360 Emergence teachers; and I cheered along with the others, happy for this new vision, happy to be alive, and happy for this blessed new emergence.

This blog is not sanctioned or produced by the 5Rhythms organization. Meghan LeBorious is a 5Rhythms teacher, meditator, artist, mother, and writer. She has been on the 5Rhythms dancing path since 2008.

Thoughts on Partnership in the 5Rhythms

For me the 5Rhythms has been an interpersonal laboratory, among many other things. 

This week in the “Spirit Drenched in Gold” 5Rhythms class, we’ll focus on the rhythm of Staccato, and the theme of Intention; and if it feels right, the invitation is to step into the room as an interpersonal laboratory, to investigate what is alive for each of us in partnership. I don’t know if it will be true for you, but for me, it has made a difference in my life both on and off the dance floor. 

Lately, some have been asking me about partnering in the 5Rhythms and I wanted to share a few ideas from my own embodied research.

For the first many years of my practice, partnership was a central area of inquiry. From the beginning, I was interested in dancing with others, and also knew I needed time when I wasn’t trying to relate to anyone else.

It might be interesting to note that I was in a very challenging committed relationship at this time with a lot of deeply entrenched patterns. As a result and because of previous layers of trauma, I had a lot of holding and oppression to work through in my body before I could even begin to connect with others–on the dance floor or off. I had been trying to hold myself together for so long, trying to avoid causing harm, trying to avoid setting a certain someone off, trying to keep myself under wraps. So at first I just had to collapse again and again and again and again, and twist and coil and work myself into the floor. 

After a few months of this, I started to look outward and be curious about what other dancers’ concerns were, what might be moving them. I started to pay attention to what part of the body was leading them, and to imagine what it would be like if I was led by that same part of the body. I started to find delight in the particulars of each body, and to play with mirroring, then making the movement something of my own. 

When people mirror me, sometimes I find an even deeper expression of whatever it is that I’m doing. Sometimes I notice something surprising. Sometimes we build something new together. (And sometimes I feel like they are making fun of me and might actually feel annoyed or angry.)

Personally, I love when the teacher says, “Take a partner.” The instruction is usually to turn to whoever is there, without overthinking or evaluating.

The instruction to partner tends to wake me right up and bring me into the moment, though I know that is not the case for everyone. In formally directed partnership, there is a lot to work with. Noticing if I feel pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral with a given partner. Noticing what stories come up. Testing my ability to be present and really see my partner. Considering to what degree my body believes they are seeing me. Imagining what it might be like to move in their body. Maybe finding something in how they are moving that I can experiment with, perhaps expanding my own range. 

And then the teacher says, “Change” and I’m either relieved, sad to leave them, or neutral, ready for the next interaction, turning in a new direction to whoever is there.

I love that it’s so clear. It’s easier for me to connect with this overt invitation to do so. It’s also easier to isolate the different variables and notice what’s arising for me than when I’m entering or leaving partnerships on my own.

When the teacher has not instructed us to be in partnership, partnership is still available, but there are a lot more variables. Both can lead to insight. 

From the beginning, I noticed there were some people I wanted to dance with, and some I did not want to dance with. Deciding to follow my intuition and not dance with some people freed up some of my power. I also found it empowering to dance with people I did want to dance with, again, following my intuition.

Just as interesting was deciding to stay when I felt repelled, or deciding to leave when I was feeling connected – in a way working against what felt comfortable and right. Sometimes this decision brought new insights about my own psychology. Sometimes this decision even brought new insights about the conditioned patterns I have habituated, in some cases to the point that they feel “intuitive.” Being willing to explore discomfort is just as important as learning to honor the instinctive self and move with intuition.

Both the decision to stay and the decision to leave can bring countless insights and can help us learn to discern between intuition and conditioning – a very important difference to investigate as practice deepens.

That said, there might be times when the body declares a given partnership emotionally unsafe. In those cases, it’s important to trust yourself and act on it with firm resolve. It’s also important to keep in mind that being willing to explore the uncomfortable does not include the requirement (or even the suggestion) that anyone allow inappropriate touch of any kind.

One time that I rarely like to partner is when I first enter a 5Rhythms room. I often say a ritual prayer and set an intention as I cross the threshold. I step in naked, with my soul exposed. At that moment, I don’t want a hug. I don’t want to answer “How are you?” I don’t want to relate to another’s gaze at all. I just want to step in with integrity, on my own terms.

When I first step into 5Rhythms practice, once I have bowed to the space and connected with the ground, I often move through the space, taking a moment to notice each person and silently saying, “I see you there; and I’m grateful for it” – adapted from a practice taught by the late Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn.

I don’t know if this qualifies as partnership. Perhaps there is a spectrum of partnership and this barely registers, but it is a way of connecting and seeing another. At this point, I sometimes make brief eye contact, but mostly keep my eyes lowered and soft. If someone seems very open, I might share a turn with them. If someone seems internal, I would move gently, keep my distance, keep my eyes lowered, and silently move through some form of acknowledgement.

In fact, whenever someone seems to be attending to their inner world, I try to move gently, but I don’t ignore them. For myself, at times I’ve moved with deep layers of myself and reality, and I might not seem receptive to dancing with another. Then if someone is really pushing into my experience it has been harmful. 

At other times, I’ve painfully isolated, painting myself into an energetic corner. Then I’ve been grateful when someone has been a little more assertive in connecting with me, while demonstrating that they don’t want to fix or change me but that they see me, even in sometimes-bitter pain. That has at times been healing for me. So I try to hold that possibility open when it feels right, doing my best to be sensitive, and carefully monitoring my own inner experiences, including my intentions, which, of course, can be mixed. In any engagement, I try my best to notice and to notice, and then to notice some more.

The thing about not fixing or changing people is really important. If I find that I’m trying to fix or change someone or their experience, rather than respecting where they are in their process, that’s a sign that my engagement is really about me and not about supporting them. I remind myself that I’m not practicing to prove anything about my own identity. That would be totally counterproductive.

On the contrary, I’m trying to peel back layers of identity and temporal stories so I can fully know reality. Partnership can detract from this purpose if I’m not carefully monitoring and examining my own intentions. Partnership can also support this purpose if I’m fully grounded in the mindfulness of Flowing, and am humble and curious.

The most common instruction to dancers when someone is crying or breaking down is to leave them alone to be in their process. And I’m 1000% on board with that. The freedom to express our emotions, even sometimes emotions that have been deeply buried in the body is critical for our self-healing and empowerment.

At this same time, there might be moments when to hold or be held can be life changing. I have had a very few experiences like this. One was with a beautiful young woman in a workshop. I had judgmentally dismissed her as bubbly, without deep wisdom or much to offer. In a dance of partnership, the quality of her presence shattered my heart, and she held me as I sobbed loudly, at length. I will never forget this experience. Tears spring up even as I write about it, well over a decade later.

Another time that comes to mind was when a friend, deep in her process, was crumpled into herself, crying piteously. Something told me to be close to her, and I wound up sitting behind her back, breathing with her, then wrapping my arms around her. This time, as I moved toward her and lowered myself to the ground, I used words, and asked quietly, “Is it ok if I’m here with you?” She nodded.

There are always exceptions. Having clear rules might be easiest, but in this world, in the 5Rhythms, we take responsibility for ourselves, and to some extent for the people around us and our communities. There aren’t clear rules in life either, much as we often wish there were.

There are guidelines and boundaries, teachings and prompts, but no one is going to tell us the exact rules, the steps, the checklist for waking up. That’s the expansive freedom many of us both crave and fear, and why it can be so frightening and complicated.

Occasionally someone goes into a full-on trauma response. If someone is shaking, and seems very afraid, this might be what is happening. In this case, it is important to not touch them, at all, as they are in a state of primal fear and might actually hurt you. 

The state will pass. It might be necessary and correct for it to arise so the practitioner can move through it. It might be appropriate to make sure the teacher is aware of what is happening. Another possible response is to sit a few feet away, without looking at them or touching them, and deeply embody the energy of Flowing, of connection to the ground. A nearby settled nervous system might be of some benefit. If others come over, you can say, “This person needs space. You can sit calmly with us, but please don’t touch them.” This is another time that language might actually be necessary, since it is an emergency. The state will eventually shift. 

It is always important to approach someone with the knowledge that they could potentially be in a state like this. I, myself, experienced a trauma response during a meditation retreat. It was terrifying, but I was supported skillfully by my teachers and facilitators and I moved through it, only able to integrate it after my nervous system had settled back down.

There are tiny moments of joyful partnership that live in my body. The time at a workshop at Martha Graham when I turned around and breathed someone in. Our forearms merged and we moved together in intimate connection for just a few short moments. Another time, on the last day of a five day workshop when another dancer and I swept, spontaneously and ceremoniously, onto the dance floor for our closing session, arm in arm. The time when my infant son was dancing on my shoulder and a 5Rhythms teacher played a song he recognized and he lit up with delight, wrapping his tiny arms around my neck and speeding up his quivery baby movements. A wild dance of chaotic abandon with ranging shifts and surprising turns with a friend who was my regular partner for many years, and the many times we would rush to each other and jump back into the dance we’d been having for years as soon as we spotted each other in the studio.

I’ve been dancing in partnership with my 12-year-old son, Simon, since before he was born. The times when I’ve felt the closest to him have been in dance; and we’ve explored our evolving relationship over the years inside the laboratory of dance–often getting insight into what is at play for us that isn’t as visible set inside our daily patterns.

There have also been times when I couldn’t partner. When I was locked into my own body, isolated, and lonely. There was a stretch that lasted almost two months when dance felt excruciating. The more isolated I felt, the more difficult it was to connect with anyone, and the more forced and unnatural partnership seemed. It was like I was carving a track of loneliness into my reality.

I can’t remember how it finally shifted, but remember that I started to pay attention to when partnership flowed easily and when it felt forced or unavailable.

One thing I notice is that if I step into the room with receptivity to different partners and experiences, and have a light touch, things go better. If I meet someone’s eye or move near them and they seem to quicken or orient toward me, we might share a turn, a gesture or even a dance. Sometimes one of us turns away, the dance dissolves, and we move on. Sometimes the other person is still there, and we continue to be in partnership. Sometimes I’ve even danced with a partner who was all the way across a crowded room, or even chased and followed a partner in lyrical delight throughout the entire space, sometimes even pulling other dancers into our game. 

Sometimes I feel the pull to move with my own inner experience, or to be in the collective field rather than in partnership. I might offer a gesture of gratitude to acknowledge what we’ve shared or just move on, moving in the river of practice.

Sometimes I start to feel the pull to move away once the dance gets deeper and I resist it. Sometimes I go with it. No matter what, I notice.

When I sense that someone wants to pull away from a dance with me, I notice whatever feelings come, and remind myself that it isn’t personal–that every one of us is in our own process in our own way and deserves the grace to move with their truth. 

It is interesting to notice if I am off-my-center looking for someone to partner with, roaming around the room. At these times, I have to ask myself what is my intention. The answer that comes back from my body is yet another thing to consider and work with. At other times, it’s interesting to notice if I’m very attached to being in my own private dance. And to consider my intention. Again, whatever comes back is food for thought.

There have been times when another dancer has not noticed my lack of receptivity and has continued to pursue partnership anyway, even if I have been literally backing away. This has at times enraged me. Once I remember moving into a dervish-like spin to try to get some space from someone, and he only seemed to consider it more of an invitation. Another time, an effusive dancer repeatedly entered my personal space, smiling and trying hard to make eye contact, even though I was feeling the need to be internal. It made me angry because it seemed like it wouldn’t even cross his mind that I might not be up for a dance at a given moment. I can’t imagine moving with that kind of entitlement, but I bet there are people I’ve interacted with who think exactly that way about me.

Given that consent is so important, it’s hard to explain why we don’t speak with words during the dance–to ask someone to dance with us or to accept or decline an invitation (except in extreme circumstances). In some ways, taking a break from language forces us to attune to each other and to our inner experiences in a way that may have been previously hidden by our accustomed noise. 

I’m still contemplating this, though. Maybe it’s something we should consider. Something in me wants to keep this boundary, but I haven’t yet determined if it’s because of intuition or habit. I will have to continue to move with it and notice what arises.

This week in class, we’ll focus on the rhythm of Staccato, and the theme of Intention; and if it feels right, the invitation is to step into the room as an interpersonal laboratory, to investigate what is alive for each of us in partnership. I don’t know if it will be true for you, but for me, it has made a difference in my life both on and off the dance floor. 

What else is there really? What really matters but doing everything we can to be here for our one precious, temporary dance? As Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms, said, “If you don’t do your dance, who will?”

This blog is not sanctioned or produced by the 5Rhythms organization. Meghan LeBorious is a 5Rhythms teacher, meditator, artist, mother, and writer. She has been on the 5Rhythms dancing path since 2008.