My grandmother used to say that you get a “special intention” every time you enter a new church for the first time, as my mother reminded me recently. A special intention is pretty much guaranteed to travel straight to God’s ear, and has a strong chance of a good outcome—kind of like a direct prayer line. That is exactly how I felt entering into this week’s Sweat Your Prayers class, which was taught by Anne Marie Hogya, a 5Rhythms teacher from Victoria, Canada, who I was blessed to encounter for the first time.
I did not intend to dance today. My body needs yoga, too, and I often do yoga on Sunday mornings. I was running late, however; and because I was too late to go to yoga class I wound up dancing instead.
Waking, I was achy. My neck hurt. My knee hurt. The nerves in my elbows hurt. Even my back hurt a little. Now, as I write, nothing hurts at all. This time, dance released me even from physical pain.
Before I even entered the dance studio I found a friend deeply sad. I held her for a moment, seeing her pain. I did not ask what was happening with her, I did not try to fix her, I did not relate her pain to any of my own pain. I just tried to be there for her in that one moment. Then, I stepped into the room. (As I discovered later, she had already received the news about the hateful massacre at Pulse Night Club in Orlando, Florida. I was not to hear about it until after the class when I was driving home, or I surely would have realized why she was crying.)
I have been thinking a lot about partnering lately; and I reflected as I entered that the Sunday morning class is one of the few classes in NYC that always happens during daylight hours. I think there is extra willingness to look at and see one another, given the factor of daylight. There is also an extra measure of kindness that I can’t explain. Today, I, for one, stepped in shuddering with happiness, meeting every possible eye.
After softly hugging a friend that I adore and see rarely, I found a corner where I could smear myself onto the beloved ground and move in rising and falling circles with the earth’s unending rotations.
Soon, I was completely subsumed by the room, moving into empty space, pushed and pulled by the gestures and energies around me. Anne Marie led us through the classic sequence of body parts—head, shoulders, elbows, arms, hips, knees and feet. Often, body parts meditation brings me into a very internal and rooted space, but on this occasion, I moved fluidly around the room, reveling in my own body, and absorbing the influences of the bodies around me. I shared many brief dances of connection and several longer dances as the first of the class’s two 5Rhythms waves unfolded. As is often the case, Chaos found me largely solo as I leapt and bound in delightful erratic patterns, and in ascending and descending spins. I recalled the physical pain of the morning and set the intention to be as soft as possible and to stay out of my edges. This first wave was characterized by exquisite movement and total availability.
Although this was the first time I took Anne Marie’s class and I had never before met or spoken with her, she communicated an unwavering presence as she sat, choosing music and making occasional suggestions via microphone. Bangs were cut into her long, dark hair and they seemed to cover her eyebrows, making her eyes even more prominent, as she gazed at the moving room and the bodies in it, seeming both fascinated and discerning.
I reflected that although I am not afraid to be alone, and have traveled to infinite dimensions completely of my own volition, dancing in partnership or in small groups has opened doors that dancing by myself could never open. If the thing that is holding me back is my ego—or my own selfing activities—then it makes sense that the best arena to draw out and confront my ego is within relationship. We are born alone and we die alone, but the whole middle of the path is filed with people. Another person is actually required to do this kind of ego work. I like the idea that it is not just the insight into the nature of reality as it is, but is also the unfolding into boundless compassion that can introduce us to our full potential.
Another interesting thing about partnership is that, in this arena of ego construction, perhaps for the very reason that my ego has been drawn out, when profoundly witnessing the experience of my partner, I can be drawn completely into the depths of myself. Just as the arena of ego’s construction is in relation to others, so, too, is its dismantling. It is through deep connection with others that I am able to dance alone; and it is through deep connection with myself that I am able to dance with others. The two modalities are two wings of a bird (to borrow a Buddhist metaphor)—both essential on this dancing path. I don’t think I can ever hope to realize my full humanity without partnering, without humanity, without the dissolution of self and others. And neither can I realize my full humanity without engaging fully with the parts of my unique experience that are not available to anyone but my own inner guides.
Perhaps this aspect of my path is unique to me, perhaps it is shared with others.
Anne Marie let the last song of the first wave end, then sort of low-skipped into the center of the room where everyone gathered around her. She said that she felt very moved to be teaching in NYC, in the very city where Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, “rolled out this work for us.” She also praised us as a community and expressed that she could really feel the depth and integrity of our collective practice. She then declared that she would demonstrate a wave, saying, “This is what a 5Rhythms wave looks like for me at this time.” She strongly emphasized the “for me,” explaining that it would look different for every person, that there is no right or wrong way to move through a wave. She also suggested that we work more with partnering in the class’s second and final wave, saying toward the end of her talk, “Why not take partnering on?” in a way that encouraged curiosity and receptivity.
I reflected on the precious opportunity to experience the 5Rhythms with a teacher who is new to me. The more teachers I learn from, the more insight I get into what aspects of the practice may be unique to each of us—or at least not widely shared—and what aspects of the practice transcend all of our invented boundaries and are held in communal agreement. In addition, every teacher brings their own mandala—their spirit entourage—that likely informs their transmission of the practice far beyond what we consciously perceive.
From the moment the music started, I stepped into dance after dance of beautiful partnership, my breath catching at moments as result of the beauty that moved through and around me. My partnerships were sometimes very porous and I was often with two or three, or even up to five bodies at once, moving like water currents around the room.
After many brief partnerships and at moments moving with the entire community, I stepped into partnership with a friend like I stepped out into a clearing after a long trek through the forest.
It was in the rhythm of Lyrical that I stepped into this clearing; and I recall a snap of bright delight as my eyes met with my friend’s eyes. I tried on the close, quirky gestures he was experimenting with and found a new expression I hadn’t yet encountered. I sunk completely into it, beaming, not even considering whether I should stay with him or move on. We played with rocking our feet diagonally to move in little increments: heel-toe, heel-toe, heel-toe. These tiny little, foot-planted steps became the refrain during the first phase of our dance. We worked in minute, contained, cross-over steps, too; though I couldn’t resist throwing in an occasional big, crossing, back step. Another dancer passed between us, perhaps not noticing our partnership. I wondered if this partner might disengage, but was happy when we came back together after just a moment. (These moments when the dance could naturally shift out of partnership can be so pivotal. Sometimes that is when the dance dissolves, sometimes that is when the dance gets more intentional and, too, deeper…) Slowly, slowly, the dance opened and became briefly expansive—ice capades in an exhibition rink. Before long, it tranformed into a silky Stillness. We then moved into contact, extending into balance after balance, each causing the other to grow into still gestures with gently applied pressure, moving in arcs, rising and falling as we faithfully enacted our living breath.
June 11, 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.
(Note: The image is a drawing I created as part of the “Everything Is Perfect” body of work. If you are interested in learning more about my visual art please visit meghanleborious.com)