Word Dance (Radical Summons)


The days leading up to the 2016 Word Dance workshop were exceptionally delightful. I went on something of a walkabout with my now-six-year-old son, Simon. He is in a lovely phase at the moment—cooperative, funny, insightful and affectionate—and I thoroughly enjoyed our time together, making a big loop to visit friends from Brooklyn to Tarrytown to Newburgh to Kingston, north to Burlington, Vermont, and then to my parents’ in Northern Connecticut. My parents had agreed to look after Simon Friday afternoon and Saturday while I was at the Word Dance workshop, then bring him back to Brooklyn Saturday night. While I was waiting for my mother to arrive to care for Simon so I could leave, I looked online to see if I had any outstanding parking tickets. I found several, including a “Bus Lane Violation”—something I had never heard of—for 115 dollars. My humor darkened. Simon said lightly, “Well, that’s how it is, Mommy. If you break the rules you have to take the consequences.” I had to admit that he was right, though I continued to feel disempowered and irresponsible.

Because I did not plan properly, there was a mix up about times. I did not set out until 4pm for a journey that typically takes over three hours. In this case, it took four hours. As it was, I did not arrive until 8pm at Paul Taylor Studio on Grand Street in Lower Manhattan, though Friday’s initial session of the Word Dance workshop had begun at 6pm.

In the car, I turned on myself, becoming extreme in my thinking. It started because I was angry with myself for not taking my own needs seriously and for not planning properly; and the trajectory continued to gather steam. Recalling it now, I can’t understand what all that suffering was all about. At the time, though, it just felt like misery.

February 19-21, the dates of the recent NYC Word Dance workshop, had been marked on my calendar for many months. The Word Dance workshop that was held in Brooklyn in 2014 by Jewel Mathieson—poet celebrated and beloved by Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice—was very moving for me. This time, she was joined by Amber Ryan, another teacher who I hold in high regard.

(Note: To read what I wrote about the 2104 Word Dance workshop, visit http://wp.me/p4cEKe-N)

I stepped into the spacious studio long after dark. The room was lit by ropes of white lights tucked into the edges between the walls and floor, and by dimmed, ambient floods. Despite my late arrival, I paused to bow patiently as I stepped into the charged space of the room. The music indicated the rhythm of Stillness, but I found energetic movement, letting myself out of the gate, perhaps, after such a long press toward arrival. I continued to explore a dance that first arose at Paul Taylor studio during a previous workshop—on the floor, radial, turning in all directions with some part of me pinned down, often as my limbs marked a big circle around me. In addition, on my hands and spinning on one knee, I stepped my free foot as far as possible across behind me, taking me into yet another stretching and spinning circle.

The formal moving ended shortly, and we assembled in a semi circle. Arriving late, I still hadn’t entered fully into the construct of the workshop. Jewel performed her signature poem “We Have Come To Be Danced,” a primal, visceral rallying cry to the ragged depths of spirit. Then, a dancer named Nilaya came to the center of the floor to perform while Jewel read a selected poem. Nilaya moved with great energy. Even her facial expressions responded to Jewel’s words; and I admired her abandon. Nilaya was beautiful, undoubtedly, but I couldn’t understand why her dancing was a performance, and the rest of us dancing was just…well…dancing. Is she a “better” dancer than me? Than the others in attendance? Is she some kind of professional? If 5Rhythms isn’t about being a “good” dancer, then how could I make sense of this?

Soon, we were also invited to select one of Jewel’s poems from a bowl, then to move to it as Jewel read. For the last piece, having to do with Jewel’s experience of motherhood, Jewel invited all of the mothers in attendance to join Amber, who had selected the poem. I hesitated, perhaps wanting to remain in doubt, but let go of my questions and stepped forward, along with several others, moving quickly into Chaos. At the end, Jewel explained that she had had a dream of Nilaya “flying” to her words; and I let my questions dissolve. Sometimes I just have to respect the logic of dreams.

The session ended. Over the course of the weekend, I found myself wishing, again and again, that we had much more time. For example, in this case, I would have loved to dance a short wave to take in all I had witnessed and to let it out again.

I greeted Jewel and apologized profusely for arriving late.   She generously complimented my work on this very blog. She couldn’t realize how much her kind words meant to me, as I have felt called recently to evaluate what, exactly, my intentions have been with this writing, and what, to the extent that I can know, this writing has meant in the world.

Because Simon was with my parents, I had plenty of time to linger. I offered to drive Jewel and Amber home since both were nearly on the way. Both teachers have given me considerable food for thought in the few years that I have known them—through public teachings, writings and conversation; and I felt blessed to have a few moments with them apart from the larger group.

In a conversation I had that night, I spoke of how much I love opportunities to express what comes up in 5Rhythms work as form—such as poetry, in this case. 5Rythms is so very ephemeral—necessarily so—as it leaves the ego little material to build with. But at the same time, there is so much form available! The person I was speaking with said, “Maybe sometimes it is OK to attach, if briefly, to let it find a form, to say, this is exactly who I am, right in this minute! This is me!” The world of pure energy, of total non-attachment beckons us, but the fact is that most of us are not pure energy. We are not Buddhas. We live mostly in the relative world, of red tape and emotional messes and mundane joys and pyrrhic victories and debt and defensiveness and tiny steps toward love.

As an artist, something I think about a lot is that when we make something external—when we give it a form—we can then respond to it. This now-externalized relationship to something previously only interior can be very fruitful. Creating form, especially in such close proximity to formal practice, runs the risk of ego-aggrandizement, but I wonder if we could see the forms we find as simply part of the spectacular arisings that comprise our humanity—the light show that is our life, the beautiful, dynamic display, arising from the primal everything.

I stayed up late reading and writing, and slept until the decadent hour of 9.30 AM—a rare treat. With plenty of time, I stepped out to get something to prepare for breakfast. Thinking I would light a candle and have a nice, long sit before I left the apartment, I suddenly realized it was 11AM; and that I was in danger of being late again! I collected myself quickly and headed to Paul Taylor Studio, arriving just five minutes before the noon start time.

I was one of the first to arrive on the dance floor, and took full advantage of all the space. First, I explored the perimeter.   With my hands behind my head, I experimented with how I had to twist when I moved close to the wall to make space for my elbow. Further along the perimeter, I rubbed against the towering black velvet stage curtains, grounding myself in the pure sensation of the soft fabric on my skin—my exposed cheek and arm.

As others joined the dance floor, the wave carried me on top of it. First, I found the energetic, radial dance of the ground again. Before long, I was sailing around the room, enraptured, with the perfect amount of energy, no physical pain, and no self-abusive thoughts that persisted. I moved into empty space, making a conscious choice to see and feel everyone around me.  I said internally, again and again, “I see you there, and I am grateful for it,” an adaptation from a practice taught by the Zen Monk Thich Nhat Hanh that I frequently employ.

People did not seem inclined to meet my eye as I moved around. I remembered that in the last Word Dance, too, it had seemed that people were less inclined to partner than usual. I wondered if this might be, in part, because we were more focused on the words taking shape in our minds than on our interactions. People seemed to keep getting seized by inspiration, then sitting down to write, then returning to dance. We were told to keep our books near the dance floor and that we could write at any time. Jewel also advised us to keep some part of our body in the dance, even when we were writing. At times, I wished for more partnership, but in this construct, dance was more like the warm-up—the deepest intimacy actually came later, in sharing our spoken words with each other.

I noted, as in the past workshop, that I was disinclined to leave the dance to write. You would think I would be thrilled about moving in and out of dance and writing, especially since they are so closely linked for me, but that wasn’t the case. In the Buddhist tradition I am trained in, we are taught to never pause meditation to write. If the words that come up during formal practice are important enough, they will always come back again after. During classes and workshops, I don’t write during the sessions. Often I make skeletal notes about what happened and what associations I had that evening or the next day, but the writing usually takes place 2-9 days after the events I describe.

Jewel and Amber gathered us for verbal teachings.   Jewel requested that we offer something lasting “two seconds to two minutes.” She told us how Gabrielle used to have practitioners pick a word, then talk about it in front of the class—relating it to their personal experience—for two minutes. Noting the tenor of anxiety, Amber offered several preliminary practices to get us ready for this kind of sharing. Remarkably, I was nearly un-frightened, and instead felt eager and confident.

Although Jewel created the Word Dance construct and many people attended because they wanted to do the Word Dance work, it seemed that some of the participants had come because they had worked with Amber in the past and wanted to work with her again. Throughout the weekend, Amber endeavored quietly and diligently to support the work taking place in the room, both as the DJ and through selected exercises.

I hadn’t attended to writing at all during the opening wave on Saturday, but it was clear that some had already developed elaborate poems.  I think I sort of misunderstood Jewel’s direction. It seemed like she was asking us to share a poem, but didn’t want to put too much pressure on us. Or to pick a word and talk about it? Like in the practice she had talked about with Gabrielle? I decided to work with two words I had randomly opened to in the dictionary, “radical” and “summons”. I was the fourth or fifth person to get up, and said, “My word is summons.” I paused, then said with quavering power, “At what point does the mandate of patience give way to the calling of destiny?”

The notes in my book that I had distilled this phrase from included, “patience balanced with wanting, drenched, moving toward.”

Remarkably, the phrase I offered planted the seed for what I would produce and share over the course of the weekend. This delights me, in retrospect, for some reason. I also notice that in some cases, conversations I’d shared with other practitioners came up in their writings; and I reflected on how very woven together we all are—bound in the fabric of our shared destiny—especially visible to us inside the beautiful construct of this workshop.

Tears swelled in me many times during the morning’s share. They are not mine to offer here and I must be discreet, but know that the stories, words and poems that came up were without exception compelling.  

Jewel taught us many practices and writing tips over the course of the weekend. This barely scratches the surface of what she shared, but here is my own attempt to summarize her teachings and create a list of “Jewel’s Rules for Writing:”

  1. Always have your book available.
  2. Speak the words you are writing.
  3. Write from your heart.
  4. Dance before you write; and keep something moving even when you are writing.
  5. Find a gesture you can write from.
  6. Give your breath to whatever emotional field you are in.

(“The more emotion you give it, the more amplitude to carry it out!”)

  1. Don’t be satisfied with your first draft.
  2. Leave space on your page to add lines and edit.
  3. Don’t be afraid to be melodramatic.
  4. When you think you are lost, you are there.

After Saturday morning’s period of sharing words and receiving teachings, we took a break for lunch. I stayed in the studio, eating the lunch I had with me, then settling into a comfortable corner of the dance floor to write and reflect. A poem began to emerge, but I left it as soon as Amber started the music again, eagerly stepping into joyful movement, once again one of the first people to begin the wave.

Knowing that we would have another opportunity to share work, I complied when the wave concluded and everyone repaired to their chosen spot to write. This time, I wrote feverishly, pressing to get the words out even after we had been called on to begin the share.

Nearly every person stepped up to offer something; and the offerings were even more powerful this time, as themes and context for each person’s writing had by then begun to emerge. The practice of mindful listening is as important, if not more important, than what we offer when we stand up; and I worked hard to meet my responsibility of listening and seeing each person when it was their turn.

The energy and attention of the group grew and grew over the course of the weekend; and I felt a great surge when I stood up to offer my own poem—a notably dark exploration of my psyche and personal history.

(Note: you can read the poem at the end of this text.)

During a brief bathroom break, one practitioner took a moment to tell me that it was a shock to hear me speak. She said we had shared four or five workshops now; and this was the first time she had heard my voice. (That right there was interesting feedback! I can be such a know-it-all! I love to hear myself talk. I love the sound of my voice. Is it possible that something has shifted slightly?) She felt like there was a big difference between my speaking voice and how I seem on the dance floor. I said, “That is fascinating! I will have to contemplate that. Maybe there is some sort of a disjunction? What do you mean? Can you say more about that?” She said, “I don’t know how to say it. I guess I have to think about it a little!”

On Saturday evening I hadn’t lingered, as my parents were arriving with Simon. Because I left so quickly, I did not receive any feedback at all. That night I was unsure about what I had offered. Was it really skillful to take myself into such afflictive territory? Did I really want people who had never met me before to see me this way? Did I want to share this part of me with people who already knew and liked me? On Sunday, though, one woman went out of her way to acknowledge me during the first wave. She held tight to my hand, gazed into my eyes, and said “Goddess.” She thumped her hand over her heart and nodded. I was very moved by her gesture and by her insistence on communicating it. Others were kind enough to express their support over the course of the day. Though part of me understands that others’ approval must not be central to my need for expression, the support felt crucial to my process. Above all, I truly appreciated the non-rejection, even in the face of this ugly aspect of myself.

I danced Sunday morning’s wave with wild abandon. Still wishing for more partnership, I joined whoever might be receptive. I had given some thought to what I would share that afternoon, and had printed poems written during January and February of this year, along with one related poem from nearly twenty years ago. During the wave, I didn’t visit my writing book even once. Jewel explained that we would have one more chance to share something—from two seconds to two minutes of content—and that in this case we would be grouped with four other people, and would take turns enacting ritual theater gestures for each other’s pieces. Because I had attended the previous NYC Word Dance workshop, I was put forward as someone who could help explain the ritual theater work for our group, and I all-too-eagerly stepped into leadership.

I was not ready! I had no idea what to offer. I needed time! We were given the option to meet as a group and plan our skits before lunch, or to have lunch first, then gather with our groups to plan and rehearse. I argued for lunch first, and most of the group agreed and drifted off. One member of our group disagreed strongly. She very much wanted to meet first, then have lunch. I and one other group member offered to re-gather the group and rehearse her piece before breaking for lunch. Reluctantly, the offer was declined.

The woman who told me my voice surprised her paused me in the foyer and elaborated on her previous remark. “It is just like, in dance, you are so ready to hold your space.” She made a strong, closed fist gesture. “But in speaking, you are…well. You are, like, quiet. And thoughtful. It is like a totally different experience.”

On Sunday I had come prepared for long periods of sitting on the floor with a meditation cushion from home; and I posted myself up to review and prepare. I had several different options in mind, but finally settled on two poems—one from the distant past, and a related, new poem. I re-cast both several times, and timed and practiced my delivery for a few moments before internally declaring myself ready.

Our group had planned to work together from 3.00-3.30 in preparation for the presentations, which were to start at 3.30, but we didn’t succeed in gathering until 3.10. It was my idea to meet after lunch (mostly because I wasn’t ready), but I felt nervous when we were so slow to convene. I became staccato, urging us through the first two people’s rehearsals while watching the clock, fearing that I would be the one whose piece was neglected; and, too, fearing that we would all lose this chance to stand in our power and instead be fumbling on the “stage”. The member who wanted to meet before lunch pushed back hard, saying that she didn’t like to be rushed. I backed up but continued to watch the clock. When it was my turn to direct the other four, I recited, explaining the gestures I wanted them to take during key moments in my poems. Then, we moved quickly on to the next person. We were given an extra ten minutes of preparation time, and were able to prepare for each person’s piece. The group encouraged the slightly disgruntled person who had wanted to eat lunch after our rehearsal to set the presentation order, and we declared ourselves ready.

Amber and Jewel asked a few questions about the best way to set up for this final ritual, adjusting lights, music and audience placement. One member of our group who had been in the bathroom asked me where she was in our five-person lineup, and I quietly explained. The group member who had wanted to rehearse before lunch shushed me with an angry expression on her face, “Can you please be quiet so I can hear what she is saying?” I daggered her with my eyes, and allowed my mind to be briefly dragged into anger. Fortunately, the power of the room drew me back quickly, and though the sensation of anger lingered for a few moments, it did not hijack me.

At last, the first group rose and moved in front of the room’s biggest white wall while the rest of us sat at attention facing them. Again, each person’s offering was very moving. The room boomed with powerful words, raw presence, honesty, theatricality and intensity. The first group had practiced extensively and the transitions between each person’s piece were so seamless that it was almost like one integrated performance. I was moved to tears and even to jagged sobs again and again, my heart swelling up. I felt so close to everyone, and so deeply invested in each person’s process.

When it was our group’s turn, I did my best to support my group members and to stand in my own power. When it was my turn to step forward, I again felt the surge of power that comes from pushing myself past my comfort zone, and from stepping up in a room so saturated with presence and creative energy. My voice quivered a little, but I felt very comfortable with the spotlight, moving close to the audience. I said, “These are two poems in the key of Stillness. One written almost twenty years ago, another a recent fragment, with an image that has persisted again and again.”

My group members did not remember some of the gestures I had requested, but—at least from my perspective—it didn’t seem to matter that much. Though I was grateful to them, I was focused on the audience and nervous, so I barely noticed their part of the performance. As I finished and stepped back to support the last two pieces, my heart throbbed in my chest and adrenaline rushed into my legs. Within a minute or less, it passed, and I supported to the best of my ability, trying to remember the indicated gestures and intending to hold space with integrity.

Usually when each person in a big group shares an individual piece, the time begins to drag toward the end; but in this case, when we finished and everyone had presented, I looked around, wondering which group would go next, not realizing that we were already done. I was that captivated by the process and by the products people shared.

We moved very briefly, breaking the biggest rule of 5Rhythms by dancing and speaking at once, elated by the wave of creative work we had lived. Soon, we gathered into a final, seated closing circle. Jewel invited us to offer anything else that lingered. This final share featured few planned products, but many life stories, and many testimonials to the power of the 5Rhythms. Although wonderful friends sat on both sides of me, I didn’t even take in that they were there, as I was feeling totally part of the group, of the field of participation. I had sat down with some crumpled poems in hand, eager to speak my own words again, but realized that what was called for in the moment was a different way of witnessing, of knowing, of speaking. Thanks to the space created by Jewel and Amber, and to the teachings of Gabrielle Roth—who is my Buddha, the woman who opened the doors to everything—I was able to notice and to respond appropriately, gratefully.

“You listen me into speaking.” –Unknown Spectacular Human

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


“Radical Summons”

The un’s page of the dictionary surprised me.

It seems you can add “un” to just about anything

And come up with a legitimate word:




The mayor’s daughter,

I wanted so much to be bad, abject

(somehow I had tricked myself

into believing that was freedom,

affront to convention)




I piled on trauma

And added more trauma in trying to undo it

Fucking everyone around me



Secretly I craved love

But everything I did moved me

Further and further from it



More and more alcohol

More and more of everything

And soon, I moved in worlds more abject than I’d ever dreamed

Pierced, sharp, fierce,

I enjoyed a short reign as the queen of a small-city drug-addled rave scene,

Dancing more than I slept.

Flawed, damaged, broken

Afraid if I was gigantic it would cause harm.

I contained myself,

To the extent that I could



Patience has been an antidote to my defensiveness,

My flagrant temper, my hot ego, my edges.

Yes, patience has served me.

The beauty of quiet moments seeps in through all the cracks.

My now-dead teacher sought to turn us inside out,

Always asking us to dig deeper.

I have held myself back,

Afraid of me

Afraid that ego’s craving

Would cast me on treacherous rocks

At what point can I just unravel it back to clean




At what point, despite my many flaws,

Does the mandate of patience

Make way for the calling of destiny?

Not wanting

Not wanting

Not attaching

When do I cry out


I want it

I want it

I want it-

I want to be turned inside out

I want to stand in the full light of love

I want to be free



“100 Black Birds” (written sometime between 1997-2001, edited 2016)


Let me not flatten you out

For my own comfort, my love.

If you call yourself a morning person,

Then dance all night

I’ll not consider it defection.

An old pattern twitches in my mind,

Like birds pointed south.


I watch an airplane

As it threads through different layers of opacity

Moving from invisible to ghostly to clearly seen,

Then flickering again.


A hundred black birds

Swoop and arc as one

Their gesture, a huge trick kite.

I once saw their conductor,

A man with a huge swath of fabric

Dancing on the rooftop

A hungry ghost, an aching spector,

Directing the birds’ gestures.


I realize now that I dreamt him.


“Birds on a Foggy Morning” (2016-work in progress)


Leafless trees create a seamless arch over Eastern Parkway.

White fog weights heavily on top of them.

A flock of black birds circles in unison—

They are a group of little black shapes

When their bodies are flat to me,

And when they turn to complete the circle

Become thin black lines

And disappear into the flog,

Then re-appear as shapes,

Again and again.


IN Sight: In Pursuit of Magic



The first 5Rhythms workshop in NYC to focus on visual, artistic expressions of creativity, 5R Visual, took place at the Joffrey in the West Village on Sunday, January 10th.  The workshop—IN Sight:  In Pursuit of Magic—was lead by Martha Peabody, who worked closely with Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, for 39 years. 

Arriving slightly late and stepping into the already flowing room, Martha approached me and whispered, “I’m so glad you’re here!  Do you have an object that represents the present that you want to add to the table?”  I nodded and went to the bag of objects I had gathered to bring to the workshop.  I had received an email the night before letting me now that I should bring an object that represents the past, one that represents the future, and one that represents the present.  I gathered many more than three things, unsure of what I wanted to put forward.  I spent a few moments pondering my options, then selected a small lighter with rainbow colors and a graphic of a tiger on it and added it to the front table, which Martha had already graced with numerous items devoted to the faculty of sight.

After the opening wave of the IN Sight workshop, with Martha’s on-mic suggestions and music offered by Daniela Peltekova, we set into an investigation of the objects we chose to represent our present.  Martha offered many phrases about past, present and future, interspersed with suggestions about the rhythms themselves.  She periodically suggested we partner, but moved us in and out of partnership throughout the day.  After the conclusion of the wave, we each placed our object on the dance floor.  Then, we walked around and chose one object that appealed to us.  I selected a circular disc, with a Prussian blue ground and a metallic gold sun painted on one side, and a metallic gold moon painted on the other side.  Then, we arranged ourselves like an audience, and took turns, three at a time, standing to face the audience with our selected object.  We each had to take a shape—and in some cases a repetition—arising from our selected object. 

Inwardly, I groaned.  As I have written about recently, taking a shape is often challenging for me.  I watched with interest as the experience unfolded, hesitating to step up.  When I finally did, I took a shape that was somewhat familiar to me, not necessarily what was arising from the object that I was in temporary possession of.  This seemed a little easier than usual, but I was still glad when my turn was over and the exercise dissolved.

On Sunday morning, before the IN Sight 5Rhythms Visual workshop began, I attended the Sunday Sweat Your Prayers class, just one floor up, also at the Joffrey in the West Village, along with my five-year-old son, Simon.  I had invited him to join me the day before, laying down my expectations for his behavior, and letting him know that he would have to cooperate and have himself ready to leave in time.  To my surprise, he was dressed and by the door with boots, coat, hat, mittens and selected toys forty-five minutes before we needed to leave.  He stood by the door telling me, “Hurry up, Mommy!  We don’t want to be late!”

Because I knew I would be attending the IN Sight workshop the same day, I was lighter than usual with my expectations for the class with Simon.  Part of me is very invested in raising him with the tools of 5Rhythms.  If he doesn’t want to engage with the activities in a given class, it can feel like an affront and make me nervous.  I beseech him, sometimes, hoping to engage him.  Also, I often want some kind of “experience” for myself, reluctant to give over to his needs completely.

As is our custom, we stood holding hands outside the studio, then took a deep breath, and, releasing it, jumped into the “Magic Dance Room.”   

Simon wanted me close for most of the class, though he did range through the room at times.  He started out huddled near one of the room’s center columns with a small pile of toys and some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches he was working on.  Gradually, he stretched out on the floor, and began to circle on his side—similar to a kind of movement I have been experimenting with lately—keeping a watchful eye on everyone around him.  As he got more comfortable, his movements grew, but he continued to want me close.  The most active we became was in a kind of spinning, bounding breakdancing that had my knees sore for several days after.  He kept stopping in front of me and pointing emphatically to me, then to the ground, asking me to please get on the ground with him.  Most times I obliged.  As the music slowed, Simon lay on top of me, both of us facing up, with Simon’s upper back arched over my bent knees, in a shape he has loved since he was pre-born.  We were in the closest gesture we can now get to of him being born.  I reflected on how close we still are, and how surreal it is that the entirety of this little son once fit completely inside my small body.

Simon made it through almost the entire class.  During Chaos in the second wave the room got very energetic and some dancers started to let out screams.   Simon stopped in front of me, looked at my face and pointed abruptly to the door.  We stepped out and found a girl of about 8 or 9 with her mother, who also wanted to leave the studio during Chaos. There, too, we found Simon’s father, who was there to bring Simon home when I continued on to the IN Sight workshop downstairs.  Simon and I stepped back in for a few more turns, then concluded.  I felt proud and content, and smiled, silently mouthing “Thank you” to Jilsarah Moscowitz, who had taught the Sunday Sweat Your Prayers class that day.

Which brings us back to the IN Sight workshop—the first ever workshop in NYC devoted to exploring the rhythms through visual expression.    After presenting our borrowed objects and our chosen shapes and repetitions, we took a break.  Small talk seemed incorrect; and I slipped out to buy a tea, hoping it would combat the tiredness I was starting to feel. 

I returned to a miracle—a spectacularly manifested double rainbow over Manhattan, viewed from the fourth floor windows of the Joffrey on 6th Ave and 10th Street, facing north.  Earlier, Martha had shared that she had seen a rainbow on her drive from New Jersey to Manhattan that very morning.  “A rainbow in January,” she proclaimed with wonder, gesturing one arm in an arc.  I pushed the window up, climbed onto the sill and bent double over the window guards, trying to get a photograph of this miraculous phenomenon, then sitting and observing it with reverence.

Conversation lingered as Daniela began the music; though I moved immediately to the center of the room and started to twist and rotate, my body glued down, arching my back and using the crown of my head as an axis to shift into a new movement, continuously moving, in Flowing.

Martha gathered us into a circle, then asked several people to step into the center.  She revealed that all who were in the center were 5Rhythms teachers, some of many, many years—“lifers,” she joked.  Then, she asked them to simply walk, changing direction and looking for the empty space.  She asked us to take a step in.  Then another. She described this as the most basic of all 5Rhythms exercises; and I reflected on the beautiful humility of Flowing.  The un-flashiness of it, fundamentally.  She asked us to take another step in and the center became more and more compressed, determined. 

Martha, described as an historian of the 5Rhythms by one highly respected teacher in attendance, shared the story of how this exercise evolved.  Originally called “The Porpoise Dance” it arose in the early years of the work Gabrielle was doing with mental patients, when just getting them to move and shift directions was momentous.  With seamless prompts, Martha wove the rest of us into this exercise of walking, moving into empty space, and changing direction together in the field of Flowing.

As the wave unfolded, Martha offered suggestions about past, present and future, setting us up for the visual experiments we would undertake shortly.  The room that was lively in Flowing became rooted in place in Staccato for some reason, perhaps preparing to choose a spot for our visual creations. 

At last, Martha invited us to set to arranging our objects and materials in a visual representation that was meaningful for each of us.  I had my eye on a small set of metal stairs that leads to the studio’s fire escape.  Laying out many of the materials and objects I brought along, I went to plug in a long strand of white Christmas lights.  Finding an outlet, I climbed under the ballet bar, which was laden with coats, sweaters and bags, and plugged in.  Nothing.  Hmmm.  Was it the outlet? The lights?  I traversed the room and tested them in a different outlet.  This time they worked.  I had to scrap my idea and relocate.  Before I gathered my things once again, I opened the book, “Maps to Ecstasy” by Gabrielle Roth to a passage about the limitations of ego.  And again, to another.  In a different part of the book. 

Most people were finalizing their choices and I still hadn’t settled in to work.  I traversed the room diagonally again.  The outlet I wanted to use was across another dancer’s work.  I asked permission in a whisper, but I couldn’t find a way to cross her work without interfering with it.  Finally, I found another outlet that worked and plugged my lights in.  Next, I submerged half of the white Christmas light strand inside a large Ball Jar.  As far as my objects went, that was all I had been sure of.  I lay out the rest of the pile of things, working quickly to select what I wanted to include. First was a yellow-orange cloth, an orange, infant-sized tiger sock, and the little rainbow tiger lighter.  I also included some orange wool, a fabric rose, and a tiny drawing of a pelvis bone and ribcage holding roses inside it. 

Martha had laid a number of objects we could borrow on top of the room’s piano; and I selected a little wooden man who was segmented into head, torso, upper arms, lower arms, upper legs, lower legs, hands and feet; and held together at his joints by strings.  I placed him onto my shoulder like a baby and carried him gingerly to my site, placing him with care amongst my chosen objects. 

Martha was calling for us to begin the next segment of the workshop, and I hurriedly finalized my work.  Though I never felt it was really resolved, I had no choice but to trust that it was correct in the state that it landed. 

Next, paper and a pen were placed in front of each person’s visual representation; and we were asked to circulate, regard each, and come up with a possible title.  I enjoyed this part of the workshop, and strove to offer each presentation my relentless attention.  At first, the titles I selected were simply what I observed, but as I moved around and saw how serious our lists were, I began to create poetic or humorous titles, such as “Squished Puppy” and “Homage to a Column”.  At last, we began the activity of visiting each presentation as a group and listening as the person presented their three favorite titles that people had written on their paper, and adding a few words of commentary. Given the seriousness of the content people shared, I hoped that I hadn’t been facetious with my title choices.

I am itching to tell you some of the stories that emerged, but as I am constrained to speaking specifically and only about my own experiences, I will just say that it was a fascinating tour; and one that required and produced tremendous attention and energy. 

Martha concluded this activity with a quote by Simon Weil, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity,” and went on to share, with great feeling, how meaningful it was for her that Gabrielle Roth had granted her so much attention for so many years. 

When we got to my piece, at nearly the end of the line, I wasn’t sure what I would say.  I found a folding chair and sat in it while I spoke, like an elder would.  The titles people had written that I chose to share with the group were, “Broken Wholeness,” “Little Bones Grow Old Too,” “Tiger Light,” and “Transparency is Scary.  Luminescence is Radiant.” I said a little more, “This (pyrite) is past.  Earth.  Mineral.  The future is light.  And the rest (I made an expansive gesture) is all that is in between.”  I shared that in a tradition I am initiated into, the tiger is a symbol of humility.  Of ferocity, too! But of humility.”  I wanted to explain somehow that everything in between past and future is the display—is the big, tangled up, beautiful, exquisite fucking mess of living that rises up out of spectacular emptiness minute by minute.  Instead I said, “And I found this little broken man on the piano.  And he just broke my heart.”  A shuddering sob wracked me.  “So I wanted to include him.  I don’t know why.” 

After three more stories, the activity dissolved and we were instructed to replace our things into their bags and containers. 

I walked over to Martha and stood in front of her, looking into her eyes.  I wanted to gulp air and say, “Help!  I feel like I am going to fly off of the earth’s body!  Please help!”  Instead, not wanting to seem too much like a crazy person, I said, “Martha.  I need to ask your advice, please.  I am nowhere near ground.  Do you have any suggestions?”  She likely saw the panic in my eyes, and, pressing her palms firmly onto the tops of my shoulders said, “Don’t worry, I have no intention of letting anyone leave here without landing gear.”  She gathered us into a closing circle before people started to drift out of the studio. 

As I reflected more on my own experience, I came away feeling like there is more pain in the “in between” than I have fully reckoned with.  It is a lifelong process—finding the shifting point of balance between wallowing in pain and denying it.  I also came away feeling like even the positive ego-stories that I tell myself—the constructions I have erected to help me to cope with trauma—no longer serve me.  To have the best shot at being free, really fully free, I think I have to dismantle even these relatively positive stories, even at the risk of unleashing things I would rather keep tied down. 

Martha gathered us again into a circle.  She coiled us skillfully into a beautiful collective spiral, than back into a circle.  We ended the workshop still in the circle and each holding the mudra of humility, standing quietly together for several moments before being reclaimed by the world. 

January 15, 2016, 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.