“Dance like this is your last dance,” Ray Diaz, who is teaching this morning’s Sweat Your Prayers class at the Joffrey in the West Village, tells us. “Because you never know when that last dance could be.”
Stepping in to the studio, the room is very full. People are sprawled all over the floor, beginning to stretch and unfurl. A little current of wind turns me right away, and I rise and fall, one hand touching ground the other reaching to sky, my shoulder rolling open and turning me in the opposite direction – big, weighted circles on the ground’s plane and on every diagonal, my head blissfully released.
Ray encourages us to move slowly and softly, and to begin to “fill up the inner reservoir.” I find a spot near the middle of the room and stretch to my full length, rolling over the back of my head, stretching my hips, leg muscles, pressing my chest down to stretch the front of my shoulder. Before long I am on my knees, with a raised leg that crosses behind me and drags me into a spin, sinking to the ground again, coming up onto my shoulder blade and using its momentum to pull back up into my hip and raise my heel high up behind me, undulating back again, and beginning to move toward rising.
Before class, I filled myself with inspiration. I listened to a Buddhist talk on stillness, that included the idea that although the positive behaviors and habits we cultivate are an important part of the path, ultimately, even these are a mask, and if we are to fully wake up, we have to let go of even these positive stories that we tell ourselves. In the morning also, I read some selected excerpts on Dzogchen, a spiritual system that emphasizes opening to bare, naked, luminous, absolute reality, on the spot. Here. Now.
Staccato’s appearance is unmistakable, and Ray encourages us to let go of the hips. The room is wild, expressive. I move around, connecting with many successive dancers, including my favorite dance partner of all time, who I circle in a twittering lasso, my hands grazing the ground as I greet him, entreating him to dance. After my first turn with him, I partner with a young woman who I haven’t seen before, and she teaches me a new way to engage my knees, opening possibilities for moving. “Go even deeper, with breath,” Ray offers. Next, I join with an exuberant dancer who seems to move from her inner thighs. I imagine that I am moving in her body, exchanging myself for her, exchanging self for other.
Chaos appears exactly when it should; and it is everything. Sometimes it is hard work for me to be in Flowing and leave the edges out. I am grateful to be in Chaos, where anything goes, and I can be as sharp as I want to be, as soft, as tense, as released, as gigantic, as minute. The room continues to be dynamic, with some people dancing in a given spot, and others moving quickly around the space. A thought comes and I say “thinking” and return to awareness, moving totally creatively and as part of the entire organism at once. I imagine that I remove my skin, hang it on one of the room’s center columns and dance around in my bones. The outer boundaries of me are not so clear, the other bodies might be my body, too. I dance my friend’s heart, feeling the pain of her heartbreaks, feeling her incredible tenderness, her magic, her power. Chaos and Lyrical dance back and forth with each other as the wave finds its closing expression. In Stillness, cold wind from the window causes a strong sensation on my exposed skin; and I turn to dance with it, beginning with the rocking and bouncing tree branches below the height of the window, then with the wind itself. Turning toward the room again, I move with inner winds that swirl around inside and near my body, especially along the sides of the spine.
After the first wave, Ray pauses us only briefly, not calling us to sit around him, but instead inviting us to stay where we are and just turn toward him for a moment. “We have to dance like this could be our last dance,” he says, “because you never know.” He goes on to say, “I’m going to share something with you. Almost exactly twelve years ago, I lost my wife.” He shares that this tragedy is what compelled him to step over the line into 5Rhythms. He goes on to say, “Hold nothing back. Just give it all you’ve got,” and “I invite you to dance, too, with those who are no longer with us.”
Ray appears to be in a place of humility and strength, of vulnerability and clarity, and capable of transmitting this clarion call, this urgent message, in a way that we can hear. Hold nothing back, his entire self communicates, hold nothing back, you have no time to lose, you might not get another chance to give more, to give better, to give fully, this could be your only chance.
I feel a gasp of sadness rise up into my throat and the woman next to me starts to sob. I don’t know her and I don’t want her to think I’m trying to fix her, but after a momentary hesitation, I reach out and put my hand behind her upper spine. She turns and hugs me, still shaking. She smiles through her tears, eyes shining, mouth closed, and puts her palm on my cheek.
I think of a work colleague who died this summer, young, in a car crash. In a circle discussion at work, we each had a chance to offer our thoughts. “If my time comes,” I said, “I only pray that I have emptied my whole self out. That I have been of service. That I have offered everything that I have in me to offer.” Breath snagged on something inside; and I cried for several aching heaves.
Ray starts the music again, and I check out for a few short moments, then say “thinking” and come back in. Energy flags slightly, I note slight inertia in Flowing. We glance through Staccato and then dive fully into Chaos again. “Release!” Ray cries out from the teacher’s table, and the room explodes. Chaos keeps going and going and going, rings of a tree, going back to its start as a sapling, as an acorn, when the tree was already contained in it. I connect with a dancer I’ve never seen before, delighted by her unique expression. I remember my maternal grandmother and cry, wishing I could have loved her better. I think of my paternal grandmother, who just died this past spring, and how she left in a whisper. Friends of similar age to me who have died come next. My friend Gerard, who died at 36, tells me again, you just have to do it, Meg, just open up, step up, let it in, you don’t need anything but what you already have. Howard, another dear friend, who died just a few weeks before Gerard also comes to mind. When I got the phone call about Howard’s death, I was with my son Simon, then an infant, dancing to the flights of birds from a rooftop pigeon coop who swoop in a rolling loop over Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, while Simon watched me from his stroller, the reflections of clouds rushing over the planes of my eyes, my arms raised and turning all of the planes of me.
As I move through the room, the energetic bodies that extend beyond the skin pass through me.
The sky beckons me. I ache for it. I start to climb up over the ballet bar, but am sure it’s against the rules and withdraw my leg. A new friend seems to think I need help and holds my elbow, unwittingly encouraging me. I know I’m going to get into trouble, but I just have to. I mean I have to, so I climb up over the bar, through the window, onto the cold metal fire escape. I keep my feet planted and soar up into the sky. I think of the Dzogchen teaching of open sky, the principle of space, of unrestricted awareness. My movements are unmoored from intentionality, totally intuitive. Tears pour down my face, drawing around the curve of my chin and neck. I am barely visible, with my back to the bricks, my feet on the cold metal, but a member of the crew spies me and comes and says, “This is not safe. Sorry, but you have to come down from there.” I climb down into the room and continue to move, near the window, to the wind, the sky, with space. I move again throughout the room, whispering through, not separate. I find one dancer sitting in meditation, and lower myself down next to him. Thoughts come but awareness dominates. I reflect that I can wake up fully in this lifetime, that I am destined to, that all of us are. The room is luminous, bodies alive. Ray mixes a tonal track with a recording of Gabrielle Roth, the revered creator of the 5Rhythms practice, speaking. She says, we believe that if we keep dancing, over years and hundreds of dances, we can shed what doesn’t serve, we can let go of what no longer serves. Tears are a river down the whole front of me.
Ray brings us all into a circle that completely fills the spacious studio, and enacts a closing ritual that allows each person to be heard and seen, re-membered after having been shattered and scattered and taken apart during the course of this Sunday morning 5Rythms class.
If this was my last dance ever, I know that I stepped up with everything I had to give. What else is there, really? Nothing but boundless love, the cessation of all that blocks it, and the chances we are given to live it. Nothing but this tiny life and what we choose to fill it with. Ojala, gods-willing, let me choose well, let me not die wishing I hadn’t held back during my very last dance, let me empty out my whole heart first, in service and in love.
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher. Unedited Image “Riskall” copyright Meghan LeBorious
Heat lightning ripped through the grey-purple sky as I was driving to the Friday Night Waves class. Looking down my Brooklyn street to the East River a bolt jagged to the right and down, next to a looming metal crane. Crossing the blue expanse of the Manhattan Bridge, lightning danced in fractured lines on both sides of me. I felt sure the sky would explode with rain at any moment, though the clouds only managed to squeeze out a few frustrated drops.
In the week leading up to the class and in the days following, the entire city wilted. Even bodies usually kept concealed have emerged and the edges of our garments have crept toward their seams. I have been doing errands in a bra and skirt, for example; and I did yoga today in a bathing suit. My parents came to visit and we all had a slumber party in the one air conditioned room of the apartment. Nearly everyone has a similar dominant experience; and the heat is the main topic of conversation everywhere. I love the feeling of shared challenge and the remarkableness of it, but it has definitely been intense.
A few days before the class, I had a dream in which I knew that I was dying. Some of my friends were going on a bike ride in the heat. Though I was tempted to join, I opted to conserve my energy instead and write notes to everyone I love. Lately, I have felt a generalized dissatisfaction, like I should be doing something other than what I am doing, like I am craving something that I can’t quite pinpoint. I had a painful insight that when I get edgy with my six-year-old son, Simon, because he is taking too long to do a task, the root of my edginess is really a fear of failure. Fear that if I waste time, I will fail to create markers of my experience and identity. That I will die anonymous and therefore succumb completely to death—total annihilation. The dream seemed to re-set my priorities, and I experienced a deepening of meditation practice. I remembered, if only briefly, that now is my only hope.
I hadn’t realized that Tammy would be away this week; but I was happy to see Kierra Foster Ba at the teacher’s table in her place. The air conditioners were on, but it was HOT. Seriously hot. Again, like many, I wore less clothing than usual. Stepping in, I bowed to the room and to the practice, then found a spot on the floor to stretch. I was quickly called to movement, casting into curving, arcing gestures. I found myself doing my current version of breakdancing—athletic circling, rising and falling, putting as much weight on my hands as on my feet, moving in unending circles and arcs.
I would have thought that breakdancing would appear in Staccato, as I see it as edgy and expressive, but for me it has only ever appeared in Flowing. I recall an episode that happened not long after I started dancing the 5Rhythms—at a gallery event that turned into an all-night dance party. One of the biggest obstacles I faced in the beginning of my 5Rhythms path was that I was painfully constricted—trying very hard not to be too big, too unruly, too attention-getting—trying to keep a lid on my explosive inner Chaos. Having just fallen in love with 5Rhythms, I danced every bit as gigantic as I felt. And everyone else did, too! I realized that it is possible that dancing every inch of my dance (not to be confused with dancing gigantic just to get everyone’s attention) could give everyone else permission to dance every inch of their dance, too. A moment from the gallery dance party that lives delightfully in my memory was when I did the worm across the entire length of the gallery, jumping to my feet in peals of laughter at the opposite wall, amongst friends, who also delightfully trotted out their favorite moves.
Taking to my feet, I flowed through the room with the intention of seeing everyone in attendance. I thought of a man I met earlier in the day in downtown Brooklyn. He sat on the sidewalk, with a money-request-cup and a sign that listed the important events of his life. “Father died. Grandmother died…” There was also a copy of a newspaper article, “Boy Survives Fall Out of 6th Story Building.” “Are you the boy that fell out the window?” I asked. He looked at me and nodded and his words began to tumble out. I realized how much he wanted to be seen, and thought about how true that is for most of us. Wanting to be seen. Really seen. Not just looked at. Holding my brand new baby niece, I thought about that fundamental human wish again, as she opened her tiny eyes and in just a few moments of concentrating her tiny baby gaze, seemed to see all of me, everything that is important about me, completely.
Flowing lead to Staccato before long. I noted that my right foot had a slight flatness, in comparison to its usual articulation, but it didn’t stop me from jumping into partnership after partnership—including with one lanky friend who always challenges me to stretch upward and into the farthest reaches of my limbs.
My top lip curled ever so slightly in response to an outburst of yelling from one corner of the dance floor. Kierra picked up the microphone right away and said, “This is a spiritual practice. There is no talking.” I am often impressed by Kierra’s non-didactic approach, and on this occasion I was just as impressed by her pointedness.
Chaos in the first wave found me energetic, spinning, loose. Kierra played a track with tribal chaos rhythms mixed with a riff from Buena Vista Social Club; and I responded with enthusiasm and vigor despite the fact that I was already drenched with sweat.
In the context of the current presidential campaign season, my father has been saying, “In public life, there are two kinds of people: those who want to be somebody great, and those who want to do great things.” This quote came to mind as Kierra began to speak in the interlude between the first and the second wave of the class. “This is not a performance,” she said. “This is a spiritual practice. It’s for you. Not for anyone else. I challenge you to move beyond your self-consciousness, to not worry at all about how you look.” I don’t think she was talking about self-consciousness just as shyness (as it often implies) but, rather, self-consciousness in the sense that you are very preoccupied with how others are seeing you, perhaps losing the center and depth of your own experience in the process.
Kierra stepped forward to demonstrate through moving what a 5Rhythms wave looked like for her in that moment. She moved with grace and vigor as she explained to the eight brand new dancers in the room (and to the rest of us) that the gateway to Flowing is the feet; and that Flowing is characterized by unending, circular movement. She began to move more sharply and to forcefully exhale. “Staccato is really the opposite of Flowing. It is directional, angular. It is a good place to practice having good boundaries.”
At this point, Kierra digressed productively, encouraging us to fully take on the 5Rhythms, “especially if you have a strong will, and you always want to do things your way. For example, you might want to be in the beat, but it’s Flowing—so you flow; and see what’s there, in your flow. See what’s there for you.” The suggestion to fully take on the 5Rhythms is, in my experience, incredibly useful advice. In addition to Kierra, I have heard this theme emphasized by 5Rhythms teachers countless times, including Amber Ryan, Peter Fodera, and certainly by Tammy Burstein. There are times that it is skillful to track the minute shifts of energy that take place moment by moment and to follow every fleeting impulse, but more often, part of the discipline of practice—the seeds that eventually yield the harvest—is to take on the 5Rhythms fully, with the intention of being curious and seeing what comes. It is especially in the receptivity or resistance to a given rhythm that we mine for insights—information we would never uncover if we were always to simply follow our immediate, conditioned impulses.
Demonstrating the requisite release of the head in Chaos, Kierra said something I had never heard before: that we have some sort glands both in our foot pads and in our necks that release endorphins, which is one reason circling the head and neck are important in several religious traditions—such as Sufi whirling. This made perfect sense to me, as I have often been flooded with delightful natural chemicals in the throes of Chaos.
The release of my neck has been one of life’s little miracles. When I first began 5Rhythms, my neck was totally locked. At the end of a yoga class, it was agony to lay prone on the floor because it was so pinched. Instructors often asked, “Are you ok like that? Really?” Gradually, thanks to the 5Rhythms, my neck began to free itself. As it becomes more and more free, moving sometimes with alarming intensity in the rhythm of Chaos, so too, does my mind seem to grow more free. Whenever I feel discouraged by lack of progress on my path, the relative freedom of my neck reminds me of how far I have traveled, how ripe I am for catharsis, and how readily it comes.
Continuing with the litany of the rhythms, the rhythm of Lyrical, Kierra said, “Will look different for everyone.” All the rhythms will look different for everyone! But Lyrical in particular, since in Lyrical we let go of the letting go (of Chaos) and our innate patterns begin to emerge.
Kierra shared an example that Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, used to offer at workshops. Gabrielle said she would occasionally be washed over with sadness, even when she was in the throes of joy. Over time, she was able to locate the energy of this particular sadness to her wrist. Finally, after working with the sadness for a long period, she got the memory connected to it. As Kierra put it, “She was very young, pre-verbal even, and she had been told to wave good-bye to her father. She was bereft because she didn’t understand that he was coming back. She thought she was waving good bye to her father forever.”
As she moved on to demonstrate Stillness, Kierra said, “Sometimes when people first come to the 5Rhythms, they see a big, fun dance party. And it is that! It is that. But it is also so much more.” Kierra explained that once you faithfully go through all of the rhythms, eventually you will get to a trance. She recalled something Gabrielle would often say, “The body is begging bowl for spirit.” In that place, according to your beliefs and experiences, you will be moving with something much larger than yourself. For example, for Kierra, she becomes aware that she is moving along with her ancestors. This is very much true for me, too. It is in Stillness that I realize I have an entire spirit entourage, that I am not alone in this existence. I have often heard Kierra talk about being interested in “going deep” in practice, and as I reflect on her comments now I wonder if it is precisely this field she has been pointing toward.
Like nearly everyone in the room, I ended the night in a sweaty puddle on the floor that has held me literally hundreds of times. Kierra concluded the class with one of Gabrielle’s most famous quotes, and one of my personal favorites,
“Do you have the discipline to be a free spirit?”
August 14, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC
Image from derrickniehaus.deviantart.com.
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
On Friday, I spent much of the afternoon listening to the funeral service for Muhammed Ali that took place his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky on June 10. One reporter said that she was concerned that the driver of the hearse carrying Ali’s body might not be able to see, given the massive volume of flowers thrown onto it by thronged onlookers along the nine-mile procession route. I went to the beach in the afternoon after I got out of work, and sat meditating on the sand, feeling the pull and relax of the waves, and the tangling dynamics of complex tides. On the way to and from the beach, I listened to the many eulogies, and reflected on what a perfect combination of militancy and humor Ali had employed in his activism, and on what a fearless humanitarian he had been.
I arrived right on time to Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class and was happy to see that Kierra Foster-Ba was guest teaching. Kierra, like all 5Rhythms teachers, has a unique perspective on the 5Rhythms; and I particularly love her non-didactic approach. For example, I have often heard her suggest an exercise and follow her teaching with “I invite you, not I command you.”
I was very happy to be there. The week before, I wrote,
“I did not attend a 5Rhythms class this week. (list of good reasons here) Is this a sign that my commitment to 5Rhythms practice has gone flat? Despite a sometimes crushing schedule and a great deal of responsibility, I have always managed to get myself to at least one class a week. All of my excuses seem excellent, but I am looking at myself with my head tilted and one eyebrow raised right now. Although some flexibility is welcome, I will be having a serious conversation with myself if another week passes without formal practice.”
Muhammed Ali’s famous discipline comes to mind. He said, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” It’s not like he just woke up one day to be one of the greatest boxers and human beings in the world—he understood that commitment is a decision that happens every day, sometimes in every moment. He also said, “I am an ordinary man who worked hard to develop the talent I was given. I believed in myself, and I believe in the goodness of others.” I am not trying to be a champion 5Rhythms dancer, but I am deeply inspired by Ali’s integrity and by his commitment to his practice.
Arriving, I was nervous about several mild injuries and wrapped my knee with an ace bandage from the medical kit. I was surprised to find the binding very effective, and that no persistent injury presented during the course of the class.
During the first wave, Kierra offered almost no instructions; and the dance unfolded patiently. Near the end of the first wave in the rhythm of Lyrical, I partnered with a friend who I love to dance with. The night before, I had been to a Taikoza concert—a kind of theatrical, Japanese folk drumming that totally captivated my small son and his friends. The influence presented strongly in this partnership. We leapt and bound, with theatrical pauses, strong eye contact, and bursting, spinning gestures. At moments, we moved as though we were in ceremonial costume, twittering, with big, fanned-out bustles and high, sharp collars. In our closing gesture we looked into each other’s eyes, each spun quickly one at a time, then returned to eye contact. Then we both bowed, smiling, and moved on to different parts of the room.
In the interlude between the first and the second waves that often features verbal teaching, Kierra asked if there was anyone in attendance who was doing the 5Rhythms for the first time. Three or four people raised their hands in response. She said that she would talk about the practice of 5Rhythms first, explaining what we actually do, then she would talk briefly about the philosophy of 5Rhythms. To paraphrase, she said that in the first of the five rhythms—Flowing—we drop down into our feet. We can be Flowing in our arms and upper body, too, but if we do that we tend to stay “in the head.” The reason we drop into our feet, keeping them in continuous motion, is so we can become fully embodied. She then said that the second rhythm—Staccato—is the opposite of Flowing. It is directional, angular and specific. In Chaos, we let it go, then in Lyrical, we let go of the letting go—lightening up. We move into our hands and arms, (which are considered to be the messengers of the heart in many cultures). In Stillness, we are still moving, it is just that we are moving with still energy. One person’s Stillness might be Flowing Stillness, another’s might be Staccato Stillness, another’s Lyrical Stillness, but it is all moving with that still energy. During the entire litany, Kierra moved as she spoke, demonstrating what each rhythm looked like for her in that moment.
Later, contemplating, I couldn’t really identify which part of the teaching was the philosophy, but I think it consisted of the following. She talked about what it would be like to really not care what you look like when you are dancing, to really let go of the ego. “Sometimes I wonder if I was really like BLAH! If I was really out there, If you would let me be your teacher? Do I always have to say, ‘You have to be on the beat!’ to myself?” She went on to say that her ego says, “I don’t think so. I don’t think you would let me be the teacher.” This, she continued, is because the ego hates to be laughed at. She concluded with, “That’s really the point of this practice, to drop into the body, to find the wisdom there.”
Kierra then invited (not commanded!) us to experiment with being goofy, with not caring at all about how we look, with even being wiling to look silly. In addition to mentioning the word “goofy,” Kierra said something else about Staccato, and Muhammed Ali came to mind again—what I had been contemplating earlier about how the great boxer, humanitarian and activist had so masterfully combined militancy and humor to great effect, epitomized, perhaps, by his most famous quote, “Float like a butterfly; Sting like a bee.”
Kierra said something curious about partnering that I have been contemplating. Speaking about how the ability to sink into the wisdom of the body is central to 5Rhythms practice, Kierra said, “Sometimes we partner or we dance in a group, and it’s OK to be social, but the point is really to find the body’s wisdom.” I’m not sure if part of what she was expressing was that partnering can be interesting, but that the true practice happens on your own, or if I read into her remark, but it gave me a jumping off point for consideration.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about the role and function of partnering in 5Rhythms practice. You might note that in my most recent text, I wrote that Jason Goodman brought up partnering when he taught the Friday Night Waves class the week before. The way I see it, we are born alone and we die alone, but the rest of the path is completely filled with people. Lately, I have come to believe that being alone and partnering with others are like two wings of a bird—to borrow a metaphor from Buddhism—both completely necessary for flight. Deeply connecting individually allows us to deeply connect with others, deeply connecting with others helps us to connect more fully with the depths of ourselves, and so on. I love this statement by Muhammed Ali: “Friendship…is not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”
It occurs to me that relationship is the arena of ego, and that it makes sense that in relationship could be the most productive place to work with ego.
On Friday night, in my journal I wrote, “I have been completely subsumed by the all. Both being with others and being alone are key components of my personal path.”
A dancer—someone I have spent hundreds of hours in sublime, moving partnership with—appeared shortly before Kierra’s talk. As soon as our paths crossed, I jumped enthusiastically into his field and began to bound and leap. I remembered that the last time I had danced with him, I had completely overdone it, injuring my back and suffering for days. I reminded myself that I had to be gentle or I would pay for it later. For years, he and I met in enthusiastic and athletic Chaos and Staccato. On this day, the refrain in our dance was an enlivened and energetic Stillness, a thread woven through all the rhythms, that we kept dropping back into. We fully embraced Kierra’s wonderful goofiness invitation, even vocalizing and making absurd faces, falling to the ground and tumbling, then rolling back up—sometimes with one of us on the ground and the other upright, still engaged in a related gesture, arcing and playing around the other’s field. At certain points in our dances, all activities of selfing ceased completely; and I moved simply in the energetic field. In our final turn of the evening, I experienced myself in what I understand as the Body of Joy, visibly surrounded by light in the shape of my body. I dispensed with all armor and energetic defenses and my field intersected with my partner’s and with the people in close proximity.
Re-reading this text, I realize I am struggling to express the depth of my admiration for Muhammed Ali, and to express why he is so important to me, personally. It is not only Ali’s words and actions that touch me, but that the world, despite its continued brutality and racism, loved and still loves Ali—saw his genius and his beauty and his power—gives me hope for humanity. Gives me hope for all of us. Thank you, Muhammed Ali, for believing in yourself, for believing in the basic goodness inherent in all human beings, and for your tireless generosity in the face of a world that could not get enough of you.
“I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail; only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick; I’m so mean I make medicine sick.” -Muhammad Ali
“If they can make penicillin out of mouldy bread, they can sure make something out of you.” –Muhammed Ali
“The man who has no imagination has no wings.” –Muhammed Ali
June 11, 2016, Brooklyn, NY
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
(The image of Muhammed Ali in Africa comes to me by way of the website https://atechnologyjobisnoexcuse.com)
Today’s Sweat Your Prayers class at the Joffrey in the West Village was taught by Kierra Foster-Ba; and I was joined by my 6-year-old son, Simon, our 10-year-old cousin, Maya, and our Uncle Larry. My cousin and uncle had come to town to attend Simon’s recital the day before—an event preceded by weeks of anxious stage fright. A few days before, Simon told me, “Mommy, I don’t think I’m going to be able to go to the recital. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be sick that day.” As it was, he was spectacular—dancing with heart and even performing two “solos”. He told us that in the end he didn’t have any stage fright at all. When we met him after, he almost knocked his cousin over with the ardency of his affection and excitement to see her. It is hard to know when to push and when to back off—this time I am glad I pushed him to move past his fear, and that he had so much support for his risks.
In the car on the way to class today, I explained the expectations. “There aren’t too many rules,” I said, “But we can’t talk inside the dance room; and also you have to keep moving—at least a little. Even if you get tired, then you still just find a way to move a little something.” I asked Simon if he had anything to add. “You can’t crash into anyone,” he said—a rule he has heard many times repeated. I added an extra rule for the sake of my excitable little close-talker: “And you can only give your family member three hugs for the duration of the class. The other times you have to give them their personal space!”
I held both kids’ hands; and, taking a deep breath, jumped in to what we call “The Magic Dance Room.” The two settled into a spot at the edge of the dance floor and played with some tiny toys they had smuggled in. Before long they moved to the middle of the room, still playing with their toys, sticking close to a column. My uncle had entered before us, and seemed right at home, falling into movement right away.
I had a delightful dance, myself, beginning on the floor with energetic circles that took over my whole body and also served the purpose of stretching. Kierra’s gentle grooves tugged me along like I was drafting behind a powerful swimmer in the lap pool—toted along in totally effortless flow. One of my all-time favorite dance partners entered the studio and we jumped right into a high-energy dance of joyful abandon. My cousin watched this unbridled engagement with hesitant interest, but the two continued to play on the floor for some time. I danced near them several times, gently prompting movement, then drifting away again, leaving them to their play. At one point I looked over and both were on their bellies, holding their ankles, laughing and rocking.
It wasn’t until the second wave that they started to enter into the dance, themselves. Remarkably, they got up the courage to move just as we entered into Chaos. I cheered them on with my gestures, smiling as they jittered and jumped, getting into the music.
Sweat Your Prayers is by definition lightly instructed, and the only verbal teaching that Kierra offered during the class was to occasionally prompt us as we crossed into a new rhythm.
I smiled and rolled around the room, happily engaging with many different partners, especially loving the rhythm of Lyrical.
At the end of the class, Kierra shared a quote by Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice. She said, “Do you have the discipline to be a free spirit?” She let the quote sink in for a few moments. Then, she encouraged us to fully embrace each of the 5Rhythms as they arise, and to observe the few rules that we take on when we step into a 5Rhythms room, such as refraining from talking.
I felt immense gratitude to my family members for being willing to step in, and to Kierra and the 5Rhythms community for making space for all of us. The most important things I hope my small son takes away from his experiences in 5Rhythms rooms are that movement is medicine, that life is exquisitely workable, and that even as he becomes a grown-up—a process that closes all too many of us down—life can keep opening and opening, expanding the possibilities of what it means to be alive.
Sunday, April 3, 2016, Brooklyn, NY
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
Pura vida literally means “pure life.” In Costa Rica, you hear it many times a day. I was trying to explain “pura vida” to my five-year-old son, Simon, yesterday. It means “life is extremely beautiful.” It can also mean “you are welcome, I offer this thing to you with grace and generosity.” Too, it can mean, “Yes, I totally agree with you,” or “We are so lucky to be alive.” It is often used as the closing for a note or for the end of a satisfying conversation. It implies a kind of presence, joy and wholeheartedness; and, when uttered, acts as a reminder to take note of the spectacular moment that is unfolding.
The contemplation “Everything is Perfect” at first seemed too obvious. In so many ways, everything is perfect here. Costa Rica is the closest I have been to paradise. For the last few days, however, the complex meaning of the phrase has been apparent—that absolutely everything that arises in our path is part of the material we use to wake up, even (and especially) the afflictive emotions—such as grief, anxiety, jealousy, anger, self-hate, blame and guilt.
On the way to Simon’s school, a large, black dog barked viciously and chased us. We can only drive about 10 mph in the golf cart we are getting around town in; and I floored it, afraid that the dog might actually try to attack us. This was the 5th or 6th time this happened, and I found myself imaging how I would kill the dog if it tried to attack Simon. Adrenalin lingered in my legs for a long time after.
On the way back to the beach after dropping Simon off, I crossed paths with a woman who makes my blood boil. Two nights before, she had attacked Simon and his slightly-younger friend, claiming that Simon’s friend was unkind to a smaller child, and complaining that they were being destructive in the restaurant. I was flooded. I didn’t know what to make of it! I had lagged behind by just a minute or two, and I didn’t have any idea what she was talking about. When I arrived she was speaking with anger and contempt to the two children. The woman was accompanied by an acquaintance—a woman I know because she is lodged, along with her small son, at our previous hotel. Simon met her son on his own, and went to great lengths to share a prized toy he thought the little boy might like. I went to call him back to our room, and found him speaking with the toddler in the gentlest possible tone—explaining something from a big boy perspective.
I was totally thrown off by the woman’s aggression. After I got the boys settled, I went to speak with my acquaintance to gather information. She expressed that on other occasions, my friend’s son had been “mean” to her small son—that when the baby said “I’m Spiderman!” my friend’s son said, “No, you’re not!” repeatedly, causing the child to cry. I asked where, when? She said it had happened at various restaurants, recently. She also claimed that other parents had agreed with her and shared similar stories. I was still very thrown off. I said, “I can see how that would be upsetting. He is just four years old, you know! He looks much older, but he is just four. We will work with it! He is just a little kid.” I told my friend something upsetting had happened, and sketched only the vaguest details, planning to have a conversation with her at another time. Though I dance at a remote edge of the beach, this woman has crossed my dancing path there three times since this incident, forcing me to look at my reaction to her and to attend to its insights.
In addition to these challenges, there are problems at home. For one, I am having a serious problem with a roommate in Brooklyn. She had a lawyer send a threatening letter and I feel bullied and disempowered. Also, I just found out that, although I wore a robe and attended graduation, I did not graduate from my most recent program of study. It seems that I failed to fill out some kind of form. Which could pose problems for my employment. In the idiosyncratic recesses of my mind, both events were causes for self-abuse.
I parked at Playa Pelada, and set out for the farthest reach of the beach, carrying all of this with me. There was so much to move! I consciously set out to move it, settling into a long Flowing dance. I moved with incredible patience, imaging that I could dance for hours and hours if need be.
Simon had been all over me the day before—clingy, impatient, demanding. We had planned to have dinner with friends, but a torrential rainstorm kept them home. I didn’t have any way to contact them, so we went anyway and waited. In Flowing, I realized that Simon is lonely here in Costa Rica at times. We have been here for just three weeks, really. He doesn’t have the same kind of networks that he has at home. The other day he told me, “Everyone else at school has a sister or brother to help them, but I don’t have anyone.” Dancing, I wished (as so often happens) that I had been more patient and supportive of him. The truth of it struck me and I cried as I moved. I thought of a time when he said, his face crumpled and crying uncontrollably, “Mommy, you are being mean!”
Despite the fact that we had a beautiful day together, including playing happily in the waves at length, I held the discordant part of the experience most tightly. My self-talk was appalling as I began to move.
I had sent my friend an email about what happened at the restaurant with our sons. But I also decided to add that I had seen a little meanness in her son, too, especially when I had both boys for the afternoon the previous week, and again a few days later. I even said that she gives her son a lot of freedom and could, possibly, be missing some of the behaviors that are coming up.
As I moved into Staccato, I gave up on staying in the shade, and used up as much space as I needed. I grew sharp, expanding to my maximum volume and contracting again, moving fast and covering vast ground. On Saturday, I went dancing with the same friend. We went first to a swank, new club, where an indie-rock band from Guatemala called Easy Easy and a sexy female hipster MC from Mexico unleashed a dancing storm. I couldn’t stop moving. Though the crowd stayed mostly in a happy groove, I found a huge range, expressing edges, deep hips—freedom, specificity, sexuality. The party shifted to Cumbia and Regaton and still this vibrant inspiration sustained itself. Later, we went to Tropicana—the only discotequa in Nosara. Still, I couldn’t stop moving, even as we walked out to head home, even in the parking lot. I was reminded that I was born a dancer. We are all born dancers!
My friend told me, “It was so great to dance with you! You are such a good dancer! You are such a free spirit, especially when you dance!” On the beach yesterday, as I started to move, I felt like the exact opposite. I was conflicted, self-abusive, small, hesitant, doubting. Anything but free.
Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, would say famously, “5Rhythms is not free dance. It is dance that frees.” My friend asked if I was a 5Rhythms teacher and I said, “No, I wish! My circumstances make it hard for me to complete the pre-requisites to apply and to undergo the training even if I was accepted.” She asked if I could just do a sort-of-like 5Rhyhms-y thing and start teaching kids. I said, “There is no way to do that. All of the teachers—every single one of them—is fucking amazing. They have to undergo thousands and thousands of hours of very targeted training. It is no small thing. It is not like yoga where you can do a 200-hour training, then start calling yourself an expert. There is also a lot of oversight, intended to keep the tradition from becoming corrupted.”
Although you don’t need to know anything about the system to benefit from practicing 5Rhythms, there is actually a very precise system that reveals itself in stages, only as we are ready to receive it. It is important to note that the independent journey I have embarked on this month is technically not 5Rhythms, since there is no certified teacher guiding the practice. That being said, ultimately, I think 5Rhythms leads us back to ourselves, and that if we practice with deep commitment and integrity, we can recover our birthright—to dance with complete, undefiled freedom—which, in the end, transcends even the 5Rhythms system.
As Staccato started to take me over, my body returned to the movements I found at the dance clubs on Saturday; and I sang the chorus of one song again and again. I started to leave the small, damaged self behind and to inhabit my power—explosive, expressive, precise, clear. I could really stamp my feet on the soft sand without fear of injury, and I lept—crouching and rising, circling, advancing, retreating—landing repeatedly in a deep, square-kneed squat with my arms, also, squared and raised.
On the beach with Simon on Saturday, a little yoga movement pulled me into a gigantic dance. Simon buried my foot with sand, and I told him it reminded me of when he was little and he would cling to my ankle in class while I danced. With this one constraint, I found powerful expression that I never would have found without the element of resistance that he provided. He tried to get sand on my feet and I danced away, changing direction fast, following my own high kicks, looping toward him and away. He laughed and started to throw more sand at me—all part of our game. Despite the challenges I have experienced lately, dance has been incredibly available, in everything, in every moment.
Chaos found me again, crying, released. The waves, the broad-leaved green trees, the cliffs, the vultures soaring overheard, the sand, all flashed together as I spun, dipped and whirled. Group 5Rhythms practice offers many opportunities for insight and healing, but individual practice leaves me mercilessly alone with myself and wears me away in bits. I can’t pretend that anything that arises comes from anyone but myself. I had the idea that the meanness I was afraid of with my son’s friend might really be my own fear of meanness in myself, and by extension and projection—in my own son. The thought was painful, difficult. I let it go again, subsumed in the casting circles of Chaos.
Often, Lyrical and Stillness are almost afterthoughts when I practice individually, but that wasn’t the case this time. Lyrical found me soaring, touching the yielding sand, drifting to the sky. A large group of vultures circled overhead. One vulture alone is not very interesting—just a long gliding arc, but in this case, an entire matrix of the huge, black birds, with two groups at different altitudes moved soundlessly above me. I curved and moved with them, gently, my body a matrix, too, crossing over myself as the birds crossed each other in the air. I continued to move gently—feeling the wind drying the sweat on my exposed skin, turning me slowly, toward or away from it. A tiny, yellow butterfly gasped along—clear on the other side of the cove; and I followed it with my motions, adding a tiny flutter to my slow, wind-carved gesture.
My friend wrote about the restaurant incident, “Don’t get pulled into currents that aren’t yours. I’m surprised you were so affected by it and actually believed them or began looking at (child’s name) through their perspective, which of course will influence your reception.”
The vultures—with such a reputation for bullying and meanness—when held in the vast blue space of the sky were no less than sublime. After all of this moving, I sat quietly in a clear tide pool in full sun. My half-closed eyes perceived golden reflected light ripples on the underside of my hat. Tiny fish lingered around me. A bright sunspot dazzled the corner of my vision.
July 20, 2015, Nosara, Costa Rica
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.