Joyful Patterns

“In short, no pattern is an isolated entity. Each pattern can exist in the world only to the extent that it is supported by other patterns: the larger patterns in which it is embedded, the patterns of the same size that surround it, and the smaller patterns which are embedded in it.”  -Christopher Alexander

Today features a white sky and a steady rain.  Although Brooklyn’s trees are still green, just a few hours north, where I am this weekend, the leaves have started to display their colors.

Last Tuesday night I attended the High Vibration Waves 5Rhythms class at the Joffrey in the West Village, taught this week by Peter Fodera.  I had a bad cold with a headache and wasn’t sure what kind of energy I would have, but decided to go anyway to see what might happen.

Last weekend at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton with my six-year-old son, Simon, we talked about the artworks we encountered, trying to identify what might be the main conceptual concern for each artist.  Encountering a Dan Flavin sculpture, which featured one, two and then three vertical, white fluorescent lights, I asked Simon what he thought this artist was mostly concerned with.  He looked intently at the artwork, then quickly said, “Patterns.  And math.”  (He is getting pretty sophisticated, this small son.  He also said this week, on riding his scooter down the block, “Ah! My back! I’m just not as agile as I was when I was three!”)

In the Flowing part of the class’s first wave, Peter encouraged us to “walk on every inch” of the floor, and to “look for the empty space.”  I langored in this opening act, my feet whispering to the floor. Then, Peter invited us to “walk with someone for a while” and to “see their feet.”  In Flowing, I love to be pushed and pulled along by the gestures and trails of the dancers around me, occasionally gliding in unison in a shared motion.  I particularly love to step into Peter’s wake as he sails through the room—it is like drafting in the water behind a champion swimmer; and as the seas part for him I move in the space he opens up.  I slipped from person to person.  Even when I have a thought of where to go, something would interfere with my trajectory, and carry me into an entirely different direction.  Peter’s next instruction, to “walk with someone” and “see their flow,” had the surprising effect of closing down the movement of the dynamic room.  We just couldn’t seem to swoop in and out of each other, and instead became mired in partnerships in one small spot of floor as soon as we joined with another dancer.

When my energy is low, sometimes it is the energy of partnership that carries me through.  In Chaos, and continuing through Lyrical and Stillness and the wave’s end, I joined with a dancer I had not danced closely with before.  We moved into gentle contact, very much in the hands—in subtle, expressive communion.  As our dance concluded, we touched our hands together and rocked back and forth, coming through the wave’s other side once again into Flowing.

In a different partnership during the class—this time with a dancer I was reluctant to partner with—I found myself backing away from him.  In the process, I accidentally bumped into a woman behind me.  I held onto her arm gently, wanting to express that I was sorry.  She tore away from me with a furious snort, moving to the other side of the room.

In the second wave, Peter repeatedly instructed us to partner, then to find a repetition and carry it with us around the room, joining others in brief partnership.  As we were moving from partner to partner, I crossed paths with a friend I had sought out but found unavailable earlier.  We both smiled, stepping into each other.  I am a very small woman; and this friend is a very tall man.  He carries his size gracefully, but when I dance with him sometimes I wonder if he feels like he has to contain himself around so many smaller bodies. Absorbed in Lyrical, we did find repetitions, though from the outside, it might not have looked like it.  Rather than big, easy-to-follow, repeating gestures as sometimes arise in Lyrical, we skittered down chains of intricately arranged repeating patterns, which would then shift and re-configure, taking form then never landing for long enough to be defined or understood.  Our dance featured some bursting and chasing gestures, too.  I would rise up on my highest toes, reaching for his height, wanting to be expansive along with him, then squiggle myself down and away.  He laughed at my antics, joining in, too.  After this long, intricate, layered exchange, we finally ended up doing the initial assignment—a simple repetition—grinning wildly as we both realized it, rocking back and forth.

We spoke for a few moments after class about our experience.  “That was such a great dance!  You just kept finding all of these patterns—all of this footwork—so intricate!” he said.  His compliments opened the doorway to an obliquely procured insight, about one way that energy can be perceived and worked with, something I hadn’t considered before.

I accidentally bumped into the same woman I accidentally bumped into earlier in the class. Later, as we moved around the room, she glared into my eyes as she passed me, both arms raised, her elbows bent.  I spent a few moments wondering if she might actually tell me off after the class.  I’ve been there!  I know how it is to be triggered by someone.  And here I was triggering someone! I even prepared a response to the glaring woman in my fantasy version of our possible future exchange.  I had two different versions, but in the one I preferred I would say, “I’m sorry I offended you.  Thank you for the feedback.”

This conversation with my tall friend helped me find language for a category of repetitive motions that I have experienced in practice.  One kind of repetition, I call “catching a glitch.” This can be emotional and personal.  For example, when I first started dancing, I had been holding myself so tightly for so long that I found I needed to collapse to the floor again and again.  Through all the collapsing, I was able to mine the gesture for insight, and eventually the pattern released me.  This is when a repetition suddenly becomes compelling and you follow it along its fully trajectory to see what it has to teach.  According to 5Rhythms teacher Kierra Foster Ba, Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, used to tell a story about a painful memory from babyhood that was lodged in her wrist—and that took years of working with to arrive at.

Another kind of repetitive motion—of pattern—is, I think, the kind identified by my tall friend.  Perhaps in this case, the pattern that gets expressed is a tiny window into something that is bigger than any one of us. Perhaps it is something mundanely cosmic—the very movement of energy as it flows around and through us.

Three days later, at Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class, I arrived late, during the transition of Flowing into Staccato.  I know how important it is to ground myself in Flowing, and lowered myself to the floor for a few brief moments.  Sometimes, however, you have no choice but to step right into Staccato.  On these occasions, all I can do is hope that all the Flowing I have practiced over the years has been integrated enough that I can rely on it.  Tammy played a Michael Jackson song that I love.  Instructed to partner in Staccato after just a few minutes of being in class, I joined with a smiling woman, actually singing the lyrics as we moved in joyful unison, expanding diagonally into the available spaces around us.

At work that afternoon, a colleague had “thrown me under a bus,” in my own words.  When I told a friend about the incident, he said, “No, she didn’t just throw you under the bus.  She tied you up in rope, rolled you into the street and then beckoned a bus to come toward you!”  I was called into a meeting with supervisors, with no warning, no chance to work up to it, no chance to prepare.  As I walked to the meeting, I correctly guessed its nature, and realized that I would have to step right into Staccato, praying for as much skillfulness as I could muster.  I let this colleague speak, only expressing myself at key moments, as she dug herself a very big hole.  It was truly remarkable.  Sometimes, you have no choice but to step right in, and hope that your relationship to the ground is well enough established that it will carry you through, even when the stakes are high.

The valuable opportunity to practice stepping straight into Staccato gave way before long; and, by the end of the class, once again, I explored a new way of perceiving patterns of energy during dance.  Moving again in Lyrical, I entered a partnership with a very practiced friend who seems to have a gift for seeing energy.  Though I love to soar, this friend prefers to remain grounded in Lyrical due to the need to care for his knees; and I met him there.  I experimented with resistance, dragging my feet slowly along the floor as part of the foundation of my gestures.  As we transitioned to Stillness, I let go of the dragging feet, but instead found woven resistance residing in the spaces of the air, moving along with this partner, expressing, again, the energetic patterns in and around us.

October 19, 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.

Image:  Fibonnacci Spiral children’s artwork published on afaithfulattempt.blogspot

A Notable Blizzard & A Good Bullshit Detector


Today is a rare interlude of Stillness in a typically dynamic city. The windows are impossibly bright. Snow is caked on the screens outside. Still-falling snow makes the air seem opaque. Piles of white obscure Brooklyn’s sharp edges and make everything blur together. “Are you ready for Snowmageddon?” I was asked yesterday. “Yes!” I answered emphatically. Though tempted to roll my eyes at all the hype associated with what looked like a relatively normal weather event, I love the shared excitement of an impending minor disaster like a blizzard. In New York especially, we literally participate in “the word on the street;” and experiences like this unite us.

In addition to the unity, I also love the slowness. I just relax right into it. There wasn’t a single footprint in the snow on our sidewalk today until after 11AM. We had plans with friends this morning and none of us even bothered to call to cancel. I am not late for anything, not planning anything, not trying to squeeze anything in, not running any important errands. It reminds me of a blizzard perhaps ten years ago, when I remained in the clothes I slept in, listened to a John Coltrane marathon on the radio, and worked on one drawing literally from sunrise until sundown, quietly watching the white light brighten and fade away as I worked steadily, without speaking to a single person.  

The snow had not yet begun when I made my way to Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class last night, but there was little traffic and I made better time than usual. This was convenient because my son, Simon, and I had been on a long errand looking for a sled—in high demand everywhere—and I was running slightly late.

I stepped into the room and into a soft hug with a friend who was dancing near the studio’s door. My knee was bothering me slightly. (Remember when I wrote about knee soreness after an extended period of breakdancing in a recent Sunday class with Simon?) I knew I would have to moderate myself or risk a more serious injury. I found a spot on the floor and began to move in the same radial, circular dance—moving over and undulating from the crown of my head—that I keep thinking has shifted and yet persists.

Shortly, I got up and began to move throughout the room. I felt very released and happy (slightly gooey, even), fully taking on all of Tammy’s suggestions. Remarkably, I was not down in any way about having to be careful. Instead, it was an invitation to be gentle and to find a different expression. I recalled a workshop Lucia lead in 2013 when she encouraged us to totally let go of our edges. Although I love my edges, I took on her suggestion; and as a result was torn into tiny, tender bits—shattered completely, wide open.

Moving into Staccato, I knew I couldn’t be in the deep, powerful squats rising up into dramatic suspensions or the sharp, punctuated spins, or the emphatic, knee forward steps that I have enjoyed lately. I found Staccato nonetheless, working with subtle muscles in the pelvis and lower back. I became fascinated with my gentle edges and with strategic tightening.

In Chaos, Tammy proposed a litany of opposites—tight/loose, thinking/not thinking, slow/fast—pushing us to experiment with the places where we are comfortable and, too, with the places where we are not comfortable.  

I found a playful and whispering Lyrical with a tall friend. We spun and coiled into, around, and under each other, our palms and fingertips in careful communication.

We paused after the first wave to listen to Tammy’s direct instruction. She began by quoting Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, “You didn’t think this was really about dancing, did you?” Tammy went on to say, “That’s the difference between recreation and practice, and this is practice.”

During her talk, Tammy surprised me with the comment, “In New York, Staccato is so good! It is better here.” I thought she was being facetious, that she was going to castigate us for our famous New York arrogance. But she meant what she said literally. She went on to describe cities where they don’t really do Staccato. Not really. Not like us. She moved as she spoke, expressing her love of Staccato through her gestures. Perhaps being with our edges unlocks authenticity in a way that self-help cannot.

This is one of the reasons that I love Tammy’s teaching approach; and why I have such faith in her. As much as it is a wonderful experiment to let go of all of my edges, too, it is glorious to be with my edges, to exaggerate them, to investigate them. Except for perhaps a very few enlightened beings, most of us are absolutely riddled with edges. Knowing this makes me feel like I can be myself. And it is not just acceptance, but is also, in a way, celebration. Though my ultimate goal is absolute freedom, absolute integrity and absolute love; it is the very complex and sticky and fascinating shite that we are riddled with that helps to make us so rich—that makes life life. That gives us something to work with.  

This is also why I love New York. From 1996, my very first year in New York, I said, “New Yorkers are not nice. At all. But we are without question extremely kind.”  Also, we have so much good shit here. We are inclined to reject fake, inferior shit. 

In a speech at her husband, Lou Reed’s, induction into the Hall of Fame, Laurie Anderson explained a set of rules for life the two had come up with. “One. Don’t be afraid of anyone. Now, can you imagine living your life afraid of no one? Two. Get a really good bullshit detector. And three. Three is be really, really tender. And with those three things, you don’t need anything else.”

Tammy went through the 5Rhythms for the benefit of new and seasoned practitioners, and I particularly liked her description of Lyrical. “When you are in Chaos, and you suddenly feel like you could just go on letting go forever, then you are no longer in Chaos. You are in Lyrical!”

In the second wave, I continued to receive quiet messages from my knee, especially when I stepped hard directly forward. I danced with a friend who I usually bound all over the space with, twirling and upending ourselves, but this time kept my feet relatively grounded. I was itching to dance with another friend who I hadn’t seen in several weeks, but instead located myself on my knees off to the side. I discovered that if I spread my knees apart and bent forward I had a lot of power and leverage. There, I arched and pulsed my back, tossed my head around like the back car on a roller coaster, and explored the feeling of having my hands on the ground. I managed to avoid exacerbating the knee injury, and still connect with the rhythms and with moving.

I ended the wave on my feet and in my hands. I scanned my own body with my palms, my eyes nearly shut, internal, keying in to subtle energies.

After class, as I stepped out of the Joffrey Ballet’s 434 6th Avenue building and into the street, where the snow had just begun to fall.

January 23, 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.

(Informal footnote: I remember Gabrielle once following the remark “You didn’t think this was really about dancing, did you?” with, “This is just the little black dress that I put on for you.” In addition to the interpretation offered above, I think this quote of Gabrielle’s hints that the 5Rhythms are not just dance, but are—more broadly—a map of the creative process itself. As such, practice might take many different creative forms such as drawing, relationship, music, cooking, storytelling, home design, conversation, theatrical works, parenting, writing or poetry.)

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.

It Speaks Very Much For Itself


I had an urgent errand this morning, but it cooperated and I was able to make it to this Sunday’s Sweat Your Prayers class, which was taught today by Daniela Peltekova. Stepping into the already vibrant room, I happily greeted many friends, found a spot on the floor, and fell into circular movement.

Today I was exceptionally grateful to step into a 5Rhythms class. Being away for the holidays kept me out of classes for nearly two weeks. Also, during my time away, I attended a brief not-5Rhythms dance retreat. I wanted something satisfying to do for New Year’s Eve and the retreat seemed like a good option. Although I am not one to bounce around to many different spiritual practices, I remain receptive. If I find that if I am insisting on 5Rhythms, I know I am in danger of making a dangerous identity affiliation that could deaden my very vibrant relationship. The practice doesn’t need me to validate it. It speaks very much for itself.

In Maps to Ecstasy, Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice wrote, “Identifying completely with one spiritual way is not spiritual freedom but imprisonment. You can’t see beyond it. You make the teacher a god, the teaching becomes absolute truth, and you end up unable to see the value and the meaning of anything else.” (184)

At the retreat, there were a number of people in attendance who had never in their adult lives danced. I was touched to witness their joy and awakening as movement began to unfurl.  Despite how powerful it was for many people, I had a hard time getting into it.

One aspect of the retreat experience that is relevant to the writing I am doing here (this will make the most sense to those who read my last post about attending Tammy’s recent “Rhythms in Waves” workshop) is that the not-5Rhythms workshop included a huge dose of tribal-type exercises. That is to say, exercises that involve one person leading the group with a simple movement and the others following the movement. A bit like aerobics class, some might say. One of the dominant threads in that last post was how much I hate tribal exercises. I had to laugh, noting the irony. There were no easily-narrated, cathartic insights—only the universe insisting on a particular point it is trying to make.

Today’s class with Daniela, for me, began with a lot of joyful energy. Though I arrived fifteen minutes late, Flowing was still unfolding; and I continued to investigate the category of flowing movements that have been coming up for me lately. As I write, I realize that I have gotten good at this particular way of moving, and that it has lost some of its creative energy.

Staccato eluded me slightly during the “Rhythms in Waves” workshop last week, but today I found Staccato without much difficulty—at one point, bounding with angular front-and-back, diagonal gestures inside the joyful resistance the music offered.

A long selection of drum music somehow zapped me halfway through. I have a sore neck that has been constraining movement and perception and it started to exacerbate at that point.

In conversation with my (much adored) father on New Year’s Day, I reflected that you have to have deep faith in something in order to be transformed by it. For example, at the not-5Rhythms workshop I just couldn’t give myself over, and in part because of that, my experience was not deeply transformative. Maybe the biggest part of the challenge of transformation is finding something that deserves your faith. Faith, for me, isn’t a decision, but is rather an embodied process of inquiry.

January 3, 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.

Inverse Operations, Love Songs & The Pain of Living


I have had Amber Ryan’s “Examine Stillness” workshop on my calendar for over a year. When I first spotted the date on Amber’s calendar, I emailed her, thinking it was a typo. She responded, letting me know it would take place in 2015, not 2014, and that the date was correct. I noted it right away, and have looked forward to it since that time. I am dismayed and, indeed, angry, to report that I was not able to attend today.

I emailed the workshop producer yesterday to let her know that I would not be able to attend as I was ill, and, too, that I have to take a big test tomorrow afternoon and need to study. I am feeling slightly better physically, but the test still looms. I have been teaching Global History and English in a high school in Brooklyn; and (in part because of a clerical mistake) I recently learned that I have to take and pass several exams in order to continue teaching. The one I am facing tomorrow is a Math test. The test includes Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Statistics, Functions and Calculus. I took remedial Math when I was an undergraduate, and struggled even then. I already failed the test once, but was determined to beat it this time, and have immersed myself in studying for the past several weeks.

I don’t know if I am writing now because I am taking a break or if it is because I have given up. I am still struggling to master high school Algebra, never mind the higher-level concepts I will surely encounter on the test.

Peter Fodera taught Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class this week. I was not feeling well, but decided to attend and move gently, giving myself permission to leave early if I needed to. Arriving to an already active room, I flowed right in, even feeling joy and excitement as I found a safe spot for my belongings and began to move in the collective field.

During that afternoon, I had found myself sobbing after two days of school parent-teacher conferences. I sat with a co-teacher, receiving parents of our shared students both Thursday night and Friday afternoon. I was happy to offer compliments and good news to some parents; and also offered targeted suggestions when called for.

More notable was what the parents and students were bringing to us. It doesn’t feel correct to publish the specifics, but the hours were filled with stories of death, illness, abuse, challenges and sadness. Too, they were filled with resolve and the intention to persevere and thrive, but what lingered in the air was the tone of pain.

After the final session had ended I saw a student in the hallway. He introduced the family member who had come to the parent-teacher conference to support him. Both my colleague and I had tried repeatedly to contact someone from his family without success, as we were concerned that he was not succeeding academically. I also know that his history is pocked with severe difficulty, by his own account. The student’s family member, who I had not even known about, professed great love and support. I was incredibly relieved that this kid had someone to look up to and to watch out for him. I know it is not professional, but I started to cry. I tried to turn away, but the student lingered. “I love you, Ms. LeBorious,” the student said, leaning over to hug me. I hurriedly sent them along to another teacher, shut the door to the room and broke down.

I was happy that I made it to Friday Night Waves class, despite not feeling well. I moved without any effort, relaxing into the music. Peter had been thinking about the Paris bombings; and he decided to select music with the theme of love in response to the events.

In the rhythm of Chaos, I alternated the pace of movement, slowing and softening—almost going slack, then bursting into a new flurry of gestures. I kept sneezing and blowing my nose, even in the excitement of Chaos.

I did not partner as much as usual, preferring to keep to myself. I felt more subtle than expansive, and more gentle than emphatic. I shared several dances, including with one of my favorite partners of all time, but in most cases disengaged after just a song or less.

After the first wave, I decided to take it easy and head for home. I knew I had left my water bottle in a particular spot; but I could not find it. I pawed through bags and jackets to no avail.

At the same time, Peter paused the music briefly to offer verbal teachings. He shared that he had been in Berlin the week before when the recent bombings took place in Paris. A close friend—another 5Rhythms teacher—was practicing alongside him. She was from Paris and had left her young child in another’s care to attend the Berlin workshop. She thought about returning right away, but in the end decided to stay in Berlin and dance.

Peter’s message was clear. You can always choose love. You can always make the choice to turn toward love, no matter what you face—even when there is great fear. Knowing a little bit about Peter’s personal story, this pronouncement has even more weight. He carries some heavy challenges, yet he smiles with his entire body, dances with everyone he encounters and seems, by all accounts, very, very happy. “That is one of the things I love about this practice,” he said. “You can fall in love with everyone! Why not? Why not fall in love with everyone?” He asked, smiling, holding both hands upward as his eyes moved around the room, making eye contact with the many seated dancers gathered around him.

I sit here writing, knowing full well that I should apply myself to studying, and at once feeling doomed. I will return to the studying shortly, but for now I have a little more to say.

I finally located my water bottle, which had been knocked off the end of a table and buried by piled-up coats and bags. I decided to stay just until the next wave started, to avoid being rude while Peter was talking. Then, Peter told us he had selected music with the theme of love (teasing himself a little—I guess for his supposed sentimentality); and I hung my things on the studio doorknob, deciding I would stay for just one more song. I was tired, but the music motivated me.

After the first song of the wave ended, I stayed for just one more. Traveling around the room, I passed a friend who was dancing on the floor—not wanting to put weight on a foot that was bound in a soft cast. I put my hand on my heart and met her eye by way of greeting, thinking I would continue to move through the room, but instead found myself pulled in to dance with her. In Flowing, we danced with increasing expressivity, never rising to our feet, but instead arcing sideways, spinning on the floor and undulating—smiling all the while.

With just 25 minutes left in the two-hour class I did finally leave, thinking I could at least get a little studying in before I went to bed.

The next day, I studied some more. I arranged for a friend to take my son for the afternoon, though Saturday is my only full day with him, and continued to study. Material did not seem to be sticking. In a way, I was trying to learn 15 years of Math in just a few weeks. I felt discouraged.

My five-year-old son woke up as usual before dawn, and, as he stretched his back and rose to consciousness, muttered, “Mommy, are four sets of nine thirty-six?”

That day, I studied some more. I re-did some practice tests and got many of the things I got right a week ago wrong this time. I started to entertain the idea that I might, in fact, not be able to pass the test. That I might lose my job. I even started to think about where we would move if I didn’t have a job and couldn’t afford the rent any longer. Anxiety took over. I thought of all the unfair, horrific events and deaths that have touched me in recent years. I thought of my son’s father—unemployed for far too long. I thought of losing my parents one day. By this point, my mind had completely taken over. I even started to feel anxiety about imagined, projected events of my son’s teenage years, which are still over a decade away.

Another thing that plagued me was that I couldn’t stop thinking about my 22-year-old friend—my son’s babysitter—who has been in a coma for three weeks. Thankfully, she is starting to regain her senses, but she is not communicating at all yet. I finally found out what had caused it—her doctors think she had a stroke. A stroke. I just couldn’t manage that.

By the end of the day, I started to see the tricks my mind was playing on me. I attended a yoga class, and, immersed in embodiment, found language for what I was experiencing. Simply put: fear. I was afraid and aversive. I was angry at the injustice of my situation. Slowly, I let myself open to the fear I was experiencing; and to the reality of the situation I was embroiled in. Really, it was just a slight shift of perspective. The only thing I have some measure of control over—really, when you come down to it—is how I choose to deal with what I have to deal with. Whether I am open to it or not, I still have to deal with this crazy test somehow.

As a result of opening up to my own fears, I noticed my compassion for other people in impossible situations. I felt compassion for the many teenagers I teach who try and try and cannot pass the difficult state exams required to graduate. I also thought about the many Syrian refugees—fleeing danger and violence and stepping into total uncertainty. People in abject poverty. People with terrible illnesses. And, too, all of the people in the exact same situation I am in—having to pass the Math CST test in order to continue teaching despite the fact that they don’t teach Math and have not been trained in the material. Opening to my own pain, and to everyone else’s, softened me; and I spent much of the class crying, with my forehead on the floor.

The anger that I had experienced initially toward an unjust system had dissolved completely; and I was reminded that the measure of my humanity is not just my ability to surmount obstacles and to set and reach goals—but is, too, defined by my ability to open to everything that arises in my experience, even when my circumstances seem impossible and the air seems filled with pain.

November 22, 2015, 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.