Things to Climb & Games of Invention


I was overly optimistic in putting on a bathing suit.  During a brief glimpse of blue, we rushed to get to the sea, hoping for at least a few moments of beach fun.  As it was, the blue was enclosed again by white sky long before we made it to the beach, but we decided to explore anyway.  We found a place to park near Bonmahon Beach in Co. Waterford, Ireland and set up the sandy path to the sea.  I shivered with a three-quarter sleeve sweater and my six-year-old son, Simon, complained—between designing games with sticks, investigating the tidal river, running toward the roaring waves, and creating performances for an imagined audience modeled on a show we had seen in Galway the week prior—that his hands were cold in the wind.

Monday, I finally got to practice formally as Simon attended his first day of camp in Dunhill.

I dropped Simon off at camp, lingering while he acclimated.  Most of the other children were part of large family contingents, and I wondered how he would fare.  I had been awake the night before, anxious about entrusting him to new people.  I also kept reviewing an incident of a few days before, when he and I climbed to the highest point of a castle ruin.  I regretted my decision as soon as we climbed up, and had a moment of intense fear as I gathered the strength and focus needed to get us back down.  When I was checking out the climb before I ok’d it for Simon, he stood for a moment with his back to an extremely steep, crumbling stone staircase.  I gasped and drew him to me, reminding him to never turn his back to a ledge or a staircase.  I kept re-playing it and re-playing it, realizing that no matter how many times you say it, a six-year-old is unlikely to have the mindfulness needed to manage things like climbing up dangerous rocks.  With camp looming, this episode that had felt like an adventure a few days prior now felt like terror.  Our trip has been filled with challenges; and I realize that fear has begun to encroach on my peace of mind.  As it was, the camp seemed safe, spacious, uplifted and cheerful; and he quickly joined a group of his peers.

I was very eager to practice and to venture on my own.  I returned to my friend’s lovely thatch cottage that is our temporary home and gathered what I thought I might need.  I walked across the street and down a little overgrown path to the Annestown beach.  I wandered to the east end, investigating the attributes of high tide, then made my way along over piled, large, round stones to the west end of the beach where I knew there was an unprotected cliff path.  I had embarked on the path a few days before with Simon, but quickly realized that it was too dangerous, especially given his punchy mood at that moment, and turned back.  Stepping onto it again, I couldn’t believe I even considered it with him.  On one side there was an electrified fence protecting an open meadow of grazing cattle. On the other, high cliffs dropping down to open sea.  I moved along the path slowly, choosing my steps. Once, I stumbled on the small, loose rocks that littered the path and was very grateful that I hadn’t stumbled on one of the most dangerous sections directly above sheer ocean cliffs with no buffer of grass between.

I followed the path as far as I could, until I wasn’t sure at if it was just a run-off ditch for water or an actual path, then picked the most beautiful spot to practice.  I returned half-way back along the cliffs then turned left onto a path that lead to the end of soaring bluff.  It was totally flat, and featured a lush meadow of perhaps fifteen feet across.  I crawled out on my belly to look over the edge, but as the tip of my nose reached the tiny red flowers growing in the side of the cliff, I decided it was too dangerous and squirmed back, fearing that the rock at the edge might crumble.  Below, the sea churned and two small, rising, green-covered islands sustained the pummeling waves.  I placed my flip flops and bag three or four feet in from the ledge to remind me to stay away from it, even as I started to dance.

I tend to be intrepid and to love the sharp edge of mild danger, but this time, practice was restrained.   In Flowing, I was reluctant to move my feet.  This was partly because of the liberal amount of rabbit shit in the thick, green grass, partly because of some tiny, sharp sticks that hurt to step on, partly because of the real possibility of falling to my death, and (surely) partly because I have had a recent spike in fear, resulting from a series of confidence-shaking experiences since the beginning of this trip.

At once, it was exquisite.  A vast, moody sky stretched for endless miles.  I could feel the sugar in the bright grass and had a powerful felt sense of the carved cliff beneath me.  The waves crashed below and moved around the islands in dynamic, unpredictable patterns.  Winds presented strongly, too, filling my ears and applying their own force.  My senses were full of the elements and I let them fill me and pass through.

I felt pulled quickly to Staccato, but resisted, hoping to dance for at least an hour and thinking I should spend more time in Flowing.  I also hoped that Flowing might open up more, and that I might find more flexibility and ease.  After some time of moving in Flowing—sometimes with subtle inspiration and sometimes vaguely—I moved into Staccato.


Each rhythm manifested subtly.  Though I went dutifully through the entire wave, I only practiced for a half hour or so.  Last summer when I was practicing independently like this—also without a teacher and without music and with the sea—my first few dances seemed lackluster, too; and I assumed that if I continued to set the intention, the practice would open up in its own time.  I spread out a towel and sat in meditation following this short 5Rhythms wave, then made my way very, very carefully back down the cliff path.

I hoped that dancing would raise a sweat, but it never reached that level of exertion.  I have not been getting enough exercise since I have been in Ireland; and I have craved the endorphins.  Although I can usually count on practice for a workout (Gabrielle Roth—the visionary polymath who created the 5Rhythms practice even occasionally touted this benefit), I don’t like to put that much pressure on it, so I went for a vigorous run later in the afternoon, again (as mentioned in my last text) visiting the local castle ruin.

I picked Simon up from camp at 3.30.  He complained mildly about his day, saying that pretty much everyone there had lots of brothers and sisters, and that he wished he had brothers and sisters, too.  We stopped at a much-talked-about local playground on the way home.  It had a giant, net-like rope structure to climb, a zip line, swings, slides, see-saws, and many iterations of things to climb.

Simon was playing happily with two other kids on a large spinning disk merry-go-round when he had an accident. He had been rolling off the spinning edge and tumbling away quite skillfully.  I told him to roll off the other side, rather than into me and the woman who was standing next to me with a four-month-old baby strapped to her chest.  The first few tumbles went fine, but the third was calamitous.  Simon rolled down a hill and right into a stone wall, hitting the back of his head on a big rock with a loud “whack” sound.  He started to cry right away and stood up.  I ran to him and realized that the back of his head was spurting blood.  I was terrified.  Thankfully, the woman with the four-month-old baby sprang into action.  “I need to take him to the emergency room, right?” I said breathlessly.  “I think so,” she said back quickly.  She tried to calm Simon down in the most cheerful, reassuring voice, while also trying to get a look at the cut.  Thank Gods, Simon had no signs of concussion, but I was extremely worried.  The woman helped us get to our car, bantering kindly all the while and offering to help in any way she could.  I was tight with fear and kicking myself for not realizing this possible danger, and I spent the drive tight with anxiety, unable to fully address Simon’s questions about stitches and the emergency room.

Somehow I managed to get us home.  Once the house was in sight, I felt like I was going to fall off the earth.  I was so afraid Simon’s wound might be very bad—perhaps a puncture or a cracked skull. I imagined the worst.  The bleeding had mostly stopped, but there had been so much blood for a minute or so.  I was fiercely hot and ripped off my sweater.  I sank to the kitchen floor, saying, “Simon, come snuggle with Mommy on the floor for a second.” The world spun and I was very close to fainting, but I told myself I had to get it together.  I got Simon settled in front of some cartoons, then ran to get a bowl of water and a facecloth to wash the wound and have a look at it.  I grabbed socks and a sweater, also, as I had begun to shiver and my teeth were chattering.  The wound didn’t look too bad, but I couldn’t tell for sure.  He still had no symptoms of concussion, but after several hours home, I decided to take him to the local hospital.  Sitting in the emergency room waiting area, Simon put his little head in my lap and went to sleep.  I was so worried I couldn’t even be bored.  Thankfully, we were seen quickly and the doctor was confident that Simon had only a superficial wound.  We set out for home shortly after midnight.

The next day, he stayed home from camp and we explored a local town all day, including the toy shop.

As we woke up the next day to prepare for camp, Simon shared that he was very nervous about something.  “Mommy, what if you die while we are in Ireland and I am all alone?”  I did my best to reassure him, again, but part of me was very fearful, too.  Things had been going extraordinarily not-well.  My mantra for the day became, “Stay alive.  Stay alive.  Stay alive.”

After dropping Simon off at camp, I searched at length for a car mechanic my friend had recommended.  I have a big squish in the side of the rental car, and face a 1500 dollar deductible if I can’t get it repaired before I return it.  (I parked next to a stone wall, where one big stone protruding outward was hidden by some greenery.  The rest is history, as they say.)  I finally resorted to calling the number she had given me.  “Hello?” “Yes, hello, is this Maurice from Lenihan’s Garage?” “Yeah.”  “My friend highly recommended you to me.  I have a bad car problem and I’m trying to find you.”  He asked where I was and I tried in vain to explain.  He said he was next to a school.  I hoped the school might come up on the GPS and asked, “What school?”  “It doesn’t have a name,” he said, “We don’t really want to be found here.”  That made me feel sort of unwelcome, but I did manage to find it eventually.  When I arrived, Maurice scarcely looked at me, turning me over immediately to an associate who told me the job would probably cost at least 1000 euro.  On the way home from there, I nearly took a casual right turn into a speeding truck, accustomed, as I am, to easy right turns, and forgetting for a moment that I am driving on the opposite side of the road.  I inhaled sharply and returned to my mantra, “Stay alive.  Stay alive.  Stay alive.”

After, I went to a beautiful local beach.  Parking, I felt constrained.  Fear was wearing me out.  I had not slept well, again.  I was trying to talk myself out of this fear of dying that had persisted now for several days—perhaps a result of so many mishaps and mis-steps in recent days and weeks.  I had to keep dragging myself back from a trance of anxiety again and again.

I intended to investigate the west end of the beach near a small surf station, then go to the beach’s east end to find a quiet place to practice, but a spot near the surf station called me.  It was at sea level, not high on a sheer cliff, and not the most dramatic site in the area.  The tide was very low and there was almost no surf.  The west end of the beach was hemmed by a tall cliff and another tall cliff rose on the north side.  The spot I chose was a little circle—perhaps eight feet across—protected by some fallen boulders.


I danced a very classic 5Rhythms wave. It was classic in the sense that each of the five rhythms was fully attended to; and each rhythm had nearly equal time and weight.  I began to move right away, finding Flowing easily.  I was grateful to be at sea level, feeling my feet in the sand and not worrying about cliff edges.  “I could stay here for hours,” I said internally, taking off my jacket as I began to warm up.  The first thing that came was tears.  I wanted to be taken care of—and I craved the people in my life who have been kind enough to take care of me.  I cried for the expensive car issue, for the many hours I had spent lost and driving down skinny country lanes that all looked alike, and for the many moments of disempowerment, fear and frustration I have experienced.  I also re-lived Simon’s accident in the playground, finding a gasp of horror (along with guilt and primal fear) that temporarily stopped the flowing, circular movements my body was finding as my feet revolved on the packed, wet sand.  I found another gasp, the same one that escapes me every time I come around a harrowing blind curve in one of the skinny lanes hemmed by stone walls and thick hedges and encounter a vehicle barreling toward me from the opposite direction.

In Flowing, I let in primal fear and anxiety.  Though I couldn’t fully embrace it, the idea that I could fundamentally trust the universe presented.  I had been tightening, hoping if I try very hard to pay attention, I could keep us safe.  Rather, I remembered that the best way to stay safe is relaxed awareness—attending to the senses and responding appropriately as things arise.  The glaze of anxiety that comes from tightening against experience does the exact opposite, and leads to more errors in judgment.  My heart became external and I danced with it, caring for it like a child that needs extra love and patience in the throes of a sickness.  I thought about the many people I have encountered who bear so much fear and anxiety that they don’t have the energy to be pleasant or artful or inspired; and in that moment felt similarly bedraggled.

Unlike two days ago when I thought I should keep myself in Flowing, I let the rhythms change as they wanted to, this time not insisting that I stay in Flowing when my body wanted to move into Staccato.  Part of deepening practice is, I think, knowing when “instinct” is really conditioned response, a way to escape something unpleasant.  At these times, skillful resistance is called for.  At other times, what feels like “instinct” is intuition, and, as such should be acknowledged and attended to.  I realized, as Staccato arrived, that I had not served myself in slowing my entrance to Staccato the previous day.  I needed to be very clear about my boundaries on the cliff.  Later the same day, I also needed to step directly into Staccato when Simon had the accident in the park.

Staccato arrived.  Firm.  Clean.  Sharp breaths powered my movements.  I let myself be seen—heart and all, as I moved in and around my little rock circle—an energetically safe spot that allowed me to relax into the moment.  Even vigorous Staccato did not raise a sweat as the day was still chilly, but blue sky peeked through the low clouds and warmed me; and I was able to take off my sweater.

There was so much happening inside me during this wave that I only danced for a fraction of each rhythm with the sea.  Chaos was shy—not huge, but honest, real.  Lyrical came and I wanted to fly, to soar with the birds overhead.  As there was little wind, the birds were not soaring in great arcing gestures, but were instead fluttering and flitting, and I followed them in this, too.  I did not gloss over Stillness, as I have tended to do when practicing independently in the past, but found wind, clouds and long, slow gestures.

I considered moving to a different part of the beach to do another wave, thinking I would take a moment to practice Reiki then move on, but another wave started up spontaneously.  In Reiki there is a strong emphasis on healing energy in the hands; and in this case, I was once again holding my heart in my hands, and dancing with it.  My movements found weight as the heart was large and heavy.  I danced in and through it, at once, with weighted inertia.  Staccato broke through, again, without the energy of confrontation, but clear, with a simple willingness to be seen.  Succumbing to a familiar habit, right before Lyrical arrived, I had to check the phone to make sure Simon’s camp hadn’t called with any emergencies.  In Lyrical in this second wave, I found a little more grace, a little more flight.  I sailed up, too, in a set resembling traditional Irish step dancing, enjoying jauntiness and verticality.

Finally, I found my way back to Stillness, and back to my original Reiki intention.  I saw Gabrielle, above and to my right, and drew her into my heart.  Then, I experimented with expanding and contracting my energy field and with how far I could be to feel the energy of the large rocks in my circle.  First, swelling to fill the whole rock circle, then contracting again to a tiny field close to my body (a layer I’ve been exploring with a friend back in New York).  Using Reiki, I looked at the pain body and cleared spots of blocked energy in the diaphragm, hips, lower belly, and right back heart.  At the end of the wave I practiced sitting meditation for a little while before gathering my things and leaving the beach.

When I picked him up, Simon told me he had fun at camp.  The evening was relatively warm; and we went to the beach together, playing tag and several other games of Simon’s invention.

July 14, 2016, Annestown, Co. Waterford, Ireland

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

Let the Ground Receive It


I was lucky to attend two 5Rhythms classes this weekend, Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class, and Jason Goodman’s The 7th Wave class, which was taught this week by Ray Diaz.

I encountered no significant obstacles in arriving to Tammy’s class this Friday, and found parking right in front of the studio. I began on the floor, and noted an unusual tinge of inertia. That afternoon, I had been anxious—worried, it seems, about everything.

A group of emotionally-related stories tugged at the edges of my attention. The worst track was the fact that I had accidentally shut my small son, Simon’s, hand in a car door. I kept remembering his crumpled face—filled with pain—as he bawled. I felt terrible that I had literally caused him harm. I was picking him up early from his afterschool program to take him to an extra soccer practice; and I wondered if we should go straight to the doctor instead. I perseverated, reviewing every other time I thought I might have caused him harm—with intractability, with a sharp tone, with frustration, or, as in this instance, as a result of lapsed mindfulness.   I am also very worried about a young friend, Simon’s babysitter of many years, who is in a coma now. I don’t know what happened, only that she is fighting for her life. The internalized voices of my many 5Rhythms teachers said, “Let the ground receive it,” and, beginning to move on the floor; I soon found my way into Flowing and to presence.

During the first wave, I moved joyfully. I shared several dances with my jaunty, soccer-moving, new friend. I tested out his moves both in dancing with him and as I moved around the room—jumping into crossed feet then spinning out of it, tipping sideways and kicking my foot to the side, bending my knee and drawing my ankle in, almost kicking my backside, then flinging the foot, led by the pressing heel into an almost comical sideways-moving gesture. I stepped into another dance with a friend who arrived late—a staccato connection defined by creative joy and specificity. Toward the end of the wave Tammy put on a song that had a jig in it, and I met another friend, smiling, bounding upward and sailing together through our intersecting arcs.

At the conclusion of the first wave, I imagined my own body hovering in the sky. The room was filled with blue, and white clouds lingered amongst our bodies.

Tammy did not pause for verbal instructions halfway through the class, as is her usual custom, but instead began another wave, just as we were finding our final expressions of Stillness.

During the second wave, my enthusiasm contracted, and I had a hard time with my thoughts. I kept wanting to put my forehead on the room’s center column and rock. I moved out of that gesture, but found it again moments later. Self-abuse overtook me. I sank to my knees, swaying, with my hands together and touching my forehead. A male dancer didn’t seem to notice me and almost stepped on me repeatedly as I continued to move away from him. Closer to Tammy, I began to bend forward and exhale, filling my cup-shaped palms with breath as I folded over my knees, saying “I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.” I poured this breath over myself like it was water. Then, I started to release the breath from my cupped hands into the air. I realized that both expressions had run together; and I could no longer tell them apart.

At the end of the class, I lay with my forehead to the floor, crying with a pained expression, without catharsis.

On Saturday, I cast a net toward a couple of babysitters, thinking it would be nice to attend class. Simon and I were hosting my friend and her son; and we were having a beer at 7, when my roommate sent a text saying she was willing to babysit for the class that started at 8. I got dressed while our company played in the living room, then kissed Simon good night, dropped the friends off at their house, and made my way from Brooklyn to the West Village for class.

Relatively new 5Rhythms teacher Ray Diaz was teaching the 7th Wave class; and I got to experience his unique take on the 5Rhythms for the first time. I arrived twenty minutes late and stepped in during Staccato, nodding briefly to Flowing as I moved with the energy of the room, taking big, soaring steps. There were nine of us at the class including the teacher, so there was plenty of room to move. I played with alternating the big, soaring steps with tiny steps, foot over foot in a straight line, the shifting back into the giant, soaring steps.

After the first wave, Ray gathered us and told part of his own story. He said that when he first started coming to 5Rhythms classes, he would stay only for the first half of class, then leave. After several rounds of this, a 5Rhythms teacher caught him on the way out and told him to get his clothes back on and, “Get back in there!” Shortly after, he did a Heartbeat workshop where he found his feet for the first time. That was when he knew “this was it,” and he was able to stay for the entire class. (Interestingly, I have noticed that many 5Rhythms practitioners can point to a moment of great insight coming when they first “found their feet,” a First Communion of sorts.)

After his story, Ray explained the 5Rhythms wave. He emphasized Flowing throughout the narrative. After he told us about first finding his feet, he started to move in Flowing, and stated that in Flowing, you let the energy fill you up, starting with the feet. After a few moments in Flowing, he started to move into Staccato and said, “Then, once you are filled up with energy from the feet up, it starts to want to move out, it starts to take direction.” He exhaled sharply as he moved with staccato gestures. “But always with Flowing. Flowing is always with us. Sometimes when you get lost, you just go back into Flowing.” I don’t remember exactly what he said about Chaos except that it is about letting go again and again. I do remember his words and gestures about Lyrical—that suddenly something breaks through, and we find ourselves lightening up. Stillness, he continued, is when we let the breath lead us, and we move with whatever is left. I loved his emphasis on the trajectory of energy as he shared his understanding; and I found his way of explaining the transition from Flowing to Staccato particularly helpful.

During the second wave, I was more sedate. Perhaps because the beer I had before the class was wearing off. I had a great, ego-evading shake in Chaos, though. I noticed that my neck was a tender in some places, and that I was holding its muscles. I decided to let all of my edges go and, as a result, my neck was very released as I moved with great energy. When the music turned to Lyrical, I found flight. It felt amazing—I lit up onto my toes, waltzing backward, then arced down like a great kite, my fingertips grazing the ground and then the ceiling, as I turned in arcs, my head still totally released, following the rest of me for once.

In Stillness, reflections of the ballet bar across the room turned into a body of water. And to the young woman I love so much has been in a coma for two weeks now. I saw her in a boat in the middle of the body of water, bobbing slightly, looking back over her shoulder, her long, shining black hair curled about her shoulders. I beseeched her to come back, my eyes wide, hoping at once that this was my imagination and not a vision.

At the end of the class, Ray gathered us into a circle. He said, “A big part of the practice is that no matter what, you just keep moving forward.” He then asked us to take turns, each saying to the person next to us, “I release you. I release me.” The person on my right looked into my eyes and said, “I release you. I release me.” I turned to the person on my left and said, “I release you. I release me.” For a moment you and me stopped mattering—there was no separation.

Simon’s hand is fine now. Just a little bruise. I will be more careful shutting the door from now on.

“For a true spiritual transformation to flourish, we must see beyond this tendency to mental self-flagellation.  Spirituality based on self-hatred can never sustain itself. Generosity coming from self-hatred becomes martyrdom.  Morality born of self-hatred becomes rigid repression.  Love for others without the foundation of love for ourselves becomes a loss of boundaries, codependency, and a painful and fruitless search for intimacy.”

-Sharon Salzberg, Lovingkindness:  The Revolutionary Art of Happiness

Brooklyn, NYC, November 8, 2015

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

Road Rage, Soccer & Playful Antics


Despite the fact that the babysitter arrived right at 7pm and I left promptly, I arrived an hour late to Tammy’s Night Waves class on Friday. The car was literally stationary, embroiled in constipated traffic, on Broome Street just east of Broadway for over half an hour. With the car in the middle of the street, I got out and walked a block down to see if I could figure out what was going on. The snarl remained a mystery. I returned to the car, which was like a ship trapped in arctic ice, and sat, becoming increasingly foul-humored as light cycle after light cycle concluded without the slightest forward movement.

I reflected that the day before there had been heavy traffic delays in my neighborhood in Brooklyn, mostly because of police activity. Fortunately, I was not affected, but everywhere I went, people were driving furiously. One Hasidic man in a black Explorer sideswiped my car dangerously on Nostrand Avenue near Eastern Parkway, cutting me off, then nearly plowed into a teenager on his bicycle. This happened again and again, both in the morning and afternoon. I think because people were so heavily delayed, once they got out of the traffic they drove recklessly, enraged and trying to make up lost time.

Someone tried to cut into my lane on Broome Street. I drew myself forward, hunching over the wheel. “No way!” I called out. Suddenly I recognized myself as identical to the road-raging maniacs that had plagued me in Brooklyn the day before. I was still tight, but formed the intention to relax and to try to avoid being an asshole.

When I finally made it all the way down the agonizingly slow stretch of Broome Street to where I would turn right on 6th Avenue, it was 8.24 PM. I gathered that the traffic was leading to one of tunnels to New Jersey. I knew that if I didn’t arrive to the class by 8.30 I wouldn’t be allowed to enter. I willed the flowing traffic on 6th Avenue to move even faster.

Remarkably, I made it to class during the pause in dancing between the first and second waves when Tammy was giving verbal instructions and demonstrations, and was able to slip in without being too disruptive. I didn’t catch her whole drift, but I noted that she was speaking about inspiration—an elusive quality that I have considered lately, especially as it was absent for me in my last two successive dances.

I sat with crossed legs close to the studio door, and immediately began to move, rolling my head, and undulating down over my knees. I absolutely felt pulled to move. I hoped Tammy would understand and not find me terribly disrespectful. After such a trying delay, I was perhaps overly ardent, moving emphatically and with full ranges of motion.

Tammy very carefully set up the next exercise, involving groups of five or six. Rather than telling us to get into groups and hoping for the best, as sometimes happens in a 5Rhythms class when we are in the thick of a rolling wave; she took the time to make sure that the groups were organized. We were just four until another dancer sidled over to make us a complete quintet. Tammy asked, “Does any group only have four?” One man in our group flapped his hand insistently, his back turned to the group, failing to notice that our ranks had already been completed.

She then asked if one person in the group would please raise their hand. I considered raising my hand, since of course I am a natural leader (or so my mind thinks), but the hand-flapping man beat me to it. The leaders of each group were asked to hold the group by following the instructions associated with the body parts meditation—releasing and moving with different body parts in sequence according to Tammy’s instructions. The rest of us were free to move as we wanted, perhaps attending to the body parts exercise, perhaps not.

Sometimes I find body parts meditations tedious, but this time I was delighted. During a body parts meditation, I tend to go deeply inside and have a hard time finding my way back out to connect again with the other people in the room. On Friday, the freedom to follow or not follow put me at ease; and I was surprised that I embraced the body parts meditation anyway, slipping completely out of it then completely back in, undulating in a fast Flowing. I arched my back and rolled over the crown of my head on the floor repeatedly, completing circling gestures and moving seamlessly into the next. I was on the ground and up, moving individually or with the people in my group, at times matching the pace of others, at times moving as quickly as my body wanted to.

We were instructed to let go of our quintet and to move through the room, seeking the empty space. Ever a compliant 5Rhythms student, I took on the instruction whole-heartedly. You will not be surprised to learn that I overdid it—rushing into empty spaces both low, by people’s shins, and high, above people’s heads—bumping into my fellow dancers a few times. I adjusted, pointing some attention toward the people, but still letting the shifting empty spaces pull me throughout the space.

I beamed, meeting the gazes of both friends and new faces as I swooped around the room. Instructed to partner, which always means to pair with the person closest to you, I connected with a woman I met a few weeks ago before class. She was a present and willing partner and generously encouraged my playful antics. We separated and, by chance, partnered again several times during the class.

Told to change partners, the next person I met was an energetic new dancer. We locked eyes, realizing immediately that we were both game for fun. We were downright jaunty as we leapt and spun, bursting. I have recently become addicted to soccer practice with my small son; and I perceived a lot of soccer in my partner’s movements—both grounded and light, his gestures sometimes through their full arc, and sometimes clipped precisely in mid-air halfway through, tricking his opponent, me. I tricked him right back—like stealing the ball with a staccato pull-back and a sudden, unexpected turn when my eyes indicated a different direction entirely. We, too, danced again later in the class, meeting just as playfully, just as airborne.

Today, at my son’s soccer practice, the parents got as much play as the kids. For the third straight day, the sky was sheer, uninterrupted, blazing blue with a hint of white ombre just above the horizon line. The air was perfectly temperate. I sailed around the field, feeling joyful and light on my feet, laughing the entire time.

This class, for me, was characterized by flight and play, and its ending was the perfect expression of the hour-long narrative. A long-limbed friend who I love to dance with trotted over to me; and we met each other, smiling. He is graceful and confident and inspires me to roll out to my farthest edges.

My own grace is developing. At the moment, I have some bumpiness, some awkwardness inside the grace, since I have let go of some of the habits that might look (to the naked eye) like grace but have really been slight constraint—smooth tracking at the expense of authenticity. In one crouching gesture, I accidentally bumped my head on his knee, giggling. We jettisoned each other, suspension and extension casting us up onto our toes; our palms and fingers intelligent and articulated—communicating; balancing each other and at times falling cheerfully out of balance.

As the music ended, we were both facing in the same direction. I leaned into him, beaming again, and he folded his long arms around me. We stood paused for several moments, both of us with heaving chests, totally out of breath, as the dance came to an end.

October 11, 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.


Good Dances: 0, Bad Dances: 2

Sometimes I am tempted to keep a running tally of “good” dances vs. “bad” dances.   The more “good” dances that I have in a row, the more surprised I am when I have a “bad” dance. In the past three weeks, I am 0 for 2—unless you count the elation of dancing at my much-adored and only brother’s wedding—but let’s say 0 for 2 in formal classes. I was tempted to avoid creating a post about these experiences, since it is always much more engaging to write about engaging dances and vice versa; but I decided instead to lean into the un-inspiration to see what happens. I am telling myself that I can always hide it from you if the text turns out to be just one long, painful yawn. I don’t have anything to lose, really, and so I step into the room.

The official word is that there are no “bad” dances. Tammy and countless other teachers have reminded us again and again that we don’t go into a 5Rhythms class hoping for a particular experience—or if we do, we are bound to be disappointed. I note that there is no way to anticipate what will actually show up for me on the dance floor at any given time. I could walk in feeling anxious, self-abusive and vitriolic and leave feeling spacious, compassionate and relaxed. Conversely, I could walk in feeling eager and kind-hearted and leave feeling withdrawn and defensive.

What I flippantly consider to be a “bad” dance is really to say that the dance wasn’t pleasant for me. Maybe I am tired or pre-occupied. Maybe I just can’t find my feet on the ground, no matter what I do. Maybe I want to dance with other people, but my timing is off and I keep finding myself alone or awkwardly forcing partnerships. Maybe I don’t want to dance with others, and as a result overdo my expression of boundaries when approached—with the result that I accidentally isolate myself. Maybe I have an unsettled stomach; maybe I am feeling triggered by someone in the room; maybe I don’t connect with the music; maybe I am struggling to cope with an injury.  

The teachings of Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, are very clear on this point. No matter what happens, keep moving. (Back to my words now) There is no good or bad, there is just moving. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t suck. Whenever I lack inspiration, I get a little afraid that I will never be inspired again. It is a little flash of grief—that might or might not linger.

Over the years, I have learned that inspiration comes and goes. It is an interesting intellectual exercise to analyze the factors that might influence an un-inspired dance, but, ultimately, the nature of practice is to keep showing up no matter what. No matter what arises and no matter what obstacles conspire to keep me away from practice. And accepting (if grudgingly) that it won’t always be glorious. Sometimes it is just work. Sometimes it even sucks.

But I wax dramatic to create a cohesive story for you! The fact is that I have had much longer “bad” streaks than 0 for 2. I wrote in the past about a “bad” streak that lasted months. Though I was a new dancer, somehow I had already developed enough faith in the practice to keep showing up, again and again. Also, the two recent “bad” classes weren’t all bad. In fact, there were moments of inspired moving and of beautiful connection interspersed within. For example, I found myself several times moving in partnership throughout the entire room with the same friend with whom I shared a playful, spacious dance that kept recurring during the “Expand Lyrical” workshop. We would engage, perhaps follow each other, remain in partnership though several people separated us, then drift apart again, only to find one another a short time later—picking up where we left off.

Three weeks ago, before I took a week off to travel to my brother’s wedding in Vermont, Peter covered Tammy’s class. Peter is an exquisite teacher—a smiling, intuitive audiophile and I love to be near him. Despite this, I just couldn’t get into it.

Recently, I have written extensively about a sustained, enraptured engagement with the rhythm of Lyrical. Walking into class, I considered myself Lyrical, somehow. I decided to let go of all my edges and relax into the practice completely. Perhaps this was a factor and perhaps not, but I left thinking that the planned surrender of all edges had the effect of making me go flat. Making my expression of movement, and my perception of my expression of movement, and my engagement with the people around me—go flat.

My brother’s wedding was beautiful. Of course, a wedding holds so much—there are always counter-narratives; but the big, open-beamed Vermont-red barn was filled with smiling faces. My son, Simon, as one of the youngest attendees, enjoyed a lot of positive attention. He kept leaping into the middle of the dance floor and showing off his robot dance and his fast, staccato-like footwork, occasionally taking to the floor in his version of breakdancing amid supportive cheers. I danced many happy turns with his Daddy, who I have been spending a lot of time with of late. I also danced an expressive, tango-influenced turn with my sister’s partner, feeling playful. Near the end of the night, the DJ put on a Bluegrass jig, and I found flight. Enjoying myself thoroughly, I dropped to the ground to perform the 1980’s classic move, “the worm” but could scarcely pull it off I was laughing so hard. My brother’s friends complimented me generously on my ability to move, remarking particularly on the “Riverdance thing” I was doing during the Bluegrass jig song. I thanked them, and said, “I love to move. I love to be high up! I have never really tried to move to that kind of music, but it is always a joy to experiment,” thinking to myself, “Ahhh! I love this Lyrical rhythm/partner who has been dancing with me for months, I am so grateful to find Lyrical everywhere, to find it here, maybe it will stay, maybe it is who I am.”

Although 5Rhythms is not really about dance, but is much more generalizable, any time that I am dancing, the practice is to some extent engaged. After so many years of practice, any dance brings me near the field of 5Rhythms. Though of course it is not 5Rhythms practice, these not-5Rhythms dance experiences often arise in the writing for this reason.

I returned to Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class this week after the break for my brother’s wedding, and felt similarly un-inspired. As with Peter, Tammy is an exquisite teacher. She seems to see everything that arises in the room (in all dimensions); and I have soared literally hundreds of times under her skilled guidance. Despite this, I remained mostly flightless throughout the class.

In the interim between the first and the second waves that is often reserved for verbal teaching, Tammy said, “You didn’t think it was really about dance did you?” and went into an unusually long explanation of the rhythms—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness—perhaps in part owing to the many new dancers in the room.

During the second wave of the class Tammy asked us to group in threes. I turned to a partner right away, but there were no other unpaired people near us. I found someone and moved around another threesome, toward the individual, expecting my partner to move with me. He did not, and stood looking around for me, confused. I returned to him, not wanting him to think he had been abandoned. I couldn’t entice him to follow me, so I settled into trying to follow Tammy’s three-person directions with just two people. She asked us to take turns in the middle, with the two people on the outside holding space for the person in the middle. I thought at least we could take turns letting loose and holding space, but my partner didn’t seem to get that either. I wondered if he was hard-of-hearing. Eventually, another joined us, but I was already pretty disengaged. To make it worse, I thought Tammy asked us to find some kind of repetition to do together in our threesomes. I really don’t like this practice. It always feels forced and uncomfortable for me. If I find a repetition on my own—if my body catches some kind of glitch—it can lead to great insight. If I contrive it, and set out to find a repetition, I wind up feeling like a fake, and get bored quickly with whatever the repetition is—except in rare circumstances when I am extremely connected with my partners. This time, it was unpleasant and uncomfortable. The third to join our group let out an enraged yell, and left us to move through the room. I waited until Tammy released us from the exercise, then moved quickly away, myself.

Let’s see how my sports stats evolve. Maybe some day I will be in a place that there really are no “bad” dances and there is no running tally. Maybe even the not-inspiration will feel like bliss. Maybe I can find total freedom from the constraints and fluctuations of my small mind; and stand shining—individual and archetypal at once—in the glory that is my birthright, that is the birthright of each of us. I aspire to nothing less—nothing less than total everything—than all that we are.

October 3, 2015

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

Expand Lyrical


I have a confession to make. This is hard for me, but here it is. I have been cheating on Chaos. It all started during the summer, when I spent extended time in Costa Rica playing in the waves with my small son, contemplating rainbows, and dancing for long stretches with the sea, soaring kites and the shadows of the sopilote birds flying overhead.

Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice taught that each of us has a “home rhythm”, the one of the rhythms that comes most easily to us. Although sometimes this construct feels essentialist to me, I have often considered my relationship to my home rhythm. At first, it seemed clear that Staccato was my home rhythm. I felt comfortable with edges, elbows, strong direction, bold gestures, lists, accomplishments, knowing-it-all, and with indicating my boundaries. Gradually, as the practice eroded me, I came to believe that Staccato was merely a front for my true home rhythm—Chaos. I thought my affiliation with Staccato was a cover my mind had created to hide me from the whirling power of my chaotic nature, since I was so afraid that if I was gigantic I would cause too much harm. Finding true Chaos for the first time was a revelation accompanied by weeks of weeping.

In 2009 I wrote:

“One day, I accidentally forgot all of my criteria. I found myself dancing Chaos, saturated completely. Although I moved with enormous energy, there was no sense of exertion. I was completely aware, completely gentle, and completely porous. Tears streamed out of my eyes, wetting the whole front of me.

As the energy of Chaos rises, I symbolically hang my empty skin on a coat hook and imagine that I dance around in just my bones, without the burdensome weight of flesh and organs. I become the Sumerian goddess Inanna, who was killed and skinned by her sister when she went to visit the underworld, and was later resurrected by her allies. Her flayed skin was left, forgotten, on a hook as she embarked on the ultimate descent; to rise later more powerful, more complex, and more clarified.

Later, I realized that it was the first time I had ever actually been in Chaos. I had to let go of all my complex cantilevering first. It took a long time to cultivate enough awareness of the dancers around me and of my own body to know that I could be utterly uncontrolled and abandoned and still trust that I wouldn’t hurt anyone.”

Lately, I am tempted to change my affiliation once again—this time to Lyrical.

It is quite possible that a person’s home rhythm might change over time. It is quite possible; too, that circumstances and volition might lead us to align with a particular rhythm. It might not matter at all; and perhaps it is even ego-entrenching to take it too seriously. Interestingly, Meaghan Williams, the teacher who led the 5Rhythms one-day workshop “Expand Lyrical” on Sunday believes that Lyrical is always underneath all of the other rhythms, simply waiting to come out. (Meaghan acknowledged, on reading this text, that although she holds to this statement, a flowing teacher might believe that Flowing is always under every other rhythm, just waiting to come out..) If it were true, then I wonder if you could argue that Lyrical would be everyone’s true home rhythm.

Paul Taylor Studio, where “Expand Lyrical” was held, is a big, airy, clean, light-filled studio in Lower Manhattan. I spent some time searching for parking and finally settled on a nominally legal spot just a block from the studio. I arrived and organized myself with, remarkably, no obstacles or challenges, though I did suffer from a nagging concern about the parking spot I chose.

I began the first wave, which lasted for two solid hours, on the floor, moving in attenuated circles, my limbs extended like the hands of a clock, but in all dimensions, stretching and coiling and curving into myself both on my chest and on my back as I found my connection to the ground and warmed my muscles up. My parking spot kept coming to mind, but kept receding again. I was on my feet before long, eager to investigate the space, visit each corner, peek behind curtains, look through the door windows, and feel the diagonal distance from corner to corner.

Of the five rhythms, Lyrical has always seemed the farthest from my range. Even two years ago, I doubt if I would have even attended the “Expand Lyrical” workshop. It makes me think of a friend—a fabulous gay man who is the child of Mexican Catholic parents. The idea that he would ever come out to them was completely unfathomable. Then, when he finally did come out to them, all they said was, “Well, OK, thanks for telling us.” Maybe Lyrical hasn’t been as out of reach as I have lead myself to believe.

I know that Lyrical is not just about joy—it is actually much grittier than that, and contains several other aspects—but it is definitely the joy aspect of Lyrical that has scared me away. There is a huge list of reasons for this. The dominant reason is that I am not always convinced that I deserve joy. Also, part of me thinks that embracing joy is an affront to the world’s suffering. Another (snobbier) part of me thinks that joy is only for people who are less intelligent, less complex and less driven. In addition, I am afraid that if I let joy in, it will be ripped away from me again, perhaps leaving me even more bereft. Also, I am suspicious of faked joy, and especially unforgiving when I spot fake joy in myself.

The studio is remarkable in that there are several angles that allow you to glimpse the sky. On either side of the high-ceilinged room, there are sky-facing windows high above eye level. As you cross the large, rectangle-shaped space, there is another antechamber with huge bow-shaped windows that look out onto the city and again, the sky.

During the first wave, I shared many beautiful dances. I had the thought that in Chaos, I could express the full range of every possible experience. My small mind said, “That’s impossible! No one can know everyone’s experience!” But another voice countered with, “I think that through deep connection and fully participating in the human field, we can and do express every possible human experience even within our own small selves.” Here, I found an incredible, expressive range. In one dance I stepped into moving with a woman who has a totally different center of gravity than me—in her waist, leaning back. I took on her gestures, finding new possibilities. She seemed delighted. We were both delighted.

I danced with everyone who showed up in front of me, including with a woman whose everything was totally different than mine. I showed up for it, experimenting with her gestures, and moving back and forth from there and into movements that felt more intuitive for me. Soon, we were instructed to pair with another two, then four. Shortly, we began to weave in and out of our new, larger group. Briefly, we formed a circle moving clockwise—a job we had failed at on Friday night (see previous post), but now managed with ease. I noticed the moving circle happily; and, too, noticed that the circle dissolved as soon as I noticed it. Before long, we were told to join another group. Again, we wove in and out of each other. Somehow, we all came together as one breathing group. I was in the middle, along with a friend who I feel protective of. At one point I slid down to the floor, and a hand pulled me back up. We pulsed together for many moments, smiling and nuzzling each other as we moved in unison.

We wordlessly agreed at once that it was time to invite space into our formation and began to move, liltingly, around the room, carrying our dance of connection with us. We reached out for each other, meeting each other’s hands, and often the hands of one, two, or even three other dancers at once, coiling gently around one another, passing under the clasped hands of a couple, delicately passing messages with different angles and pressures on the palm, wrists, back of hands, fingers. At some point, it turned into a party trick and I decided against it, but as the game overtook me again, I cheerfully surrendered.

One friend in the room was a man who I experience as incredibly precise. His dance is characterized by specificity, sometimes even by beautiful control. I was shocked when, years ago, we were asked to step up and dance in our “home rhythm” and he stepped up for Lyrical. I have many times contemplated that. I was so sure that he would have picked Staccato.

There was a pause in the dancing so Meaghan could use words to help deepen our understanding. Meaghan gathered us all into a big circle and asked that we each offer a gesture and say our name. She asked that the group mirror the gesture and say the person’s name together. I hate this activity! It is hard for me to distill myself into one gesture. Everything feels so contingent, so contextual, so complex. I overthink it. I got through it somehow, sharing a gesture that to me says, “I see you. My heart sees you. And I am happy to see you,” as I said “Meghan.”

Meaghan’s talk ranged vast territory. She moved with gliding grace as she sketched the parameters of a wave for the two new practitioners in the room. She talked then to more advanced practitioners, intending to dislodge misconceptions. For one, she explained, Lyrical can be seen as playful, perhaps even childish. It is that. It can be that, she elaborated. “But it is also the rhythm of maturity—the Dance of Maturity. The place we arrive at after we work with great commitment through each of the other rhythms.” She quoted Ani Defranco, saying “If you’re not getting happier as you get older, then you’re fucking up.”

After a ten-minute break, we re-convened. We were instructed to partner and I fell into an exquisite, breathy spin with a friend I have danced with for years. Meaghan offered us images of birds and wings—exactly the image I was already holding as we moved. At one point, we both came up quickly, our stomachs meeting, and dissolved into giggles. Before long, we extended our range, and swooped throughout the entire room, chasing and receding amongst our fellow dancers. At one point, we found each other in the outer orbit of the room and moved together in its arc, our heads nuzzling one another as we sailed along.

Often, my writing includes the comings and goings, the enterings and exitings between the dance floor and the not-dance-floor world. On this day, it was contained. I did not leave once. I had tea and leftover dinner from the night before with me. I had everything I needed on hand. I didn’t need or want to escape; and I was ready to start again long before the breaks were over.

Shortly before the end of the first break, I sat myself down in the exact center of the dance floor. I know it was the center because there was a taped x right underneath me. Although the room had dissolved into cheerful conversation, I had avoided conversation, or even eye contact. The truth is that I was feeling very sensitive. Also, I didn’t want to be dispersed, diluted. Something about my fundamental relationship to Lyrical seemed to be shifting, and it didn’t feel like a good time for small talk. Three friends came to join me, and I chatted and joked with them, anyway. I was happy that they wanted to be near me.

In a workshop format, we often gather on one end of the room, then receive some kind of instruction to carry us, dancing, to the other side of the room. Likely, there is a practical reason for this: an entire day of dancing can be grueling; and it gives us a chance to rest while others are traversing. Also, part of the practice is seeing and witnessing our fellow dancers, and, too, being seen and being witnessed.

Meaghan offered several Lyrical experiments and I sailed, elated, from one side of the room to the other. I don’t think it looked very differently from how I would have done this exercise in Chaos, but I felt completely lyrical, airborne, skywalking. 

One rambunctious friend stomped on a balloon that had been liberated from the artwork installation and everyone jumped, laughing. I danced over to him, smiling, rambunctious myself. My hands met his playfully, and we turned each other, laughing. Another couple intersected us and we dipped and melted right through them, under them, never missing a beat or losing eye contact. We spun each other, rolling our backs together while holding hands, then blended again into the room at large.

During the final wave, I was ecstatic—melted, de-materialized—and I shared an unexpected dance. I met the eyes of a man who frightens me a little because it seems like every time I have been in a workshop with him he has expressed anger or aversion during group conversations. During “Expand Lyrical” our eyes met with love, we reached our hands out to each other and shared an exquisitely sweet turn.

As I was leaving for the day, I connected with my precise friend, asking about his affiliation with Lyrical. He explained that he is absolutely Lyrical in nature, though as a result of leg injuries, it might not always look that way. “You’re Lyrical, right?” he asked. “I…I don’t know. I guess I’m coming out of the closet now! I feel like I’ve been cheating on Chaos! But yes, I do think I might be Lyrical.”

I exited and discovered the sidewalks wet with post-rain. I meandered the short distance to the car, looking skyward and counting my blessings. At the car, I found a parking ticket for $115. I tucked it away, without even a whispered curse word. Driving, I reviewed the events of the day. I have only seen four rainbows in my nearly twenty years in New York City, but as I crossed the Williamsburg Bridge toward home in Brooklyn, a rainbow appeared. I sobbed with gratitude and joy.

I dreamt of rainbows.

They came dancing in.

-Poem from 2010

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