Being Worn Away in Bits


Pura vida literally means “pure life.” In Costa Rica, you hear it many times a day. I was trying to explain “pura vida” to my five-year-old son, Simon, yesterday. It means “life is extremely beautiful.” It can also mean “you are welcome, I offer this thing to you with grace and generosity.” Too, it can mean, “Yes, I totally agree with you,” or “We are so lucky to be alive.” It is often used as the closing for a note or for the end of a satisfying conversation. It implies a kind of presence, joy and wholeheartedness; and, when uttered, acts as a reminder to take note of the spectacular moment that is unfolding.

The contemplation “Everything is Perfect” at first seemed too obvious. In so many ways, everything is perfect here. Costa Rica is the closest I have been to paradise. For the last few days, however, the complex meaning of the phrase has been apparent—that absolutely everything that arises in our path is part of the material we use to wake up, even (and especially) the afflictive emotions—such as grief, anxiety, jealousy, anger, self-hate, blame and guilt.

On the way to Simon’s school, a large, black dog barked viciously and chased us. We can only drive about 10 mph in the golf cart we are getting around town in; and I floored it, afraid that the dog might actually try to attack us. This was the 5th or 6th time this happened, and I found myself imaging how I would kill the dog if it tried to attack Simon. Adrenalin lingered in my legs for a long time after.

On the way back to the beach after dropping Simon off, I crossed paths with a woman who makes my blood boil. Two nights before, she had attacked Simon and his slightly-younger friend, claiming that Simon’s friend was unkind to a smaller child, and complaining that they were being destructive in the restaurant. I was flooded. I didn’t know what to make of it! I had lagged behind by just a minute or two, and I didn’t have any idea what she was talking about. When I arrived she was speaking with anger and contempt to the two children. The woman was accompanied by an acquaintance—a woman I know because she is lodged, along with her small son, at our previous hotel. Simon met her son on his own, and went to great lengths to share a prized toy he thought the little boy might like. I went to call him back to our room, and found him speaking with the toddler in the gentlest possible tone—explaining something from a big boy perspective.

I was totally thrown off by the woman’s aggression. After I got the boys settled, I went to speak with my acquaintance to gather information. She expressed that on other occasions, my friend’s son had been “mean” to her small son—that when the baby said “I’m Spiderman!” my friend’s son said, “No, you’re not!” repeatedly, causing the child to cry. I asked where, when? She said it had happened at various restaurants, recently. She also claimed that other parents had agreed with her and shared similar stories. I was still very thrown off. I said, “I can see how that would be upsetting. He is just four years old, you know! He looks much older, but he is just four. We will work with it! He is just a little kid.” I told my friend something upsetting had happened, and sketched only the vaguest details, planning to have a conversation with her at another time. Though I dance at a remote edge of the beach, this woman has crossed my dancing path there three times since this incident, forcing me to look at my reaction to her and to attend to its insights.

In addition to these challenges, there are problems at home. For one, I am having a serious problem with a roommate in Brooklyn. She had a lawyer send a threatening letter and I feel bullied and disempowered. Also, I just found out that, although I wore a robe and attended graduation, I did not graduate from my most recent program of study. It seems that I failed to fill out some kind of form. Which could pose problems for my employment. In the idiosyncratic recesses of my mind, both events were causes for self-abuse.

I parked at Playa Pelada, and set out for the farthest reach of the beach, carrying all of this with me. There was so much to move! I consciously set out to move it, settling into a long Flowing dance. I moved with incredible patience, imaging that I could dance for hours and hours if need be.

Simon had been all over me the day before—clingy, impatient, demanding. We had planned to have dinner with friends, but a torrential rainstorm kept them home. I didn’t have any way to contact them, so we went anyway and waited. In Flowing, I realized that Simon is lonely here in Costa Rica at times. We have been here for just three weeks, really. He doesn’t have the same kind of networks that he has at home. The other day he told me, “Everyone else at school has a sister or brother to help them, but I don’t have anyone.” Dancing, I wished (as so often happens) that I had been more patient and supportive of him. The truth of it struck me and I cried as I moved. I thought of a time when he said, his face crumpled and crying uncontrollably, “Mommy, you are being mean!”

Despite the fact that we had a beautiful day together, including playing happily in the waves at length, I held the discordant part of the experience most tightly. My self-talk was appalling as I began to move.

I had sent my friend an email about what happened at the restaurant with our sons. But I also decided to add that I had seen a little meanness in her son, too, especially when I had both boys for the afternoon the previous week, and again a few days later. I even said that she gives her son a lot of freedom and could, possibly, be missing some of the behaviors that are coming up.

As I moved into Staccato, I gave up on staying in the shade, and used up as much space as I needed. I grew sharp, expanding to my maximum volume and contracting again, moving fast and covering vast ground. On Saturday, I went dancing with the same friend. We went first to a swank, new club, where an indie-rock band from Guatemala called Easy Easy and a sexy female hipster MC from Mexico unleashed a dancing storm. I couldn’t stop moving. Though the crowd stayed mostly in a happy groove, I found a huge range, expressing edges, deep hips—freedom, specificity, sexuality. The party shifted to Cumbia and Regaton and still this vibrant inspiration sustained itself. Later, we went to Tropicana—the only discotequa in Nosara. Still, I couldn’t stop moving, even as we walked out to head home, even in the parking lot. I was reminded that I was born a dancer. We are all born dancers!

My friend told me, “It was so great to dance with you! You are such a good dancer! You are such a free spirit, especially when you dance!” On the beach yesterday, as I started to move, I felt like the exact opposite. I was conflicted, self-abusive, small, hesitant, doubting. Anything but free.

Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, would say famously, “5Rhythms is not free dance. It is dance that frees.” My friend asked if I was a 5Rhythms teacher and I said, “No, I wish! My circumstances make it hard for me to complete the pre-requisites to apply and to undergo the training even if I was accepted.” She asked if I could just do a sort-of-like 5Rhyhms-y thing and start teaching kids. I said, “There is no way to do that. All of the teachers—every single one of them—is fucking amazing. They have to undergo thousands and thousands of hours of very targeted training. It is no small thing. It is not like yoga where you can do a 200-hour training, then start calling yourself an expert. There is also a lot of oversight, intended to keep the tradition from becoming corrupted.”

Although you don’t need to know anything about the system to benefit from practicing 5Rhythms, there is actually a very precise system that reveals itself in stages, only as we are ready to receive it. It is important to note that the independent journey I have embarked on this month is technically not 5Rhythms, since there is no certified teacher guiding the practice. That being said, ultimately, I think 5Rhythms leads us back to ourselves, and that if we practice with deep commitment and integrity, we can recover our birthright—to dance with complete, undefiled freedom—which, in the end, transcends even the 5Rhythms system.

As Staccato started to take me over, my body returned to the movements I found at the dance clubs on Saturday; and I sang the chorus of one song again and again. I started to leave the small, damaged self behind and to inhabit my power—explosive, expressive, precise, clear. I could really stamp my feet on the soft sand without fear of injury, and I lept—crouching and rising, circling, advancing, retreating—landing repeatedly in a deep, square-kneed squat with my arms, also, squared and raised.

On the beach with Simon on Saturday, a little yoga movement pulled me into a gigantic dance. Simon buried my foot with sand, and I told him it reminded me of when he was little and he would cling to my ankle in class while I danced. With this one constraint, I found powerful expression that I never would have found without the element of resistance that he provided. He tried to get sand on my feet and I danced away, changing direction fast, following my own high kicks, looping toward him and away. He laughed and started to throw more sand at me—all part of our game. Despite the challenges I have experienced lately, dance has been incredibly available, in everything, in every moment.

Chaos found me again, crying, released. The waves, the broad-leaved green trees, the cliffs, the vultures soaring overheard, the sand, all flashed together as I spun, dipped and whirled. Group 5Rhythms practice offers many opportunities for insight and healing, but individual practice leaves me mercilessly alone with myself and wears me away in bits. I can’t pretend that anything that arises comes from anyone but myself. I had the idea that the meanness I was afraid of with my son’s friend might really be my own fear of meanness in myself, and by extension and projection—in my own son. The thought was painful, difficult. I let it go again, subsumed in the casting circles of Chaos.

Often, Lyrical and Stillness are almost afterthoughts when I practice individually, but that wasn’t the case this time. Lyrical found me soaring, touching the yielding sand, drifting to the sky. A large group of vultures circled overhead. One vulture alone is not very interesting—just a long gliding arc, but in this case, an entire matrix of the huge, black birds, with two groups at different altitudes moved soundlessly above me. I curved and moved with them, gently, my body a matrix, too, crossing over myself as the birds crossed each other in the air. I continued to move gently—feeling the wind drying the sweat on my exposed skin, turning me slowly, toward or away from it. A tiny, yellow butterfly gasped along—clear on the other side of the cove; and I followed it with my motions, adding a tiny flutter to my slow, wind-carved gesture.

My friend wrote about the restaurant incident, “Don’t get pulled into currents that aren’t yours. I’m surprised you were so affected by it and actually believed them or began looking at (child’s name) through their perspective, which of course will influence your reception.”

The vultures—with such a reputation for bullying and meanness—when held in the vast blue space of the sky were no less than sublime. After all of this moving, I sat quietly in a clear tide pool in full sun. My half-closed eyes perceived golden reflected light ripples on the underside of my hat. Tiny fish lingered around me. A bright sunspot dazzled the corner of my vision.

July 20, 2015, Nosara, Costa Rica

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

Ick! (Insights, Inspirations & Challenges)

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

I promised my uncle—who has been kind enough to read this blog, but has no context for the writing—that I would offer some explanation for people who don’t already know about 5Rhythms. Every time I attempt a definition of the 5Rhythms it comes out differently. It is at once incredibly simple and infinitely complex. The best I can do is try to explain how I, personally, experience 5Rhythms.

For someone who steps into a 5Rhythms room for the first time, it probably just looks like a wild dance club with no drinks. Over time, practitioners learn that the five rhythms are Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness. Guided by a 5Rhythms teacher, we investigate each of these rhythms through various suggestions, exercises, and as the music guides us. There are no prescribed steps, and it may look and feel different for everyone. In general, Flowing is characterized by awareness of the feet, and looping, unending motion. Staccato, the rhythm of the heart, is characterized by stops and starts, clean lines and may seem sharp or edgy at times. Chaos (my longstanding favorite) is characterized by uncontrolled, energetic activity, and may include rapid shifting of the body weight from one side to the other. Lyrical follows the release of Chaos, and may be characterized by a kind of lightness, curiosity or playfulness. Stillness—the concluding rhythm of a wave—is breathful. It is how you move with whatever is left after moving through all of the other rhythms. There is no set music, but most of the teachers are audiophiles who use their extensive knowledge of music to guide practitioners through a wave. If you are going to a 5Rhythms class, you should expect to dance, but it is interesting to note that 5Rhythms is by no means limited to dance. Rather, it is a way to describe the entire creative process.

This blog is about how I experience my own practice in 5Rhythms classes and workshops. It is also about how I carry my life into 5Rhythms, and how I carry 5Rhythms into my life. Does that help, Uncle Greg?

On Friday night, Tammy led us through two seamless waves during her Night Waves class, without any pause in the middle. A wave is a process of moving through each of the five rhythms in sequence—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness. Often, there is a pause between the first and second waves in a typical waves class (such as the one I am writing about) when the teacher take a few moments to verbally explain an aspect of practice or to propose a particular investigation while students sit and take it in. I love these teaching interludes and have learned many valuable lessons from this part of the class, but Tammy is expertly unpredictable—just enough so we benefit from structure, yet continue to be challenged with novelty.

I stepped right in, though I arrived 20 minutes late. The entire first wave was devoted to Flowing, so we moved through all five rhythms, always retaining some aspect of the first rhythm of Flowing as we moved through each of the rhythms. I was elated to find expansive movement; and that I had all the energy I needed to move.

The second wave was dedicated to Staccato—so we moved through each of the five rhythms—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness—and in each retained some aspect of Staccato. I found it a little difficult to access Flowing with the percussive drumming track Tammy played, but found my way into the wave with the help of another dancer. As we moved into the Staccato rhythm, Tammy instructed us to take a partner, and I turned to a friend who happened to be next to me. As per our instructions, the dance was an investigation of the concepts of Yes and No. My energy had faltered slightly, but as we entered into our Yes-No investigation my interest peaked. I thought of one of the mantras I have designed for my small son, who occasionally seems like a five-year-old teenager, “We should always have more Yes’s than No’s!” I tell him frequently. Sometimes I love to dance No, but on this night, the energetic expansion of Yes captivated me. At times, we were supposed to dance opposite roles, and I wasn’t sure if we were, in fact, in the same role or not, an interesting lack of clarity in a dance otherwise characterized by delighted specifity.

I moved around the room, partnering with everyone I encountered. In a smiling dance with a friend, a large man with downturned eyes barged right between us, sliming the side of my face with his completely sweat-soaked shirt. Believe me, I am not easily disgusted, but a revolted shock settled onto my features, and I dashed off to the bathroom to wash my face.

Stepping back into the room, I planned what I would say to the purveyor of slime after the class. “Excuse me! I’m not sure if you are aware that you slimed me during the dance? Um, in the future, could you please give me a minimum of two feet of distance? And, um, could you please, um, try to notice when I don’t want to be approached at all?” When he came too near me again, I put up a hand in his direction, scowling. I perseverated briefly about how, over the years, he has often invaded my space, crashed into me, and bumped me with flying limbs.

As I continued to perseverate, the music shifted us into Chaos. I started to laugh. I thought, “Oh, I am going to have a good cathartic laugh now.” As soon as I had that thought, the impulse left. I was lifted then by beautiful Chaos, and tossed by its currents and riptides.

As Chaos spit us out into the Lyrical rhythm, we were instructed to group with several others. One person was supposed to lead with a simple movement, and the others would follow. My group was a disaster. We had a very hard time finding one movement and there were several stops and starts. I was resistant for some reason, not liking what we were coming up with, not able to give myself over to it.

The day before, I had attended a teacher training along with thirty educators. I moved tables often (thank you, Flowing!) so I could meet different people in the room and learn about how they do their jobs. Many offended me. One table in particular made me particularly disgusted. A white woman in her mid 60’s who lives in Long Island but teaches in Brooklyn started to talk in a heavy Long Island accent about “them” (her students): how entitled they are, how their sneakers are more important than their studies, etc, etc. A younger woman, who I didn’t dislike at first, jumped right onto the bandwagon. A much younger woman, too, joined in. They went on and on. I resisted the temptation to ask them to explain who they meant by “them,” but left the table, again scowling, to refill my water bottle instead. Sometimes I really feel out of sync with the people around me, even in the dance in that moment. When Tammy said we could move around the room on our own, I fled, without looking back.

Despite these minor challenges, the overall tone I ended with was uplifted and energetic. I noticed repeatedly how happy I was to have access to so much movement. I noticed that a foot injury that had given me pause for weeks had evaporated. I noticed how much I love the heat and how far we had come from the depths of winter. I noticed all of the beautiful humans around me, being beautiful.

I always feel blessed when a strong theme emerges, but can’t force it if one doesn’t. The class was another thread in the tapestry I am living—complete with its unique insights, inspirations and challenges; and I am, as ever, blessed to have access to the 5Rhythms map that helps me to navigate it with grace and curiosity.

June 7, 2015, NYC

Chaos in Tiny Increments

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

In Tammy’s class last night, she led us through two long, gentle periods of Chaos.  I noticed that I was already feeling the pull of Chaos, even when the room was still in the rhythm of Staccato.  I was happy when Tammy announced that our first period of Chaos—the rhythm I feel most at home in—would last ten minutes.  I imagined that I was hanging my skin onto a hook on one of the room’s center columns so I could dance around in my bones.   My body felt released and kinetic, though without the exuberant brand of release that often leads to catharsis.  I greeted three friends I hadn’t seen in a long time with exhaling gratitude and long embraces.

During the interim in the middle of the class when we gathered around Tammy for verbal teaching, she asked, “During that period of Chaos, did anyone wonder-When is Chaos is actually going to begin?” No one raised their hand.  Then she asked, “Did anyone feel like-God, when is this going to end?”  Again no one raised their hand.  Someone offered, “Well, we are a pretty chaotic group!”

One thing I admire about the way Tammy teaches is that she seems to be finding her way into the themes and content on her feet.  I have no doubt that she prepares extensively, but she seems to cast around in the beginning of her talk until she finds a groove.  In her groove, her words can be arrows that directly pierce my heart, refrains that remind me of the deep themes of practice, or phrases that connect with uncanny similarity to exactly what I have been personally contemplating.

At the beginning of the second wave, a Flowing exercise had all of us walking throughout the room.  One person would stop, then everyone would stop as we noticed the activity around us.  Then, one person would start moving and everyone would follow and start moving, as well.  It seemed like the stop kept coming very quickly.  Before long, I figured out who was responsible; and I silently willed her to please give a little more time to move before engaging another stop.  I very much wanted fluid motion.  As the stops kept coming so quickly, I started to feel disengaged.  It reminded me of the feeling of being interrupted again and again just as I start to get immersed in a project.

In school on Friday, I assisted students I teach to hold a reception for their close friend who is going away for cancer treatment.  In 11th grade now, this is his third bout with lung cancer.  They say he will be going away for a year.

When I asked if it would be ok with him if we had a small reception in his honor, he smiled and gave me a hug, putting his very thin arms right around my neck and bending down to me.  I said, “There are so many people here who hold you in very high esteem.” He responded, smiling, “It really does pay to be a good person.”  Later, when some students became distraught, the guidance counselor pulled the afflicted student from his own class, and asked him to cheer them up.  Remarkably, he did.

Partway through Tammy’s class, I noticed a rush of chemicals in my legs.  It was a little like being on a drug. I can only imagine that something my muscles were holding was released, though I am not sure exactly what.

As spring arrives, I find that I am thinking about death.  And too, about life in the face of death.  Today, I heard a radio story about a video game designed to represent the experience of losing a five-year-old boy to cancer, and of his last stretch of life.  As the designers went through the process of helping the little boy to fight cancer in their lives, they started to design the game.  Users move through the game by interacting with the little boy, such as swinging him on the swings of a virtual playground.  They came to believe that he would beat impossible odds and survive, but he did not.  For users, it becomes clear early on that the child will not survive and the objective—if you could call it that—becomes about loving the little boy as well as possible in the short time that he has.  About cultivating grace.

Shortly after, I attended a wake for my boss’s mother.  I never met her, but felt waves of grief nonetheless, taking in the emotions of the bereaved family members, and, no doubt, re-visiting my own sadnesses for all of the people I have lost over the years.  It was a Catholic wake and the traditional prayers were familiar to me.  The priest also offered, “We can take comfort in the fact that she no longer has to deal with the problems and troubles of life. ” This lanced me.  I thought, my Gods, please bring on the problems and troubles, please.  Bring on every messy bit of it.  It is a miracle to be alive.  Truly.  As the NASA research astronomer Natalie Batalha said, “I am aware of the billions of years it took for the atoms to come together and make the physical portal to the universe that is my physical self.”

How do I grieve the millions of moments I have lost to anger or distraction!  It occurs to me that it is a choice in every moment—whether we turn toward love or away from it.  The smiling young man with cancer shone in his humanity.  I came to Tammy’s class wishing for the catharsis of Chaos after an emotionally intense week, and found myself instead luxuriating in the quiet expression of Chaos—life force as it winds its way through a life in tiny increments—dynamic, ever-shifting and miraculous even in the face of pain, loss and grief.

March 29, 2015

Antique Clothespins, Feathers, Glitter, Pearls, Collected Baby Forks & Paper Lace

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

Peter Fodera’s one-day Flowing workshop was held at the Paul Taylor Studio on the Lower East Side.  I remember once during a class Tammy said that when she first met Peter, he seemed so divine she wasn’t sure he was actually of this world.  I try to attend every teaching he offers in New York City and have always felt challenged, supported and inspired by him.  It was my first time at Paul Taylor Studio, and novelty peaked my attention as I made my way in the door and up one flight of stairs to the foyer.  The space struck me as clean and chic, with high ceilings, open stairs, translucent walls, and cut-out spaces for sunlight to move freely.

The rhythms of Gabrielle Roth’s 5Rhythms practice include Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness.  Flowing is the first by design; and we are taught that Flowing is the essential foundation of every other rhythm.  Its hallmarks are being aware of the feet on the floor or ground, unending circular motion, looking for and moving into empty space, in-breath, and an attitude of receptivity and curiosity.

After greeting many smiling friends, I stepped into the lovely studio, bowing as I crossed the threshold, as is my habit.  The black floor was marked and scuffed in subtle, layered patterns that, upon inspection, seemed to have marble-like depth.  Crossing the large black rectangle of the dance floor, I stepped into a balcony-like space with a white floor and an entire wall of curving windows that look onto the lower east side and the raised subway tracks peeking from behind a stand of tall buildings.

Martha Peabody had created an installation between the threshold of the two floors and facing onto the large dance floor.  Its setting was rectangular, as well, and featured leaf-green netting over a soccer-goal shaped form and fabric of an array of shades and textures of green—the color associated with the rhythm of Flowing.  On this foundation, Martha had placed a curving line of wooden shoe forms, mature plants potted in sculpted tins, balls of moss, candles and white roses.  She also created perhaps a dozen little wooden stands, each holding a dense cabbage like a head manikin, and each topped with an exquisitely-rendered crown or headdress.  Materials included antique clothespins, feathers, glitter, pearls, beading, decorative sewing pins, collected baby forks, a tiny bird, veils and paper lace.  A special pussywillow crown had a place of honor on a small, wooden child’s chair in the middle of the installation in honor of Peter’s birthday.

Leading up to the workshop, I was nothing but eager.  I noted that I had no ambivalence whatsoever about spending a day investigating the rhythm of Flowing.  My one mild hesitation was that I wondered if a one-day workshop would allow time to both come apart and to re-member.  I noted that I was a bit nervous about the possibility of coming apart without being able to work through it.  In the past, I have only done three-day workshops or workshops that meet once a week for multiple weeks; and in most cases, the narrative arc of the workshop involved some kind of descent, unraveling or release, and then some kind of re-integration.

Peter’s choices of music made it easy to move; and I stepped directly into the river of Flowing—with seemingly perfect release, engagement and fluidity.  I felt emotional and was moved by artistic visions, finding infinite new ways to move.  I investigated the room, flowing into all its corners and looking into the high-above theatrical works. I felt like a spring stream finding its way downhill, rushing around rocks and fallen trees, swirling, crashing upward, falling back, and then being pulled forward with vigor.  It is beyond joyful—these rare moments when movement is perfectly aligned with the inner and outer environments.

I anticipated that we would engage deeply with the “pure” rhythm of Flowing, as opposed to its shadow, but Peter had different ideas.  When we say the “pure” rhythm, we mean the rhythm itself, when we talk about the “shadow” of a rhythm, we are talking about a face of the same rhythm that could be read as a different—or even as an opposing—aspect.  For example, the pure rhythm of Flowing is Flowing; and the shadow of Flowing is Inertia.

Which is why the day before, when we had blue sky in New York, and a little kiss of spring, I said, “Yes! Let it in, let it in, let it in!” With in-breaths—with inspiration—with open arms, and with feet moving with gratitude on the soon-to-awaken earth.  After a grueling winter with many prolonged periods of constraint and a long, thick illness, I was more than ready.  I note that letting in joy is not the easiest thing for me.  I might even freak out if I get too happy. In fact, I have often prioritized investigating my dark, complex recesses over engaging with simple joys.

Of all of the five rhythms, Flowing has been my most valuable teacher, especially since it is so far from how I experience myself in the world.  I was surprised after the opening wave when Peter pointed us toward the shadow of Flowing, since I felt like the pure rhythm of Flowing was unusually available to me.  This may or may not have been true for my fellow practitioners; and no doubt there were at least a few who were unintentionally in Inertia, the shadow of Flowing, throughout the workshop.  I guess I had assumed that there was so much to investigate just in the straightforward rhythm that the shadow of Flowing would not be a dominant theme.

I am an absurdly compliant student when it comes to the 5Rhythms.  Believe me, you would not say this of me in other arenas.  They probably have my face on a dartboard in the department office where they administered my most recent college degree, for example.  But in 5Rhythms, I wholeheartedly take on whatever investigation I am assigned.  So when Peter pointed us toward the shadow, I tried every experiment, at once realizing that I remained very much in the pure rhythm of Flowing.  I guess it is possible that only in the face of the shadows can you really find the depths of each rhythm.

At any rate, I felt shining, ecstatic.  I had the perfect reserve of energy to draw on and I moved effortlessly throughout the space.  I knew I couldn’t force the Shadow’s hand; and that to do so would have been an act of aggression against myself.  Within the meditation tradition I am trained in, nothing is wrong.  It is not like anything goes, though.  On the contrary, it is very precise, but it is all about how you relate to everything.  To me in this moment, opening to the joy of letting spring in was skillful, even if it meant I couldn’t fully enact the instructions.

In the middle of the day, Peter asked why some of us take ourselves out of the dance when we get to Stillness.  “Did I take myself out of the dance?” I wondered.  Faces around the big circle we sat in looked quizzical and slightly tight.  “Did I do something wrong?” I wondered.  Peter mentioned that according to Gabrielle, it is important to keep the eyes open.  I have often wondered about this, since what, exactly, to do with the eyes has been an important consideration in the meditation tradition I have trained in, also.  At a 5Rhythms workshop, I once posed this question to the teacher.  “Is keeping the eyes open an important part of the practice?” In contrast to Peter’s suggestion, that teacher explained that the instruction to keep the eyes open is really more about safety than anything else.  I continued to wonder about this point.

Some practitioners and teachers in attendance shared that the chance to close the eyes and turn inward might be valuable, and we might seem to have stopped moving, but to instead be moving with such subtlety that we only appeared to have stopped.  I experimented with applying the idea I was trained with in meditation practice: what if nothing is ever wrong, per se, but the question is, rather, how am I relating to this?

I realize that there are many reasons I might choose to close my eyes.  One is because I have been swept away with the abandon of the room, and need to find the beat again inside my body.  This is especially true when a new song begins in Staccato.  I often need a quiet moment to turn in and find out how the rhythm of the song affects my heartbeat, so I don’t just rush into it without awareness.  Another is that with my eyes shut or lowered, I may discover a different kind of seeing that is not available with my eyes open.  Yet another is that sometimes my body has to go all out, with total abandon and maybe even with artfulness.  I am afraid of showing off, and if I shut or lower my eyes, I can’t tell if anyone is watching or seeing me, so I don’t hold myself back just to not-show-off.  I have spent huge amounts of life inappropriately trying to contain myself, and sometimes I need this little trick to let wild grace overtake me when it arrives.  And yes, sometimes I shut my eyes because I don’t feel like dealing or because I want to withdraw.  Which might be ok, too.  Maybe even correct at certain moments.

I think Peter said we did a wave with the Shadow of Flowing in each of the other rhythms.  This is a bit tricky for me to understand. I understand the idea of doing a Wave in the shadows of each rhythm, but this is another step removed.  Whatever the nature of the frame, I continued to move with joy, creativity and specificity.

When prompted to experiment with the restless aspect of Staccato’s shadow, I began to pace between four doors which were situated in each corner of the dance floor.  When Peter asked, “What do you do when you get restless?”  I went right into a currently unfolding situation.  I really  wanted to huff away—to leave dramatically; and I kept storming toward each of the four doors.  After many charges, I found a sharp little dance of “this can’t be this can’t be this can’t be yet I have no power the only thing I can do is be sharp show contempt and walk away.”  No further insights have emerged; and the situation I was sketching continues.

After so much emphatic movement and so many wholehearted experiments, or perhaps because the shadow fell over me at last, I grew tired and stayed more or less in one spot.  The day ended with people actually wearing and dancing with Martha’s spectacular crowns.  I approached the altar several times, wanting to wear one crown in particular.  It had a netted veil that could be drawn over the eyes and a tiny toy bird perched on it.  It seemed too immersed in its environment to remove it, but eventually I gathered enough courage and danced briefly with it on my head—thinking it an auspicious ritual as we move into spring, into new beginnings, into subtle and un-subtle unfurlings, and (I hope) into joy and inspiration.

March 10, NYC

A Tiny Sunshine

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

Today’s Sweat Your Prayers class was held at the Martha Graham Studio on Bethune Street in the West Village rather than at the Joffrey Studio.  I arrived on time and whisper-stepped onto the one-step-up sprung floor.  I found movement easily, and felt rising emotion as I started to find my feet.  The room was neither too warm nor too cold, and I sensed the flush of spring’s optimism despite the tenacious grip of winter.  I hadn’t danced (officially) for two weeks.  My two most recent dances before this hiatus had ended painfully, with constraint and distraction.  Today, it was like my body re-set itself.  I found an entirely new dance—investigating suspension with many tiny articulations inside of big, expressive gestures.  On the floor, I began to stretch and twist, attenuating the farthest reaches of myself and letting the end of the stretch curve back in, moving naturally into circular motion and to Flowing.


I very much wanted to connect and moved around the room, falling into step with everyone I encountered.  I noticed that although I tend to be bold about approaching people to dance with them, I am very quick to move away if they are not immediately receptive.  There are often many layers to intention; and I note that, in part, I don’t want to invade anyone’s space.  And I sometimes like to move through the whole room without settling in with anyone so I can enjoy the experience of being in the human field.  Also, I think part of me is afraid of being rejected.

When someone else approaches to dance with me, it might take me awhile to key into their advance and to warm up to the idea of accepting it.  If someone is persistent without being aggressive, I might appreciate that they really want to dance with me in particular, and that they have made a conscious choice to connect.   I vowed to experiment with staying a little longer in instances when I approach someone to dance but they don’t immediately (or obviously) engage in partnership.

I note a parallel in my job-work life at the moment.  Sometimes I start out gung-ho, then if I encounter resistance, I pull back.  Perhaps it is unrelated, but simultaneous to this noticing, I managed to find a new angle—a new way to approach my work with integrity and excitement, rather than by giving up and retreating when I feel like I am running into a wall.  For some reason, I still have to remind myself to look for the empty space, especially when I am in partnership.

I was slightly apprehensive about dance this morning.  Sometimes when I have a run of unpleasant experiences, I start to fear that the dances of freedom, athleticism, creativity, insight and connectedness that I often experience have evaporated forever.  Tears came and went as I was swept by inspiration, repeatedly raising my hands high overhead and arching back with my eyes upward, taking in the antique tin ceiling and stage lights as my head swept back and then rolled forward dramatically again.

During the Stillness after a recent yoga class, the instructor suggested that we should invite what we need into our lives.  For me, the first word that came to mind was “inspiration.”  The winter has been long and grueling; and although I am not consciously begging for spring, I feel emotionally exhausted.  Money has been tight, work has been rock-and-hard-place-y, sleep has been brief, and long dormant issues have reared their heads with unexpected vehemence.

Tammy reminded us that the neighbors below the Martha Graham Studio do not appreciate dancers’ feet pounding heavily on the floor above them, and I experimented with gentle feet, only occasionally forgetting and punctuating a movement of the hips with a sharp, percussive stomp.  Knowing how to be powerful without making loud noise is a skill I would do well to learn.

After the first wave, I felt connected and porous.  That is to say, I felt like my energy field was uncompressed and could easily mingle with the energy fields of other practitioners.  I was able to do what I call “passing through practice,” something that was taught to me by an ancient spirit.  I mean, that Iimagine an ancient spirit taught to me.

I wrote this at the time:

“A couple of weeks ago during Jonathan’s class, I (imagined I) was seeing everyone’s
spirits including my own: light bodies, pain bodies, and a diffuse kind of
light.  One of my spirits—I think a very old male ancestor—really wanted
to interact with me.  At first I felt nervous because he was
manifesting differently than what I usually see. He was more like a shadow
spirit. But I told him, it’s OK, I am not afraid, I am totally porous and I
am not afraid of you.  So he started to dance with me, to overlap with me,
and to pass through me. It had never occurred to me that possession could be
so gentle. At times both our spirits were intermingled.  Then, everyone
else’s personal energy fields were kind of passing through mine, and mine
through theirs.” –January, 2009

This practice is absolutely not available unless I am in a connected and porous state, but if I am blessed to arrive there, it is simply a matter of intention and shifted perspective.

My energy faltered slightly as we moved toward the end of the class, but I left feeling uplifted and re-connected with myself.  Stepping out onto Bethune Street, I found deep slush, hard winds and steadily falling snow.  But my heart held a tiny sunshine, reminding me that after a particularly aggressive winter, the awakening of spring is all the more glorious.

March 1, 2015, NYC