At Riis Park, the solitary birds are my first dance partners this morning. Before long, however, I join with an entire flock, soaring as they soar, holding my arms out wide, twisting in an arc as they move to the farthest edge of an orbit, sinking deep and looping one arm through the other as they change sides, rising suddenly and falling back into my edge, my feet grinding circles in the cold winter sand, covering vast distances on the deserted beach. Seeking solace and insight in these deeply troubling times, I planned this artwork performance—a ritual, of sorts—hoping to find some clues to show me the way forward.
Another place I go to seek solace and insight are 5Rhythms classes and workshops. Created by Gabrielle Roth in the 1980’s, 5Rhythms is a dance and movement meditation practice that embodies Gabrielle’s vision, “A body in motion will heal itself.” The five rhythms are Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness. Each rhythm has its own character, which becomes territory for endless experiments. To dance a wave is to pass through each of the 5Rhythms in sequence. In a typical two-hour class, we move through two waves. On first glance, a 5Rhythms room would probably just look like a wild dance club, but for most people it is also much more. For me, it is laboratory for life, encompassing psychological, emotional, philosophical, interpersonal and shamanic levels.
At a 5Rhythms class just a few days before the performance at Riis Park, 5Rhythms teacher Tammy Burstein says, “We don’t have to just be at a loss, because we have a map,” remarking that many people seem to be stepping into the class “still carrying a lot.” In having a map, we have the comfort of knowing that we have a way forward that doesn’t rely solely on our own initiative or motivation. This is particularly useful when we feel stuck or overwhelmed, as many, including myself, have felt for the last several months.
Waiting in line for the bathroom before class, a woman I had shared a dance with the week before says, “I love your dance. It is like you are always weaving, somehow.” I think she is talking about the way I move through the room, sharing dances, winding gestures inside the empty spaces, and following the currents caused by the many moving bodies. I introduce myself and smile, thanking her for the compliment and for the feedback.
Just two days later, I find myself weaving the air with my arms as I undertake the performance artwork at Jacob Riis National Seashore. I had been thinking of doing this performance for many months, but when I finally decide to actually do it, I have less than a week to prepare. I send an invite to a few close friends, but I send it late at night, just a few days before; and I anticipate that it might be just me and the photographer.
In frigid temperatures, my hair a taut flag in the caustic wind, I set up a wooden box as a table, a dozen glass bottles with corks, a pen, and a ream of paper—barely held in place by a jagged piece of brick. Then, I begin to move with the ocean birds as they appear in the sky. I watch them carefully, doing my best to revive the lost art of augury—an important ritual for several groups of ancients—divination, or fortune telling, by the flights of birds. I hoped to draw some meaning from the sky that might offer hope and direction in the coming months, especially since the political situation has grown increasingly worrisome of late.
Stepping into the 5Rhythms class a few minutes late, I do not start down on the floor, as is my usual custom, but instead stay on my feet and join the group in moving my attention slowly through different body parts, as led by the teacher. I find vibrant movement quickly, releasing the shoulders, releasing the spine and releasing the head’s weight, which cascade me into circular motion in the first rhythm of Flowing. Flowing is characterized by rounded, unending motion with a strong emphasis on the feet; and I move softly, with weight, the soles of my feet in in close contact with the floor.
Still engaging in the Body Parts exercise, we segue into the second rhythm of Staccato, and I begin to move around the room. Staccato is characterized by sharp, clear movements with an emphasis on the hips; and I sink low, my knees sharply bent, moving forward and back, my elbows forming pointed triangles and leading me into movement. Tammy suggests that we could make a choice to just let go of everything we are carrying. I stop thinking of things outside of the dance and step into many successive, brief partnerships. Wondering if she perhaps prefers to be left alone, I nonetheless join with a friend who often favors the periphery. As I move toward her, she smiles and steps forward to dance with me. Another friend joins us, seeming to boing upward as he approaches, then twisting and weaving around us. We both become even more activated, the three of us moving in an elastic matrix, swapping places and moving around the edge of our small group, and taking turns moving through the middle.
The third rhythm of Chaos and the fourth rhythm of Lyrical reveal the miracle of being totally unique and totally universal, at once. I join with a woman in Lyrical with whom I have shared many dances of rolling shoulders and circling hips, each of us bending forward in turn as our shoulders descend and cross downward, losing eye contact, then rising again as the shoulder pulls back from blocking the jaw, smiling, and moving similarly around each other’s backs, always arriving again at smiling eye contact. This time we find new patterns—intricately-syncopated steps inside of steps—as a playful, remixed disco song booms from the powerful speakers.
I learned that the Ancient Roman augurs—the ritualists who read the flights of the birds for official purposes—would have had a great deal of say in who would lead Rome. If the signs were interpreted favorably, a king or emperor would be crowned—the origin of the word “inauguration.” It was believed that the birds transmitted the will of the Gods, and reflected the relative chaos or harmony of the larger cosmos. I wondered what would have happened if anyone read the birds’ flights on January 20, 2017; and if dire predictions would have mattered.
Total porousness comes a little easier after so many years of practice; and it’s been awhile since I’ve had the pleasure of being totally shattered as a result of feeling integrated into the collective field. In this case, during the fifth and final rhythm, Stillness, I move through the room gently, like breeze, passing through people’s energy fields and allowing them to pass through mine.
Again on the beach in the performance ritual, as words arise, I kneel in front of my little table and write down any phrases that come to mind. Then, I roll up the paper I have written on, push it into a glass bottle and cork it. It is very cold and I have to sustain vigorous movement, but I do this a dozen times, quickly, preparing the bottles that will be thrown into the sea at the conclusion of the ritual. Of my attempts at divination, one stands out:
“In times of fear,
Turn to community-
Fly in formation.”
The following week at class, the experience of having undergone the performance ritual with the birds works its way into my dance.
This time I begin with my body in full contact with the floor in the first rhythm of Flowing, moving in concentric circles in every direction, edgeless, finding tension at the most extended points to stretch my muscles, arcing through my side, shifting over the back of my head onto the spine, then back around. Still moving in concentric circles on the floor, I begin to move through the room, one leg reaching far behind me and pulling me into another level of circling. While rolling over the back of my head, I gaze up at the standing people around me, finding empty space as it opens up and moving into it, still on the floor.
I’ve been working with a therapist lately; and we begin each of our sessions with five minutes of movement. Recently, I started with my ear on the soft oriental carpet. Hums from the building became audible; and I heard two voices from the floor below in conversation. I thought of 5Rhythms teacher Kierra Foster-Ba, who has often said, “Just like any other animal, we receive a lot of information from the ground.” With my ear to the ground, literally, I felt like I could listen for danger, read the signs, and respond appropriately—engaging my primal instincts during a time when I might otherwise be tempted to rationalize the signs of danger to convince myself I am safe.
A recurring dream came up then, too. I am at Cape Cod in a rented cottage on a cliff by the sea with several members of my family. The ocean has receded by miles, exposing the sand beneath; and an eerie quiet had arisen. Although when I first had this dream I didn’t know the early signs of a tsunami, somehow I knew that a gigantic wave was about to erupt from the silence. Walking through the screen door, I plead with my mother and sister to leave with me, to flee to high ground. They decline, peacefully resigned. I get into a car and drive uphill, overtaken by complex emotions—a sharp desire to live, both grief and admiration for my mother and sister, and fear that the massive wave will overtake me.
On the way in to class, I feel annoyed and unreceptive. There is someone in attendance I always have a lot of mind chatter about, believing she is superficial for some reason that surely has little to do with her. But before long, the music hooks me and I am moving through the room. A dance version of Erykah Badu’s “On and On” offers me a Staccato door to enter through, and I step into multiple partnerships, moving low and backward, ratcheting different body parts, and articulating movements with precision and thoroughness.
Before dance that night, my seven-year-old son, Simon, uses the phrase “magical sweat” in relation to some wet socks that have surprised him by drying quickly. The phrase “magical sweat” repeats for me several times during the class, and particularly as Staccato gathers fire. As Staccato transitions into Chaos, I let loose, grateful for a reserve of easily available energy. My hair falls over my face and eyes as my head whirls freely, leading my entire body in spinning. I note the woman who I had judged as superficial dancing right next to me, and realize the smallness of my petty resentment. The truth is that we are all superficial to some extent, myself included. As I let go, I inwardly celebrate that she lets go, too, and move with many emphatic and wild dancers in close proximity.
In Lyrical and then in Stillness, I spin and leap in the center of the room, my wings held wide, recalling the movements of my many bird partners the week before. Several successive dancers join me in flight, each seamlessly integrating into my dance of sky, swooping and soaring very close to me, then spinning off into new partnerships.
Realizing that my feet will get wet when I go to the edge of the sea to throw in the bottles, I know I have to move quickly or risk frost bite. I make three trips, carrying several bottles at once, and toss the bottles into the waves. As soon as the last one hits the water, I sprint to put on my boots and winter jacket, considering the performance complete.
Regardless of whether the signs I have divined in any way foretell the future, and, too, regardless of the direction the map may or may not take me, I am grateful to have a map, grateful for a way forward, and grateful for the unlikely blessing of this life, this tiny glimmer that reflects the magnitude of infinity.
“Good hope is often beguiled by her own augury.” -Ovid
March 19, 2017, 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.
“I think we’re here to learn to be calm. And gentle. And also to be fast. And to notice things.”
-Simon, age 7
Have I mentioned recently that I adore my son? Absolutely, totally and completely adore him. Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, provided a model for me in this. She adored her son, Jonathan Horan, too—unabashedly, wholeheartedly—and made it no secret. Sometimes I think my own wounds might have kept me from fully embracing and displaying this love if it hadn’t been for Gabrielle’s powerful example.
This week, my son, Simon, turned seven. We had a jam-packed, rollicking party with nearly seventy people in our apartment that included singing, dancing, playing music and rough housing—a chance to practice a manageable version of chaos in the face of the growing chaos of the national arena. The day before his birthday, Simon called me back to the room after I put him to bed, crying. “Mommy, I’m sad for you that I’m getting older and I’m not a baby now!” “Oh, no! Simon, I’m a little sad that you are not a baby anymore, but I’m even more happy and proud about the young man you are becoming!”
The times I have felt closest with Simon and most aware of the love I have for him have been inside 5Rhythms classes. I started dancing two years before Simon was born; and I danced throughout pregnancy, right up until the very last week before giving birth. A short time after he was born, he started to come to daytime 5Rhythms classes; and he has been attending classes periodically ever since.
Simon is too young to come to Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class (though he has been trying to convince me otherwise), but I thought of him during the class this week, especially since his birthday was just the day before. In the first wave—what we call it when we move through each of the 5Rhythms in sequence: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness—I entered the studio after Flowing was already transitioning to Staccato, but still felt I had enough of Flowing, somehow. Though I have noted some reluctance toward Staccato recently, I entered into Staccato with ease. Trying to work against my recent impulse to rush through Staccato straight into the next rhythm, Chaos, I lingered in Staccato. In the process, I missed Chaos completely, waiting, as I was, for it to fully arrive. I vowed to let loose in Chaos during the second wave if it was at all available to me. At moments, I thought about the chaos of the country and how it might affect Simon’s life.
In the gap between the first and second waves of the class, Tammy offered spoken instructions as she moved through the different rhythms. Her words caused me to reflect on what I consider to be “normal,” and how much my perspective on what is normal has shifted since November’s election. Given that affronts to democracy have become frequent, frequency does not mean that these affronts are normal, by any means. There is absolutely nothing normal about the current moment.
In the second wave, I made sure not to miss Chaos. As Flowing began, Tammy encouraged us to turn in, and I had a flash of the starry cosmos inside as I lowered my eyelids. Stepping in to Staccato, Chaos seemed to come quickly. I shook, almost violently, rocking deep in the pelvis during the transition from Staccato to Chaos, then continuing to shake. More than one rhythm operated on me at once. I intersected with a friend briefly, and we were wild, creative, expansive. We separated, then came back together again in Lyrical. Lyrical kicked in like a switch had been hit, with a flick, and with a rush of delighted inbreath. I noted the millisecond it arrived, thinking, “Lyrical! Here it is!” We twittered and flew, but retained the ferocity of our earlier Chaos.
Next, I joined with a dancer I hadn’t ever seen before in an athletic Stillness. We bounded and leapt, on and off the ground, in an attitude of breakdancing, sliding and twittering, pulling and gliding, pausing in curious, emphatic shapes the whole while, once with my cheek pressed to the floor, weight in my hands, and my legs twisted and raised, with tension in the balls of the feet. I tossed myself under the bridge of his back, both of us laughing. We disregarded Tammy’s instructions when she said, “Change” into the microphone, inviting us to take a new partner, but after the third “Change” we bowed melodramatically to each other and finally moved on.
I joined, once again, with my creative and expansive friend, both on our knees, our hands fluttering a gentle dance.
Simon and I had decided to attend the Sunday Sweat Your Prayers class the night before, and waded through the considerable rubble of Saturday’s birthday party, deciding to leave the bulk of the cleaning for later in the day so we would have enough time to get a snack before class. He was short-tempered as we were preparing, and I told him, “That’s it! You can’t use a screaming voice. I don’t think we’re going to be able to go today.” “No! Please! Please, Mommy! Please! Please, I promise I won’t scream anymore! Please take me to the class!” I told him he would have one final chance and we set out.
We arrived at the Joffrey Ballet, where most 5Rhythms classes in NYC are held, with enough time to pay and get settled. There was a line all the way up the stairs and out the door that seemed to be made up of ballerinas, based on the tights and smooth ballet hairstyles. We learned that they were trying out for a professional ballet company as we threaded past them and into the crowded elevator. In the elevator, people were generous with their attention, and Simon felt seen and welcomed. The class’s producer, too, kindly welcomed Simon’s hug and kiss with open arms after we arrived on the 4th floor.
Simon and I have a ritual for entering a class, designed to help him understand and notice sacred space. This was especially useful when he was smaller, to help him notice that once we enter, we don’t speak with words. We stand in the threshold of the studio door, hold hands, take a big breath in, then, as we exhale, we jump into what we call “The Magic Dance Room.”
Once across the threshold, we found a spot, tucked into a comfortable corner near a pile of coats, and Simon got himself settled as I started to move around the room in Flowing. He pretty much burned through all of his snacks during Flowing in the first wave, then got up in Staccato to join me on the dance floor. He wanted me to hold both his hands, and he made this very clear when I tried to release one hand and extend my range of motion. When he was tiny, he often wanted to be carried during a class. If he was on the ground, he would wrap his arms around my leg. I found a whole way of moving, even with one leg restricted, that I never would have otherwise uncovered. In this case, I still moved very much in Staccato, though my dance remained attentive to his needs. He trotted out some fancy footwork as we moved around the room, still holding tightly to my hands, and looking at all the dancers around us. As Chaos arose, Simon went back to his spot in the corner and played with his Legos. I moved around the room, then joined with a good friend in Lyrical, letting extensions pull me upward, and following her pendulous spinning. The dancers close to us influenced the dance, too, as we found unending new forms.
In Stillness, Simon and I both stretched out on the floor and rolled, side by side, slowly into the middle of the room. Before long, I sat up and moved near him, but he remained on his back, pushing himself slowly through the room with his bent legs, gazing upward at the dancing adults.
At one point, someone triggered my anger. I perseverated for a few short moments, then let it go, not wanting to taint the experience for myself or for Simon.
As the next wave started, Simon took another Legos break. In Staccato, we danced near his spot. For the first time, he let go of my hands and got creative with his feet as we moved toward Chaos, letting me loop around him and ranging over several feet. As Chaos deepened, Simon went back to his spot in the corner again, while I moved into an exceptionally creative Chaos with one of my favorite dance partners. We found new patterns, as one of us would express a sequence and the other would fall into it, each delighting in surprising the other with a new idea or expression. The room was crowded, and our usually unbridled dance was softer (though still wild) and slotted in around the dancers close to us, but still taking up all the space we needed.
In Lyrical, Simon pointed to the door of the studio, and we both stepped out briefly. “The music is too loud. It’s hurting my ears,” he said. “OK, we can stay out here for a little while.” “We can go back in when the song is done,” he said, leading me back into the room as soon as the music shifted.
Coming back through the door into the studio, Stillness had already begun to unfold. Simon poured his weight onto my forearm, as he does when we are walking home and he is extremely tired. We were invited to partner, and to take turns telling the other, “Why are we here?” We snuggled with his head on my shoulder and our arms wrapped around each other. I said, “Do you want to talk about why you think we’re here?” “I think we’re here to learn to be calm. And gentle. And also to be fast. And to notice things,” he said, prompting me to kiss him on the forehead. I took my own turn to speak, saying, “I think we’re here to make others happy and to make ourselves happy.” We continued to snuggle and to rock back and forth gently. At one point, I gathered him into my arms, sideways, like when he was a small baby, and rocked him gently. As the final song began, Simon rested his head on the tops of my feet, leaning back, relaxed. I felt a rush of love and gratitude, as we held hands and gently moved each other’s arms, listening to the last song Gabrielle Roth ever recorded.
When the music concluded, the mood in the room was reverent. Simon lead the way to our things. We quietly picked them up, then headed out of the studio. I said, “Simon, I’m so proud of you. When the teacher asked us to leave the room silently, you followed the directions.” He said, “I didn’t even hear that, Mommy. I just knew I was still in the Magic Dance Room and I couldn’t talk.”
We ended our adventure with a special lunch, and talked about our experiences. Of everything that I do as a parent, I think that giving Simon access to the 5Rhythms is, quite possibly, my best offering. Every phase of his development and of our ever-evolving relationship has been reflected in the 5Rhythms. I am grateful for the many moments of glorious connection, when the practice draws back the veil of mundane experience, and reminds me of the divine blessing of my sweet little boy, my darling son.
February 7, 2017, Brooklyn, NYC
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
“There is only one of us here.” –Gabrielle Roth, creator of the 5Rhythms practice
Packed body-to-body with the many hundred thousand protesters who attended the Women’s March in NYC on Saturday, one friend led the way as we tried to squirm across 2nd Avenue to join our group on the other side. When I reached behind me for my other friend’s hand, someone squeezed my hand enthusiastically and I turned around to meet the shining eyes of a stranger, who continued to hold my hand lovingly for several seconds. This was the first time of many that I was moved to tears during the massively attended event. Then I took my friend’s hand and, holding onto the friend who was leading, continued to make my way through the dense crowd.
I was reminded of how proud I am to be a New Yorker as I joined with my city, witnessing inspiring humanity all around me: the “Angry Grannies” group, the spectacular hand-made signs including the one with a Dr. Seuss-style poem lampooning the new president, the handsome Russian-speaking man who carried a sign that said, “I am you. I fight for you,” the wearable sculpture with the raised-fist, black-power iconography of the Black Panther activists rendered in rainbow colors, the golden uterus hand tattoos of the Lady Parts Justice League, the signs reminding us of an American vision of social justice—though never perfectly manifested—an American vision every bit as real as the vision framed by the new administration. Even our mayor joined the event, carrying his own sign of protest.
Peter Fodera led Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class this week. I hadn’t realized that Tammy would be out of town, but sighed happily as I entered to see Peter at the teacher’s table. Tammy once shared publicly that when she first met Peter, he seemed like such an angel that she almost didn’t believe he was human. When The Moving Center organized a series of one-day workshops each on one of the 5Rhythms—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness—Peter was, of course, called upon to teach the Flowing workshop.
Since the election, I have found comfort in the rhythm of Flowing. It reminds me of my formative experience of perfect love—when my father would sing to me and rock me in a special rocking chair. On several occasions I have felt resistance when the music shifted from Flowing into the next rhythm, Staccato. Analogously, during the week, I had trouble deciding which creative work to focus on, and what to do with my small ration of discretionary time. I had been finding and embracing pockets of joy wherever I could since the election, but the actual inauguration was a sobering reality. I listened to the new president’s speech in the car on the way to class and bellowed with grief. I was happy to see Peter because I was sure he would guide us in the grounding energy of Flowing, where I would find comfort and belonging.
To my surprise, Peter kept us in Flowing for just a brief period without any real earthy snuggle, then, in what seemed like a short time, he began to shift us into Flowing Staccato and into Staccato. I groaned inwardly as the music shifted. The majority of this hour-and-a-half long wave was spent in Staccato and in Chaos.
That week, I had entered a deep investigation of some chronic tension in my right shoulder with my therapist. Several images came up, including that the shoulder was a key player in how my body expresses fear and defensiveness. I also noticed that my right side was much less alive than my left side, and that my right foot seemed remote. My therapist said, “There was a different kind of movement today. Often, you move kind of like water in a container, close to the core, but today, there was something about the way you integrated your arms and raised them up that felt more expansive.”
The first wave gave me many chances to use the dance floor as a laboratory for this new physical information about my shoulder. I connected with a friend in Staccato who seems to be led by her shoulders, and I twisted and tumbled with her, letting my rolling shoulders pull me down and into motion. I also enjoyed a gentle staccato turn with a tall friend who rolls easily out into his extremities and inspires me to do the same, still noticing the role of the shoulders in my gestures. Next, I joined in an inspired Chaos with a friend of many years, remembering a time when the two of us let loose in the middle of a giant Chaos circle, amidst whoops and cheers. More than once, I encountered a new dancer who easily matched my high energy level, bounding, up on our toes, and twisting backward into the hips as Lyrical delighted us into beaming connection, my arms rising up from underneath, the shoulders as released as they can be at this time.
At the end of the class, Peter brought spoke briefly. I left with the message of a strong call to action, though I can’t remember his exact words. If even Peter, who seems to have an especially strong connection to Flowing, seemed to be urging us toward Staccato and toward action, well, I really have to take that in. Maybe I need to stop wallowing in the harsh reality of circumstances and get on with it. At some point, I have to pick a point to move toward, and commit myself to goals and the specific actions they require.
A close friend responded to my rhetorical question, “How to work with anger, and yet to act with love?” She sent copious resources, and though I found the resources helpful, I realized that many of us have been training for years in preparation for this very moment. I have a practice and a community that will carry me and that I have a responsibility to carry. It is only when things get hard that the integrity of practice is truly tested. Practice has become—now more than ever—an emotional, political, and spiritual imperative.
As we made our way to the march from the subway, I nudged my friends to notice an elder of advanced years, who sported a pink coat, the trademark pink pussycat hat, and a cane with a chair feature. I was moved by her participation, and, you will not be surprised to learn, found myself crying. During the day, I saw many other elders, who could not have had an easy time of being on foot for many hours in the huge crowds.
Standing in the solid-packed crowd for hours before the start of the Women’s March, I was grateful for the teachings of Flowing. Though I am just five feet tall and could not see beyond the bodies immediately thronging me, I felt fine about being so close. I enjoyed breathing the people around me in, though it kept bringing me to tears, touched as I was by so many images, overheard comments, and exchanges. It was a powerful antidote to Friday’s speech, which made me feel afraid, sad and angry.
Saturday after the march I sat talking politics for hours with a friend whose political leanings tend toward anarchy, grateful for the opportunity to discuss politics in depth with someone I both agree and disagree with. In her opinion, America has never been a functioning democracy. I see her point, but I am an American, too. My deeply committed, progressive parents who have worked for social justice causes throughout their lives are Americans, too. The thousands and thousands of beautiful humans of all colors, orientations, nationalities and abilities who stepped into the march on Saturday are all Americans, too. We are also America. I don’t think it is fair to call America a completely failed project.
On Sunday morning, I attended the Sweat Your Prayers class at the Joffrey Ballet, where today’s teacher, Jilsarah Moscowitz, wove in similar themes. As with Friday’s class, I was right on time, anticipating a long, patient Flowing. After some exploratory strolling, I lay on my back on the floor where I continued to tune in to my right shoulder. Before long, I moved into a curling matrix, pausing to arc from the side of my foot and up the rib cage into my extended arm, and to stretch in my hips, hamstrings, quadriceps, and in the fronts and backs of my shoulders. Continuing to moving in a patient swirl on the ground, rising occasionally from the back of my hips with my hands and feet still down, I began to make my way through the space, still on the floor. After a loop or more, I moved through the room on my feet, silently acknowledging every person in the space and saying internally, “I see you there; and I am grateful for it.”
Jilsarah gave us a tiny bit more time in Flowing than Peter had on Friday, but still moved us into Staccato much earlier than I wanted. One low, slow staccato song inspired me and I danced deep into the hips, pressing my backside far behind me, my shoulders forward, feet dragging and rising.
Jilsarah narrated as Stillness of the first wave transitioned into Flowing of the second wave. “Some say that we are in a time of Chaos. Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, said that Chaos is a combination of both Flowing and Staccato — the combination of masculine and feminine energies.” Although Gabrielle did not express this, Jilsarah indicated that we could experiment with Chaos as grounded action. She invited us to “add breath” to the rhythms as a way to express the purity of each rhythm. She said she hoped we might find a way to be both grounded—Flowing, and in action—Staccato, both on and off the dance floor.
In Chaos, I tipped sideways and lightly touched one of my favorite dance partners on the upper leg with the top of my foot, playfully inviting him to partner. Our exchange was marked by dramatic cross-overs, weirdly-timed stops, collapses, flings, bursts, keeling spins, top rocking, and even by rollicking, back-and-forth running motions. We laughed and laughed.
Lyrical was pure, weightless joy. It continues to amaze me that Lyrical is available no matter what. That deep acceptance is available even with the necessity for resistance. The Dalai Lama, for example, is downright mirthful despite the many traumatic events he has experienced. I moved in a flat plane, twittering up and sideways in my feet and hands, still opening the shoulders, letting air fill my underarms, flying, barely touching down.
I was at the march from 11am until about 4pm. Though I had no phone reception during the event, I learned that almost everyone I know in NYC was in attendance, that my father attended the Women’s March in Hartford, Connecticut, and that my mother attended the march in Sacramento, California, where she was on a work trip. The march went until at least 9pm, with fourteen city blocks packed solid with people called to action, streaming throughout the midtown Manhattan route for upwards of ten hours, with good humor, patience, righteous anger, and, too, with love—all the necessary ingredients for a true revolution, the one that must by necessity start from within, but must, by necessity, not stop there.
January 23, 2017, 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.
“Imagine the conversation we’d be having if we weren’t debating facts.” –Masha Gessen
“The impulse to normalize” was the subject of a radio interview I heard in the car on the way to class at the Joffrey in the West Village. In the interview, Masha Gessen, author of “Autocracy: Rules for Survival,” encouraged the press to continue to report lies and inaccuracies, but at once to analyze language and missives for hidden intentions, and to include reporting on the deeper stories at play. In my mind, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, economic opportunism, and hatred should never be seen as normal.
These thoughts preoccupied me as I stepped in to the Sunday Sweat Your Prayers class, taught today by Mark Bonder. I began to move in looping circles, occasionally changing level or direction with a drop or rise of weight, absorbed in gentle movement, my entire body released before Mark even stepped into the room. One song brought me to the floor to stretch and move in continuing circles and arcs, then I was up again, continuing an endless, weighted spin.
During Flowing, Mark put on the Herbie Hancock version of Bob Dylan’s 1964 protest song, “Times They Are A’ Changin” with the female vocalist Lisa Hannigan. Her gentle voice broke my heart as I considered that in 1964, though there were many challenges and obstacles, times seemed to be changing for the better, at least in terms of prospects for oppressed communities. Now, in post-election 2016, times are again changing, though from my perspective, not for the better. I encountered a friend and remembered the powerful tide of emotion she expressed during a discussion at a spring workshop because of the outbreak of overt misogyny directed toward Hillary Clinton. Hugging each other softly and rocking from side to side, we both cried, understanding each other’s grief without any need for words.
According to the 5Rhythms Heartbeat Map that was created by Gabrielle Roth, the originator of the practice, each of the rhythms corresponds to a fundamental emotion. For example, Flowing corresponds with fear, and Chaos corresponds with sadness. For me, however, these two are reversed. In Chaos, I find relief from fear, the release of trapped emotions, and the expression of previously repressed energies—which might include grief. The sadness and grief that are intrinsic to human experience, or that occur in current events—both personal and collective—for me, that all finds its expression in Flowing.
Flowing—of the five rhythms, the rhythm that is perhaps most foreign to my nature—has been a solace for me lately. Once I begin to move in circles and feel my feet on the ground, I often move around the room, awash in humanity, floating in a sea of gestures. There is a brushing, touching kind of seeing-and-being-seen. It is not the direct, individual eye contact of Staccato, but rather the humble seeing-and-being-seen that drifts gently, letting in without judging, framing or resisting. I move patiently, saying to each person (whether I meet their eye or not) “I see you there; and I am grateful for it.”
When Staccato arrived, I groaned inwardly. Lately, I have not wanted to move into Staccato. My mind wants to argue, “Isn’t it enough to be alive now? To be moving and finding some small joy? Must I find direction on top of it all? Do I really have to act?” My yoga teacher yesterday delivered a staid, yet impassioned call to arms about the state of the union. In principle, I totally agree with her. Yet the fact is that I have no direction at the moment. At some point, I have to stop reeling and pick a point to move toward. In Staccato, the music featured big, clear beats, then some small skirmishes. I focused my attention and tried to step directly on the big beats—no small accomplishment, given my affinity for syncopation. I had a useful insight as a result: in addition to being expressive, bold and sometimes uptight, Staccato can be methodical.
In a culture where we are encouraged to live from the heart in a hallmark sense—to be bold in flashy gestures—the heartfulness of methodical action—of discipline—is often overlooked. In the last couple of weeks, I have been seriously considering quitting my current work and finding a way to earn a living as a healer. I very much want to be immersed in practice and in work of spirit. However, I realized within today’s Staccato dance that chucking everything and starting a new path wouldn’t necessarily be the most skillful way to follow my heart. In fact, in my current work I am very much a healer already. If I continue to water the seeds I have been planting, I will realize my dream within my existing context, without even having to defect from my profession.
Staccato, Chaos and Lyrical toggled back and forth in the first wave. I joined forces with a new friend and we leapt and flew, including dramatic stops, extensions and emphasis at the far edges of our gestures.
In Stillness, I drew inside. My eyes nearly shut, a litany of symbolic gestures arose. I imagined that I spun a thick cocoon around myself, then created an exit, stepped out of it, and left it on the floor. Revealed, exposed, I felt as though the Gods could fully see me, dancing in a light body, though I told myself that if I needed it, I could always re-gather the cocoon, which was laying close by on the floor.
In the second wave of the class, Chaos and Lyrical were braided together. A few days previous, in the elevator with a friend, we talked about the current political situation. “We’re fucked,” she said, trying to sound casual. I said, “Lately, whenever I have had a moment of Lyrical, of joy, amongst the Chaos, I’m like, ‘Wow! I’m actually happy! Let me just appreciate this!” I was delighted to find pockets of Lyrical even inside of intense, prolonged Chaos. At one point, Mark played a rollicking, jig-like song by the Swedish band Hedningarna and I soared, along with many others, sailing, flicking, fluttering—with every possible pattern of ball change, high up on my toes, then we moved back into heavy Chaos—clearly, the rhythm of our time, reflecting that the only thing that seems “normal” to me at the moment is the inevitability of Chaos.
December 4, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC
(Image of Bob Dylan on winning the Nobel Peace Prize from consequencesofsound.files.wordpress)
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
“What? This can’t be. Oh, my God, this can’t be. How could this be? This can’t possibly be. What are all of these overnight text messages about. They are no longer celebratory, as they were last night. This can’t be true. Let me look at the internet. Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Please, no. Please, this can’t be. So many people would suffer. This is impossible. How could Americans elect this person? How could anyone vote for this man? Please this is just a nightmare. Let me wake up. This can’t be. Let me text back to some of the texts. Please let it not be so. It can’t be! My God! No, please, this can’t be! So many people would suffer! The economy! Unchecked hatred! Please say it is just a nightmare!”
Often before I start a new text for this blog, I write automatically for ten minutes. Writing automatically usually helps me to find an entry point, a theme, maybe even an idea for a structure, but today my mind remains scattered, dulled by its struggle to accommodate the new reality that my fellow Americans have elected Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States.
At Kierra Foster Ba’s workshop “Light & Shadow” last weekend, Kierra took us on a journey through the shadow aspects of each of the 5Rhythms—the shadow of Flowing, which is inertia; the shadow of Staccato, which is tension; the shadow of Chaos, which is confusion; the shadow of Lyrical, which is the quality of being spaced out; and the shadow of Stillness, which is numbness. In addition, she introduced the idea that the shadows might have to do with the parts of ourselves we would rather keep hidden or disown completely.
After the workshop, I wrote feverishly, very much wanting to deliver a text on the shadows work of last weekend before Tuesday’s election results, realizing that no matter what happened, anything written before Tuesday would become automatically outdated. Although I was very nervous, I wrote with the assumption that there would be a Hillary victory in the end, and, too, with the assumption that after the election that we would have to find ways to work with and address America’s unleased collective shadows of abject hatred and opportunism.
Before the election, my psyche simply could not accommodate the possibility that Donald Trump might actually win the election. It was simply too surreal—too much the stuff of nightmares. It simply could not be. Americans certainly would not go to such extremes, even in the face of anger and disempowerment, that we would actually elect such a person, someone who does not believe in and would threaten our very democracy, who is the confirmed perpetrator of countless, outrageous crimes and abuses, possibly even of rape.
The lively activity at my polling place in Brooklyn made me feel like Hillary would surely win. The better the voter turnout, I argued in my head, the more likely she would prevail. I brought my six-year-old son along with me, regaling him with stories of when Obama was first elected—the long, happy lines to vote; and after the results came in, the streets filled with celebration, people thronging Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where I lived at the time. I told him excitedly, “This is a moment you will always remember, when we voted for the first woman president!”
The memory of the first 5Rhythms class I attended after Obama was elected in 2008 seemed like a totally different lifetime. It was Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class. For days, I had been walking around the city sobbing for joy. It would hit me, buying a tea, waiting for the walk sign, standing on the subway. Talking with everyone. Beaming. Not only had we—a nation built with the blood and sweat of slaves—elected a Black man, but we had elected an ethical, competent, intelligent leader, who was intent on building consensus, examining the minutiae of evidence on the many matters that faced him, and with the stated intention—and possibly the skill—to extend the prosperity that a small number of Americans enjoyed to a larger portion of society. That was the first time since I was a baby in a leaf pile playing with my parents, that I had ever moved in pure joy. The room was filled with a different kind of vocalization than what we experienced in class this week—hooting and hollering that moved through the air in waves of its own. We were a glowing mess, drenched, crying, leaping many feet off the ground, the entire wood floor bouncing, the music getting louder and louder. It was paradise. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was—to be alive in this time, to be part of this seismic shift, this uncontainable joy.
A few sleepless, dark morning hours after learning the results (during which my son and I sat on a meditation cushion together, my stomach in knots, him reading quietly or practicing meditation along with me) one of the people I am closest to—a Black and Latino man—entered the house. He shared an opinion that I have since heard echoed by more than one person of color—that this was no surprise, and that “Black people in America have been dealing with this level of hatred and injustice all along. Now, it is just out in the open.” He also reminded me that his joy when Obama was elected had been mitigated by his prediction that there would be a monstrous backlash after Obama’s term.
Since the election, hate crimes have surged, according to the New York Times, USA Today, CNN and a long list of reputable sources. “Make America White Again” has been scrawled on a whiteboard in a University of North Florida library, and in countless other places countrywide. My father told me with grave consternation that there had been a KKK rally in my parents’ small town in Northern Connecticut, to my knowledge an unprecedented event.
During and after the “Light & Shadow” workshop, I grappled with the concept of ground, wondering if in clinging to the idea of ground, I might be limiting my perception of reality. Kierra sought to share her insight, and an insight likely shared by Gabrielle Roth—the creator of the 5Rhythms practice—that the ground is always there; and that it is possible to find the ground even in an earthquake. Instead of only finding the ground in Flowing, where we traditionally establish it, Kierra lead me to also consider finding it through releasing into Chaos. My idea of “the ground” as Gabrielle Roth intended it continues to evolve, but I realize that the idea of ground is compatible with the realization that absolutely everything is in constant, dynamic flux; and that there is truly nothing to cling to. The ground is the foundation, from which we hear and trust our instinctive, physical selves, and from which we come to trust the fundamental correctness and workability of reality. Truly, finding the ground and being at ease through releasing into Chaos is a powerful tool, as we seek to navigate (at minimum) the next four years.
Driving alone to a 5Rhythms class, my first since the election, I bawled and keened, my face contorted, tears streaming down my cheeks to the point that my skin actually started to itch from all of the salt. My mind raced, “Would I choose to leave the US? What steps would I have to take? Is there anywhere in the western world that is exempt from this impulse toward xenophobia and aggression, this reaction to globalism? Should I stay and be part of the resistance? What would the resistance be? What would happen to all the people without insurance? Would my son be safe from racism, hatred and violence? Would New York City be safe, once Trump started provoking countries around the world? Would I lose my job as a result of recession? Would my friends lose their jobs? Would all of my parents’ lifelong hard work for social justice be wiped away, just as they are growing old, beginning to tally their contributions? Would they lose heart and lose faith? Would I? Do all of the people who voted for Trump hate women? Do all of the people who voted for Trump hate me? Do they all think that the sexual trauma I have suffered in my own life is no big deal and that the pain I have struggled with for a lifetime is just someone’s lark—locker room pranks—without accountability? And how, in this crazy world, would I counter this monstrous influence on my small son? Is there any way to protect him?” I had no schema for any of this. Through years of diligent practice, I had developed powerful faith in the basic goodness of human beings. How could I reconcile these seemingly contradictory realities?
Arriving at class, I took my time to enter the studio, noticing the powerful ritual of stepping from the world into the space of formal practice. I was not wracked by grief. There was no catharsis, as I had in a way hoped for. Instead, the group moved through the first wave, breathing in and out, trying our best to release into Flowing and then into each of the other rhythms. I noticed that my version of Flowing was agitated, and I made an effort to slow down, to let it in. To let in the reality of my stress and grief-wracked body, and the reality of the outcome of the election, which I still could not fully grasp. Staccato barely arrived in this first wave, finding me fumbling, unsure of my feet for once, disassociated, perhaps still in the throes of shock despite my stated willingness to let in. Chaos was loud and energetic, though mental activity continued to churn, in disjointed snippets and unruly threads. The tiniest hint of Lyrical emerged, and it crossed my mind that somehow I would have to find a way to let joy in, too, despite everything, or I would lose four years of my life, perhaps even causing an atrophy of joy that I would not recover from. I reminded myself that expressing joy is not an intrinsic affront to suffering, and that being miserable, angry or sad wouldn’t help me to control anything. It would just make me miserable or angry or sad. Whether I find Lyrical or not—the situation is very much outside of my control.
On Wednesday morning, arriving to work, I went straight to my one strong work ally. Hugging him, I sobbed. Although there were a few people there who were also devastated by the results of the election, I felt very alone, both at work and in the context of the country. On parting, I said, “This is a call to arms. We must each become a warrior of the heart. That is our only hope at this point. As of today, any kindness is now an act of political resistance.”
At the class, I felt like a whole layer of neurosis had become outdated, along with everything else that happened before November 8, 2016. Most of the people I was moving with were allies, and could be trusted. Petty irritations seemed extra pointless, considering the need to build community. Despite this, some irritations did arise, and I wondered if they were a last sprint of a certain kind of ego, or if they might be a way for my psyche to work on some things that I couldn’t manage to confront directly.
In the interim between the two waves, I sat leaning in a little pod with a small group of friends who happened to be seated near me; then, began to flow back-to-back with one friend, at first just gently swaying from side to side. I was still disassociated and not capable of fully releasing to ground, but did my best to show up for my friend and for myself. Eventually gaining our feet, we moved around each other with great energy, then smiled thankfully, beginning to move separately throughout the room. I spent part of this wave considering disaster preparedness, with a long list of specifics, despite the shared intention to really see each other, to really give to each other. In Staccato, I found ferocity in bursts, but still felt disassociated. I partnered with one friend, and marveled at her fire. Inspired, I grew gigantic, too, forcing it ever so slightly, trying it as an experiment, an intention, rather than as my full expression in that moment. Even so, I recognized the need to step up in every way, to step into my power, to help the people around me to step into their power, to organize, to defy, to build community, to speak, to listen, to offer, to receive.
Today, as I write, I have a bone infection in my jaw. It is incredibly painful. Instead of succumbing to self-pity, I remind myself that there are many people around the world who at this very moment are also experiencing excruciating dental pain. Maybe also on top of other kinds of pain, too. The great Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron teaches a Tibetan meditation practice called Tonglen. In Tonglen, instead of resisting or pushing away pain, negativity or other afflictive emotions, we breathe them in. Then, we breathe out equanimity, positivity and pleasant emotions. In the process, we work against our conditioned impulse to push away what threatens us, frightens us, or rocks our fundamental notions of who we are. In doing so, we transform our relationship to aversion—the energetic pushing away or non-acceptance of things we usually can’t escape anyway. An aspect of Tonglen that acts as a counter to despair is that we remind ourselves again and again that we are not alone, that whatever pain we are experiencing, there are countless others who feel or have felt the same pain. As such, it is impossible not to call to mind the billions of people who suffer or have suffered under the leadership of corrupt, greedy, dishonest or incompetent leaders. I am not alone. We are not alone.
I have been very careful to write about the nation as “we,” though it is a stretch for me at this moment. One sneaky form of aversion is setting up a group of people as “others” who are distinct from “us.” This is a fundamental premise of postmodern identity politics and of post-colonial theory—the idea that in order to construct ourselves a certain way, we set up groups of people as “others” as a counterpoint to the “us.” It is like we can only have an identity by defining who does not have our identity, excluding certain people from our experience completely. I am using “we,” and thinking of the many complex causes that gave rise to this moment, rather than succumbing to the temptation to simply revile Trump’s supporters to make them “other.” Truly, this is a phenomenon that all of us have participated in producing. This place we find ourselves is not an anomaly, and is not simply the result of someone else’s misconduct.
The Black and Latino man I wrote of earlier and who is one of my most important allies again shared his thoughts on the current political moment, reminding me very much of the teachings on the shadow aspects of the 5Rhythms. He said, “The thing is, people of color have always known it was this bad. It always has been. The good thing is that we know that the only way to change things is to first actually accept how bad things are. That’s the thing that white people just haven’t realized; and that’s why so many people are so shocked. It is only when we can really accept what is actually happening that real change can finally occur.”
Gabrielle Roth often expressed that the rhythm of our time is Chaos. As volatile as it inevitably has been, she believed that our era is also marked by possibility and creativity. I try to imagine what she would say now, if she were still alive. Perhaps that no matter what, we have to keep moving. Perhaps that to shut down and lock up would be the real death of us. Perhaps that the best way to work with Chaos is to release directly into the middle of it. Perhaps that, ultimately, nothing and no one can take away our freedom or peace of mind, unless we ourselves allow it.
Rending, guttural screams flew through the space as we moved in Chaos. I found the floor, pulsing vigorously through my middle back, on my hands and knees and crouched into the hips with my pubis almost touching the ground, then I would leap and spin, finding all the while stops and edges inside my own maelstrom. The friend who was so ferocious in Staccato moved with just as much vigor right next to me. I moved to the floor and up from it, leaping quickly, perhaps in a primal defensive gesture, landing first in a deep squat, bursting upward, my head a car on the speeding rollercoaster of my spine, then moved back to the ground. I remembered Kierra’s words about releasing into Chaos, and as the rhythm played out I found more softness, less edge. If I was tempted to check myself out of this intensity, I reminded myself of the critical importance of releasing to Chaos as a tool for survival.
Lyrical came, too, and then Stillness. I partnered with a friend who I love to dance with, and we beamed as we moved together, more expansive than in our past dances. High up on my toes and both finding discrete patterns, we played in and out of each other’s orbits. In Stillness, I moved unselfconsciously, pulling away from a friend who wanted to partner, giving myself a quiet moment to turn inward.
Though there will be times that we all need to turn inward, community has become critical. Right before the election, I had invited several friends to a series of dinner parties because I had realized the need to re-focus my priorities on the people around me, rather than on my very stressful job. Now, after the election, having a way to gather together and cultivate our relationships seems even more important—in fact, like a matter of emotional and political necessity.
At the height of dental pain, I decided to take a yoga class. I reasoned that I would try it, and if it was impossible I would just leave. The pain was an 8 or 9 on a scale of 1-10 most of the time, but at moments it receded to the back of my mind, as I attended diligently to the poses and to the breath. I was surprised that I made it through the entire class, despite the pain. The teacher, who I trust deeply, said, “It might be hard to hear this right now, but the truth is that we are made for these times. This is what we have been practicing for.”
On Saturday, I attended a candlelight vigil and rally at Fort Greene Park, where thousands of all races, classes, ages, religions and orientations came together to affirm our commitment to oppose injustice and hatred in all its manifestations, to affirm our commitment to love, and to support each other in resisting the temptation to feel isolated or incapacitated. A heartful voice sang out, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine…” We all joined in, raising our candles in the falling night. My voice was ragged, the words barely coherent. A friend from the neighborhood I hadn’t realized was right next to me turned and embraced me. I looked to my other side and saw another friend—this one from college in Boston—and I turned and kissed her cheek.
We are not alone, my loves. We are in this together. In the words of the woman whose light guides me, the woman who continues to show my heart the way, Gabrielle Roth, “There is only one of us here.”
November 13, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC
(Image is a photo I took at the “Vigil for Hope & Human Kindness” that took place in Fort Greene Park on November 12, 2016)
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.