Practice aligns me.
This week, in West Dennis Cape Cod with extended family, my mornings are devoted to practice with the ocean. Today was my earliest start time this week, since many of my family members–including my 12-year-old son–were up early for a deep sea fishing trip. By 7:30, I was walking ankle deep in the waves toward West Dennis Beach.
I treat all parts of this process as practice, which is to say that from the time that I leave the cottage to the time that I return, I do my best to settle into the experience and not press forward, wishing time away. It also means that I show up every day–or nearly every day–regardless of conditions and sometimes regardless of what I feel like doing. For example, yesterday’s forecast was for 100% likelihood of rain. I wasn’t eager to get up early and head out to the sea, but I pushed a little, recognizing that practice means you don’t evaluate it every day; and you don’t allow your mind to have a conversation with itself about the pros and cons. I put my towel in a plastic shopping bag so when I got out of the water it wouldn’t be drenched, and headed out.
Today was bright and high tide was falling. My mom, who is delightful, enthusiastic, walked with me for a while. We paused to interact with a dog, fondly remembering our own dog of many years ago who was mostly the same breed as this one based on our best guess.
After I passed the Lighthouse Inn, I pulled out swim goggles and cap, peeled off the layer I had on over my bathing suit, then dropped my backpack with afterswim supplies on the sand and continued west.
Walking away from the morning sun, I gave my attention to the feet as they fell on the ultra-soft sand, to the sound of the waves, and to my moving body, inviting the shoulders to relax down, the belly to soften, and the hips to deepen in their sockets. Whenever I shifted into a story, a plan, an explanation, an analysis of my body’s symmetry, or an argument for or against my good character, I noted it and gently shifted attention back to the feet when I could so without excessive effort.
At Bass River, the boundary between West Dennis and Yarmouth, I turned my back to the wind and bent over to gather my hair in my hands, then stood up and turned toward the wind to coil it just behind the crown of my head. I put on the bathing cap and goggles, then hesitated briefly, tightening my shoulders against the cold water and wind, then wading in and diving hands first, heading back east.
There was a fierce chop today, and the wind was coming from the southwest, an assist on today’s eastward journey. In a pool, once my attention starts to settle with movement, I move my focus throughout the body. But in the ocean, there is usually plenty to anchor my attention in the present. Today, the waves rolled across me, lifting me up and casting me down, and I had to pay attention to the timing of my breaths to avoid getting a mouthful. The water was ochre and gold, the bottom rippled sand or obscured in stands of seaweed. I noted razor shells, clam shells, one big conch with an animal still inside it, and horseshoe crabs underneath me.
Periodically, I lowered a leg down to make sure I could still stand. I can handle the deep water just fine as a swimmer, but a (somewhat irrational) fear of sharks keeps me close to shore. And I figure if a shark ever does attack me, I’ll have a better chance of survival if I can stand up on my feet and punch them in the nose. I have it all figured out.
That doesn’t stop me from an occasional mounting shark panic, but I try to see even that emergence of fear as another opportunity to work with my mind.
I’ve been doing this swim or a similar swim for over 20 years now. It started back when I actually competed in triathlons, and really took off when my sister was doing triathlons too. Those days are long gone, but I still love long swims in the ocean. At first it was an occasional thing, at any time of the day it happened to fit. Over the years, I noted how much it helps me–not just during the week that I’m doing it but in the bigger picture, too–and became more and more committed to the point that I actually plan around it, even declining the offer to join a deep sea fishing trip with my son, my Dad, and other family members this morning.
That’s just how it went when I started to dance the 5Rhythms 15 years ago. At first it was just a class or two here or there. But within less than a year I was planning my life around attending Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class in the West Village, and also added whatever additional classes I could squeeze in and every workshop that came up.
Everything changed for me then. I galloped through layers of trauma and learned habitual patterns. Creativity exploded. I was able to connect with people with much greater intimacy. I was more playful. Walking on the sidewalk in Midtown became a game.
I also moved through agonizing stretches of feeling isolated, witnessing my own self abuse, and coping with difficult emotions, but following each period of agony somehow emerged even more committed to practice.
After the wild west end of the beach, I passed the first lifeguard chair: white painted wood with a red number 8 on its side. The wind and waves helped me out, and I continued to note each successive chair from 7 all the way to 1 as I made it the two miles back to my backpack in what seemed like a shorter time than usual.
I moved quickly to the towel, then changed my wet bathing suit for loose pants and long sleeve shirt. I sat for a while in meditation, then decided to do some yoga movements to warm myself up. Once I was warm I sat for longer, in no particular hurry to get on to anything else.
Last night, I danced the 5Rhythms. I walked with some family members, but they headed west and I stayed put. The evening beach was more crowded than I hoped, but I found a quiet-ish corner to practice. The tide was high and I circled up and down from the high tide line as I began to move in the rhythm of Flowing. In this session I made a clear distinction between each of the five rhythms–Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness–as I moved through each of them. I could see my sister, brother, brother-in-law, and niece in the distance, occasionally bending over to gather a treasure, and figured I would dance just until they made it back to me. After moving through each of the rhythms, an internal gear slipped me deeply into Stillness, and I whisper moved with the waves, the horizon, and the soaring birds. Vision tracked energy. I could feel heat rising to my cheekbones and the crown of my head. Chemical releases in my leg muscles set loose a shake. When they were almost back to me, I reconnected with my feet, intending to reconnect with day-to-day reality, though practice had opened the doorway to a different layer.
This morning, caked in sand, muscles awake and stretched, wind making a flag of my loose shirt, hair knotted and half-wet–I could feel my edges softening, recent and past experiences moving through, and my selves gliding into alignment.
Thank you, my beautiful son. Thank you, family. Thank you, ocean. Thank you, Gabrielle Roth. Thank you, practice. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. I bow down to the universe, to my teachers, and to this precious life.
August 18, 2022, West Dennis, Cape Cod
Meghan LeBorious is a writer, teacher, and meditation facilitator who has been dancing the 5Rhythms since 2008 and recently became a 5Rhythms teacher. She was inspired to begin chronicling her experiences following her very first class; and she sees the writing process as an extension of practice—yet another way to be moved and transformed. This blog is not produced or sanctioned by the 5Rhythms organization. Photos courtesy of the writer.
***For NYC dancers, Meghan has a seven-class 5Rhythms series coming up that starts on October 14, “Spirit Drenched in Gold.” Join a single class or join the full series for a discount. Registration is required – https://spiritdrenchedingold.eventbrite.com
***Meghan also has a five-class online writing/dance 5Rhythms “Writing Waves” class that starts on September 15. Registration is required – https://www.eventbrite.com/e/writing-waves-tickets-397987811257
Summer means something to me.
Daily routines during the school year can be crushing. Not only am I a teacher with a long list of roles and responsibilities, but I also work hard to support my own 12-year-old son in his learning.
There are many things to catch up on, projects I want to attend to, outings to plan, and many competing priorities.
But for the moment I’m in a Flowing space. Flowing is the first of the five rhythms in the 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation practice. It is receptive, circular, patient, grounded, and humble. It bides its time. It listens to the vibrations in the ground. It reminds me that if I try to charge forward without first finding my “ground” any actions will lack integrity.
It takes me awhile to change gears and trust that I don’t have to press to do every single thing in the most efficient way possible. I think it’s partly because the longer days make me feel like I have more time.
Even when I’m trying to work my way through my list, for the past week I’ve more or less drifted from task to task.
“You have to know what you want! You have to really see it, visualize it, know it as real, to make it a real thing!” Excellent job-seeking advice from a trusted advisor.
But I’m just not there.
I’m still detoxing, integrating, processing. I don’t know the way forward just yet. My practice at this moment has been to take a break from trying to know, and instead to dive into practice.
Today I practiced and practiced and practiced. I did sitting meditation, yoga-type movement, ran in the woods, and danced multiple 5Rhythms waves to music in the backyard at my parents’ house, where my son and I are staying for much of the summer.
I played with weight in the rhythm of Flowing, imaging my feet were weighted, or that they were made of metal and the ground was a magnet. Before long, I also imagined that my hands were weighted, dragging me toward the ground after a dramatic rise, and pulling me into endless circling. Moving into the rhythm of Staccato, the powerful ground that had been established opened the doorway for exuberant expression.
I have nothing tangible to show for these many hours spent in practice. And yet, the time feels well spent. To be honest, I don’t think there could be any better use of my time.
Later, as I ate dinner on the back deck with family, the sky started to rumble and wind coursed across the landscape like contour lines on an elevation map.
I sat myself down to meditate by my little altar as the sky opened, wracking every surface with pelting rain.
I remembered another thunderstorm, this one during a meditation retreat at Garrison Institute that I wrote about in 2019, during a period of community silence and relentless heat.
“We were told there was a severe weather alert and that if we felt nervous we could take shelter on the lower level of the building. The storm tore the sky apart, and it was like the outside came resoundingly inside the soaring, once-Franciscan-cathedral main hall. Still in silence, several of us made our way to the front steps where we had a view of the sweeping lawn and river. The pavement and plants gave off steam. Mist exhaled into the entryway and landed coolly on my exposed arms, legs, and face. A white cliff-waterfall on the other side of the river tripled its size. A woman seated next to me on the marble steps ate a crunching apple, savoring each bite.
Back in the meditation hall, the storm continued as mindfulness became increasingly concentrated. At one point, I realized it was too intense for me, and stepped into the foyer, intentionally interrupting practice. After a few minutes, I went back in and sat down on the cushion again. Then, I had a sharp, sudden sensation on the left side of my head, and was seized by the fear that I might be having a stroke.
I remembered something the vipassana teacher, Dipa Ma, once told a practitioner who was freaking out during a sitting period. She sat next to him and said, “If you can stay with this sensation, you will accumulate great merit.” I settled down and the flash of pain and fear soon faded.”
Later I realized this was an important turning point in my path; and revelations poured through in the coming days. I have always loved storms, but now a storm can feel like a blessing.
In the evening, I finally sat down to write about practice.
Today new information about the January 6th insurrection also poured in, and I am amazed to find that my jaw can still drop. For now, I am gathering, receiving, biding my time, and listening to the ground.
July 12, 2022, Broad Brook, Connecticut
I didn’t even know snow was in the forecast until I woke up and looked out the window.
Following an in-person yoga class, I wavered on my plan to go to the ocean to dance the 5Rhythms – my Sunday ritual since the beginning of the pandemic. The snow was coming down pretty hard, and it was the goopy, wet kind of flakes. I didn’t have a hat and couldn’t turn one up even after rummaging through the car. In the end I decided I might as well give it a try. If it was horribly uncomfortable I could always bail.
I had made my weekly pilgrimage in less temperate weather than this, I reasoned. Plus, when the weather is horrible, there’s a good chance I can actually be alone, which means I can scream, cry, move like a demon, sing loudly, or allow whatever comes through in a way that I’m unlikely to do if there is anyone around to see me.
In the car on the way, I heard Bulgarian journalist and activist Yana Buhrer Tavanier on the topic of play even in the face of grave circumstances, and carried her words into my practice. I tightened the laces on my snow boots and jogged across the wide sand, pausing to examine whatever captured my attention, allowing curiosity to be my guide.
I noticed a set of footprints and started following them toward a sand dune, talking cheerfully to myself as I roamed.
My eye caught on what I thought was a seagull perched at the top of the sand dune, barely visible with the white snow and white feathers against the white sky. I wondered why this seagull was sitting so upright, not like rubber-ducky posture like seagulls usually sit when they’re resting. This bird was vertical, with dignified shoulders. Could it be an eagle? It was also bigger than most seagulls, and totally white. It didn’t even have an orange beak. Then, she twisted her neck around like it was on a track and I wondered if she might actually be an owl.
I took a few pictures, then crept a little closer, daring to take a video. I honestly couldn’t believe it. Owls seem magical to me – a symbol of wisdom, power, and ancient mystery. She stayed a little longer, then got spooked or maybe annoyed and took off down the beach, gliding low.
I got onto my knees and touched my forehead to the cold, wet sand.
The snow had slowed, but picked up again, landing wet on my forehead and cheeks. I began to move in Flowing around the jagged contours of ended waves. Often, I pick a spot, put my bag down, and even draw a big circle to dance inside of. This time, I let myself move wherever I wanted to, at one point going to examine some thick tangled rope, then reversing course and heading west along the edge of the water. I was grateful to be alone and vocalized loudly, moaning, crying, and even making up songs and poems, then offering them to the sea and the sky.
Today I wasn’t sure which rhythm I was in, I just knew that I needed to move. Streams of wisdom poured through and I gave voice to all of it.
The snow picked up more, to the point that the sea and sky were barely distinguishable.
I climbed up onto the dune, dancing along its spine and looking for evidence of the owl, at one point in Chaos letting myself go while trying to avoid tumbling down either side of the dune.
I walked back across the wide beach feeling tall, striding – despite the cold, despite the winter, despite the state of the world. Remembering my place in things. Heartbroken and free. Grateful. Alive. Ready.
Meghan LeBorious is a writer, teacher, and meditation facilitator who has been dancing the 5Rhythms since 2008 and recently became a 5Rhythms teacher. She was inspired to begin chronicling her experiences following her very first class; and she sees the writing process as an extension of practice—yet another way to be moved and transformed. This blog is not produced or sanctioned by the 5Rhythms organization. Photos and videos courtesy of the writer.
Today is my birthday, so I wanted to do all of my favorite things. After breakfast, my 11-year-old son, Simon, meditated with me for a little while, then I continued to meditate on my own. After that, I joined a zoom yoga class with a beloved master instructor who I’ve been practicing with for more than a decade.
Next, I drove to Riis Park, a wide open beach that’s just 30 minutes away on a light-traffic-day. For much of the drive, I had to keep the windshield wipers on maximum, and I was curious about what dancing in such heavy rain would be like.
On the way, I spoke with my mom, who told me the story of my birth, as she does every single year on my birthday. The details of the story change, but the main theme is always the same. “You are loved. You have always been loved. We loved you before you were even here.” I always feel my heart rise up with a tide of tears. Some years I’ve suffered in the face of this love considering my own self hatred, but this year I said, “Tell me about how tiny I was again and what it was like when you first saw me.”
Arriving at the beach, I sat in the parking lot, writing a list of intentions for the year, and also for the new moon, which happens to fall on my birthday. The one that I liked the best this time was, “Set free what is no longer now.”
Simon had loaned me his waterproof spring coat; and I pulled up the hood and tied the strings around my neck. Droplets hitting the hood kept up a constant pattering sound. I could feel the raw air on the inches of ankle left bare by low socks.
The horizon was obscured by white mist as I made my way across the wide, wet beach. The waves were powerful but the tide was low, leaving a wide section of packed sand for a dance floor. Rain seemed to be coming in hard from the side, and the wind pushed against me almost parallel to the water.
A lone pair of people and a dog were visible in the distance when I first arrived, but before long I was totally alone. Still with the hood tied under my chin, I began to move in big arcing loops, enjoying the pull of gravity as I ascended and descended the steep slope by the water’s edge. A whole rush of words, bits of conversations, and fragments of experiences from the week and month came streaming along. Since I was alone, I sang loudly, moving from song to song as they popped up in my head, continuing to move in big circles. I also repeated the intentions from the list I had written in the car, offering them to the dance and trusting its power, repeatedly saying, “Set free what is no longer now.”
Following this flowing chapter, this opening act of my personal dance, Staccato began to catch in my throat and hips. I let out several cries as I sank low, grateful I could let my voice fly to the wind without fear of being a spectacle.
Before long Chaos moved me into energetic space; and I was coiling and spinning, moving closer to the ended waves, giving attention to the heaving sea as it rose as form then broke apart again.
Lyrical backed me away from the wind, rising onto my toes, arms raising up, and turning my face toward the sky. Wisdom poured through, reminders from the universe about my place in things, about letting go of the small stories that keep me afraid and separate. And gratitude came pouring out. Gratitude for this life, for my work, for my son and family, and for the many blessings I’ve experienced.
There was a lot of crying today. Even from just the past week, there is so much that needs to be processed, integrated, and healed. In a way, the path of a life is a million wounds and a million healings. But I guess that’s only if we’re lucky. I guess that’s only if we are here for it, if we can set free what is no longer now, keep moving with what life brings us, and keep finding new ways to dance.
April 11, 2021, Brooklyn, NY
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.
“Community is the next Buddha.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
I threw up in the car on the way to class while crossing the Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn into Manhattan for Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves 5Rhythms class last week. I think the extreme cold tightened all of my muscles, including the muscles of my stomach. Despite this, I arrived with time to spare. Huddling with a small group of heavily bundled dancers, I waited for the elevator at the Joffrey in the West Village, all of us blowing into our cupped hands, hunching our shoulders, and discussing the weather.
Stepping through the door into the spacious dance studio, I was annoyed to discover someone blocking my way into the room, apparently a member of the crew there to greet participants as they entered. I tried to step past him discreetly, but he moved toward me. I waved him away, moved to the side, and spent several extra moments allowing myself to arrive. The greeter approached me again, leaning toward me to speak, and I surmised that he probably wanted me to place my bag in the large mountain of bags and coats. Again, I waved him away, intending to place my things in the appropriate pile momentarily.
I don’t like to be greeted on entering, in general. Stepping in to a 5Rhythms room is a big deal for me. I undergo an energetic ritual to help me to leave the baggage of a sometimes-very-stressful-life at the other side of the threshold. I don’t want to have to encounter another person’s gaze at this moment, as my intention is to sidestep my own ego and enter naked, unadorned. I love to connect with people, but at this crucial moment having to respond, to project, to make a boundary, or in any way to consider someone else’s experience of me diminishes my ability to let go into my own depths.
After adding my bag to the high pile of coats, I fell easily into motion, sometimes on the floor, sometimes on my feet. I noticed that I was slightly edgy, tightening when a dancer near me seemed to totally ignore my existence and sprawl into “my” space. I reflected that although the holidays were filled with joy and blessings, they also held a fair share of afflictive emotion, including a painful dose of self-hatred, a fact that I kept trying to talk myself out of.
My Aunt Mae, who will turn 98 this year, hosted her annual Christmas Eve party, which has been going on at the same site, in pretty much exactly the same form for nearly 80 years. The big, brick house boarded teachers before my great-grandparents purchased it, and much of the décor remains consistent, including an exquisite red pincushion with assorted pins and thread sitting on a wooden bureau, images of the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Mother, crucifixes, painted religious statues, a coarse embroidery of the three wise men en route, pictures of my grandfather and his brothers on a tractor in the fields, a still-functional cuckoo clock from one of my great aunt’s ski trips to Switzerland, and a hand-colored photo of my great great grandparents.
It was still the first wave of class when the mishaps started. The first event was a falling glass vase, shaken off a little table by the bounding floor boards as the room moved into the rhythm of Chaos. I was halfway across the room, and, like many, paused to see what had happened. Four or five people who were in close proximity moved to clear the shattered glass, and the dancing continued.
“Yes, but regardless of what a test says, anything could happen at any time, Meghan. You never know,” my spiritually advanced atheist father once told me, as I explained about developments in genetic testing for pregnancy. This insight raced through my mind a few days after Christmas. My parents had taken my seven-year-old son, Simon, to a movie, while I met up with some friends from childhood. Coming home, there was a police roadblock. “Which way should I go?” I asked the officer, “I just need to get to Church Street, where my parents live.” “There’s a big accident on Church Street. You can’t go that way. You have to go around,” he said, indicating a detour. I pulled over to call my parents. This was just about the time they should be arriving. It was arctic cold. And Church Street is a small side street in a nearly rural town. There would be very few cars. What if it was them? “Don’t freak out,” I told myself. I called my mom’s phone. No answer. My Dad’s phone. No answer. The home phone. No answer. I started on the detour, a seven-mile loop, calling them again and again, still no answer. And by then I was starting to freak out. And starting to picture a gory accident. My son. My parents. Please Gods, let them be OK, I pleaded. I was driving too fast, but held myself back from maximum. Finally, I arrived at the intersection of Church and Main Streets, where a fire truck blocked the road in both directions. “Please, please let them be ok,” I prayed again and again, “And if it isn’t them, please let whoever it is be ok. Let them be ok.” I parked and ran to the site, my overactive mind full of horrific images.
The crushed cars were not theirs. I relaxed a little. I squeezed past the fire truck, parked at my parents, then ran back to the accident, sucking in huge breathfuls of frigid air. “Were there only two cars?” I asked a fire fighter. “Yes, just two.” It took me another hour to calm down and begin to release my muscles. I also kept thinking about how for someone somewhere this accident, when one of their family members was hurt, wasn’t just a projected nightmare, but was reality. I watched as a Life Star helicopter landed in a nearby field, praying silently.
The next mishap at Tammy’s class was more serious than the previous. A fellow dancer and friend slipped backward and hit her head on the corner of the heavy folding table where Tammy stages the music. There was a very loud clonking sound. Tammy had just instructed us to partner, but everyone paused in horror, realizing what had happened, forgetting about our partners. Seeing that the fallen dancer was in good hands, I realized that to rush over would not help the situation, would help only me, so I held back, my forehead constrained and furrowed. I caught my partner’s eye, trying to let go of constraint. We made an effort to move in tandem for a few moments.
Tammy shifted the group into a Tribal exercise, gathering everyone to one side of the room. She asked one experienced dancer to step forward and create a clear, simple gesture that everyone could follow. This had the effect of keeping us moving, and of taking the focus off of the dancer who had been injured, who was still sitting on the floor, holding her head. Though I historically have a hard time leading tribal movements, I stepped up to take a turn to lead. It was during a part of the song with no obvious beat and I was spastic. “With the beat,” Tammy said into the microphone, and I settled onto the most obvious beat as the song’s percussion returned, trying to keep it simple, relieved when the leader changed and someone else stepped up.
Soon, we switched back into moving throughout the entire room.
Just as the energy of the room was rising again, another mishap arose. This time, the table that the dancer had hit her head on, and that held Tammy’s computer and mixer, crashed to the ground, its legs crumpling on one side, dumping the equipment. Again, several people in close proximity moved to help and the situation was righted quickly. “What is happening? Are we cursed or something? Is there some prankster spirit messing with us?” I asked internally.
“Does anyone feel like stopping?” Tammy asked the room. “Yes,” I nodded softly. But instead of stopping, Tammy gathered us in another collective exercise, and kept instructing us to partner.
I wasn’t sure which rhythm we were in at a given time, but I moved in deep connection with Chaos when it came. Bounding, leaping, touching ground and soaring, “Softer, softer, softer,” I kept telling myself, letting any edges express, but not specifically intending to engage or explore them. Not having danced for two weeks because of the holidays, some of my ongoing experiments seemed to have evaporated, a gestural re-set button. I tried to find my recent big, pelvis-rocking, momentum-coiled back step but instead found new expressions, spinning in a matrix.
When the first wave finally concluded, I had another rush of Chaos and followed its impulse, with energetic arms and released head, moving to the edge of the group as Tammy gathered the class for an interim talk between the first and second waves. She addressed the multiple mishaps, and said that she knew the dancer who was injured was in good hands. She also expressed that each episode had been subject to causes and effects, and that individual members of the community responded appropriately in every instance. She went on to evoke the founder of the 5Rhythms practice, Gabrielle Roth, who emphasized again and again the importance of both individuality and community, especially in the final years of her life.
Just before Tammy’s Friday Night Waves class the following week, on January 5th, I was under a warm comforter with my son, Simon, watching the 1939 version of the Wizard of Oz, wincing occasionally at the 1939 representations of identity, yet singing along, even drowsing off at intervals. “Mommy, why do they have to sing a song for everything?” Simon complained. Instead of going to his after-school program, I had left work early and picked him up at school myself, so he wouldn’t have to walk the mile with his afterschool group in sub-zero windchill. We had dinner at a steamy café with dripping glass windows and wet floors in our Brooklyn neighborhood, then repaired to movie time. I couldn’t imagine how I would possibly have the energy to unfurl and move, but figured I could just go to class and lay down on the floor, perhaps moving a finger or an arm or an eyelid or something. I would probably keep my heavy coat on the whole time, too, I projected.
Dressing, I pawed through my big bin of crumpled dance clothes, looking for something that would enliven my cold mood. I pulled out an orange tank top, and a tiered orange skirt with sequins on the horizontal seams, much like the kind of skirt worn by the faded figurines topping display wedding cakes at low end bakeries. I nearly changed into black leggings and a black tank instead, but talked myself out of it in favor of the orange outfit, though I packed the discreet black articles in my dance bag in case I wanted to change once I got to class.
There were very few cars on the icy, grey-slushed roads in Manhattan, and I arrived at the Joffrey in the West Village within 20 minutes. On the way, I listened to an alarming interview with author Michael Wolff, who had published the book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” earlier that day, yet another presidential event that has caused anxiety and distress in recent months.
Joining as usual with a small group to wait for the elevator, we hunched our shoulders and remarked about the weather, noting the shared experience.
Stepping out at the fifth floor, one of the first people I encountered was my friend who had fallen and hurt the back of her head during the previous Friday class. “How is your head?” I asked. “It’s fine,” she answered, smiling. “I’m so glad,” I said, leaning forward and kissing her forehead.
Stepping into the studio, I noted with slight irritation that there was another crew member greeting people on entry, and was relieved that a distraction arose and I didn’t have to worry about how to manage our interaction.
Settling my bag, coat, hat, gloves and scarf by the already jacket-laden ballet bar in the corner, I began to move, still wearing three shirts, and was sucked immediately into a rhapsodic flowing track, the loud orange skirt twirling heavily around my ankles. Spinning low, I repeatedly brushed my fingertips onto the floor in an arc. Tammy left the teacher’s table and danced throughout the room. I felt her energetic self brush mine as we moved briefly in proximity, experiencing myself as a rotating matrix, undulating luxuriously into and across and out from the center line of my body, rising and falling in hoops, gracing the space above, touching the earth below, my shoulders open and generous.
I peeled off one shirt and then another, leaving them by an open window that was pouring in cold air, and revealing my entire bright-orange outfit. I noted a ferocious pain in my right heel. Flowing low and effortlessly again, I intersected painfully with another dancer, whose toenails dug into the top of my foot as he moved his own foot in a low circle. My face contorted, and I rushed to one side of the room and massaged it, hoping my pleasant flow had not been chased away. Soon, the pain passed and I regained a similar momentum, moving through the room.
I exhaled gratitude and lowed softly, the magic of being in a 5Rhythms room coiling around me and moving me, despite myself, once again.
During the week, I had heard two interviews, one a country music singer and the other a conservative pundit, both talking about white privilege. Both men expressed that before the election of President Trump, they had been blind to the kind of white privilege they enjoyed, and that they hadn’t realized the depths of racism in America. I could relate completely, and reflected on what a painful and important journey it has been, to begin to reckon with my own experience of white privilege. The conservative pundit expressed that he is no longer a member of the Republican party, as it is now characterized by “white nationalist populism,” and for the time being is politically “homeless.”
Tammy invited us to partner again and again, but challenged us to pair lightly, with the reminder that “it’s about being with everyone.” I stepped into several successive dances, many with people I hadn’t encountered before, moving in decisive lines between partnerships, embodying Staccato. Entering into Chaos, still in partnership, I stepped in to a man with glasses, and we moved in a low, carved Staccato Chaos, approaching and retreating, spinning, and presenting our inner knees, moving from the back of the pelvis, the heavy tailbone. “Give your partner your full attention,” said Tammy, and we met each other’s gazes, beaming. Meeting two friends of many years, I attempted a curved orbit, my head leading me, and hit a stopping point a few times before momentum flung me around it, in weightless, inspired circles.
In Lyrical, I moved with the same two friends, never out of breath, finding surprising twists and leaping from released inner legs. Tammy put on the tender, uplifted track “Follow the Sun” by Xavier Rudd and I soared without effort throughout the space, joining briefly with anyone who was open to me. Finding another new partner and settling in, I mirrored him, rolling my shoulders enthusiastically, and opening my throat and palms to the sky, unbridled, as he grinned with his mouth open, the arches of his feet smiling, and lifted off, too.
In Stillness, I traveled. I imagined that I walked up the stairs at my Aunt Mae’s house – the same site of the Christmas Eve party a short time before – turned left briefly, then right, then opened a door into a cold, disused hallway, and another door into a room that I have visited in dreams throughout my life. Inside the room, I passed through another door, and stood at the end of a diving board, gazing out at the cosmos, wondering if I had the courage to step off the board and into limitless space. A shadow-like male ancestor spirit who is familiar to me came to offer support, overlapping with me, encouraging me to move forward, though part of me wondered if I could actually die, could actually cease to be if I did. When I did take a step, my body seemed gigantic. Clouds swirled below eye level. A large flock of birds passed through my chest, calling out. I flickered back and forth between wondering about “my” experience and being subsumed by it.
Tammy gathered us around a lovely class centerpiece that one of the members of the crew had created, next to the room’s quietest wall. It featured transparent fabric with coils of light underneath it as though underground, a little elf-scaled tree that seemed above ground, and crevices of dried flowers tucked into the rolling curves of this tiny representation of earth. She couldn’t but speak about the strident cold, even remarking that the space heater in her office had broken down alarmingly that afternoon. She shared the insight that the state of being frozen significantly slows down the ground, and that some seeds need to freeze in order to be able to sprout at a later time, hinting that this moment of weather intensity is part of a natural cycle, and perhaps that dormancy does not imply the death of movement.
This was a welcome perspective, as news reports I had absorbed that day seemed more dire. For example, CNN reported that the cold is “causing frozen iguanas to fall from trees in Florida.” I also read a news story about thresher sharks getting trapped in the waters off of Cape Cod and washing up dead onto ice-crusted beaches.
By the end of Tammy’s talk I was cold again and didn’t feel like moving more. I stepped out to use the bathroom, and when I came back the room was already transitioning from the first rhythm of Flowing into Staccato. I was disengaged, a little hesitant, and afraid that I might crash someone or that someone might crash me, noticing how different I feel when I am not grounded.
I wandered distractedly for a few moments, then a man I hadn’t danced with before engaged me in partnership. He was very enthusiastic, and I found a little bit of movement with him, visiting some of the gestures I learned while dancing at house music events in the 1990’s. From there, I gathered momentum, and was able to come back into myself and into the room. I joined with a friend in a quirky Staccato dance, tucking my thumbs into my hip creases, jigging my hips, with fully available energy. A community Chaos erupted and I continued to change partnerships, still occasionally letting loose on my own. In Lyrical, I again found a cherished friend, and was overtaken by delight, smiling to my edges. Later, she told me, “I was so happy when you came over in the last wave. It was like, ‘OK, the light can come out and play now!”
In Stillness, I again passed through the door beyond the door beyond the door at my Aunt Mae’s house, merging with limitless space.
Tammy invited us to set an intention. I closed my eyes and thought of my seven-year-old son, Simon, wishing that he would live long, be happy, and know his own goodness. Without contriving it, I also wished that every mother’s seven-year-old would thrive, just as I hoped for my own child – a new default I am noticing recently, as with the car accident scare at my parents’ house, that even in the throes of strong emotions, awareness can automatically consider the collective experience.
In both of these classes, Chaos presented itself again and again, a beautiful marble to inspect every aspect of, not simply catharsis, but too, patient, deep and luminous, demonstrating perhaps that with the help of community we can endure and thrive even in this decidedly tumultuous era.
“It is probable that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community, a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the earth.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
January 6, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC
This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.