Ecstatic dance in Austin, Texas

I’ve been doing ecstatic dance since 1995. It’s brought me many gifts: a community of friends, inspiration, playfulness, release, deeper embodiment, awareness of my body/others/the space, a place to experiment with movement and energy, sweetness, connection, and the natural high that comes after dancing for an hour or two.

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The availability of ED in Austin has increased over the years, and the community is always evolving. I want to list current opportunities here and update this blog post with changes when they occur.

At all of these dances, we dance barefoot in clothes we can move and sweat in. A facilitator puts together a program of danceable recorded music. These dances take the form of a musical wave that at least somewhat follows the 5 Rhythms (flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical, and stillness) of the late Gabrielle Roth, a manifestation of the idea that each dance is a journey into yourself through different terrains.

The dance space itself is nonverbal — we take our conversations outside the space.

Boundaries are important. Not everyone wants to dance with a partner all the time or even to be touched. We read and use body language to say yes or no, and we don’t take it personally if someone doesn’t want to dance with us. They may be more into self-expression or processing something at that moment. Some of us use movement to get right with God.

The safety of all is important too. Some allow contact improv or acro-yoga (usually on the edges of the space) and others don’t.

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Courtesy: The New Yorker

Some facilitators offer a theme for the dance after a warmup. Some may offer a guided warmup, while others provide guidelines for newcomers.

All ages are welcome at most of these dances. I’ve danced with people that are nearing 80 and with babies in Snuglis on their parent’s chest at some dances; at others, only adults show up. If you are considering bringing children, it’s probably a good idea to ask the facilitator first. If you bring them, you will need to make sure they and the other dancers stay safe. Also, most facilitators make earplugs available for those sensitive to loud music— and you can always bring your own.

At the end there’s always closing circle, where OMs or a silent meditation may happen, people give their first names, and there may be some shareback about the experience and announcements from dancers. People may hang out a bit afterwards to schmooze.

All of the founders and facilitators listed below are on Facebook, and some of the dances have their own Facebook page or website. Continue reading

Happy New Year! Gratitude for 2013! Have a delightful 2014!

May 2014 bring you an abundance of blessings.

Some people and events in 2013 that I’m grateful for:

  • meeting David Harel and then training in craniosacral therapy (classical and biodynamic) with Ryan Hallford — this new work direction is juicy and compelling
  • all of the people who have allowed me to practice on them — I appreciate your willingness to let a student learn on you Continue reading

Repost: Gabrielle Roth: The Most Badass Teacher of Our Time

Gabrielle Roth: The Most Badass Teacher of Our Time. | elephant journal.

Here’s another tribute to Gabrielle Roth that I couldn’t resist sharing for its first sentence:

Gabrielle Roth was the most truthful, determined, vibrant, hilarious, seductively ferocious person I have ever encountered.

My Austin dance community danced our farewell to Gabrielle yesterday. I couldn’t attend all of it — it was one of those days when I could have used a clone or two, there was so much deliciousness going on — but I did get some good dancing in, and some savory connecting, and I took my favorite healing stone to sit on the altar and soak up the energy of the room and touch/be touched by many of the gifted healers who dance.

We danced fiercely, with abandon and so many huge smiles, mine among them.

It was also our last dance in that space where we first danced 14 years ago, and so it was a milestone day for that reason as well. We move into a new space next month. I felt so much gratitude for so many people whom I’ve danced with over the years, knowing I will see many of them in a few weeks.

We honored the teachers who brought the rhythms and ecstatic dance to Austin in 1994: Claire Alexander (now a 5 rhythms teacher in Mountain View and Santa Cruz, CA), Carola Marashi (leading an ecstatic dance in Ashland, OR), and Terry Teaters.

And Gabrielle. Of course.

I was sorry to miss the ceremony led by Lisa DeLand, the 5 rhythms teacher in Austin.

Thanks also to Elephant Journal and the writer of the original post, Natasha Blank.

As with taking yoga and NLP into places that need it, like prisons and schools (which I’ve done and will keep doing), so there is a way to share the 5 rhythms in the places that most need it, 5Rhythms Reach Out. Here’s a direct link: http://www.5rro.org/

I would not ask you to donate if I didn’t believe in it enough to donate myself. I’ve made a donation, and you can too.

I just keep remembering how expanding, affirming, and life-changing it was to first encounter the 5 rhythms 18 years ago. There are many, many people whose lives are more sheltered and laden with suffering who are waiting for this transformational work, and they don’t even know it. 5Rhythms Reach Out will find and teach (and transform) them.

Gabrielle RothOne of my favorite Gabrielle quotes is this:

The problem is, we’re just too fucking alive! (said when someone complained about the noise and activity of a bunch of dancers after a workshop)

I say:

If that’s your problem, I’ll have what you’re having!

 

“People dance like little kids here!”

That’s what my 12-year-old granddaughter said about Ecstatic Dance Austin this morning. We arrived during warmup. She sat in a corner and watched. I danced. The space was full.

She sounded surprised and delighted when she made this observation. I had to agree. We do dance like little kids at ecstatic dance. Only we have better rhythm and more grace, and maybe some of us feel a bit more stiffness until we get warmed up. From what I remember, little kids don’t need to warm up.

We definitely have the playfulness, the wholeheartedness, the joy, the abandon, and the presence of little kids when we’re on that dance floor.

We’ve gotten pretty good at connecting with each other and respecting boundaries, completely nonverbally.

We’ve gotten pretty good at keeping the space safe, of moving into the empty spaces instead of colliding. We keep our eyes open.

We’re pretty good at spontaneity and going with the flow.

You could say we dance like nobody’s watching, and that’s because no one is. They’re paying attention to their own dance, dancing with one or more partners, maybe even dancing with the whole room. We’re there to dance, not judge.

I had a blast today, making some sweet connections, and my pulled soleus muscle is working well. I did some jumping and leaping, and it felt strong and capable. It’s just a little stiff. I believe that in another week, the healing will be complete.

Hurray for healing my own injuries!

We also got the good news that the development project that was going to tear down our dance space at the Austin Yoga School on South Lamar has fallen through, and the tenants can stay in their spaces.

That news was very welcome.

And so she danced a dance with me. For one song, we boogied and swung and jumped and played and grinned and laughed and got silly together.

Life is good.

Dance: finding the play in the moment

Psychology Today has posted a slew of articles under the heading The Last Dance? You’ll shed stress, forget pain, amp up your brain–and your sex drive!

Now we know that in addition to all the other benefits of exercise, dance activates the brain’s pleasure centers. It certainly feels like that to me. When I think of the joy I get from dancing, there’s nothing that comes really close, except being in love and having really good sex. Especially when they go together.

Dancing is like joy unleashed. I was at Ecstatic Dance Austin this morning, a bit less energetic than usual because of recent illness but still there, to move, to connect, to get happy.

I took in the whole room — the music, the 60-plus people dancing their hearts out, the wide variety of dancers in age, skill, style — and it felt like being inside a huge heart, pumping bodies, music, laughter, play, freedom, silliness, sweetness, sweat, all with a dance-like-nobody’s-watching attitude.

Some of the dancers are skilled. There are performers, teachers, yogis, and also, people who have issues with their feet, ankles, shoulders, backs. Some dancers stick to very simple moves and pretty much stay in the same place. Some move around the room.

Some dance every dance with a partner (same or different), some dance every dance alone — or with the entire room, who can tell the difference? No one is watching or judging — all dance activates pleasure.

I danced with an old friend, a woman, early on, and it felt like we were the two hottest chicks in the disco. A guy friend shared a yummy, slow, and tender dance with me — thanks so much, my dear. Another man and I playfully played, and he dazzled me again with his joy. I danced alone and with the room, and also was still and wept, and I did some handstands against the wall. It was all good. This dance is a large container.

Below, some excerpts from the articles that I found interesting:

“Dance allows people to experience themselves in ways they didn’t know they could,” says Miriam Berger, a dance professor and dance therapist at New York University. “You can change your internal state through external movement.”

dance boosts mood more than does exercise alone. In a study at the University of London, researchers assigned patients with anxiety disorders to spend time in one of four therapeutic settings: a modern-dance class, an exercise class, a music class, or a math class. Only the dance class significantly reduced anxiety.

Cardiac-rehab patients in a recent Italian study who enrolled in waltzing classes not only wound up with more elastic arteries, but were happier than participants who took up bicycle and treadmill training.

What accounts for the emotional high dancers experience? As a general rule, moving to music activates the brain’s pleasure circuits.

The brain’s structure may explain another important source of mood boost: Dancing bonds people, according to Robyn Flaum Cruz, president of the American Dance Therapy Association. MRI scans show that watching someone dance activates the same neurons that would fire if you yourself were doing the moves. 

For your pleasure and education: 

Berger speculates that the sense of achievement and well-being that comes from expanding and perfecting one’s movement repertoire may carry over into other areas of life. “One of the most important parts of psychotherapy is relearning things you learned wrong,” she says. “With dance, you have a great opportunity to do that on a physical level.”

In a study done at the University of New England, participants who spent six weeks learning tango’s fancy footwork recorded significantly lower levels of depression than a control group who took no classes, and results similar to those of a third group who took meditation lessons. Study author Rosa Pinniger credits the extreme focus—or “mindfulness”—of dance, which interrupts negative thought patterns that contribute to anxiety and depression.

The physically expressive nature of dance also helps people release and thereby recognize pent-up feelings, the first step to dealing with them.

…if conscious communication through motion is the hallmark of dance, then we better call painters like Jackson Pollock dancers too. In his drip paintings, Pollock placed the canvas on the floor and moved around it rhythmically, flinging paint as he went. Painting was, for him, an experience and an expression of the moving body. His paintings might even be considered dance notations!

Dancers exercise every one of the universal thinking skills we explore in Sparks of Genius, The Thirteen Thinking Tools of the World’s Most Creative People (Houghton Mifflin: 1999). They observe the movements of people and things. They image, or mentally manipulate, what they have observed and experienced, seeing with the mind’s eye the movements they wish to make, feeling the feel of these movements before they enact them. Dancers analogize, linking the human body to living forms and inanimate processes around them. They imitate or model the movements of these things. They abstract certain elements of these movements in order to simplify, to grasp the essential. Thinking dimensionally, they form patterns in space and through time. They play with these patterns, altering and improvising. Ultimately, dancers transform stories or pictures or sculptures or games or ideas into dance. They synthesize music, choreography, costume and setting into one coherent spectacle. But most of all and most specially, dancers empathize through role-playing. And in related fashion, they think with the body, exploring what they know about the world with muscle movements, visceral tensions, gut feelings, and emotions.

There are short-cuts to happiness, and dancing is one of them. – Vicki Baum

Dancing: the vertical expression of a horizontal desire legalized by music.  – George Bernard Shaw

If you’re interested in reading why dance is a radical act vital to our survival as humans on earth, read this entire article, which is too difficult to excerpt. Well, except for these:

To dance is to play with the movement that is making us. It is to cultivate a sensory awareness of how this movement is making us, and of how our own movements, as we shape and transmit the energy of life, are making us. To dance is to play with this movement in ways that allow us to discover and exercise our capacity to make our own movements—movements that align with our health and well-being.

One who dances knows: the reason we “exercise” is to play–to find the play in the moment, to release the capacity to play within ourselves. Dancing, we explore the possibilities for movement alive in the moment. We cultivate a receptivity to impulses to move as they arise in our bodily selves. We improvise. We imagine. We allow our bodily selves to guide us in new patterns. We follow a toe, a finger, a nose, the waves of our breathing into new spaces of sensation.

Dance, ecstasy, Pina, play

Today I had three dance experiences, which made it a wonderfully memorable day.

  1. I participated in Ecstatic Dance Austin this morning.
  2. I saw the film Pina by Wim Wenders, about the late German dancer/choreographer Pina Bausch, her work, and her dancers.
  3. My friend Peggy and I walked and played our way around Town Lake.

There is a shortcut to ecstasy. It’s called dance. ~ Gabrielle Roth

I am in love with Ecstatic Dance Austin, feeling so grateful that I have two hours every Sunday morning as an outlet for my energy, movement, physicality, playfulness, experimentation, and connection.

Today it occurred to me that if I didn’t have this, I’d curl up in a ball and die, or at least be really depressed. When I’m struggling over relationships, finances, work, decisions, politics, life, this is a place where I can give all that heaviness over to Spirit and just move, feel, connect, play, and be present. Life becomes a dance.

It is joy to walk into a big dance studio with a great sound system playing the kind of music that invites movement. I move out onto the floor. I begin moving.

Because there’s no talking, I connect with people using eye contact, smiles, and sometimes hugs. Sometimes I create my own space by closing my eyes and dancing.

I smile a lot because I feel so radiant and happy. There’s joy in the present moment, of course. My more personal joy is that I’ve worked on my health for years with bodywork, yoga, and a clean diet, and I feel great. My stamina is good — I stay moving, even through the burning fire of dancing all-out chaos. My creativity is good — there’s no end to discovering rewarding movements that morph into new grooves. My capacity for living and dancing from joy is good — although I have moments when heavy thoughts arise in my awareness during dance, I can move through them and return to joy.

I find ecstatic dance to be a great healing antidote. If I’m suffering relationship woes, I can dance with men who appreciate me, move with me, play with me, honor me. They don’t know my story, and I don’t know theirs. We just dance. A couple of dances can restore my sense of being valued as a woman by the other sex.

And for days when I’m fed up with male egos, I can have playful, fun dances with women.

And of course, I can have dances with men or women, or men and women, any time for no reason at all except that we’re together in the studio, there’s some great music playing, and we share the joy.

The physicality of it, the improvisational nature of ecstatic dance, the freedom and goodness I feel in my body, the wave of rhythms that peaks somewhere in the middle just clear me out until nothing is left but sweat, breath, and oneness.

Afterward we sit or lie spent in a big circle on the floor and give ourselves a couple of minutes of silence. We say names. We have announcements. We mingle and leave.

 

Dance, dance, otherwise we are lost. ~ Pina Bausch

Pina, the film written, directed, and produced by Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire, Buena Vista Social Club), is showing at the Violet Crown in downtown Austin. The film has been nominated for Best Documentary for the Academy Awards. (Click the link to view the awesome trailer.)

Pina Bausch worked with Tanztheater Wuppertal in Berlin from 1973 until her sudden death in 2009. Rather than being a biographical documentary, Pina shows her choreographic work and the dancers who danced her work speaking about her.

Here’s a clip (it’s in 3D, by the way — first dance film in 3D, that I know of — thanks, Wim Wenders!):

And here’s another:

And another:

She painted with dancers, movement, costumes. Her dances are not ecstatic dance — they are choreographed — but from what I could tell, she started with improvisation, asking for instance for a dancer to show her joy. Although some of the dance is highly structured, it retains its aliveness.

The film is a revelation — about life, love, pain, loneliness, longing. And creativity and playfulness.

WIM WENDERS ABOUT PINA BAUSCH
No, there was no hurricane that swept across the stage,
there were just … people performing
who moved differently then I knew
and who moved me as I had never been moved before.
After only a few moments I had a lump in my throat,
and after a few minutes of unbelieving amazement
I simply let go of my feelings
and cried unrestrainedly.
This had never happened to me before…
maybe in life, sometimes in the cinema,
but not when watching a rehearsed production,
let alone choreography.
This was not theatre, nor pantomime,
nor ballet and not at all opera.
Pina is, as you know,
the creator of a new art.
Dance theatre.

I loved seeing the dances, dancers, costumes, settings. This film inspires me. I want colorful, flowing, sexy evening gowns to dance in. I want to play with movement, to experiment, to have fun.

 

I can trust my friends. These people force me to examine, encourage me to grow. ~ Cher

Peggy is a dancer and choreographer and a dear friend of mine for years. Having just seen the film and danced our way out of the theater, we walked around Town Lake incorporating playful movements — stepping stylishly between two trees, walking on benches, doing asana on bridges, mimicking the arm gestures we saw in the film, striking poses, waving arms, adding twirls and hops into our walk.

We made our walk into a dance, and you know I’m such a sucker for dancing in unlikely places. The hike and bike trail is as good a place as any, maybe better than most.

It was a beautiful cloudy cool winter afternoon, and people were out enjoying themselves on the trail, walking, running, biking. Our play gave them a little extra enjoyment. People can be so serious, it’s like an illness. We put smiles on their faces.

As we played, we talked about creating dances. We shared some hilarious, outrageous, fun, engaging ideas for dances.

I hope we do them. I’m moved!