Dancing in Santa Fe

I went to a 5 Rhythms movement lab in Santa Fe, where I am on vacation, the other night. Chloe Goodwin facilitated. The space was extraordinarily beautiful, the music inspiring, and I quickly saw a range of more and less experienced dancers among the 20 or so people present.

It felt so great to be back in a dance studio. I’m accustomed to dancing once or twice (very occasionally, 3 or 4 times) a week in Austin, but it wasn’t available in Taos that I could find when I was there last week. I’ve been driving a lot. My body felt sluggish and stiff. Yoga classes have been helpful and also a nice way to meet people who share this interest when traveling, but even more than yoga, ecstatic dance in a studio allows me the freedom to let my body show me how it wants and needs to move to restore well-being.

So we danced freely in the space for a while. I felt shy at first, not knowing anyone (they all knew each other), so I just paid attention to what my body wanted. So good. Then I shyly began to make eye contact with a few people and danced with various partners.

Chloe introduced experiences of body parts: hands, elbows, knees, feet, hips, head, and more. Yes. I’m sure she was watching and seeing how people unconsciously restrict themselves. Yes, your head is a body part, and it can dance too, and it’s really good for your circulation and neck flexibility to move it. Instead of focusing your eyes, use your peripheral vision.

Then Chloe pointed out the blue masking tape on the floor, which created four spaces for dancing, which she described thusly: the outer edges of the room were reserved for people who just wanted to do their own dance by themselves. Coming in toward the center a bit was a space for dancing with a partner. The inner circle was for dancing in community, and the X in the center was for surveying, and dancing with, the entire room.

I danced in all the spaces. I love dancing alone, sometimes with my eyes closed to intensify my auditory/kinesthetic synesthesia and to be one with the music/my body/the space around me. I don’t care what it looks like. There’s a joy and freedom there for me that I recognize may be alien to others.

I had an especially wonderful and vigorous dance with a male partner, meeting and sweetly challenging each other over and over again. Yay!

Moving into the community circle, something interesting happened: Dancing in community, without a partner but in close proximity with other dancers, can be just like dancing alone at the outer edge. It doesn’t have to be, but on Tuesday night, it often was.

We noticed this after the dance ended, when we were standing in a closing circle.

Toward the end of the evening, when I was in the community circle for the third or fourth time, I noticed I was feeling tired, slowing down. I had already danced vigorously for an hour and a half, and I’m not a late night person — my batteries were running down.

I noticed that when I’m fatigued, I just want to dance alone, to wind down, to care for myself in vulnerability. I could have moved to the outer circle, but I didn’t. Maybe I was just too tired to think of doing that. That was a choice that perhaps I could make differently, next time.

I love the name Movement Lab. I’ve long considered ecstatic dance to be my own personal experimental movement lab. Movement, people, space, music, life. Play with it, learn from it, I be me, you be you, we be us.

Ecstatic dance in Austin, Texas

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

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The availability of ecstatic dance in Austin has increased over the years, and the community evolves. I will 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 — and sometimes there’s live music. These dances take the form of a musical wave that usually follows the pattern of the 5 Rhythms wave (flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical, and stillness) of the late Gabrielle Roth (shown above), starting slowly, building to a crescendo, and descending into stillness — a manifestation of the idea that each dance is a journey into yourself traversing different interior terrains.

The dance space 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. People dance alone, with partners (many or a few), or with groups of people.

The safety of all is important too. Some dances allow contact improv or acro-yoga (usually on the edges of the space) and others don’t. Some allow children 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 a parent’s chest. If you are considering bringing children, it’s probably a good idea to connect with 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 or headphones available for those sensitive to loud music, children or adults — and you can always bring your own.

At the end there’s a closing circle, where OMs or a silent meditation may happen, people share their first names, and there may be some shareback about the experience and/or announcements from dancers, or not.

~~~

All of the founders and facilitators listed below are on Facebook, and some of the dances have their own Facebook page or website. Links are provided below for more details.

  • Tribal Joy meets Sunday mornings from 10-1 at The High Road, 700 Dawson (just south of the river with views of the downtown skyline). Oscar Madera is the founder and most frequent facilitator. $12, or buy 5 dances for $50 or 10 for $100. Tribal Joy and Ecstatic Soul Sessions honor each other’s dance cards.
  • Ecstatic Dance Austin (click here for website and to join email list) meets at Dark Clan Fight Lab, 1106 Smith Road #106 (near 183 and Bolm Rd. in east Austin) on Sundays, 9:30-12:30. David Baker and Ellen Evans are the founders and facilitators. $12.
  • Reset meets every Monday, 5:15-6:45 pm, at Dance International, 2417 Buell, in north Austin near Burnet and Steck. It was founded and is facilitated by Lisa DeLand, a 5 Rhythms teacher trained by Gabrielle Roth. $15.
  • Ecstatic Soul Sessions meets Tuesday evenings from 7:30-10 at The High Road. Mia E. Pem is the founder and a frequent facilitator along with Lisa DeLand and Joel Laviolette. $12 per dance, or buy 5 dances for $50 or 10 for $100. Tribal Joy and Ecstatic Soul Sessions honor each other’s dance cards.
  • Indra’s Awarehouse, 7904 FM 969 (take MLK Blvd. east of Austin), offers ecstatic dance on Thursday nights, 7:30-10 pm, and Sunday nights, 6-9 pm. Randi Southard is the founder. $10.
  • Inner Rhythms ecstatic dance is held on the second and fourth Friday of each month from 7:30-9:30, at south Austin’s Zero Gravity Institute, 2919 Manchaca Rd, Suite 105-A. Donna Starnes facilitates. $15. 
  • Step into Yes, for women only, meets the first Saturday of every month from 10:45 am to 1 pm at the Life in the City sanctuary, 205 E. Monroe, off South Congress. Created and facilitated by 5 Rhythms teacher Lisa DeLand, Step into Yes includes a facilitated-by-a-dancer creative interlude sandwiched between a warmup and a 5 Rhythms wave. Sliding scale $15-25.
  • Rhythm Sanctuary is new to Austin, having taken root in the Boulder and Denver area. Shannon Gill-Jones is the founder, and Russ Ohlhausen facilitates. Dates TBD.

Other dance opportunities

Habit tracking simplified

I do much better when incorporating new behaviors into my life when I have a way to track them that’s visual and shows more than just a few days. I found an online PDF, Habit Tracker, that has space to track up to 17 behaviors for one month, so you can easily view trends, skipped days, etc.

One of the activities that is motivating when trying to develop a new habit is checking off each time you do something on a monthly calendar. When you’ve done it for a few days in a row, you see your streak of successfully incorporating the habit, and you don’t want to break the chain. This technique was attributed to Jerry Seinfeld, but he doesn’t claim credit. Whatever. It works!

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Source: https://www.clementinecreative.co.za/reach-goals-free-printable-habit-tracker/

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Election, holidays: with respect for grace and sanity

The election is over. This time it was different. I felt more detached, less prone to let others’ emotions affect me.

I don’t own a TV. I do listen to public radio in my car sometimes, and I sometimes check out the headlines online, so I’m not completely unfamiliar with current events. I check Facebook and Twitter almost daily, and I caught a lot of people’s posts/tweets about the candidates, issues, things the candidates ignored that should have been issues, spin, and so on.

I didn’t get wound up about it. I knew who I would vote for, and I followed through. The candidate I voted for won, which isn’t always the case. Now we’ll see how the nation and the world fare for the next four years.

It was surprisingly serene.

Thanksgiving was also very low-key this year. I cooked, and a couple of friends came over for potluck, talk, and play. Then we went to see The Life of Pi in 3D. I’d read the book and thought the film was well-done.

I went to another movie the next day with my family. Did not go shopping. Worked Saturday morning. Danced with my ecstatic community in our new space on Sunday morning. Worked Sunday evening.

We’re supposed to feel grateful at Thanksgiving. I have gotten leery of “supposed to” thinking. I could have posted a feel-good post about Thanksgiving, yet something inside made me hesitate.

Even better than feeling grateful because it’s Thanksgiving: Listening to how you really feel.

What if your highest purpose in life is to be yourself and to love yourself no matter what?

Anyway, my best wish for us all is to get through this holiday season with grace and sanity.

“The 5 rhythms are a contemporary shamanic Zen practice” ~ Gabrielle Roth

Okay, so science has recently showed us that dancers have genes for transcendence and social connection. (And if you don’t dance, maybe you have these genes too and don’t know it yet. And consider this: if stress turns on the bad genes, maybe the opposite of stress — joy? contentment? — turns on the good genes! Just sayin’….)

In this interview, Gabrielle Roth explains the connection between ecstatic dance, Zen, and shamanic practices.

The 5Rhythms are a contemporary Zen, Shamanic practice. Zen, in that they are a map to an inner journey for seekers of wisdom and freedom, the wisdom to know who we are and the freedom to get over ourselves. Shamanic, in that they address the Great Divide, the divorce of spirit from flesh that has created the loss of soul, which haunts us. We’ve rendered the soul homeless, it can’t breathe, exist, or move disconnected from the body. The body is the womb of the soul, a begging bowl for spirit, like Aretha when she sings….

The fastest way to still the mind is to move the body. All the profound spiritual teachings in this world don’t mean anything if they’re not embodied. Feeling totally high and connected to the divine mystery while sitting on a meditation pillow is fine, but how do we put the rubber to the road? As Charlie Parker said, If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn. So I take refuge in the 5Rhythms practice to keep my horn in tune.

There are videos of Gabrielle as well on the site. Check ’em out!

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!

 

In remembrance of Gabrielle Roth: freedom is our holy work

One of the significant teachers in my life died yesterday, and I’ve struggled with writing about it. I find myself getting too heady, and yet this loss is actually so profound that when I took a nap yesterday, I dreamed I was balancing upside down on my head on a dance floor, surrounded by lively, active children.

When I woke, I could feel the pressure on the crown of my head.

Headstand is definitely about changing perspective.

I stumbled into ecstatic dance 18 years ago, first encountering the 5 rhythms of Gabrielle Roth and Sweat Your Prayers after I left church as something I could no longer take part in with integrity.

I found a tribe, a practice, and a way of experiencing myself and the world as energy.

I’m not sure, but I suspect that the latter is the change in perspective that I’m integrating with this shock of loss and review of Gabrielle’s influence on my life, that it’s all just energy all the time, and it’s always changing, always dancing. The best I can ever do is to be centered, grounded, embodied, and ready to meet it. What’s solid is awareness.

I’ve had issues and struggles at times with that tribe, practice, and worldview, and they have deeply shaped me. I keep coming back.

Here’s what ecstatic dance is to me: being free, feeling joy, being embodied, clearing, cleansing, breathing, sweating, extending myself, being aware, taking care of my body, pushing to my edge and beyond, being in the moment, sharing, delighting, inquiring, discovering, connecting, having compassion, being inspired, seeing, allowing, playing, surrendering, breaking myself open, feeling what comes up, being danced, letting go, grieving, dancing with other versions of me, dancing with the entire room including the space, letting life and everything flow through me, being totally and completely alive, being fully present, blowing all the blocks out of my energy channels.

I feel so grateful to have found this and that I am able to do this.

Thank you, Gabrielle Roth, for your life’s work. Thank you, dancing tribe.

Here’s Gabrielle in her own words.

I became a mapmaker for others to follow, but not in my footsteps, in their own. Many of us are looking for a beat, something solid and rooted where we can take refuge and begin to explore the fluidity of being alive, to investigate why we often feel stuck, numb, spaced-out, tense, inert, and unable to stand up or sit down or unscramble the screens that reflect our collective insanity.

The question I ask myself and everyone else is, “Do you have the discipline to be a free spirit?” Can we be free of all that binds and bends us into a shape of consciousness that has nothing to do with who we are from moment to moment, from breath to breath?

Dance is the fastest, most direct route to the truth — not some big truth that belongs to everybody, but the get down and personal kind, the what’s-happening-in-me-right-now kind of truth. We dance to reclaim our brilliant ability to disappear in something bigger, something safe, a space without a critic or a judge or an analyst.

Sunday morning: a little trauma release, a fine buzz, then some yoga jazz, and a tribute to a teacher

Long-time readers know I spent some time and energy on learning the trauma releasing exercises of David Berceli and practicing them. (If you’re a new reader, go to the tag cloud in the right panel and click TRE or trauma releasing exercises to see the many posts on the topic. If you want to learn them, I recommend Berceli’s book and video.)

I haven’t written much about them for a while. I still value them very much as a tool for releasing tension.

Sometimes at ecstatic dance, I allow my legs to shake for a little while, which releases leg tension, especially around my hip joint. (Nobody notices or comments, ever.)

Some mornings I wake up and just know I need to do them. I may tremble for 30 seconds to a minute or two. It doesn’t have to last long to be effective.

I imagine that the more you do them and really surrender to them, the less you need to do them. Also, the more you do them, the more aware you become of tensions accumulating in your body, and you adjust sooner — taking a deep, cleansing breath to let it all out, stretching and moving the tense area.

This morning I did them for longer, because my body wanted to keep going. First my legs surrendered to the shaking, then left my arm flapped, then right my arm flapped, then my lower spine hammered, then my upper spine waved, then more legs, and so on. It’s entertaining to witness where the surrendering moves!

Then afterward, the fine buzz inhabiting my body. Mmm.

Walk to my yoga mat. Tadasana, feeling feet, upward energy. Stretching arms up into hastasana circling to anjali mudra several times to warm up, each with my gaze a little higher, a little more backbend.

Then from hips, float down into uttanasana and just hang. Feel my tight hamstrings. Hold. Breathe. They become like rubber bands, surrendering to the stretch. Then extend spine and re-bow.

Left leg back into lunge. Feeling the tight gastrocnemius and soleus. Push heel back and breathe. Right leg back to join it. Breathe length into calves.

Plank, with spread fingers, sturdy column arms under shoulders. Feel strength. Pressing palm and fingers evenly into mat, slowly lowering into chataranga, feeling creaks and twinges in shoulders and elbows.

Once flat, press pelvis and tops of feet into floor and lift up into bhujangasana, cobra. Imagine the fronts of my vertebrae, deep in the middle of my torso, fanning wide open to give and receive and expand my energy. This spine, this flexible column of bone, fluids, muscle, nerve, this backbone. Yes.

Turn toes under. Strongly lift my body up, elevating my pelvis as high as it will go. Push palms and fingers evenly into floor. Push heels back to stretch my soles (I’m hearing my teacher Eleanor Harris now). Lift sit bones to ceiling. Feel strong shoulders. Downward-facing dog, adho mukha svanasana.

“Enjoy your breath,” as my teacher Brigitte Edery is fond of saying. And I do.

Then bring right leg forward into lunge. Then today’s standing sequence: warrior two, extended side angle, reverse extended side angle, triangle, reverse triangle, ardha chandrasana, warrior one, warrior three. Nice standing vinyasa (with room for improvement in the sequencing, I notice), and I am aware of all the different stretches each pose brings where spine meets pelvis meets thighs.

I am pleased with my balance in ardha chandrasana, but I need to put my extended arms on the top of a stool to hold warrior three. There’s always an edge. Today, and probably for a few weeks (or months, who knows?), that’s mine — balancing in warrior three.

Then back to lunge, uttanasana (notice how much deeper my fold is), extending spine, and reverse swan dive up, arms circling into anjali mudra.

Repeat on other side.

I follow with pigeon, a deep twist (thrilling as my shoulders reached the floor), happy baby, and rock to standing.

I am in my body, ready for today, for ecstatic dance, for community, for work, for learning prenatal massage.

Feeling very grateful for my friends, and for my teacher Gabrielle Roth, whose work I knew better than I knew her personally, who was so influential in opening my awareness up to new movements, rhythms, and energies in life, who is in her own life now moving into stillness. She dedicated her life to healing the mind-body split. Amen to that.

Here’s my favorite Gabrielle quote:

After you jump, before you land is God.

I’m going to light a candle and open myself up to God.

The dancing genes, sociability, transcendence, and genetic flexibility

A recent article published online says that dancers are genetically different. Some Israeli researchers found that dancers show consistent differences from the general population in two genes.

The researchers said this did not surprise them, because studies have found that athletes and musicians have genetic differences.

I can only speak for myself, but my dance is very connected to music — my movement is a way to participate musically, as if I were playing an instrument. It’s also very physical.

I did a little Googling to see if I could find which specific genes differ in athletes and musicians, but I didn’t find anything that was very clear. Race seems to be the biggest issue in the media when it comes to genetics, athletes, and musicians.

The researchers studied dancers and advanced dance students and found they had variants in two genes, those affecting serotonin transport and arginine vasopressin reception.

Serotonin (“the happiness molecule”) is a neurotransmitter that contributes to spiritual experience — the capacity for transcendence and a proclivity to spiritual acceptance. (See this Psychology Today article for more about that.) It also affects optimism, the healing of wounds, resilience from stress, metabolism, sleep, and more.

“Serotonin transport” sounds like a dance inside the body!

Interestingly, exercise can raise serotonin levels in the body, so dancing itself reinforces dancers’ high serotonin levels!

I admit — I get into an altered state from ecstatic dance. That’s why they call it ecstatic dance, I suspect. 😉

The vasopressin receptor modulates social communication and affiliative bonding. Wikipedia says “…accumulating evidence suggests it plays an important role in social behavior, bonding, and maternal responses to stress.” It has a very similar structure to oxytocin (“the love hormone”), and the two can cross-react.

When the results were combined and analyzed, it was clearly shown that the dancers exhibited particular genetic and personality characteristics that were not found in the other two groups.

The dancer “type,” says Ebstein, clearly demonstrates qualities that are not necessarily lacking but are not expressed as strongly in other people: a heightened sense of communication, often of a symbolic and ceremonial nature, and a strong spiritual personality trait.

I know this is controversial, but I want to weigh in on the side of flexibility when it comes to genetics. For much of my life, genes were thought to be destiny, unalterable. Now it is known that the expression of genes is much more dynamic than previously believed. They can switch on and off.

I don’t know that much about it, except that stress tends to switch on the bad genes. I don’t know which or how many genes truly create destiny and therefore cannot be influenced, except that there probably are some. We just don’t know enough about this in our current level of understanding.

I want to encourage people who believe they don’t have the dancing genes to give dancing a try.

Two left feet? That’s a myth. If you can walk, you have rhythm and coordination.

If you think you can’t dance, try just moving to some music alone in your own home if you feel self-conscious. Play something catchy, like “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.”

Start simple, just swaying your hips to the beat, keeping your feet in place. Do you like it? Do you feel any sense of pleasure? Play with it. Add your arms. Walk to it. Make it fun and goofy!

Those dancing genes may be just sitting there waiting to be activated, for all we know, and they might help you become happier.

Recovering from a pulled muscle, I apply my massage skills and heal. Voila!

A couple of weeks ago, I started self-training in running, and I was walking/running on the trail, building up endurance while avoiding fatigue and injury (so I intended). I’d done the warmups recommended by my trainer and felt really good in my running—lifting my knees, almost sprinting, feeling that great-to-be-alive, heart-pounding, hard-breathing experience of really challenging my body in a healthy way. I was loving the run!

Then, running up a hill, I pulled my left calf muscle. I immediately slowed to a walk, walked for about 10 minutes, and then (ruh roh), I decided it wasn’t so bad and ran some more.

Afterwards, I could feel the pull, but it seemed pretty minor. I could walk fine, without a limp. However, I did wisely decide not to run again until it felt really fine.

Six days passed, and I went to ecstatic dance, where everyone dances like no one is watching. I love this practice, moving to music, going with the flow, connecting with others, letting go, being part of the tribe. I can get pretty wild, jumping around with a big grin, leaping from foot to foot, being danced.

If you have no clue what I’m talking about, it’s like this:

The Power Wave

So anyway, while leaping about, I suddenly felt strong pain in my left calf. I limped to the side and did not feel like dancing any more.

Thinking it was my gastrocnemius (the superficial calf muscle), I had a massage therapist work on it that afternoon. I was still limping badly afterwards, although definitely more relaxed. I went home and iced it, and then…

 A massage magazine I’d been reading was next to my bed. I picked it up and saw there was an article by Dr. Ben Benjamin on the soleus, the deeper calf muscle. It included diagnostic tests, and I verified that it was my soleus muscle that was injured. (The image shows it without the gastrocnemius.)

Guess what? It could take 4-6 weeks to fully heal. That was depressing.

Benjamin (who also wrote the fantastic reference book about muscle injuries that belongs in the home library of every athlete (in my opinion), Listen to Your Pain) gave instructions for “friction therapy” massage, stretching, and strengthening. I also put ice on it, several times a day at first and now just once a day right after I do the clinical protocol.

My leg went from maybe 15 percent to 85 percent functional within a week. My limp gradually lessened, day by day. The calf still feels just a bit tight and tender. My hunch is that the last 15 percent of healing will happen more slowly.

Anyway, I feel really empowered about using clinical massage on my own injury and seeing (and feeling) rapid improvement.

I am ready to apply that to others.