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

The Blind Cafe experience

Wednesday night I attended The Blind Cafe, which I posted about earlier. (This is its third year in Austin.) Arrived a few minutes before 7 pm. Entered Vuka Coop near Monroe and South First  from the back, as instructed. Checked in and was told I’d sit at Table 1. Right away saw my friends Jacqueline, Carol, and Linda — also seated at Table 1! We talked as more people arrived, filling the space. There was a feeling of anticipation and excitement about doing something new and unknown.

A cash bar served merlot. Someone brought out a cheese plate.

After about an hour, we were told to get in groups by table number. (There were 13 tables/groups; Table 1 had 9 people, and some seemed to have more.) We lined up with our right hand on the right shoulder of the person in front of us, so we could be led by a blind waitperson to our dining table. We went through a canvas maze into complete darkness. I mean…complete darkness.

Somehow I could tell it was a large room with a high ceiling, probably from hearing all the people who’d already been seated engaged in conversation.

The group came to a stop, and we were each positioned in front of a chair. I sat in what felt like a cast-iron cushioned lawn chair with arms.

The noise of over 100 people chattering was incredible, much more pronounced because of the darkness. I could hear a couple of conversations in detail, depending on where I focused my attention. To listen to it all at once was almost overwhelming. I thought that Jacqueline, sitting next to me, was probably listening too. (She does that well.) We sat quietly for most of the experience.

By feeling, I discovered that on the table in front of me were two Chinet plates — a large one and a small one. I felt crackers with toppings on the small plate. Since I eat a gluten-free diet, I managed to just lick the toppings off the crackers! A variety of toppings made it an interesting tasting experience, savory and sweet and with various textures.

Then I discovered a third small plate. It contained fruit and some candied pecans or walnuts. I couldn’t see any of the food I ate to verify exactly what it was. My identification was by taste and mouth-feel and hand-feel. I sniffed my food, but did not encounter anything particularly pungent.

The main plate had something large on it, the promised vegetarian entree. It turned out to also be something I could eat with my hands. I took it apart and ate it with my fingers. It seemed like there was parsley with stems, baby spinach, tomato chunks, avocado, and more. It was salad-like.

There was something I couldn’t identify. It was a long slice of something cool and crunchy, very mild in taste, but not hard like carrot. I wondered if it was jicama. I’ve been on a jicama kick lately. Later I decided it was probably cucumber.

Someone at my table was allergic to avocado, and a waiter brought her a substitute.

Someone said there was bread and dipping oil in the center of the table, which I didn’t try.

I found myself being worried about making a mess from eating with my hands in the dark. I was afraid of dropping food on my clothes, of having food on my face, of being shamed as a messy eater when the lights turned on. I am a messy eater sometimes, and I try to limit that to when I’m eating at home by myself! I was grateful that two paper napkins had been provided.

I realized these are concerns of the sighted. Who could tell, in the darkness? It made me think about how many rules and customs there are about eating that have to do with appearances — how we look to [judgmental] others. Wipe your mouth often. Eat soup like this. Eat green beans like this. Cut your meat one bite at a time. Make sure there’s no food in your teeth.Don’t eat with your mouth open. Don’t talk with food in your mouth. Don’t drink while you’re chewing. (Okay, I had a Southern belle grandmother who was very strict about table manners. A meal with her was a string of “dont’s”.)

All the wait staff were blind. There were four of them, and they were cool. If your world is always dark, you learn to navigate in darkness and in light really well. They talked and answered questions. One was a stay-at-home-father of four who enjoyed playing a lot of sports. Another was a technical writer, my old profession. They answered our questions about dating and education and getting around.

Austin, it turns out, is a good place for blind people to live because the public transportation system is good and the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired offers education and employment and other resources.

Also, blind people (or at least some blind people) have fun with it. If your sighted friend tells you some guy is looking at you in a bar, you go up to him and say, “I know you’ve been looking at me,” just to start a conversation and freak him out a little! Several of the wait staff said they had dated both blind and sighted people.

Then there was live music, first by Richie, the leader of the waitstaff and president of the National Federation of the Blind of Austin, and then by Rosh Rocheleau, the creator of The Blind Cafe, who played guitar and sang some songs he’d written (and also a beautiful cover of Hurt, by Trent Reznor). Rosh was accompanied by someone who played what I first thought was a cello, but Jacqueline (a cellist) said it was a bass.

By the end, we were all singing along, and it felt magical to be sitting in the dark with a lot of people, singing together. I think that’s the memory I most cherish, but it was also memorable was sitting in the dark with over 100 people in complete silence, and even more memorable was sharing this experience with Carol, Linda, and Jacqueline.

After the music ended, Rosh lit a tea light, and it created one small point of light in the center of the large room, banishing the darkness. Lights were then lit at each table, and we exited. People seemed different afterwards, with hearts more open.

It turned out that Table 1, which I had believed was a large round table, was actually square, with three seats on each side. I also found a bottle of water intended for me to my left. I guess it had been in a “blind spot” in feeling my dinner accoutrements.

Minor complaint: I wore my coat during the meal because cool air was blowing directly on me from an overhead vent. Advice: Bring a jacket or shawl.

My only major complaint was that there were a few people who were unable to be in darkness or silence, who turned their cellphones on briefly or who kept whispering as if no one could hear them. We were all given a handout when we checked in stating the rules: no lights (no lit watches, turn your cellphones off) and when the bell rings, be absolutely silent.

Every sighted person can see the light and everyone can hear the whispering, and it’s distracting. The offenders were quickly called out most of the time.

Fortunately, they seemed to get it. A couple of people near me had to get through the giggles to get it. I felt both compassion and annoyance at having my attention dragged away from the music. They finally became silent.

Advice if you’re thinking of attending The Blind Cafe: If you have no experience sitting in darkness with others and being silent, please take the rules seriously. You might want to practice at home beforehand. You may feel uncomfortable at first. Stick with it for a few minutes. It becomes powerful, and it will prepare you for the shock of being in a dark world that is The Blind Cafe.

Some people live their whole lives like this, and live well, and have things to teach the rest of us.

Thanks, Rosh and everyone who made this happen.

The Blind Cafe is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. Donations are tax deductible. They need donors, sponsors, and volunteers to make this happen. They also do small private intimate dinners for VIP sponsors.

Also, the National Federation of the Blind is participating in Read Across America Day on Dr. Seuss’ birthday, March 1. They would like to increase Braille literacy. Go to http://www.nfbaustin.org to donate.

Sonic pleasures from Austin, Texas, USA: Loping Buzzard and Libby Kirkpatrick

I’ve gotten comments and/or blog subscriptions from South Africa, Australia, England, and elsewhere overseas, and what overseas readers (and perhaps some in the U.S.) may not know is that my hometown of Austin, Texas, is well-known for music.

A national television show, Austin City Limits, is filmed here, and the city plays host to the Austin City Limits Music Festival each fall and the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in the spring. Austin’s official slogan is “Live Music Capital of the World.”

It’s a musicians’ town, and the music here is eclectic. I’m using this blog post to recommend a couple of CDs by local musicians. They are very different, but each one wakes you up in its own way and keeps on giving by offering enough variety and depth to keep it fresh on repeated listenings.

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When I first heard The Buzzard Has Landed by Loping Buzzard, the Biblical quote “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord” came to mind, and I wanted to laugh with joy. Loping Buzzard’s business card has two descriptors: didjeridu and noisician.

 This is a collection of audio projects completed from 2005 to 2010 with a vast number of didjeridus along with gopichand, berimbau, danmo, cajon, cuica, bilma, a variety of flutes, drums, homemake noise makers, and electronics. The styles range form impromptu drum circles to pure musique concrete to Dada pop to horror to comedy to surreal.

I don’t even know what some of those instruments are, but they must be fun, judging by the sound. It’s not traditional music, but it is artful sound, interesting to the ear (to my ear, anyway).

I think of this as “wake up” music, not something you would listen to when you need soothing, but fantastic for times when you need some sonic inspiration. (Okay, I mostly listen to music in my car. It’s fantastic during traffic gridlock!)

When I listen to this CD, I imagine the joy Loping Buzzard must have experienced when he was creating this music, and I feel it too.

I notice more each time I listen.

You can get The Buzzard Has Landed as a digital download or a CD from CD Baby ($9.99, and they make it fun, too), and as mp3 files from Amazon.com ($8.99). It’s available on iTunes too.

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My other recommendation, a different kind of wake-up music, is Heroine by singer-songwriter Libby Kirkpatrick, who’s lived in Austin for 10 years and has recently relocated to Boston.

Every song but one is an original, and that exception is her cover of Alice by Tom Waits. I certainly understood her homage to TW as recognition by one original, unique, lyrical songwriter of another, a master, and Libby is well on her way to mastery. She’s someone to follow.

I feel the joy here too. With lyrics connecting the Big Bang to the sound of a woman yelling (Heroine), warning her girlfriend away from some appealing but no-good Lothario (Devil Inside), singing about the black hole inside us all (Neverland), mentioning her personal star (you have one too, I know you do), and so much more, Libby has a way with words and tunes that is just plain heart and soul satisfying. Full of lyrical delight, Heroine goes into your ears, gets under your skin, enters your heart, and wakes you up.

The transition to motherhood is a journey of heroism for every woman ~ necessity being the mother of invention! These songs are the slow release of the ‘maiden self’ and the build up to the realization of ‘mother’ in layers; song by song there is a story told of the subsequent degrees of letting go.

Yes. It’s about self-realization and letting go. Repeatedly I detected a mature Buddhist philosophy about life underlying Libby’s lyrics — Big Mind, Big Heart, topped with loads of fun.

If you enjoy well-written, fresh lyrics, soulful depth, and artful arrangements (it’s rare to hear the level of creativity in the arrangements on a CD by a local/regional artist), you’ll enjoy this. I notice more each time I listen.

You can buy Heroine at CD Baby, iTunes, and Amazon.com, as well as from Heart Music.

In the Light of Love: A Tribute to Japan

If you read my earlier post containing the beautiful letter from Japan written by the American woman Anne who taught school in Sendai, please watch this video.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGWAZVZG1TA&feature=player_embedded#at=13

Deva Premal and Miten made it in loving tribute to the Japanese people affected by the earthquakes and tsunami. They write:

The earthquake happened while we were working on a remix on this song. Later we put images to the music in an attempt to portray the elevation of the human spirit in times of such overwhelming and inconceivable destruction. It is our tribute to the brave hearts of the Japanese people.
The letter at the end of the clip is a first hand account of a friend of a friend, living in Japan.

With love

Miten and Deva

…ps… we just received this message and thought you’d like to know: “And in case you don’t know — the baby in the pink snuggly being smiled at by the soldier was found in the wreckage 2-3 days after the tsumani and was reunited with her father….one of the biggest miracles to date…”