Polyvagal theory, applied

I’m summarizing polyvagal theory, originated by Dr. Stephen Porges, from a 10:48-minute video interview of him. I’m doing this for my own understanding, and I want to share because it’s a new way of thinking about traumatic responses. It has major implications for my work, and I’ve added my own comments in brackets. I am sure I will continue to refine my understanding.

Dr. Porges says that polyvagal theory is the understanding of how our body reacts to various challenges. The autonomic nervous system [involuntary, like heart beat] has evolved in vertebrates, changing and adding new circuits that function in a hierarchy. The newer circuits can inhibit older circuits. The older circuits were circuits of defense. Continue reading

Improving vagal tone

When do you feel safe? When are you on guard?

If you feel safe except when there is an actual threat to your safety, then you have high vagal tone.

If you feel guarded most or all of the time, even when there is no actual threat to your safety, you have low vagal tone. Low vagal tone can be raised. Continue reading

Ecstatic dance in Austin, Texas

Important: Several of the Austin ecstatic dance facilitators are offering online dances during the pandemic. As I get information on what’s going on during this stay-at-home period, I will add it to each dance listed below.

I’ve been doing ecstatic dance since 1995, mostly in Austin. It’s brought me many gifts: a community of friends, playfulness, release, sweat, connection, deeper embodiment, awareness of my body/energy/others/the space, a place to experiment with movement and energy, 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 vastly increased over the years. The community evolves. I list current opportunities here and will 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 — sometimes there’s live music. The music usually takes the form of a wave that follows the 5 Rhythms wave sequence (flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical, and stillness) of the late Gabrielle Roth (shown above), the mother of modern ecstatic dance. A wave starts slowly, builds to a crescendo, and descends 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 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, 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.

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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 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. During the pandemic, go to the Tribal Joy Ecstatic Dance Group on Facebook to see each Sunday’s online event with a link to Zoom. A link to the music in Mixcloud will be posted in Zoom’s Chat. Please arrive before 10:30 am (CDT) to check in, get up to speed on the technology, and push play together!
  • 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. During the pandemic go to the Ecstatic Dance Austin Facebook page and click Events. EDA is starting at 10 now and using Facebook Live and Zoom.
  • Reset meets every Monday, 5:15-6:45 pm, at Dance International, 2417 Buell, in north Austin near Burnet and Steck. This class was founded and is facilitated by Lisa DeLand, a 5 Rhythms teacher who trained with Gabrielle Roth. $15. Suspended for now.
  • 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, Joel Laviolette, and others, including occasional live music. $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. During the pandemic, go to the Ecstatic Soul Sessions page on Facebook to see each Tuesday night’s online event with a link to Zoom. In Zoom’s Chat, you will find a link to the music in Mixcloud. Please arrive before 8 pm (CDT) to check in with each other, get up to speed on Zoom, get Mixcloud ready, and push play together!
  • 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. Check Facebook page for Indra’s Awarehouse.
  • 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. On hold for now.
  • 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. Doors close at 11:15. Created and facilitated by 5 Rhythms teacher Lisa DeLand, Step into Yes! includes a facilitated-by-a-dancer creative interlude sandwiched between two 5 Rhythms waves. Sliding scale $15-25. During the pandemic, we’re dancing online using Zoom and Mixcloud on first Saturdays, 11-1 pm (CDT). To get on the email list with link, email lisa@dancingfirelizards.com.
  • Ecstatic Soul Saturdays, developed by Mia E. Pem, meets at the High Road once a month, 1-4 pm, to focus on a different aspect of dance/movement each session. On hold for now.
  • Rhythm Sanctuary, having taken root in the Boulder and Denver area, is offering dances monthly in the Austin area. Astrologer Shannon Gill-Jones is the founder, and astrologer Russ Ohlhausen facilitates. On hold for now.
  • Swahé (based in Guatemala) offers occasional ecstatic dances + cacao ceremonies in Austin, as well as in Guatemala and around the world. Click the link to see the worldwide schedule. Check Facebook for Swahé.

Other dance opportunities

  • Qoya is a movement practice for women. Check out the Women of Qoya Meetup if you’re interested.
  • Contact Improvisation Class and Jam, Fridays, 7:30-9:30, Practice Yoga Austin, 1103 E. 6th St. $10. Pretty sure this is suspended and not available online.