Gabrielle Roth, the developer of the 5Rhythms practice, says this about dance as spiritual practice in her book “Sweat Your Prayers”:
“In the beginning, we all danced. Our religious roots go back at least 75, 000 years to shamanic traditions grounded in the rhythms of nature: the marvel of night turning into day, the awesome power of thunder and lightning, the wonder of birth and death. These movements have been our teachers and our source of inspiration, reflecting back to us the nature of who we are. Science may have explanations, religion might have dogmas, but the truth is we still don’t know how or why the universe began to dance. Our ancestors danced until they disappeared in the dance, til they felt the full force of spirit unleashing their souls. This was their religion and it was ecstatic and personal and tribal and it moved through time like a snake…Trance is a tricky place, a place not many understand. It’s a mindful state that only happens when you get out of your way and fall into your true self so deeply that something inside clicks and you are simultaneously being and witnessing yourself. It’s a myth that trance is a spell that somebody else puts you under…Nobody can put you in a trance but God…In trance, we move into the bigger picture. And from this vantage point we can see into the dark of our own hearts and let go of all the things that haunt us, relinquish them, turn them over to the Great Spirit.”
I was fortunate to grow up in a culture and family that valued dance. Every weekend, the whole extended family would get together at a relative’s house, eat together, socialize, and dance. After everyone had had time to chat and digest their food, we’d all pitch in to help move the furniture to the outskirts of the room, thereby creating a dance floor. The record player belted out top 40 hits, world music, dance music, and all sorts of other eclectic beats and sounds; we’d easily go from Michael Jackson to Julio Iglesias in an evening! Although I confess, I was never much of a Julio fan, the adults in the group certainly loved him. And that leads me to the other brilliant thing about these evenings: they were multi-generational. The kids danced with the adults, teens, and elders. Everyone was included.
This went on until I was about 12 years old. I knew that something was wrong in my extended family when people stopped gathering as often. But I knew that something deep was at work when my family stopped dancing altogether. Internal family conflicts divided people and they simply did not know how to utilize the dance for anything other than celebration and personal expression. They didn’t know that dance was therapy and that they could dance through anything and come out the other side of it more balanced than before. I often wonder what might have been different and if communication would have improved if they had had this knowledge at the time.
It took me about 16 years to recover my love of dance after that. I found myself attracted to non-choreographed dance modalities such as belly dance, rave, and trance dance. I’ve been dancing 5Rhythms (www.5rhythms.com) for nearly a decade now and it is a practice that has supported and moved me through some serious transitions in my life. I’ve danced through tremendous grief, exhaustion, fear, sadness, joy, rocky love relationships, moving away from my family, and healing an addiction. I dance because my body doesn’t lie to me like my mind does. It is utterly honest. When I come to dance an issue in my life, my body tells me exactly what is going on as I move the way it wants me to. My body tells the story of what is out of balance and gives me clues for what I need to do to regain my center. It does not use words so I’ve learned to understand the somatic language of feeling throughout years of practice to uncover its messages.
Going to class isn’t a “So You Think You Can Dance” sort of atmosphere. It is the polar opposite of competition, showing off my steps, or learning rigid dance moves. It is a spiritual experience where my body literally moves and heals me. All I have to do is follow my feet and my instincts. Often, I can feel burdens lifting off my shoulders and emotions leaving the hidden caves they’ve been trapped in- sometimes for years. I never know what is going to happen and that unpredictability is a part of the attraction for me. The unknown is where we heal, learn, and grow. They body knows how to move us in that direction if we surrender to its non-linear intelligence.
To listen to the “Going Shamanic” show on the topic, go to: