At the beginning of the Ecstatic Dance California Bus and Film Tour we made a series of simple, yet profound agreements to self, each other and the entity that is the tour itself. One of which was that we invoke a “full body YES” to the infinite power of the practice and the energy outpour of the tour. I tucked that affirmation into my heart space along with another personal mantra that came through me in a dance weeks prior, “I release the thoughts of inadequacy, I drop the fear of intimacy.” These were the guidepost torch lights illuminating the path I would walk for those intense 8 days of the tour.
Before I formally trained in the discipline of yoga and became a teacher, I was a dancer, formally trained in various traditions. In both realms of expression I was supported by an outlined set of rules and formative manuals. My dance technique shifted into yoga asana technique and at a point I ran into a wall through which I could not transcend emotionally or mentally. I came to see my yoga practice as a tool for the understanding of what is possible, and yet it did not get me there.
When Ecstatic Dance discovered me in December 2015 (in Guatemala of all places) I felt awkward and inadequate. Reverent nostalgia crept in as my body awoke to familiar patterns of movement acquired during my years of formal dance training, but it felt lacking as I could no longer perform the movements with the same grace, ease and power that I had before. Many of my first dances were spent on the periphery, “in the gap” as I’ve heard it called, observing and mentally calculating movements before attempting imitation.
That is the model I’d always employed in learning -- observe, absorb, repeat. My movements and many of my thought loops had become just that: a rotary regurgitation of information that my mind had eaten in order to “do it right.” I quickly realized that I didn’t know how to move, think or feel organically anymore.
I continued attending dance gatherings and my movements began to change, with that my mind loops began to loosen, like a tightly spun ringlet relaxed by a heavy dose of water. I could clearly extract my patterns of shift within the overall arc of my Ecstatic Dance practice, and also within the arc of a singular 3-hour dance. Change was palpable and potent.
Throughout my brief 9-month journey exploring Ecstatic Dance, it has been incredible to dance nose to nose with the shadows that have so long remained lurking and empowered behind me; now moving to face them head-on I can begin to bow to them and release.
As we seek to heal self and community we must allow ourselves to embody these infinite gradients of experience, to walk with grace and ease in the shadows -- never in fear or avoidance. Recognize the capacity for anger, sorrow, bliss, joy, elation and depression. Recognize the energy of the city, the open field, the mountain, the river, the bird, the bear, the rainbow, the sky, and the stars that collectively dwell within. This is the work we must do. This is the work of the new age shaman, yogi, dancer, artist, poet … Human.
Ecstatic Dance has become one of the most potent portals of truth and full embodiment of human experience that I have yet encountered. It is raw, potent, vulnerable and soul-shaking. It is ancestral, tribal, primal, loud, silent, colorful, expressive and cathartic. Shift is instantaneous and there is no hiding from the spectacular spectrum of emotions that emerge, lest we be numb or resting in states of fear or avoidance. In a single dance I must move through a range of human emotions and there is no alternative. The intense awakening and trust in my personal power that continues to be revealed is palpable each time I set foot into the dance space.
And sometimes I don't dance at all -- that is the beauty of it. It often has NOTHING to do with dance as it is often defined by the mind because there is no prescribed form and the body can move in an infinite number of ways. Sometimes I sob into the floor and roll in a puddle of sweat and tears, absorbing the pure compassion of the embodied spirits around me. Sometimes I am that support to others grieving through their own processes.
On the final day of our 8-day Ecstatic Dance Adventures tour of California I had an experience like I’ve never had before, in or out of the public sphere. This particular Santa Barbara dance just happened to be very public. Before the dance began I felt challenged and heavy by a stream of thoughts concerning my relations with others, a familiar loop that often plays like a broken record.
About mid-way through the set I made the effort to shake the thoughts out of my head and into my shoulders, hips and heels. I began moving in patterns that matched the movements of my fellow dancers in the scene. I began to observe in each fractal moment how others were portraying their personal experience in the body. This process helped me to see and feel myself as a fractal of their reality as well; I became a pure reflection and thus saw others in the same way.
Some time later I saw a fellow tour member drop to her knees and thrash her body into the open space, as though pounding her fists into a concrete encasement. I moved closer to bear witness and hold space for her process. The scene immediately transported me in spirit and reverence to just weeks before when I had participated in a traditional Dagara grief ceremony at a women’s gathering in Nevada City.
Suddenly, she let out a piercing scream, a sound that I felt encompassed the pain and suffering of all women everywhere throughout space and time. That sound was so charged and ancestral that I will never forget it. I continued to hold the space until moments later it became too much and without much notice I felt myself imbibe it. Despite my training in energy work I felt my shields drop and that energy move into my own vessel. I began to feel sick and shaky, suddenly water began to well in my eyes and pour onto my face. I fell to the ground and consciously began a process of attempting to disappear and then remain painfully visible. Again, memories of the grief ceremony came to mind. I gradually dispelled my concerns of etiquette and proper standards of behavior as I stepped out of fear and into love. The sounds emanating from my mouth became louder, the tears more fervent and the shaking more intense. In hindsight, it was a full-on exorcism.
It was exquisite. I never peeled my face from the floor to bother observing my observers; it didn’t matter who was observing me anyways. Nonetheless I felt energy of love and unity creating a bubble around my limp frame. I felt intimately connected to an unknown collection of co-humans that weren’t defined by physical casing, but by the pure, wholesome, innocent love they carry. I felt supported and seen. I felt beautiful and understood. I felt.
In that moment I realized that for years I had been numbing myself from experiencing the complex set of emotions that moved through me in those final minutes of the dance. In the span of maybe twenty minutes I lived every emotion my linear mind can think to name. My physical vessel was craving the primal human experience that it’s here to have in this lifetime. I had numbed myself because feeling had become too painful and I didn’t have an adequate set of tools to cope and release. I then I became afraid to take up space for others to know my pain or potentially contribute.
And so I will continue to dance this spectrum of emotions and experiences because I’m no longer afraid to take up space.
I can take up as much space as I need.
And so can you.