Notes on Practice: Journey into Trance

Este blog consiste en mis propias experiencias en "5Rhythms® dancing path" y no esta respaldada por 5Rhythms® ni ningún profesor..

“Moving with the spirit has taught me all I know.”  -Gabrielle Roth

I didn’t have much time to contemplate what I might experience when I signed up for “Journey into Trance,” a two-day workshop with Jonathan Horan, who is both an experienced 5Rhythms teacher and the current holder of the entire 5Rhythms lineage. Stepping out of the elevator onto the 5th floor at the Joffrey in the West Village, I happily greeted many friends and prepared to step in to the studio, bringing many ongoing narratives into the room with me.  Right before I entered, I ran across Jonathan and embraced him in greeting.  Immediately after, I wished I had been more discreet, thinking that he probably has people coming at him from all sides, and may not have actually wanted to be hugged.  I let that go and moved across the threshold of the studio, feeling a knot of emotion in my throat, along with a rush of gratitude.

A few days before I’d had a conversation with my seven-year-old son Simon about the difference between brain and mind.  The brain, I shared, is a thing in your head with complex electrical wiring to the rest of your body.  The mind is your brain, but also stretches past just your own head.  Because all that you think and perceive and experience is influenced by things outside of your body, you could say that your mind also includes everything that ever is or ever was.  After that, he asked several profound questions about the nature of existence and consciousness.  Then he said, “Mommy, can we still get that book to hold all my Pokemon cards?”

Another thing I carried into the studio was the experience of teaching Mindfulness to teens.  I have been dabbling for several years now, but this is the first year it has become a significant part of my schedule.  The technique I taught students this week was “First Thought,” when you watch for a thought, then when one appears, simply label it “thinking” and return to the object of meditation.  My experiences with the students (and also some with the adults) crowded my mind, and I kept reviewing my inspirational speeches, past and future.  Then, I would catch myself and say, “thinking” and return to the experience of feet, breath, body, rhythm.  Truly, I gave myself few escapes this weekend.  A fortunate thing, because it doesn’t seem like Jonathan would have accepted less.

I started most sessions with laps around the perimeter of the room. I felt like it helped me to arrive in the space. I also imagined I was helping to establish an energetic container.  On my first lap, as I walked past the beautiful black-feather-themed visual presentation created by Martha Peabody Walker and Peter Fodera, I discreetly dipped my hand into a metal washtub of salt that was part of the installation, scooped up a small amount, and rubbed it onto the soles of my feet.  Initially, I moved gently around the space, saying internally, “I see you there; and I am grateful for it,” as I encountered each person.

As the wave progressed, drenched with sweat and thirsty, I paused to drink water, facing out the 5th floor window onto Sixth Avenue.  For the first time ever, I saw people high up on an outdoor walkway by the clocktower of the historic church across the street.  Smiling, I raised my hand in greeting.  One woman waved back, and nudged a man next to her, who did the same.  Delighted, I continued to be strongly connected to everyone in the room, and also to the world outside the studio throughout the weekend, often picturing the sky on the other side of the ceiling, and occasionally, the curving, vast earth.  Once in Stillness I sent energy from one hand to another, but it took a long route, traveling not just across my hands, but around the entire sphere of the earth to arrive in my other hand, creating a long, circular arc that I completed into a circle with my own body.

In this opening wave, I danced a ferocious Chaos.  At times, I wasn’t sure which rhythm we were in.  Lately, I have had work to do in Staccato, and have been deliberately holding myself in Staccato rather than charging on directly into Chaos.  During “Journey into Trance” there were times that I suddenly realized we were already moving into Lyrical without ever having really let loose in Chaos.  As a result, my neck was very sore the first day.

Continuing to reflect on my own students, who are mostly people of color, I thought also of the courage of people of color who are part of the 5Rhythms community.  That week, I had led circle discussions about the events in Charlottesville.  During the same week, a student in a different class spoke out hotly during a reading, “This is making me feel a certain type of way!” he said.  “How are you feeling exactly?” I asked. He started to explain that a character’s remark seemed racist.  A teacher, who identifies as white, like me, and who I share the class with, tried to talk him out of it.  “Well, I have a neighbor who…” I let her talk for a few moments, then said, “You could definitely read that statement as racist.”  “Thank you!” gasped another student.  I thought about how many times I’ve been in full 5Rhythms rooms where there has been just one apparent person of color.  I thought about how incredibly important diversity of all kinds is for the integrity and vitality of the 5Rhythms community.  I thought, too, of the incredible courage of my fellow dancers.  How despite the daily ravages of racism, how somehow so many people of color have managed to step up to be courageous, surrendered and vulnerable, fully in the dance.  And how remarkable and valuable that is.  And how inspiring.  A point of hope in this ugly world that seems to grow uglier daily.

We took a break in the late afternoon.  I didn’t feel like socializing, and ate in the nearly empty studio.  I made a few notes about the morning in my journal, then followed the suit of another dancer and sat in meditation with my back to a column.  Then, I lay myself down and entered a chthonic, deep relaxation, falling into the floor, the earth and darkness.  As people returned from the lunch break, they thundered by me with their pounding footsteps, but I continued to rest until the music started again.

Instead of leading us into a wave right away, Jonathan gathered us together and began to speak.  He talked about Gabrielle Roth, the founder of the 5Rhythms, first.  He said that witnessing her dance, she was so transparent and embodied, you could just cry looking at her.  Gabrielle Roth was also Jonathan’s mother, and he spoke of growing up with her at spiritually radical Esalen Institute in California, then moving to New Jersey at the age of 7, where he felt out of place.

At this point, he switched from his own experience to ontology.  He argued that we have all pretty much entered into a fool’s agreement, “That I won’t see you, and you won’t see me.” Why be half-hearted? He posited.  Gabrielle, herself, was not a rule follower.  Instead, she relentlessly sought what was real and true and beautiful.  What I heard was, Wake up! Wake up!  Your very life is at stake.  I’m making it all sound funny because it is, but we don’t have time to languish in generalities.  Let go of the many limiting ego stories that are stifling you. Life is passing so quickly.  Before we know it, we will die.  Jonathan said later, “After all, we may only live once.”

Next Jonathan invited us to consider the frame of “Journey into Trance” and reflected that trance might look differently for different people.  He also suggested that we approach the weekend with curiosity and an attitude of spaciousness, accepting that some might need to roll around on the floor screaming, make odd noises, or act in other socially unacceptable ways.

After Jonathans’ talk, we began with simply walking around the space.  We experimented with allowing ourselves to be led with our bellies, and then with allowing ourselves to be led by our heads.  I noticed that I had a much lower center of gravity when the belly was leading, and that I felt like part of the collective field, as opposed to when the head was leading.  Despite a sore neck, I danced a very athletic wave.  Every time a thought arose, I said, “thinking” internally and returned to the physical experience of my body, finding endless new ways to move: big back steps, a new complication of low-weighted spinning with open shoulders moving my hands up and over me like coiling carnival rides, deep front and back movement in the pelvis and sacrum, sunken with my heels touching the backs of my knees and then stepping forward, my heart bursting open, then coiling my entire abdomen back inside, then bursting my heart forward again, sometimes continuing this arcing in the space in front of my spine, and through the hips and pelvis.

“Are you in or out?” Jonathan asked.  “And if you’re out, can you come back in?”

At a moment when my energy dipped, I encountered a friend at the outer edge of the moving room.  She, too, seemed tired, and somehow we fell into each other, quivering, shimmying, small, precise.  We rolled inside discreet shoulders, cascading forward and back.  Making oblique eye contact, we both smiled.  Moving from our bellies, I recalled images of Fela Kuti’s many wives who accompanied him onstage, dancing with vibrancy, the rhythm of the body pouring out at the heart, with arcing, arching intensity.

At day’s end, I was thoroughly exhausted, and my neck was very painful.  I recalled that not only had I perhaps not given myself fully over to Chaos, but also that Simon had woken up very early and put on a movie, which I half-watched along with him, my neck propped awkwardly onto pillows and twisted for the duration of the three-hour film.  I darted out, making my way to the subway, where I made the happy discovery that I had a little bag of snack food in my bag, then spent several minutes trying to open it.  Struggling, I finally resorted to attempting to pierce the bag with one of the sharper keys on my keyring, when I finally looked around.  Just across from me on the same platform stood Jonathan, two blazing sapphires staring out of his face, his arms crossed over the railing, one forearm over the other, grinning and giving off sharp little glints of light.

My parents were in town to care for Simon, and I met up with all of them.  I was too tired for intelligible conversation.  I went to bed as soon as I got Simon organized, tucking a sheet onto the couch in the living room since my parents would sleep in my bed, and settling in as quickly as possible.

Saturday night I slept very deeply, and, miraculously, woke Sunday with no pain in my neck.  I went to brunch with my family, then made my way back to the Joffrey for the second day of “Journey into Trance.”  As I pushed open the glass door from Sixth Avenue into the Joffrey, Jonathan was entering too.

As the music started, I did a few laps of the perimeter, then found Flowing easily.  I was gentle, small, with my arms close to my torso, totally fluid, slotted in among the many prone dancers, almost crying, connected to the entire field, not separate.  Moving around the space, I did what I call “Passing Through Practice” where I sort of energetically whoosh through everyone and everything–even the columns–and let them all whoosh through me.

Jonathan spoke of a “deep inquiry into the interior self.”  Listening carefully to the teacher’s talk is a practice itself, and every time my mind drifted, I directed it quickly back.  “Are you in or out?” he asked again, “and can you know when you’re out?  Can you stay in?”  I rebelled internally, thinking it would be better not to grasp and push, and instead to just notice.  But maybe this is a different level of practice, I thought, maybe it is possible to stay in the entire time.  Maybe even all the time, on and off the dance floor.  Jonathan also suggested that we experiment with “soft eyes” rather than direct gaze, to support the experiment of working with trance.

He also said to the group, “If I were you, I might have come in with resistance today after dancing like you danced yesterday.” I reflected that I have, in a way, encountered very little resistance to 5Rhythms over the years.  Even when I am aware of how vulnerable I am, how torn to bits, how connected, how surrendered, how energetically porous, even when I have felt judged or left out–even at these times I am not late on purpose, I don’t lie to myself and blame others when I don’t feel good (even when I do), and I always step into each rhythm with the sincere willingness to fully bring it to bear.  It is a curious thing.  In other practices, such as yoga, I have encountered much more resistance.  Sometimes the edge is razor sharp, though, and when I go very deep I may spend ensuing days feeling irritable or otherwise “off,” perhaps my ego’s desperate attempts to re-assert itself.

At one point, Jonathan said something about how ridiculous it is to pay attention to how you look in the mirror.  Here, too, I rebelled, realizing I had been so intent on not looking in the mirror, that it had acquired the flavor of aversion.  So I spent a little time right next to the mirror, turning to the side so I could fully examine the complicated sways and arcings of my stomach, lower back and pelvis.

After the talk, I glued my belly to the floor and moved with weight, pulling myself around with my arms and coiling spine.  I pulled up onto my knees and set about finding as much movement in my spine as possible, my head forward and simply following and completing the many ratcheting, twisting and undulating gestures of the spine.  I stayed deeply connected to myself as new forms arose in Staccato.  At one point as we moved from Staccato into Chaos, I played with balance, staying on one foot, and swinging, bounding and descending with the other, looking for the farthest edges of balance.

I recalled that when I first started dancing, I pretty much always kept “soft eyes” as it seemed rude or intrusive to look straight at anyone.  Back then, almost a decade ago now, I often stayed inside a heavy trance for the duration.  For me, it became most intense during Chaos.  I was kind of a trance junkie–craving that depth, that intensity, the shamanic glimpses, the sense that life is deeply meaningful, that “this” layer of reality is just a tiny piece of the picture.  Then, I started to open my eyes more, literally.  I found the ground, I met people’s gazes more directly, more often.  I felt like instead of privileging transcendence, I was connecting with greater awareness to the world.  Trance would still come in pockets, spirits would visit, ancestors would soothe me, visions would present, energy would move tangibly and visibly.  But I never experienced the sustained trances that I did in the first two years of dancing again.  To my surprise, “Journey into Trance” was, for me, an opportunity to re-integrate those early experiences, and to enter into other dimensions with the full support and protection of my spiritual community and teachers.

Call on your guides, your ancestors, your spirit animals, your lineages, Jonathan invited at one point.  I spread my arms as wide as the room and grew very tall, regal, a great trailing cape rushing from my arms as I moved in sweeping ribbons through the space, my spirit entourage in a phalanx beside and behind me–my emotional support system, my protectors.

During this wave, I was very released in Chaos, unleashing a massive proliferation of forms, including everything, somehow, leaving nothing out.  In Lyrical, I again moved through the room, passing through people and objects, feeling the whoosh of merging.  In Stillness I had a vision of eyes on the palms of my hands.  Even with my eyes shut, I could see everyone in the room, could see the sky through the ceiling, and could see inside of my own body and the interior bodies of people in the room.

Before Sunday’s break, Jonathan lead us in a guided meditation.  Laying with my full back on the floor, my arms and legs extended, he spoke into the microphone, suggesting an image for the cessation of ego defenses.  At its conclusion, I had to remind myself where I was.

I floated down the elevator, avoiding eye contact, not wanting to dissipate, not wanting to disperse.  I went to a local health food store, and chose food as efficiently as possible, thinking that I would write after eating.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten my journal on the bench in the locker room at the Joffrey, so I didn’t have any way to write.  Instead, I listened to the most curious, avant-garde recording of two older women in a fascinating conversation about movie stars from the 1980’s that was playing on speakers in the dining area.  Slowly, I realized there was also music playing.  Then, I realized that only music was playing, and the conversation I was listening to was actually taking place in real time, between two women just a table away from me.

I thought of a story about a conversation between Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the founder of the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, and His Holiness Dilgo Kyentse Rinpoche, who was the head of the Tibetan Nyingma lineage.  As the story goes, the two friends were sitting in contented silence on a bench in a garden, enjoying a pleasant afternoon.  After some time, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche pointed and said to the other, “They call that a tree!” at which point they both broke into peals of laughter, which went on for some time.

After lunch, Jonathan started us off with intentional self-care, guiding us as we massaged our necks.  Most stood up for this, but I remained on the ground, sticking various parts of me to the floor emphatically.  At this point, I moved around the room in Flowing, my eyes soft, saying, “I feel you there, and I am grateful for it,” rather than what I often say internally in Flowing, “I see you there, and I am grateful for it.”  During this wave, I partnered less, turning more and more inside, “cruising the emptiness” as Jonathan said, quoting Gabrielle.

“What’s real, what’s true, what’s deep, what serves the big dance of love,” Jonathan chanted, ever suspicious of sanctimonious bullshit, calling out our egos stories, our feeble escapes, our neurotic self-making again and again.  In Chaos, I moved with total engagement and energy, released, erased.  I hung my skin onto a nail while I danced around in my skeleton, near a friend who always inspires me, both of us totally plugged in, but on different journeys.  Moving into Lyrical, my bones glowed with ancient writing, light on every bone’s surface, the plane of my shoulder blade, the big femur bone of my leg, on every separate link of my spine.  Then, a spirit visited me (or so I imagined).  I remembered him from many years ago, when he came to dance and overlapped with me, weaving in and out of me as I swooned and tears poured down my cheeks, teaching me the Passing Through practice.  This time we danced again, becoming one body and then separating, ending with swaying, my hands pressed to his hands.

Jonathan selected a soaring, tender song with the lyric, “There is a place I know.  Only I can go there,” that I associate with the passing of his mother, the beloved Gabrielle Roth.  A low, grazing groan of grief dragged out of me, a deep-bass lowing.  I moved in a gesture that finds me nearly every time I am in Stillness, looking down, moving my hands slowly to the left, turning my body around, and felt I could see the origin of this gesture, many lifetimes ago, in a scene of trauma and destruction.  I was a gigantic, swooping, flapping vulture, and the air displaced as I beat my wings.  Still groaning, crying, breath totally moving me, not separate.  Even as I gasped, every muscle echoed it.

Though I was totally lost in this place, I gently settled back in, like a feather landing.

At the end, my breath was rich and resonant.  Like some ancient grief had cleared.  In the coming days, I would experience the irritability and emotional volatility of an ego that feels seriously endangered after it has managed to step into the sky, into the vastness of experience, where its tiny stories are drowned out by the deafening hum of existence.

At the end of the day, I made to leave, still feeling private.  I changed my mind and lingered for a little while, talking with several friends with whom I had shared gestures or insights.  I made my way to Jonathan, remembering that my earlier hug might have been overkill, and stood with my hands in prayer, touching them to my forehead as I made a tiny bow, my eyes smiling. “Thank you.  This has been so beautiful.”  He gave me a generous hug and a kiss on the cheek.

The five-year anniversary of the death of Gabrielle Roth was just a few days after the “Journey into Trance” workshop.  I hope we honored her memory this weekend.  I hope we served her vision.  I hope trance continues to unfold for all of us, in Jonathan’s words, inside this “cathedral of bones” this “wilderness of the heart.”

October 16, 2017, Brooklyn, NY

This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.  Images are copyright Meghan LeBorious.

© Meghan LeBorious

Meghan LeBorious es una escritora, diseñadora, profesora y artista visual de Brooklyn que ha estado bailando 5Rhythms desde 2008. Ella se inspiró para comenzar la crónica de sus experiencias desde su primera clase; y ve el proceso de escritura como una extensión de la práctica


Notes on Practice: Flying in Formation

Este blog consiste en mis propias experiencias en "5Rhythms® dancing path" y no esta respaldada por 5Rhythms® ni ningún profesor..

At Riis Park, the solitary birds are my first dance partners this morning.  Before long, however, I join with an entire flock, soaring as they soar, holding my arms out wide, twisting in an arc as they move to the farthest edge of an orbit, sinking deep and looping one arm through the other as they change sides, rising suddenly and falling back into my edge, my feet grinding circles in the cold winter sand, covering vast distances on the deserted beach.  Seeking solace and insight in these deeply troubling times, I planned this artwork performance—a ritual, of sorts—hoping to find some clues to show me the way forward.

Another place I go to seek solace and insight are 5Rhythms classes and workshops.  Created by Gabrielle Roth in the 1980’s, 5Rhythms is a dance and movement meditation practice that embodies Gabrielle’s vision, “A body in motion will heal itself.”  The five rhythms are Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness.  Each rhythm has its own character, which becomes territory for endless experiments.  To dance a wave is to pass through each of the 5Rhythms in sequence.  In a typical two-hour class, we move through two waves.  On first glance, a 5Rhythms room would probably just look like a wild dance club, but for most people it is also much more.  For me, it is laboratory for life, encompassing psychological, emotional, philosophical, interpersonal and shamanic levels.

At a 5Rhythms class just a few days before the performance at Riis Park, 5Rhythms teacher Tammy Burstein says, “We don’t have to just be at a loss, because we have a map,” remarking that many people seem to be stepping into the class “still carrying a lot.” In having a map, we have the comfort of knowing that we have a way forward that doesn’t rely solely on our own initiative or motivation.  This is particularly useful when we feel stuck or overwhelmed, as many, including myself, have felt for the last several months.

Waiting in line for the bathroom before class, a woman I had shared a dance with the week before says, “I love your dance.  It is like you are always weaving, somehow.”  I think she is talking about the way I move through the room, sharing dances, winding gestures inside the empty spaces, and following the currents caused by the many moving bodies.  I introduce myself and smile, thanking her for the compliment and for the feedback.

Just two days later, I find myself weaving the air with my arms as I undertake the performance artwork at Jacob Riis National Seashore.  I had been thinking of doing this performance for many months, but when I finally decide to actually do it, I have less than a week to prepare.  I send an invite to a few close friends, but I send it late at night, just a few days before; and I anticipate that it might be just me and the photographer.

In frigid temperatures, my hair a taut flag in the caustic wind, I set up a wooden box as a table, a dozen glass bottles with corks, a pen, and a ream of paper—barely held in place by a jagged piece of brick.  Then, I begin to move with the ocean birds as they appear in the sky.  I watch them carefully, doing my best to revive the lost art of augury—an important ritual for several groups of ancients—divination, or fortune telling, by the flights of birds.  I hoped to draw some meaning from the sky that might offer hope and direction in the coming months, especially since the political situation has grown increasingly worrisome of late.

Stepping into the 5Rhythms class a few minutes late, I do not start down on the floor, as is my usual custom, but instead stay on my feet and join the group in moving my attention slowly through different body parts, as led by the teacher.  I find vibrant movement quickly, releasing the shoulders, releasing the spine and releasing the head’s weight, which cascade me into circular motion in the first rhythm of Flowing.  Flowing is characterized by rounded, unending motion with a strong emphasis on the feet; and I move softly, with weight, the soles of my feet in in close contact with the floor.

Still engaging in the Body Parts exercise, we segue into the second rhythm of Staccato, and I begin to move around the room. Staccato is characterized by sharp, clear movements with an emphasis on the hips; and I sink low, my knees sharply bent, moving forward and back, my elbows forming pointed triangles and leading me into movement.  Tammy suggests that we could make a choice to just let go of everything we are carrying.  I stop thinking of things outside of the dance and step into many successive, brief partnerships.  Wondering if she perhaps prefers to be left alone, I nonetheless join with a friend who often favors the periphery.  As I move toward her, she smiles and steps forward to dance with me.  Another friend joins us, seeming to boing upward as he approaches, then twisting and weaving around us. We both become even more activated, the three of us moving in an elastic matrix, swapping places and moving around the edge of our small group, and taking turns moving through the middle.

The third rhythm of Chaos and the fourth rhythm of Lyrical reveal the miracle of being totally unique and totally universal, at once.  I join with a woman in Lyrical with whom I have shared many dances of rolling shoulders and circling hips, each of us bending forward in turn as our shoulders descend and cross downward, losing eye contact, then rising again as the shoulder pulls back from blocking the jaw, smiling, and moving similarly around each other’s backs, always arriving again at smiling eye contact.  This time we find new patterns—intricately-syncopated steps inside of steps—as a playful, remixed disco song booms from the powerful speakers.

I learned that the Ancient Roman augurs—the ritualists who read the flights of the birds for official purposes—would have had a great deal of say in who would lead Rome.  If the signs were interpreted favorably, a king or emperor would be crowned—the origin of the word “inauguration.”  It was believed that the birds transmitted the will of the Gods, and reflected the relative chaos or harmony of the larger cosmos.  I wondered what would have happened if anyone read the birds’ flights on January 20, 2017; and if dire predictions would have mattered.

Total porousness comes a little easier after so many years of practice; and it’s been awhile since I’ve had the pleasure of being totally shattered as a result of feeling integrated into the collective field.  In this case, during the fifth and final rhythm, Stillness, I move through the room gently, like breeze, passing through people’s energy fields and allowing them to pass through mine.

Again on the beach in the performance ritual, as words arise, I kneel in front of my little table and write down any phrases that come to mind.  Then, I roll up the paper I have written on, push it into a glass bottle and cork it.  It is very cold and I have to sustain vigorous movement, but I do this a dozen times, quickly, preparing the bottles that will be thrown into the sea at the conclusion of the ritual.  Of my attempts at divination, one stands out:

“In times of fear,

Turn to community-

Fly in formation.”

The following week at class, the experience of having undergone the performance ritual with the birds works its way into my dance.

This time I begin with my body in full contact with the floor in the first rhythm of Flowing, moving in concentric circles in every direction, edgeless, finding tension at the most extended points to stretch my muscles, arcing through my side, shifting over the back of my head onto the spine, then back around.  Still moving in concentric circles on the floor, I begin to move through the room, one leg reaching far behind me and pulling me into another level of circling.  While rolling over the back of my head, I gaze up at the standing people around me, finding empty space as it opens up and moving into it, still on the floor.

I’ve been working with a therapist lately; and we begin each of our sessions with five minutes of movement.  Recently, I started with my ear on the soft oriental carpet.  Hums from the building became audible; and I heard two voices from the floor below in conversation.  I thought of 5Rhythms teacher Kierra Foster-Ba, who has often said, “Just like any other animal, we receive a lot of information from the ground.”  With my ear to the ground, literally, I felt like I could listen for danger, read the signs, and respond appropriately—engaging my primal instincts during a time when I might otherwise be tempted to rationalize the signs of danger to convince myself I am safe.

A recurring dream came up then, too.  I am at Cape Cod in a rented cottage on a cliff by the sea with several members of my family.  The ocean has receded by miles, exposing the sand beneath; and an eerie quiet had arisen.  Although when I first had this dream I didn’t know the early signs of a tsunami, somehow I knew that a gigantic wave was about to erupt from the silence.  Walking through the screen door, I plead with my mother and sister to leave with me, to flee to high ground.  They decline, peacefully resigned.  I get into a car and drive uphill, overtaken by complex emotions—a sharp desire to live, both grief and admiration for my mother and sister, and fear that the massive wave will overtake me.

On the way in to class, I feel annoyed and unreceptive.  There is someone in attendance I always have a lot of mind chatter about, believing she is superficial for some reason that surely has little to do with her.  But before long, the music hooks me and I am moving through the room.  A dance version of Erykah Badu’s “On and On” offers me a Staccato door to enter through, and I step into multiple partnerships, moving low and backward, ratcheting different body parts, and articulating movements with precision and thoroughness.

Before dance that night, my seven-year-old son, Simon, uses the phrase “magical sweat” in relation to some wet socks that have surprised him by drying quickly.  The phrase “magical sweat” repeats for me several times during the class, and particularly as Staccato gathers fire.  As Staccato transitions into Chaos, I let loose, grateful for a reserve of easily available energy.  My hair falls over my face and eyes as my head whirls freely, leading my entire body in spinning.  I note the woman who I had judged as superficial dancing right next to me, and realize the smallness of my petty resentment.  The truth is that we are all superficial to some extent, myself included.  As I let go, I inwardly celebrate that she lets go, too, and move with many emphatic and wild dancers in close proximity.

In Lyrical and then in Stillness, I spin and leap in the center of the room, my wings held wide, recalling the movements of my many bird partners the week before.  Several successive dancers join me in flight, each seamlessly integrating into my dance of sky, swooping and soaring very close to me, then spinning off into new partnerships.

Realizing that my feet will get wet when I go to the edge of the sea to throw in the bottles, I know I have to move quickly or risk frost bite.  I make three trips, carrying several bottles at once, and toss the bottles into the waves.  As soon as the last one hits the water, I sprint to put on my boots and winter jacket, considering the performance complete.

Regardless of whether the signs I have divined in any way foretell the future, and, too, regardless of the direction the map may or may not take me, I am grateful to have a map, grateful for a way forward, and grateful for the unlikely blessing of this life, this tiny glimmer that reflects the magnitude of infinity.

“Good hope is often beguiled by her own augury.”  -Ovid

March 19, 2017, Brooklyn, NYC

This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.

© Meghan LeBorious

Meghan LeBorious es una escritora, diseñadora, profesora y artista visual de Brooklyn que ha estado bailando 5Rhythms desde 2008. Ella se inspiró para comenzar la crónica de sus experiencias desde su primera clase; y ve el proceso de escritura como una extensión de la práctica


Notes on Practice: Love Letter to Flowing

Este blog consiste en mis propias experiencias en "5Rhythms® dancing path" y no esta respaldada por 5Rhythms® ni ningún profesor..

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“The Earth is above you, below you, all around you and even inside you.  The Earth is everywhere.  You may be used to thinking of the Earth as only the ground beneath your feet.  But the water, the sea, the sky, and everything around us comes from the Earth.”  –Thich Nhat Hanh, “Love Letter to the Earth”

I have always loved benignly notable weather events.  I love the slower pace, I love that the collective experience of the weather dominates all of our minds, and that our push toward individual achievement fades—if briefly—to the background.  The unexpected accumulation of five or six inches of snow in the past two days is a delightful surprise.  Yesterday, my six-year-old son, Simon, and I went sledding in Fort Greene Park despite very cold temperatures, then returned to the warm house and sat on the couch together, each reading independently, our giant, fluffy cat purring and rubbing her head on us affectionately. 

At the dentist in the afternoon before Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class, I had a scare.  The dentist gave me a shot of Novacaine and I felt a sharp pain in my cheek, then everything in my vision went double.  The dentist was convinced that my blood pressure spiked because of fear and that I was on the verge of fainting.  He told me to sit quietly for 20 minutes; and assured me that I would be fine.   A few minutes later, I noticed that vision was restored on my left side, but was still completely doubled in front of me and on the right.  “Have you ever heard of that before?” I asked him.  “No, not really.  I guess that is a little weird.  But you are probably going to be ok on a few minutes.”  The asymmetry concerned me, however.  I wondered if I might be having a small stroke, perhaps triggered by the sudden spike in blood pressure.  Next, I wondered if I could get a parking ticket forgiven if I had to take an ambulance to a hospital and couldn’t feed the meter.  I tried to relax by taking deep breaths and closing my eyes.  After a few more minutes, my vision was back to normal, but the dentist and I decided to hold off on filling the cavity that had brought me in to the office.

“We tend to think of the Earth as inanimate matter because we’ve become alienated from it.  We are even alienated from our own bodies.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

Arriving at Friday Night Waves class on the 5th floor of the Joffrey Ballet in the West Village, I took a soft lap around the perimeter of the dance studio.  Sometimes I come in with a rush, greeting friends with shining eye contact, happy to connect.  On this occasion, I moved subtly into the crowd.  Arriving to one of my favorite places in the room, not far from Tammy, and in the corner that is nearest to the home of the late Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, I sunk to the floor, where I stretched and undulated, moving into a very vigorous Flowing.  With both hands and both feet on the floor and twisted sideways, I let my hips and butt spin heavily, as a pendulum, then sprung forward and up, led by my feet and belly into a low coiled twist that felt like breakdancing.

Recalling my scare at the dentist’s office, I reminded myself to take it easy and stay out of my edges.  I could feel the adrenaline that had earlier coursed through my leg muscles radiating off of me.  Nothing hurt, no one triggered me, and I was not preoccupied with anything in particular.  I moved around, partnering occasionally and noting the presence of each person I encountered, saying internally, “I see you there; and I am grateful for it.” I met Staccato amicably, and as Chaos arose I continued to find myself fluid and released, moving around the room with great energy.  In Lyrical and moving into Stillness, light spilled out of the junctures of my joints, and I leapt and bounded, pulled by the tops of my wrists into extensions and cascading descents.

“Everything outside us and everything inside us comes from the Earth.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

Having moved through the first full 5Rhythms wave of the class, attending to each of the five rhythms—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness—in sequence, Tammy brought us back into Flowing before pausing us for a brief demonstration and talk.

Tammy’s tone was tender as she delivered a lesson almost exclusively devoted to the rhythm of Flowing.  She seemed to be trying to find something in her gestures and said, “I wonder if I can even still do this?”  She moved as she spoke, continuing, “Never having been camping, for most of my life I have been urban, and in some ways disconnected from the earth.”  She went on to say that she had been at home with concrete, not dirt.  She would try to use her mind to figure things out, even, to some extent, inside the dance. “But that all changed after I started this practice,” she went on, “After many years, I started to realized that the earth is who we are.  And I don’t mean that as a metaphor!  It is our very essence.  It is what we are born from, what we come from.”

At that moment, Tammy’s entire orientation changed.  She got lower, literally, and some kind of fussiness, some kind of complexity in her gestures disappeared.  It was a deeper bass, an ear to the ground to hear the rumble of approaching animals, a full acknowledgment of weight and its activation in momentum.  The shift was both visible and palpable; and I felt blessed to be available to receive the lesson.

I connected with Tammy’s comments about not relating to the Earth.  The truth is that for many years Flowing didn’t really interest me that much.  I attended to it as part of the sequence, but I was eager to move on into Staccato and to Chaos.  I was more interested in personal expression, in intensity, in complexity.  I found the humility of Flowing kind of boring. I saw myself as urban from a very young age, and I was no hippy.  Earthiness seemed kind of flaky, imprecise and, frankly, unintellectual.

After many years of disciplined practice, I finally started to have some relationship with Flowing and to the ground.  It is interesting to note that since the presidential election the place I have most wanted to be is in Flowing—the rhythm of the earth, of weight, of the feet, of the ground—and it has given me enormous comfort.

In Flowing during the second wave, I joined with a friend, and we curved around each other, rising and falling.  I tried to circle behind her, but she kept me solidly in view, circling also.  Before long, Tammy suggested on the microphone that we move through the room.  Usually, this instruction is interpreted as an invitation to part ways with a partner, but this time, we moved through the entire room together, still partnered, squirreling down through tunnels of legs, wrapping around the columns, finding space above.  We moved like currents in the same stream, parting around intervening objects, still connected, coming back together again and again.  The dance was very porous, and many entered our partnership or influenced it, even as we traveled, depositing bits of rocks and leaves.

“We often forget that the planet we are living on has given us all the elements that make up our bodies.  The water in our flesh, our bones and all the microscopic cells inside our bodies all come from the Earth and are part of the Earth.  The Earth is not just the environment we live in.  We are the Earth and we are always carrying her within us.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

In Flowing Staccato and Flowing Chaos I joined with another friend, finding depth and power, noting the low bass waves that travel by the feet.  We moved both in sync and totally independently, unpredictable, wild, whole-hearted.  I walked back into my spine and she responded with bounding cross-steps, nodding her head to the beat and moving in diagonal lines.

The second and final wave of the class was a flowing wave, which is to say that as we moved through all of the 5Rhythms, each rhythm also had the flavor of Flowing contained in it. Following the sequence of Flowing, Flowing Staccato, Flowing Chaos, Flowing Lyrical, and Flowing Stillness, Tammy repeatedly invited us to partner.  At one point, I turned to a man who totally ignored me.  I wandered to a different partner, slightly confused, but not too concerned.  Later, I noticed that he wasn’t making eye contact with anyone, and was glad I hadn’t taken his lack of attention personally.

In Lyrical I joined with two others, and we threaded in and out of one another.  As the music transitioned into Stillness, our breath became very strong.  Tammy said something like, “Breathing in and receiving, breathing out and offering.”  I began to move through the room, doing what I call Passing-through practice—when I let myself stream through others and let others stream through me, sometimes until there is no energetic separation at all.

“We are a living, breathing manifestation of this beautiful and generous planet.  Knowing this, we can begin to transform our relationship to the Earth.  We can begin to walk differently and to care for her differently.  We will fall completely in love with the Earth.  When we are in love with someone or something, there is no separation between ourselves and the person or thing we love.”  –Thich Nhat Hanh

I danced hard, but didn’t feel tired, sore, or even very sweaty at the end of class.  I went home feeling content—an emotion that surprises me lately—and, too, feeling grateful, for the guidance of Flowing and for the support of the Earth.

January 8, 2017, Brooklyn, NYC

© Meghan LeBorious

Meghan LeBorious es una escritora, diseñadora, profesora y artista visual de Brooklyn que ha estado bailando 5Rhythms desde 2008. Ella se inspiró para comenzar la crónica de sus experiencias desde su primera clase; y ve el proceso de escritura como una extensión de la práctica


Notes on Practice: Moving Chaos| The Survival Art of Our Time

Este blog consiste en mis propias experiencias en "5Rhythms® dancing path" y no esta respaldada por 5Rhythms® ni ningún profesor..

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“Dancing Chaos is the survival art of our time.”  -Gabrielle Roth, creator of the 5Rhtythms dance and movement meditation practice.

“I know this is going to sound a little weird, but the Novocain will work better if you get up and move around a little,” said my dentist this morning as I faced the possibility of an emergency root canal—something I fear viscerally, despite my logical mind’s arguments.  I had been giving myself a pep talk.  “You are not going to die from this, Meg.  Pain is just a sensation.  It will pass.  Consider it a chance to practice.”

“No problem, I’m definitely a mover.”  I got out of the dentist’s chair and began to dance in the tiny office, noting that I was able to be very expressive, even in the small space filled with things I shouldn’t jostle or brush. My lower abdomen found a whole new way to open itself as I stepped diagonally forward and back—raising my arms—in the narrow space between the dentist’s chair and the counter, my feet finding rhythms and patterns, weighting back into the heel, bounding forward.  “Why didn’t I think of this before?” I wondered, moving into Chaos, letting my head release.  I took my seat again, feeling much more relaxed and properly numb.  I even had the thought, “These small challenges are an opportunity to build up my inner reserves for the much bigger challenges that will surely come; and I am grateful for it.”

Earlier in the week, at the beginning of the first wave of the Tuesday night High Vibrations Waves class at the Joffrey Ballet in the West Village, I found a quiet spot on the floor and entered Flowing slowly.  I crouched on my knees, bending forward and undulating, finding as much movement as possible in my spine.  Twice I rose to my feet, but returned to the ground again, not yet ready to be upright.

Visiting my family for Thanksgiving, I went for a run on Thanksgiving morning to visit one of my favorite places—a little network of trails along a river my grandfather loved to fish in.  On the way, I noted that I was actually feeling good.  Breath was available, nothing hurt, and I felt strong.  Then, I saw a political sign that brought me down—spray painted on a big, ratty, old board, proclaiming the residents’ allegiance.  Entering the river park, where I am usually alone, a plaid-shirted man wielded a leaf-blower, clearing fallen brown leaves from the entrance road.  I was annoyed at this destruction of my peace, and connected the man to the disturbing sign I had seen a few minutes earlier.  My mind revised its annoyance quickly, as I realized that the man couldn’t possibly be employed by the town and working on Thanksgiving morning.  I considered that he might be the caretaker of his own volition.  Running on soft ground through the woods and trails, a white sky inspired me; and a prayer of gratitude formed.

Back to the High Vibrations Waves class, Tammy Burstein, who was subbing for Jonathan Horan, dropped us abruptly into Staccato.  Unlike in my previous class when I resisted Staccato’s arrival, I stepped right into it.    Lately, I have been working deep in the belly, and deep in the feet.  I had a sense of fire in the belly; even holding the image of a warm sun behind the navel.

Tammy invited us to partner several times in the first wave.  After two or three partnerships, I joined with a man who I perceived as nonchalant.  I took on his oblique eye contact, his head slightly tucked into his shoulder, and played with my own perception.  Tammy asked if we were “pushing or pulling” and we began a very engaging dance of both pushing and pulling, deep in the hips and attentive to the ground.

The rhythm of Chaos had important insights for me, especially during this first wave.  Continuing the exercise begun in Staccato, Tammy invited us to partner with the person closest to us, telling us to change partners again and again with increasing speed.  At the end of the trajectory, she told us to just keep changing; and I continued to move around the room, pausing frequently to partner.  Chaos, for me, is the most internal rhythm, and the one I am least likely to partner in.  I often find a spot, not too far from Tammy and where there is a little pocket of space, where I can really let loose on my own.  I found my spot and moved with a very gentle, released Chaos, most engaged when the driving rhythm fell away and the music became tonal or harmonic, still deeply in Chaos.  As the music became more energetic, I began to move very quickly around the room.  I was superlatively fluid and softened.  It was crowded, but somehow I did not bump anyone at all.  Instead, my gestures were precise as I moved very close to the bodies around me. It helped that there were many long-practiced dancers, who tend to move with the energy of the group instead of staying anchored in one place, keeping the whole room alive.  The quality of awareness that I had at that moment also helped to protect me from causing harm, despite close proximity and speed.

It felt good to be in the collective field, very much in sync, and at the same time, very much on the high edge of Chaos—the rhythm of our time.  To some extent, the gem of personal achievement has lost its luster recently; and I find myself moving more than ever in the collective field.  The ability to actually move around inside of Chaos—conscious, aware and even with direction—are skills I hope to build on.  Also, the ability to give up territory and be flexible, even in the face of intensity, is a skill I will need in the months and years to come.   I see the need to practice Chaos now, perhaps more than ever.

Lyrical brought its own delights.  I crossed paths with a dancer who moved with sinewy resistance.  He kept locking into his back hip and knee, and curving up from there.  I played with his gestures, experimenting and appreciating the chance to expand my own range.  Before long, a dragon joined me, curling around me, nudging my sides to guide me forward, and overlapping me at times.  I again rushed through the room, curving wind, whipping, cascading down in the spaces between people’s legs, rising up into the spaces above us, fixing my gaze on a spot far off in the sky and racing toward it in a rolling turn, still not bumping or crowding anyone, somehow.  With a quality of fierce spaciousness, I did passing through practice, letting each person stream through me and streaming through them in turn.

I shared the blessing that had come to me in the woods with my family before Thanksgiving dinner.  One cousin—a no-longer-recovered-alcoholic—heckled me as I began to speak, but I moved forward gently, trusting the form that had arisen by the river.  I shared new research on the science of gratitude, that there is now empirical evidence that gratitude helps us to have more positive emotions, to express more kindness, and even to improve our immune systems.  “In this time of great challenge—both personal and collective.  I feel called on to work on the few things I can control—especially being grateful for the many blessings I have, and building up my relationships and communities.”  Next, I listed some things I am grateful for, including my brand new niece, my adored son, my young cousin, all of the family members present, the wonderful food, and the family members who are no longer with us who built up our traditions and bonds.  “And now the prayer,” I said, “Lord, Heavenly Father, the Christian God who has been so kind, and, too, any other Gods who are willing to help our cause, please help us at this time.  Open our hearts and help us so that even our painful current circumstances may serve to awaken us to our highest purpose.”  “To our highest purpose” I said very softly and slowly.

On Tuesday, having moved through the first wave, faithfully attending to each of the five rhythms—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness—I moved into the Flowing phase of the second wave.  As I moved through the space in curving lines and circles, seeking the empty spaces, I noticed each person, saying internally, “I see you there, and I am grateful for it.”  Someone I think is totally full of shit stepped into my orbit, and I noticed my internal judgment.

Twice, I bumped into people.  The second time, I was greeting one friend with my eyes while moving in a different direction, where there was already another body.  Although it had felt so good to be part of the collective field within this big, roving Chaos, I realized that it was no longer available to me.  Maybe my mindfulness had diminished.  Often, we think of moving through the space rather than staying in one spot as skillful, but it seems I had taken it a little too far, perhaps I had even gotten attached to the idea of it.  I wasn’t mad at myself, but I got the message.  I found a spot on the floor, and explored moving there, partnering with the people close by or with those who happened to pass.

The rest of the wave unfolded in sequence.  In Staccato, I moved alone and with others with ferocity but without tension.  In Chaos, my energy dipped and I crossed paths with the man I had earlier read as nonchalant.  He carried me along, and I found inspiration, movement, and totally new forms.  We were wild, with dramatic extensions, expressing pattern after emerging pattern.  In Lyrical we continued to move together, athletic in flight.

Alone again, the bottoms of my feet whispered against the floor, my weight held on one foot as the toe of the other delicately etched written words, messages, and pleas into the worn surface, my feet never losing contact with the floor.  My hands curled softly—the thumbs touching the first fingers.  From the view above, the prayer read, “Help! Please help!  We need help here.  I need help.  Please help me to be of service. Please help us at this difficult time.”  I saw my tiny dance, one of billions on the green, curved earth; and the little square I danced on began to glow.  My arms extended, gently casting up in arcs as I spun, transmitting the prayer to the heavens, from feet to sky, in full view of the Gods.

“Well, it looks like you just need a filling, not a root canal,” my dentist said.  My arched back settled back onto the dentist’s chair.  One small crisis averted, I dig deep, releasing to ground even in the midst of Chaos, preparing for whatever comes.

November 29, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC

© Meghan LeBorious

Meghan LeBorious es una escritora, diseñadora, profesora y artista visual de Brooklyn que ha estado bailando 5Rhythms desde 2008. Ella se inspiró para comenzar la crónica de sus experiencias desde su primera clase; y ve el proceso de escritura como una extensión de la práctica


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