5Rhythms Tribe | Dance Your Ability

January 12, 2018


by Shauna Devlin, Salt Spring Island, BC Canada

Every Tuesday morning, I dance with a group of people who do not attend public 5Rhythms classes. It is a group made up of uniquely abled folks: people who are hearing impaired, people who face major physical challenges, some who are wheelchair bound and some who have Down’s Syndrome or other cognitive impairments. Over the years I have seen so much growth, so much flowering, and the essence of each person has become more and more visible to me. Now there is less hiding and so much more shining!

Cathy is a sweet 60-year-old woman with a child-like innocence. When I first started to dance with her, she was shy. She would often sit down during class, keep her jacket on, and keep herself just outside of the circle, never taking a turn to enter. It took about a year for her to feel comfortable enough to begin to move with the group. One day we were diving into Staccato, with a fairly strong rap song on deck, and I looked over at Cathy and there she was in all of her power and strength, embodied. I said, “Cathy! That, that right there, I want more of that! ‘Don’t mess with me!’” and she said back, right from her center, “Don’t mess with me!!” Now she is the first to greet me and dances for the entire class, fully participating.

Dancing the 5Rhythms allowed Cathy the opportunity to tap into her inner power and strength; she found the courage to try it on and play with it. To me, this is the whole point of dancing together: to feel and play with all the parts of ourselves, especially the parts that we are scared of, that are awkward or hurt. The parts that we have been told are not ours to have – or even the parts that may have been taken away from us. Cathy is a woman who has seen many homes and institutions and now, at 60, she is able to claim her power and both physically and verbally declare: “Don’t mess with me!”

Terri, another dancer, is a total gentleman: always dressed in matching vest, tie and hat. Until four years ago, he was bound to a wheelchair. He now walks with a cane and a ton of courage. He has major physical challenges, along with unique cognitive issues. For most of the class, he sits and dances in his chair. One day I said, “ok everyone, show me your hips!” and he replied, “if you want hips, then someone better come and hold me up.” From that day on, usually in Lyrical, he and I take the center of the circle to do a partner dance. He moves with such grace and dignity, under the stress of great pain and challenge. As I support him, he guides me and we do a timeless partner dance that inspires the whole room.

Inspiration abounds in this class. The courage and dignity that show up each morning amaze me. For people who regularly experience restriction and a lack of freedom in their physical being and in their lives, this class is an opportunity to dance at the edges of their limitations and experience themselves in free embodied movement.




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