October 11, 2017
by Marc Silvestre, Paris
As a 5Rhythms teacher, I have worked with a wide variety of people, including business managers and children. Years ago, at a big class I organised in Paris, I noticed that if you turned left into the building you would go to 5Rhythms, and if you turned right you would see homeless people lying in the doorway. I was struck by the fact that we were there to practice something spiritual to open to the world, but we didn’t even say hello to those people. So I started doing regular classes to raise money for causes like this.
Then, through a yoga teacher colleague, I became aware of the situation of people who are transsexual and working as sex workers in West Paris. At that point, I knew nothing about this group, but I did know that the 5Rhythms practice is great for so many different kinds of groups – and I was sure it could be used creatively with these people too.
I started meeting with people from an association called Acceptess T who work with transsexual sex workers in Paris, particularly those with AIDS. I organised two 5Rhythms events with them to reach this community. My approach was to be willing to give my time and money and to do the best I can, in exchange for learning something from them.
80 % of the transsexual people who came to my first taster class were sex workers, and there were also 10 dancers who I had invited to come and bring friendliness and kindness into the situation. I really wanted the first step to feel positive and safe so that those who came along would speak to the others in their community and encourage them to come to the second event. The second class turned my regular weekly class into a special event. It consisted of 40 trans people (most of whom were sex workers) plus 5Rhythms dancers.
The first experience was very difficult. I realised that transsexual sex workers live in another world: one of violence, poverty, and difficult relationships with men and women. At the second event I ran, I screened a movie for the first hour about the lives of the transsexual sex workers. It showed the fighting they endure, the demonstrations to defend their right to exist, the suffering they experience as they change their bodies. After the film, everyone started moving.
What is great about 5Rhythms is that this movement practice welcomes everybody and goes beyond the projections and ideas. It’s real, it’s practical, it’s not just an idea. With around 40 transsexuals out of 120 people in total, the question was: how could the movement and the practice welcome everybody in the room? How does it welcome everybody? If we do that as teachers, we do the job.
At the end of Stillness, it was fantastic to see all those people breathe together – and then speak together afterwards. For most of the transsexuals, this was their first time in that part of Paris. It was truly beautiful. Many of them have continued to come back after that to my weekly class, where I offer them free entrance.
About a month after the 2 special classes, I began to use my regular weekly class to create a meeting between the transsexual sex workers and the “privileged” 5R community – who eat healthily, consciously work on their relationships, and have more access to money and social status. I recognised that the transsexual group holds an archetype of our society which struggles with being on the receiving end of violence and with big questions about the body. Even though my regular dancers are very subtle and work well with the situation, there is a huge contrast, to say the least.
And yet, for me, it’s the same job to bring movement to the top 10 % of a company as it is to bring it to marginalised sections of our community, such as transsexual people. The inquiry is always: where is my compassion to welcome these people, whatever happens, whatever and wherever they come from? To welcome them from where they are and how they are going to move. It’s the same job – how are you in your body, and how do you move with yourself and with others?
I recognise the limits of what I have done so far. We can create seeds of human understanding, but to truly change something, I know I need to go to where this group lives and do some classes there. It takes so much effort for them to come here. Marginalised people often have problems with time because their lives aren’t structured like ours – so it is difficult to connect them with the work and to reach them. When I talked to Giovanna, the head of the Acceptess T charity, to try and find a good time for my taster class, she said mornings would not be possible because this client group would be sleeping and evenings were difficult because they would be working. So I did a 4-6 pm class.
The day to day reality of transsexual sex workers includes a lot of fear and isolation. This is caused by the continual threat of violence they face as well as being cut off from family who do not accept their transsexual status. Acceptess T is their network. At first, at my classes, the transsexual dancers prefer to dance together with their own tribe, but after a while, they start to open to others. At the end of a Wave, there is a community, a connection – it is not the same as it was before people started moving together. The space between people is not the same. It is both beautiful and sad, to see this.
Those who came back to my classes have fed back to me that they love the experience: they love to dance, to have a space to exist with their new bodies. When I invite them to take a partner, a male-to-female transsexual so enjoys being able to dance with a man in a context that is not sexual and is not for money.
The way they inhabit their bodies clearly tells their story. There is a lot of stress and muscular tension, especially in the neck, often because there has been so much surgery. Male-to-female transsexuals often walk in a way that emphasises the breasts they are finally able to have. The first time I worked with this group, I tried to work in slow motion. I have seen a physical opening up in those who have come regularly.
From working with this group, I have learned that male energy and female goes beyond the body – it is something stronger than the physical. I have learned to be more and more subtle in the way I bring people into movement. It’s as if there is a string between each invitation of the teacher and the dancers – and with marginalised people such as these, this is a fragile string. If you don’t pull, nothing happens, but if you pull too much, it’s disastrous. You have to be so careful, so sensitive; it’s a huge job of listening and feeling.
Everything in this practice comes back to our body and how we change our relation to the world; the whole world, not just a psychological New Age place. After that, I just let the world open and take what comes. I try not to forget my practice, to keep a good balance, but I remain open. All people are human beings. I learn from them all.