October 6, 2016
by Tess Howell, Brighton, U.K.
For the last two years, I have worked with groups of young women in the UK to run a 5Rhythms-based contemporary “rites of passage” to mark their transition into adulthood. I set the programme up in 2014, with the help of co-facilitators, mentors and other much-valued support. The UK version was inspired by Melissa Michaels’s dance-based youth leadership work in the USA.
We explore the big questions of coming of age and also ask: how can dance get us to be more mindful of what matters most? How can it teach us to step in and be of service? How can it help us learn to live our lives deeply centred in our own core – and still allow us to listen to the wisdom of something larger than us?
Dance is an ideal modality for working with young people in this way. We create a tribe of mindful movers; ready and willing to witness each other, to see and celebrate what is so for each individual. There is a unity to be found in bodies moving in unison to the beat that meets that human need for connection, collaboration, co-creation.
photo by Natasha Bidgood
In traditional societies, a Rite of Passage marked a state change, acknowledging the movement from one life stage to another; in this case, the transition into adulthood. Ideally, this is witnessed by the local community who acknowledges and appreciates the growing skills and abilities that the young person has to offer. In these times of (often fragmented) city-separate communities, this rarely happens, resulting in low levels of confidence and some serious self-doubt.
So what can we do? Can we attempt to give our young people something that we may have never even had ourselves? Is it idiotic to even try and run some form of relevant rite in a basically uninitiated society?
Maybe so, and yet I personally knew that hard hunger for meaning, connection and caring community only too well from my own youth and those questions that had come through me thick and fast:
“What is this adulthood thing? Is this it? Separate solo living and learning to suppress our sense of self? Aiming to get ahead in the endless world of work, in order to seek some future based outer security? Harden up and hide your deep feeling-heart way down behind busyness and getting by? Seriously, this is it……?”
Some two decades and a great deal of learning later, I saw that there was something within the 5Rhythms that might well satisfy and serve the next generation of women coming of age and sow the seeds of living an empowered and inspired adulthood early on.
We can create meaning by putting markers in our own journey. We can cultivate our own response-ability to move in the direction of our dreams. When we get clear on our choices, our lives do change; things do get better. There felt an imperative to attempt it.
In the intensive 3-month closed group, we use “silent disco headsets”, taking the young women out to dance the 5Rhythms in the woods and wilds. We also offer art-based coaching to define values and move towards key goals; non-denominational ceremony to honour key moments of transitions; plus a variety of communication, leadership and life skills to support the women in setting up their own initiatives within their communities.
photo by Natasha Bidgood
Within each group, we met for 3 hours a week and for one long weekend a month over a three- month period. We spent a month to look at our past, seeing what we can harvest from it. We took a month to learn tools for real presence; discovering how to be here, now, in our bodies. Only then, did we take a month to move mindfully towards our future.
We have a wide spectrum of young women from hugely varied backgrounds and beliefs and we regularly see moving and memorable results from their participation in the programme.
“I’ve loved dancing weekly, the life coaching and leadership skills, pushing my comfort zone. … There have been enjoyable moments, tricky questions. .… All so useful in opening myself to the questions I need to ask. Setting the big goals, taking the little steps to get there …”
The dance is a container that can challenge us (but let’s face it – it feels mighty good to have our ego beaten into submission by a badass bassline!) The dance also allows a space to “freak freely” in a substance-free environment, offering safe ways to “shake it off” and question the status quo. The dance floor is a place where young people can discover what really does matter to them as they move into and through adulthood.
The 5Rhythms lets individuals move at their own rate and tempo, honouring the needs of their own body whilst still being part of a moving whole. Somatic awareness skills gained through dance are an invaluable source of awareness as we transition into adulthood. Young people are presented with what can feel like a pantheon of choices as to the direction they want to take in life. To develop the ability to listen to our internal somatic signals is paramount in making healthy decisions about intimacy, relationships, substances, life situations and the myriad other options that emerge as we transition into adulthood.
The dance also teaches us how to manage our physiological arousal; this somatic self-awareness is invaluable in developing emotional intelligence and especially useful when working with those undergoing the sometimes turbulent transition through adolescence.
There is something about embodied learning that is imperative here. For a Rites of Passage to really mark a transition, the individual undertaking it has to be fully present. There is no better way than being with the beat, breath and bodily sensations to call us back to the present time.
We can look at the map of the 5 Rhythms and see how individuals of any age can learn specific somatic skills for self-awareness through the process of mindful movement.
The first rhythm, Flowing, helps us find our feet. It teaches us to check in with ourselves internally, to receive what is really so for ourselves and thus support our growing self-awareness and self-knowledge as we ripen into adulthood.
The second rhythm, Staccato, teaches us how to express ourselves in relation to others and the wider world. Its movement vocabulary is linear, clear, concise. How can we learn to act and interact cleanly, clearly and concisely; stating our needs simply and with self-responsibility?
In the third Rhythm, Chaos, we work with what the dance can teach us about ways of being with the unexpected. How can we stay with our sure-footed feet in times of great tempo when the waves of change arise? How can we return to our breathing as a refuge as we move through whatever life is presenting us with?
In the fourth rhythm, Lyrical, we look at assimilating what we have learned in the earlier stages. The body is warmed up, responsive, really able to move well through the world. We find repeating patterns on the dance floor, feel at home in our place there. This correlates with the life stage of adulthood: of moving into our work in the world, mindful of what matters most.
In the fifth rhythm, Stillness, the tempo slows right down and we move with what is left in the body, hearing the authentic impulses to move. Both being mindful in motion and pausing for moments of sweet stillness to see how far we have come – both in the dance and in life ….
The work has been kindly supported by 5Rhythms Reach Out and Arts Council England so that it is accessible to all and any young women who are interested, whatever their income levels and backgrounds.
“I was left with trust and belief that I am capable of a lot.”
Regularly, we have adults asking us if we can offer something similar for them, so 2017 will see a long weekend version offered for adults both in the UK and in the western USA.
For more information, please see www.creative-journey.com.