Notes on Practice: Flying in Formation

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

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 is a Brooklyn-based writer, designer, teacher and visual artist who has been dancing the 5Rhythms since 2008. She was inspired to begin chronicling her experiences following her very first class; and she sees the writing process as an extension of practice‹yet another way to be moved and transformed. Read on to learn more about this one committed practitioner¹s path as it continues to unfold.


Notes on Practice: Love Letter to Flowing

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

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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 is a Brooklyn-based writer, designer, teacher and visual artist who has been dancing the 5Rhythms since 2008. She was inspired to begin chronicling her experiences following her very first class; and she sees the writing process as an extension of practice‹yet another way to be moved and transformed. Read on to learn more about this one committed practitioner¹s path as it continues to unfold.


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

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

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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 is a Brooklyn-based writer, designer, teacher and visual artist who has been dancing the 5Rhythms since 2008. She was inspired to begin chronicling her experiences following her very first class; and she sees the writing process as an extension of practice‹yet another way to be moved and transformed. Read on to learn more about this one committed practitioner¹s path as it continues to unfold.


Notes on Practice: Light & Shadow

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

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 “The intention for this workshop is full, complete and unrelenting self-acceptance,” said highly regarded 5Rhythms teacher Kierra Foster-Ba during the course of the one-day workshop “Light & Shadow” at Martha Graham studios on Saturday.  5Rhythms is a dance and movement meditation practice created by the late Gabrielle Roth; and the “Light & Shadows” workshop was a committed investigation of the shadow aspects of each of the five rhythms—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness.  After a series of tightly scheduled events, I found myself en route to the West Village, hoping a miracle would grant me parking; and pondering the fact that there are so many terrifying, uncomfortable, collective shadows to dance at this particular moment.  No matter how things go with the election, there is no denying that we have seen some horrifically ugly aspects of our humanity recently.

Before stepping up onto the gloriously forgiving sprung floor, I took several moments to notice the powerful ritual of stepping from the world into the space of formal practice.  We began with a brief wave—what we call it when we move through each of the 5Rhythms in sequence—and I found movement easily, though I noticed that I was more introverted than usual.

After the opening wave, Kierra gathered us together to offer spoken instruction and to demonstrate one way of moving in each rhythm.  Kierra noted that there were several participants who had never before attended a 5Rhythms class or workshop; and she took the time to teach essential points before moving on to the shadow work.  She spent the most time on Flowing—the first and most foundational rhythm.  She explained that Flowing is led by the feet, and is an invitation to drop all the way down into the feet in order to connect with the instinctive self.  Next, her movements became sharp and she exhaled noticeably, “Staccato is about being in the world.”  She went on to say, “Staccato is directional.  Letting in and letting out.”  The movement of her head accelerated and she began to rock back and forth energetically, saying, “Chaos is about letting go.”  She emphasized that if you give yourself over to Chaos, including not caring at all about how you look to others, you are inevitably led into Lyrical—the rhythm of joy, of lightening up.  At Kierra’s request, another well regarded 5Rhythms teacher, Jane Selzer, got up to demonstrate the rhythm of Stillness, as Kierra explained on the microphone that breath is the gateway to Stillness, and that in Stillness we begin to let pauses come into our movements.

Having set the foundation of the rhythms, Kierra went on to speak about the shadows.  The shadow of Flowing is inertia, of Staccato is tension, of Chaos is confusion, of Lyrical is being spaced out, and of Stillness is numbness.  Although the temptation is to see the shadow as a negative aspect of the rhythms or as something to get rid of, Kierra encouraged us to think of the shadows as something with real “nutrition,” and even went on to later describe the “gravy” of each shadow, inviting us to consider that the shadow rhythms might even be as enjoyable as the “essential” rhythm in some ways.  She also introduced the theme that the shadow rhythms could relate to parts of us that we are ashamed of and keep hidden, sometimes even from ourselves.

Tuesday was a difficult day for me.  I can’t exactly say why.  A stressful situation had dissolved a few days before; and perhaps it could only hit me after the fact.  My nails were bitten down, my hair’s ends broken, my skin was unhappy, I couldn’t eat as I had something that must have been heartburn, and my lower back hurt.  The dentist told me the pain I was feeling in my jaw was not because I needed some urgent dental surgery, but that the likely cause was that my gums and teeth were showing signs of stress.  I couldn’t find joy or optimism, especially in the context of work.  Everything seemed hopeless and useless.  To make matters worse, I couldn’t swim after work, my daily habit for re-setting myself to neutral, because in my rushing movements I had forgotten my swim bag.

That evening, my six-year-old son, Simon, did his very best to cheer me up.  He is an exceedingly charming child and tried all the tricks that usually work.  “How can I make you happy, Mommy?” he finally asked.  “Oh, my beautiful son!  You always make me happy.  But today I am just not feeling good.  I’m not exactly sure why, but I just don’t feel happy.  Sometimes it is like that, little one.  Sometimes you just have to let whatever it is work its way through without trying to fix it.”  After Simon went to bed, I was tempted to call my mother, as she always helps me feel better, but I decided not to.  I wanted to have a beer as soon as Simon went to bed, too, but I decided not to.  Instead, I practiced yoga for a while, letting the painful, disheartened feelings I was experiencing have full sway. It was not easy to be with the discomfort.

Kierra was transparent about the structure of the workshop; and explained her plans for working with inertia—the shadow of Flowing.  She invited us to stretch out on the floor and let ourselves slowly be called to action by the music.  There would be three songs to let ourselves be in inertia, then find our way into moving.  I started out moving kind of quickly, and consciously tried to slow way down.  The gravity and resistance of inertia didn’t feel that different from how I normally experience Flowing—where I love to whirl and grind myself into the floor, partnering with gravity and solidity.  I slowly gathered myself and rose to my feet, beginning to move throughout the room.  Kierra picked up the microphone, “At this point, ask yourself, ‘What do I need right now in order to find Flowing?”  What came immediately to mind for me was, “I need other people.  I need to see and be seen—not direct, not confrontational, but obliquely, softly.  To be influenced by other people’s gestures, to be swept along by the currents of the bodies around me and to gently affect the currents of the room, myself.”  I thought of traces, of mingling, and of kelp plants, waving their tethered arms with the movements of the deep ocean.

To some extent, working with the shadows is about transforming our relationship to aversion; and Kierra again and again visited the theme of loving and supporting all parts of ourselves, including the parts we would perhaps rather disown.  In Buddhist terms, aversion is the act of pushing away from what we find distasteful or frightening.  Working intentionally with the shadows is to choose to move toward the things we would normally try to push away.  Both in 5Rhythms and in many Buddhist traditions, moving intentionally into what we want to move away from is seen as a way to open the heart and mind, not as some form of masochistic self-abuse.  Perhaps moving directly into pain—rather than doing everything in our power to get away from it, through over-drinking, over-eating, over-exercising, over-working, gambling, drugs, filling up every space in our minds with churning thoughts, or filling up every space of our lives with frantic activity—can serve us.

Next, we moved on to the investigation of Staccato.  The shadows of each rhythm are even less fixed than the essential rhythms; and though we learned that the shadow of Staccato is tension, Kierra also added that the tension can lead to repression and control.  I clenched my fists and set to it.  I had to keep fluttering my lips and shaking out my head, as the level of tension in my body didn’t feel healthy.  My dance at this point was not very inspired.  I thought about Gabrielle Roth, how she used to stop and straight out tell people to dig deeper, to give more.  At that point, Kierra stopped the music and said, “I’m going to play a song now that is really going to allow us to go there.  This might even be a little bit aggressive.”  And, oh, was it!  Filled with angst and speed and resistance, I became a demon, letting aggression and anger arise, deep, deep in the hips, scraping, clawing the air around me, raking my knees into sharp angles, my head released and flinging itself with as much speed as my hips, feet, knees and elbows.  I danced near a friend with a very strong practice and his devotion, passion and energy inspired me to dig even deeper.  A giddy, chemical release flooded my quadriceps and soon the rest of me.  As the last Staccato song concluded, Kierra commented that anger can be a teacher; and that it can alert us when our boundaries have been inappropriately transgressed.

On the note of repression, I thought about an incident that took place during a meditation retreat I was staffing several years ago.  We were sitting on meditation cushions in a small group of perhaps ten people, engaged in a formal discussion.  We were talking about aversion—again, the Buddhist concept of pushing away what is unpleasant or uncomfortable.  In response to one of the comments about the aversive shell we create to keep ourselves safe, I said, “Well, you know.  It would be one thing if shutting down or pushing away actually worked to make us happier or keep us safe.  The thing is that it really doesn’t work.  If it did I would be all for it, but it doesn’t.”  I’m not exactly sure how it was framed, but I said something about, “It’s not like it’s the subway in the South Bronx at 2AM in the late 1980’s, when you might actually need a shell around you.”  A flash of raw anger shot around the circle; and every single person felt it before even a word was said.  One woman spoke up, expressing that she felt that what I said was racist.  Man, that hurt.  Shame of the most intense possible quality flooded me.  My heart started beating like crazy.  My partner of many years was a black and latino man.  We had shared hundreds of hours in discussion about racism, ranging through many different levels.  Secretly, I had always been terrified that on some deep level I was actually a racist. Though I was afraid, I approached the woman during the next break and asked her to talk with me about her feelings.  She was very receptive; and after, I understood how she could see my comment as racist.  She also thanked me, saying that she was always calling people out for racist comments; and that I was the first person who had ever come and asked her to talk about it.

This terribly painful experience gave me great insight; and a rush of relief flooded me with another set of powerful chemicals.  I realized I had been afraid that there was some essential part of me that was racist.  Every other essentialist part of my psyche had been rigorously interrogated, but this part remained hidden, obscured by shame and fear.  (Note:  As you probably know, from the perspective of some Buddhist philosophy “essentialism” is the belief that there is a separate and definable “self” and too, implies that reality has some logical kind of coherence or definability.)  I realized that just as there is no essential self; too, there is no essential racism.  As I currently understand it, racism is a process—one that affects every single person who lives in this culture.  Fundamentally, it is our flawed human tendency to separate the world into “us” and “them” that lays the foundation for racism, not an intrinsic hidden evil; though there is no denying the intensity and complexity of racism as it now functions.  It would be impossible to overstate the importance of this insight for my personal path.  Even my firmly-held idea that I was a not-racist was limiting my perception of phenomena, and, as such, needed to be interrogated, as much as any other part of me, in the interest of uncovering the deepest truth.

As the songs devoted to the investigation of tension—the shadow of Staccato—ended, I caught a friend’s eye.  We both smiled, and our shoulders started a conversation.  Without any thought, we stepped into a Staccato dance, with open chests and shyly playful gestures, before sitting down with the rest of the group to debrief the round of exercises.

Before the second half of the Light & Shadow workshop, we took a brief break, then danced another short wave before settling into an investigation of confusion—the shadow of Chaos.  For the first song, we were invited to start with the shapes of “I don’t know.”  This exercise did not resonate for me—which is not to say that it didn’t work for me.  Certainly, it was acting on me in some way.  In every class and workshop, even when I am transported by bliss, there are some exercises that have more charge than others.  The following suggestion, that we dance an agitated kind of confusion, didn’t really resonate this time either.  Maybe it is partly because I don’t actually mind being confused.  I am as cerebral as they come, but I don’t mind that I have all kinds of contradictory opinions and experiences and theories.  The final invitation during the Chaos shadow work was, “What does it look like when you really don’t know something, but you are pretending that you do.”

Just that morning, I had been bragging that I don’t usually hide when I don’t know something.  I saw a friend—the parent of a child in my son’s class; and I couldn’t for the life of me remember her name (it was this friend I was bragging to).  We had shared at least four or five conversations, been at the same party or picnic several times, and our children genuinely like each other.  Her name has four syllables and seems unusual to me.  I felt embarrassed that I still couldn’t remember it, but I came clean right away, rather than trying to skirt around my lapse.  We spoke at length about names and naming and identity; and I learned a lot about her home country. And I have finally committed her name to memory, so I will be able to hug her and greet her by name the next time I see her.

At the workshop, we paused to share thoughts on the shadow of Chaos.  Kierra was kind enough to acknowledge my barely-raised hand, and I shared, “What I got was…that confusion arises from misunderstanding the nature of reality.  The dissolution of all meaning systems.  That everything is moving.  And that even the ground isn’t fixed.”

Kierra surprised me by asking, “Can I work with you for a minute? To help you find the ground.  I want to ask you to go into Chaos.”  I stood up and moved instantly into a massively energetic Chaos, with whipping head and whirling gestures, moving from the floor to the sky and back, with occasional pauses of sharpness in a fast-spinning storm.  Kierra offered an oblique compliment that made me feel happy, then went on to talk about how the 5Rhythms can also be seen as a philosophy and as a way to live.

I was very grateful for her kind attention, but I feared I hadn’t communicated the emotional truth of my experience very well.  That even the ground moves feels like a revelation (or at least a reminder), rather than a lament.  For three years, I worked with teens from Haiti who had been in the devastating earthquake, when the ground literally broke apart.  Nearly all lost many family members; and some were injured.  I have also practiced 5Rhythms extensively at the edge of the sea, where the ground shifts constantly.  There, what was once ground could suddenly be underwater, roiling with rocks and sand.  I have incredible gratitude for the principle of ground, but believe there is nothing—absolutely nothing—that is fixed.  I think that the principle of grounding is a different matter, in a way. When I say there is no ground, I guess what I really mean is that the only ground we can count on is actually an experience that comes mostly from within.  Rather than trying to find a fixed external point to attach myself to, I try to build the skills I need to live in a world that is always in joyful, terrifying, ceaseless motion.

Kierra seemed to be wanting to demonstrate that release is part of the secret to finding the ground.  I understand and appreciate this perspective, but I continue to grapple with a new level of what “ground” is.  Somehow I have to find a way to trust, surrender to, and adore the ground—at once without clinging in any way to the notion of it.  Yet another thread that is a work in progress!

To conclude our debrief of the Chaos exercise, another participant raised his hand to share that, ironically, letting himself go into confusion seemed to allow him to find direction and focus.

Then, there was Lyrical—the rhythm that for years was so foreign to me I would pretty much skip it when I practiced independently.  During classes, when Lyrical arrived, I would often be stricken with terror, and have to fight an impulse to check my phone to make sure there hadn’t been some horrible calamity.  Kierra invited us to start by making “spaced out” shapes.  I started with the familiar shapes of feeling verbally attacked, withdrawn completely—disassociated to the point that I literally could not follow a conversation, prompting a criticism I heard hundreds of times, “Oh, great!  The ‘deer in headlights’ look again.  That is just like you.  You…” Our next investigation was of being distracted.  I marched anxiously around the room fixated on an imaginary cel phone.  During the final song, Kierra invited us to let ourselves space out to see what might happen.  I loved this part!  I fixed my gaze on some high up, far off point, sometimes in a different direction than the one my body was moving, and soared through the room, high up on my toes.

The rhythm of Lyrical—after many lifetimes of estrangement—opened up for me the summer before last.  After sinking several levels into connection with the ground as a result of many years of disciplined practice, space beckoned me.  On a wide beach, a man was flying a huge, red kite-surfing kite, the kind with two heavy-duty handles.  It became my partner, and we joined in a massive, radial dance of perhaps a hundred yards or more, surrounded and joined by my son and a group of running children.  From then, Lyrical became available to me, accompanied by rainbows, and I welcomed it as a miracle.  It was only the combination of ground and open space that allowed me access to this gateway.

I recall another experience of space that offered me an earlier glimpse of Lyrical.  It was also during a meditation retreat.  We had been following instructions about how to work with our minds and bodies for many weekends.  During the first weekend, we held our eyes open, with our gaze just a few feet ahead of us.  In the second, we raised the gaze slightly.  By the fourth, we would occasionally lift our gaze upward, even into the space above us.  We went to practice in Madison Square Park on a beautiful fall day.  I sat cross-legged on a park bench; and began to practice.  At the moment that I lifted my gaze, I drew breath in quickly, in a sudden rush of delight. In a flash, I saw many beings that hovered in the air, above the fountain, above the park, above the trees.  The dynamic aliveness of this moment wrote itself into my body.

In the current political context, and also in the context of my work, it occurs to me that the maturity of Lyrical—the full, shimmering, vibrating, sharp, vivid, spectacular, booming beauty of Lyrical has to do with stepping in to joy with full, open-eyed awareness and acceptance of all our pain and of the collective pain of the world.  It is only with the integration of the shadow principles, and, too, of our own psychological shadows, that joy can fully arrive—not just the happy-because-something-went-well-joy or the I’m-going-to-look-happy-since-I’m-not-sure-how I’m-feeling-joy, it is not the innocent joy of a child either.  Rather, it is the joy that has wisdom in it, joy that pushes nothing away, joy that sees from vast heights, joy that has enough space to hold all things inside it.

As the workshop drew to a close, Kierra invited us to create a circle, saying, “Now we are going to go in, one at a time.  You can do whatever you want once you are there, but the rest of us are all going to hoot and holler and really make you feel appreciated.”  I was so happy, clapping and cheering as nearly every participant stepped in.  I waited for inspiration, thinking I might walk discretely into the middle then turn slowly, looking each person in the eye, then dance whatever came.  As it was, I stepped in just as another dancer, too, stepped into the circle.  I backed away, but she beckoned me.  Instead of our individual time in the circle, we shared the spotlight, leaping and cascading and smiling as we met each other’s eyes and swooped in and out of each other.  I briefly circled her shoulder with my arm, turning her to look at the circle, but we only turned through one small arc.  She returned to her original spot in the circle; and I cross-stepped back to my own spot.

Kierra drew us together again and invited us to hold hands, close our eyes, and stand in both our light and in our shadow.  Then, gathering us together for a final chat, she tied some of the threads together, expressing that it is only when we fully support and accept all parts of who we are can we live authentically, from the heart.  Kierra also said something to the effect that the thing that causes us to suffer the most is the idea that we are separate from each other, and that actually we are deeply connected, in ways “both miraculous and mundane.”

Today, as I write, is marathon Sunday.  I got to watch the middle of the pack for a little while, and cheered enthusiastically. There is nothing more gorgeous than people being beautiful—living their dreams, perhaps pushing themselves far beyond what they thought they were capable of.  My cheers were jagged with little sobs of joy.  What a blessing, to be alive.  How incredibly lucky we are.  To live and to witness others in living.

I had to leave the discussion a few minutes before the end, as I didn’t want to be too late for the babysitter.  The friend I shared the spontaneous, staccato dance with stood up and followed me to the studio door while the discussion continued, embracing me warmly before I stepped down off of the dance floor and the sacred space of formal practice, and back into the world.

November 7, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” –Albert Einstein

© Meghan LeBorious

Meghan LeBorious is a Brooklyn-based writer, designer, teacher and visual artist who has been dancing the 5Rhythms since 2008. She was inspired to begin chronicling her experiences following her very first class; and she sees the writing process as an extension of practice‹yet another way to be moved and transformed. Read on to learn more about this one committed practitioner¹s path as it continues to unfold.


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