Notes on Practice: The Last Dance

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

“Dance like this is your last dance,” Ray Diaz, who is teaching this morning’s Sweat Your Prayers class at the Joffrey in the West Village, tells us.  “Because you never know when that last dance could be.”

Stepping in to the studio, the room is very full.  People are sprawled all over the floor, beginning to stretch and unfurl.  A little current of wind turns me right away, and I rise and fall, one hand touching ground the other reaching to sky, my shoulder rolling open and turning me in the opposite direction – big, weighted circles on the ground’s plane and on every diagonal, my head blissfully released.

Ray encourages us to move slowly and softly, and to begin to “fill up the inner reservoir.”  I find a spot near the middle of the room and stretch to my full length, rolling over the back of my head, stretching my hips, leg muscles, pressing my chest down to stretch the front of my shoulder.  Before long I am on my knees, with a raised leg that crosses behind me and drags me into a spin, sinking to the ground again, coming up onto my shoulder blade and using its momentum to pull back up into my hip and raise my heel high up behind me, undulating back again, and beginning to move toward rising.

Before class, I filled myself with inspiration.  I listened to a Buddhist talk on stillness, that included the idea that although the positive behaviors and habits we cultivate are an important part of the path, ultimately, even these are a mask, and if we are to fully wake up, we have to let go of even these positive stories that we tell ourselves.  In the morning also, I read some selected excerpts on Dzogchen, a spiritual system that emphasizes opening to bare, naked, luminous, absolute reality, on the spot.  Here.  Now.

Staccato’s appearance is unmistakable, and Ray encourages us to let go of the hips.  The room is wild, expressive.  I move around, connecting with many successive dancers, including my favorite dance partner of all time, who I circle in a twittering lasso, my hands grazing the ground as I greet him, entreating him to dance.  After my first turn with him, I partner with a young woman who I haven’t seen before, and she teaches me a new way to engage my knees, opening possibilities for moving.  “Go even deeper, with breath,” Ray offers.  Next, I join with an exuberant dancer who seems to move from her inner thighs.  I imagine that I am moving in her body, exchanging myself for her, exchanging self for other.

Chaos appears exactly when it should; and it is everything.  Sometimes it is hard work for me to be in Flowing and leave the edges out.  I am grateful to be in Chaos, where anything goes, and I can be as sharp as I want to be, as soft, as tense, as released, as gigantic, as minute.  The room continues to be dynamic, with some people dancing in a given spot, and others moving quickly around the space.  A thought comes and I say “thinking” and return to awareness, moving totally creatively and as part of the entire organism at once.  I imagine that I remove my skin, hang it on one of the room’s center columns and dance around in my bones.  The outer boundaries of me are not so clear, the other bodies might be my body, too.  I dance my friend’s heart, feeling the pain of her heartbreaks, feeling her incredible tenderness, her magic, her power.  Chaos and Lyrical dance back and forth with each other as the wave finds its closing expression.  In Stillness, cold wind from the window causes a strong sensation on my exposed skin; and I turn to dance with it, beginning with the rocking and bouncing tree branches below the height of the window, then with the wind itself.  Turning toward the room again, I move with inner winds that swirl around inside and near my body, especially along the sides of the spine.

After the first wave, Ray pauses us only briefly, not calling us to sit around him, but instead inviting us to stay where we are and just turn toward him for a moment.  “We have to dance like this could be our last dance,” he says, “because you never know.”  He goes on to say, “I’m going to share something with you.  Almost exactly twelve years ago, I lost my wife.”  He shares that this tragedy is what compelled him to step over the line into 5Rhythms.  He goes on to say, “Hold nothing back.  Just give it all you’ve got,” and “I invite you to dance, too, with those who are no longer with us.”

Ray appears to be in a place of humility and strength, of vulnerability and clarity, and capable of transmitting this clarion call, this urgent message, in a way that we can hear.  Hold nothing back, his entire self communicates, hold nothing back, you have no time to lose, you might not get another chance to give more, to give better, to give fully, this could be your only chance. 

I feel a gasp of sadness rise up into my throat and the woman next to me starts to sob.  I don’t know her and I don’t want her to think I’m trying to fix her, but after a momentary hesitation, I reach out and put my hand behind her upper spine.  She turns and hugs me, still shaking.  She smiles through her tears, eyes shining, mouth closed, and puts her palm on my cheek.

I think of a work colleague who died this summer, young, in a car crash.  In a circle discussion at work, we each had a chance to offer our thoughts.  “If my time comes,” I said, “I only pray that I have emptied my whole self out.  That I have been of service.  That I have offered everything that I have in me to offer.”  Breath snagged on something inside; and I cried for several aching heaves.

Ray starts the music again, and I check out for a few short moments, then say “thinking” and come back in.  Energy flags slightly, I note slight inertia in Flowing. We glance through Staccato and then dive fully into Chaos again. “Release!” Ray cries out from the teacher’s table, and the room explodes.  Chaos keeps going and going and going, rings of a tree, going back to its start as a sapling, as an acorn, when the tree was already contained in it.  I connect with a dancer I’ve never seen before, delighted by her unique expression.  I remember my maternal grandmother and cry, wishing I could have loved her better.  I think of my paternal grandmother, who just died this past spring, and how she left in a whisper.  Friends of similar age to me who have died come next.  My friend Gerard, who died at 36, tells me again, you just have to do it, Meg, just open up, step up, let it in, you don’t need anything but what you already have.  Howard, another dear friend, who died just a few weeks before Gerard also comes to mind.  When I got the phone call about Howard’s death, I was with my son Simon, then an infant, dancing to the flights of birds from a rooftop pigeon coop who swooped in a rolling loop over Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, while Simon watched me from his stroller, the reflections of clouds rushing over the planes of my eyes, my arms raised and turning all of the surfaces of me.

As I move through the room, the energetic bodies that extend beyond the skin pass through me.

The sky beckons me.  I ache for it.  I start to climb up over the ballet bar, but am sure it’s against the rules and withdraw my leg.  A new friend seems to think I need help and holds my elbow, unwittingly encouraging me.  I know I’m going to get into trouble, but I just have to.  I mean I have to, so I climb up over the bar, through the window, onto the cold metal fire escape.  I keep my feet planted and soar up into the sky.  I think of the Dzogchen teaching of open sky, the principle of space, of unrestricted awareness.  My movements are unmoored from intentionality, totally intuitive.  Tears pour down my face, drawing around the curve of my chin and neck.  I am barely visible, with my back to the bricks, my feet on the cold metal, but a member of the crew spies me and comes and says, “This is not safe.  Sorry, but you have to come down from there.”  I climb down into the room and continue to move, near the window, to the wind, the sky, with space.  I move again throughout the room, whispering through, not separate.  I find one dancer sitting in meditation, and lower myself down next to him.  Thoughts come but awareness dominates.  I reflect that I can wake up fully in this lifetime, that I am destined to, that all of us are.  The room is luminous, bodies alive.  Ray mixes a tonal track with a recording of Gabrielle Roth, the revered creator of the 5Rhythms practice, speaking.  She says, we believe that if we keep dancing, over years and hundreds of dances, we can shed what doesn’t serve, we can let go of what no longer serves.  Tears are a river down the whole front of me.

Ray brings us all into a circle that completely fills the spacious studio, and enacts a closing ritual that allows each person to be heard and seen, re-membered after having been shattered and scattered and taken apart during the course of this Sunday morning 5Rhythms class.

If this was my last dance ever, I know that I stepped up with everything I had to give.  What else is there, really? Nothing but boundless love, the cessation of all that blocks it, and the chances we are given to live it.  Nothing but this tiny life and what we choose to fill it with.  Ojala, gods-willing, let me choose well, let me not die wishing I hadn’t held back during my very last dance, let me empty out my whole heart first, in service and in love.

November 19, 2017, Brooklyn, NYC

Unedited Image “Riskall” copyright Meghan LeBorious

© 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: Journey into Trance

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

“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 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: Natural Disasters, Friendly Animals & the Need for Warriorship

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


My close world is torn apart with natural disasters – hurricanes in Texas, and in Florida & the Caribbean, earthquake in Mexico – at the same time, it is a spectacular day in New York.  Temperatures in the 70’s, low humidity, blue skies with the kinds of clouds that are easy to see as friendly animals or as elaborate castles.  In the Sunday morning Sweat Your Prayers class at the Joffrey Ballet in the West Village, taught today by Jason Goodman, I held both realities.

I have been teaching high school students for the past few years and the beginning of the year makes me feel joyful.  Meeting new students, I can’t wait to find out what they can do.  I’m twittery, imaging all the great structures we will co-create, thinking about how to set things up for them, reviewing my inspiring speeches and clear explanations.  Imagining all of us having fun together at the first dance.  Having done this for a few years, I also know how much I will come to love them by the end of the year; and I can feel it already.  I’m choked up in advance just thinking about it, even as I write.

At the same time, sadness and fear visit me.  People all over are suffering terribly, in particular as a result of the hurricanes and earthquake.  I keep feeling wracked by sadness.  And I am afraid.  As of late, the Christian concept of apocalypse no longer seems as far-fetched as I once believed.  As a human community, we really don’t seem to be moving in a good direction.

There was a time when I wouldn’t have let myself have access to joy in the face of this suffering.  I would have thought that feeling joy would be an affront to others’ pain.  Now, I feel differently, though.  I realize that if I am suffering too, I haven’t actually helped anyone.  There are just more of us suffering.

Stepping in to the fourth floor dance studio, movement nuzzled me from all sides and I felt free and inspired.  I delighted in the clear blue sky pouring in the windows, smiled to greet many friends, and found myself a spot on the floor.  There, I moved in big, arcing circles, attenuating my body in long gestures to stretch at the same time, pulling my feet up to warm up my quadriceps along the floor, rolling over my shoulders and over the crown of my head.

I wore wide-legged pants with a tucked-in tank top, which allowed me a full range of motion, and that I exploited with every angle, level and gesture.  Lately, I have a good relationship with Staccato, and I sunk deep into my hips, playing with rocking my pelvis and taking big backsteps – at times holding my leg up and rocking my knee forward and back before placing my foot emphatically on the floor, garnering tremendous momentum and force in the process.  Jason spoke of the need for Staccato, sometimes for ferocious and sudden action, since staying in Flowing all of the time would, at minimum, mean we might get nothing done; and at maximum, might mean we fail to act to save our own life or the lives of the people we love.  Sometimes we don’t have the luxury of a patient warm-up, instead when the situation calls for it, we have to step into Staccato instantly, as warriors, with all of the power and force that is required of us.

We seemed to spend more time in Chaos than in any other rhythm today.  Jason spoke directly of the devastating hurricanes and earthquake; and also reflected on the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, which he, like me, personally witnessed.  I recalled a class Jason taught in the same room just three days after the election of Donald Trump, when he also kept us in Chaos for song after song after song.  I reflected on the words of my yoga teacher, Maria Cutrona, in the days after the election, “As painful as this may be, as hard as it may be to take, this is exactly what we have been practicing for over all of these years.  This is it.  Right now.”

The ultimate test of our practice is to keep moving even inside a swirling maelstrom of Chaos.  To find a way to ride the Chaos so it doesn’t destroy us.  As the rhythm of Chaos unfolded, I was often low, finding a growling thread of Staccato, realizing the need for action.  Deep in my knees and hips, I held my arms cactus-like and rocked and cracked into my upper spine at great velocity.  I joined two friends, including the very woman who brought me to a 5Rhythms class for the first time over ten years ago, and we leapt and twisted and spun, inspiring me into a whole new set of gestures and ways of working with weight and extension, every minute muscle of my feet steering me into unending expression.  I moved around the room and joined with several others in sequence, including with a man I hadn’t seen before whose lyrical expression of Chaos softened me into joy.

This school year, I will be teaching mindfulness & meditation to nearly my entire school community, going into many different classrooms for 20 minutes each week.  I thought about how I would introduce the work.  “Dear Ones, this world is crazy,” I rehearsed in my head, “We have hurricanes, earthquakes, racism.  Donald Trump.  There is pretty much nothing in the external world around us that we can count on.  Even if you are lucky enough to have a safe home, enough money, classrooms where you feel respected and valued.  Even if you have all that stuff, at some point, you, too, are going to feel like the world is crazy.  Because that’s what the world does.  It’s always changing and throwing new stuff at us.  Since the external world is so crazy and is constantly shifting and changing, we can’t rely on it for our sense of peace and safety.  Our only hope is to develop our internal world, what’s inside, so that we have at least one place of refuge we can count on, that’s always available to us, regardless of our shifting circumstances.”

In the second wave, I grew slightly distracted as a result of rehearsing my speech in my head.  I forced myself to return attention to my feet, telling myself my speech would all still be there later on, after it was no longer time to practice; and I moved around the room in Flowing.  I met the blue-green eyes of a woman who was close to my own diminutive height and felt flooded with sadness, receiving, feeling the emotions around me.  I noted that I had hunger pangs and put my hand to my lower stomach.  My energy dipped slightly.  Playful regardless, I knelt with my forehead down next to two friends who were back to back, and they inched their feet apart, delighting me by making a little bridge for me to crawl under.  I squirmed to the other side of them, then pushed hard on the ball of my right foot, leaping high into the air and curving into emphatic motion like a cartoon wizard casting a lightning spell.

I had another wind during the closing gestures of the class.  In Lyrical, I, like many others, swooped throughout the room, joining other dancers in brief partnerships.  In Stillness, I keyed into tiny articulations of my coccyx and lower spine, closing my eyes and feeling the movement of energy throughout my body, moving my hands in space as these quiet modulations swept to my edges.  Jason gathered us into a big circle where we continued to move in Stillness, ending at last with several deep, collective breaths.

At the end of the class, I chatted for a moment with an effusive, beaming first-time 5Rhythms dancer who I had helped to greet.  Then, I spoke with a friend who had seemed interior during the class, and learned that many of her family members live in the southern part of Florida, where they were being pummeled by Hurricane Irma even as we spoke, her eyes pinched in pain, her shoulders raised, her tone incredulous.

September 10, 2017, Brooklyn, NYC

( First image: of St. Thomas after Hurricane Irma from Second image: of Florida during Irma)


© 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: 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.

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