Notes on Practice: I Danced Myself Empty Today

August 10, 2014 - Meghan LeBorious

I danced myself empty today.

I showed up tired and a little sore from Friday night’s dance and a long (unaccustomed) run yesterday; yet stepped immediately out of pain and into delight.

Friday, too, when I arrived my neck was sore from lugging heavy things around, and my energy was low. Somehow (how does it so often happen?) I enjoyed an almost-instant entrance into embodied movement, and shared exquisite dance after exquisite dance. An active stillness shared with a new friend emptied me right into the next exercise that Tammy proposed. She asked everyone who was feeling “invigorated” to move to one side of the room; and she asked everyone who was not feeling invigorated—feeling inertia—to move to the other side of the room. I didn’t even wait to hear the options, and reported directly to the invigorated side. I was filled with gratitude that I could move with such joy, specificity, and, indeed, vigor. Tammy instructed us to partner and I found myself with a loved friend. We moved through a wordless wave, ending with unselfconscious shapes. One of my feet pounded a heartbeat as we rose from a crouching huddle, facing each other. The people who were feeling inertia were instructed to look occasionally at the people who were feeling invigorated, and vice versa.

Lately, I have noticed a slightly wrathful aspect to Tammy’s instruction. A few weeks ago, she admonished people who cavalierly leave the room during class to chit-chat in the hall or sip water, saying that if you are doing that, “you are shitting on this practice!” Today she explained that a Sweat Your Prayers class (as the Sunday class at the Joffrey that I took today is designated) is designed as a map for people to come in and practice applying the 5Rhythms waves teachings in their own experience. She encouraged people to take at least a few classes so they understand the basic practice. She also very emphatically explained that if you come to a 5Rhythms class, you damn well better be ready to do the 5Rhythms—not any other related kind of dance, specifically mentioning Contact Improv. 5Rhythms begins with finding a ground first, in the rhythm of Flowing, and the practice builds from there; and we find a way to relate to each of the rhythms as we move through a wave. To bring her point home, Tammy said, “This is not free dance. It is dance that frees.”

Tammy also felt that most of us had skipped over Staccato completely in the first wave—the rhythm of the heart, of emotion, of feeling—and rushed from Flowing straight to Chaos. I confess that I arrived late and this might be a factor, but it seemed that the music stayed in Flowing and Flowing/Staccato, then went straight to Chaos. I was actually holding back a bit, waiting for the music to guide me to what I thought was “full” Staccato, but we went instead straight to Chaos. I didn’t mind her instruction though, and assumed there was something in it for me, regardless. She cut the music after Chaos instead of guiding us to Lyrical and Stillness with her song choices, and everyone continued to bound and shake and began to vocalize wildly. Tammy said something like, “Well, that just reminds us it is a full moon!”

I cried when Tammy said, “This is not free dance. It is dance that frees.” Lately, I cry with gratitude when I hear key phrases in 5Rhythms teachings that I have heard again and again; and when I hear the litany of the rhythms (Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness). Recently, a friend who is new to 5Rhythms mentioned another form of dance—Bliss Dance, I think—and said, “It’s pretty much the same as 5Rhythms, just with a different brand.” I kept quiet. For all I know, she may be right. I don’t really know. I haven’t done all the other forms of ecstatic dance. But the more I learn about 5Rhythms, the more I realize I don’t know.

My current understanding is that the container of 5Rhythms can hold absolutely everything, but there are a lot of things it is not. As spacious as the practice can be, it also has the diamond-hard indestructibility and vivid specificity of Vajrayana Buddhism, for example, which is often represented by a ritual knife or sword. Indeed, it is not free dance. As beautiful as free dance is in its own right, Tammy explained that the 5Rhthyms are something different, including a map that forms a ground to work from and that holds us in continually moving. (Please note that only when I have quoted or paraphrased Tammy are they her words—the others are my own reflections.)

I have often considered how I can fully engage with the rhythms and yet avoid conforming to something or falling into habitual patterns. Lately, I like the idea that exploring the rhythms is more about how I point my attention than about how I am actually moving.

Something about Tammy’s admonitions to all of us opened a doorway to a dance of incredible depth. I like that she put her foot down. I don’t have time to play games with myself. Nor do I want to be in a roomful of people who do. Her words made me feel safe, like I could relax inside the room and go wherever spirit moved me to.

By way of aside, I note that one of the things I admire about Tammy is her authenticity. She seems to call the words forth as she forms them, without insisting on a pre-planned theme. It is like she has to let whatever comes, come, seemingly without editing. As she finds her way through, she more often than not arrives in powerful territory, striking notes that open new possibilities for being in the dance and for being in the world.

I danced with many beautiful humans, including a wild, creative, edge-filled staccato maelstrom with a friend I love to dance with, immediately following Tammy’s staccato reminder.

My back neck seems to have loosened recently, allowing me now to see the space behind even with my body facing the opposite direction. I was softer than usual, and I shifted playfully in and out of the shadows of each rhythm as I moved through the room.

As I said, I danced myself empty. From the place of empty, my mind decided to take on a thorny emotional issue that could easily have led to self-abuse at another time. Last night I had a dream that I was at a 5Rhythms workshop. It was in the attic of an old and complex house. I think many of the dancers were naked, and dancing hard. Someone told me she wanted me to come downstairs with her, she had to talk to me. I feared that she wanted to castigate me, and was reluctant to follow, but shortly, I did decide to go with her. What had been a fire-escape ladder to climb up to the attic now had a broken rung on top. It became even more impassable somehow, and was just a stepladder standing straight up on a couch. I was terrified. The woman tried to help me by talking me down but I got more and more afraid. I think I even asked if we could call the fire department! My palms were slick with sweat, loosening my grip. Another woman started to climb up the ladder (now it was sort of suspended, dangling at the bottom) and I became completely flustered and upset.

In a later dream scene, I was walking down the street and a teenage boy, clowning, fell off a wall and almost on top of me. I moved and was not hurt, but I told him, “You are responsible for your body! You have to be aware of where your body is in space!” He half-listened, still with a joking attitude, and I moved toward him, re-iterating, with increasing vehemence. This is very similar to a conversation I have frequently with my son, Simon, including the unnecessary increase in vehemence at the end.

There were many additional twists and turns to the dream, but the message seems clear. I have occasional access to some exquisite, timeless, maybe even transcendent realms, but that I haven’t figured out how to bring the practice into daily experience in a reliable way. And that I often think I am in trouble. Sigh. I guess I am a work in progress.

For me, this connected to the day before. I drove to the beach with two adult friends, and with my son, Simon, and his small friend. We sat in brutal traffic; and several people bypassed the line completely, cutting in at the last moment. I kept myself in check, but this infuriated me. I tried my damnedest to keep these rogue drivers out of the line, mostly without success. My face was contorted with anger and my speech peppered with kid-friendly expletives, such as Mr. Peepee Head, Tinkleface and Doodieball.

Later, Simon grew tired. He is four now, and very determined to direct himself. When it was time to change and pack our things to go, he became defiant. Instead of taking the time to work with him, I grew exasperated and mean. My voice got hard, I pulled him to the water to wash sand off while he cried. After an ice cream treat, I insisted that he throw his own trash away, again dragging him when he refused. We repaired shortly after, but I felt sad and ashamed that I had been so unkind with him. As we were pulling out of the parking lot, some people walked behind the car. One of the adult friends said, “Oh, screw it. You might as well hit them! We’ve already seen your angry side today.” In my mind later, I was tempted to be defensive. At dance, I felt instead gratitude to him for planting this seed.

I have worked through so much anger in my life, that sometimes I am tempted to fool myself into thinking I have conquered it. Not so. This dance helped remind me that I have considerable work to do. I don’t aspire to eliminate anger, but to relate to my experience of anger in a way that allows me to avoid causing harm from an angry state, such as I did with my cherished little boy yesterday at the beach.

Today, I could look at this without making excuses; and, at once, without self-abuse.

Toward the end of class, I found myself inside a trance. A gentle breeze blew through my body, coiling softly around my spine. A circle formed at the top of my head and guided me in movement. I saw and felt the energy of my own body, connecting with the energy of the earth and with the space of the universe. As the music slowed and stopped, I started to sob quietly—with heaving, jagged breaths. My sister—dancing in the same room for the first time in months—gently embraced me and rocked me while the sobs subsided.

In the end, although I wasn’t conscious that I had skipped over Staccato in the first wave, there was an emotional lesson I needed to take in that I wasn’t available to until I found the deep Staccato of the second wave.

Tammy gathered us together again. I made my way to sitting, bleary with snot and tears, and quickly returned to the beauty of a blue-skied Sunday, the day of a full moon and indeed a super moon—when the moon is unusually close to the earth, perhaps bringing its glowing celestial body close enough to kiss.

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