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.


Notes on Practice: Joyful Patterns

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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“In short, no pattern is an isolated entity. Each pattern can exist in the world only to the extent that it is supported by other patterns: the larger patterns in which it is embedded, the patterns of the same size that surround it, and the smaller patterns which are embedded in it.”  -Christopher Alexander

Today features a white sky and a steady rain.  Although Brooklyn’s trees are still green, just a few hours north, where I am this weekend, the leaves have started to display their colors.

Last Tuesday night I attended the High Vibration Waves 5Rhythms class at the Joffrey in the West Village, taught this week by Peter Fodera.  I had a bad cold with a headache and wasn’t sure what kind of energy I would have, but decided to go anyway to see what might happen.

Last weekend at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton with my six-year-old son, Simon, we talked about the artworks we encountered, trying to identify what might be the main conceptual concern for each artist.  Encountering a Dan Flavin sculpture, which featured one, two and then three vertical, white fluorescent lights, I asked Simon what he thought this artist was mostly concerned with.  He looked intently at the artwork, then quickly said, “Patterns.  And math.”  (He is getting pretty sophisticated, this small son.  He also said this week, on riding his scooter down the block, “Ah! My back! I’m just not as agile as I was when I was three!”)

In the Flowing part of the class’s first wave, Peter encouraged us to “walk on every inch” of the floor, and to “look for the empty space.”  I langored in this opening act, my feet whispering to the floor. Then, Peter invited us to “walk with someone for a while” and to “see their feet.”  In Flowing, I love to be pushed and pulled along by the gestures and trails of the dancers around me, occasionally gliding in unison in a shared motion.  I particularly love to step into Peter’s wake as he sails through the room—it is like drafting in the water behind a champion swimmer; and as the seas part for him I move in the space he opens up.  I slipped from person to person.  Even when I have a thought of where to go, something would interfere with my trajectory, and carry me into an entirely different direction.  Peter’s next instruction, to “walk with someone” and “see their flow,” had the surprising effect of closing down the movement of the dynamic room.  We just couldn’t seem to swoop in and out of each other, and instead became mired in partnerships in one small spot of floor as soon as we joined with another dancer.

When my energy is low, sometimes it is the energy of partnership that carries me through.  In Chaos, and continuing through Lyrical and Stillness and the wave’s end, I joined with a dancer I had not danced closely with before.  We moved into gentle contact, very much in the hands—in subtle, expressive communion.  As our dance concluded, we touched our hands together and rocked back and forth, coming through the wave’s other side once again into Flowing.

In a different partnership during the class—this time with a dancer I was reluctant to partner with—I found myself backing away from him.  In the process, I accidentally bumped into a woman behind me.  I held onto her arm gently, wanting to express that I was sorry.  She tore away from me with a furious snort, moving to the other side of the room.

In the second wave, Peter repeatedly instructed us to partner, then to find a repetition and carry it with us around the room, joining others in brief partnership.  As we were moving from partner to partner, I crossed paths with a friend I had sought out but found unavailable earlier.  We both smiled, stepping into each other.  I am a very small woman; and this friend is a very tall man.  He carries his size gracefully, but when I dance with him sometimes I wonder if he feels like he has to contain himself around so many smaller bodies. Absorbed in Lyrical, we did find repetitions, though from the outside, it might not have looked like it.  Rather than big, easy-to-follow, repeating gestures as sometimes arise in Lyrical, we skittered down chains of intricately arranged repeating patterns, which would then shift and re-configure, taking form then never landing for long enough to be defined or understood.  Our dance featured some bursting and chasing gestures, too.  I would rise up on my highest toes, reaching for his height, wanting to be expansive along with him, then squiggle myself down and away.  He laughed at my antics, joining in, too.  After this long, intricate, layered exchange, we finally ended up doing the initial assignment—a simple repetition—grinning wildly as we both realized it, rocking back and forth.

We spoke for a few moments after class about our experience.  “That was such a great dance!  You just kept finding all of these patterns—all of this footwork—so intricate!” he said.  His compliments opened the doorway to an obliquely procured insight, about one way that energy can be perceived and worked with, something I hadn’t considered before.

I accidentally bumped into the same woman I accidentally bumped into earlier in the class. Later, as we moved around the room, she glared into my eyes as she passed me, both arms raised, her elbows bent.  I spent a few moments wondering if she might actually tell me off after the class.  I’ve been there!  I know how it is to be triggered by someone.  And here I was triggering someone! I even prepared a response to the glaring woman in my fantasy version of our possible future exchange.  I had two different versions, but in the one I preferred I would say, “I’m sorry I offended you.  Thank you for the feedback.”

This conversation with my tall friend helped me find language for a category of repetitive motions that I have experienced in practice.  One kind of repetition, I call “catching a glitch.” This can be emotional and personal.  For example, when I first started dancing, I had been holding myself so tightly for so long that I found I needed to collapse to the floor again and again.  Through all the collapsing, I was able to mine the gesture for insight, and eventually the pattern released me.  This is when a repetition suddenly becomes compelling and you follow it along its fully trajectory to see what it has to teach.  According to 5Rhythms teacher Kierra Foster Ba, Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms practice, used to tell a story about a painful memory from babyhood that was lodged in her wrist—and that took years of working with to arrive at.

Another kind of repetitive motion—of pattern—is, I think, the kind identified by my tall friend.  Perhaps in this case, the pattern that gets expressed is a tiny window into something that is bigger than any one of us. Perhaps it is something mundanely cosmic—the very movement of energy as it flows around and through us.

Three days later, at Tammy Burstein’s Friday Night Waves class, I arrived late, during the transition of Flowing into Staccato.  I know how important it is to ground myself in Flowing, and lowered myself to the floor for a few brief moments.  Sometimes, however, you have no choice but to step right into Staccato.  On these occasions, all I can do is hope that all the Flowing I have practiced over the years has been integrated enough that I can rely on it.  Tammy played a Michael Jackson song that I love.  Instructed to partner in Staccato after just a few minutes of being in class, I joined with a smiling woman, actually singing the lyrics as we moved in joyful unison, expanding diagonally into the available spaces around us.

At work that afternoon, a colleague had “thrown me under a bus,” in my own words.  When I told a friend about the incident, he said, “No, she didn’t just throw you under the bus.  She tied you up in rope, rolled you into the street and then beckoned a bus to come toward you!”  I was called into a meeting with supervisors, with no warning, no chance to work up to it, no chance to prepare.  As I walked to the meeting, I correctly guessed its nature, and realized that I would have to step right into Staccato, praying for as much skillfulness as I could muster.  I let this colleague speak, only expressing myself at key moments, as she dug herself a very big hole.  It was truly remarkable.  Sometimes, you have no choice but to step right in, and hope that your relationship to the ground is well enough established that it will carry you through, even when the stakes are high.

The valuable opportunity to practice stepping straight into Staccato gave way before long; and, by the end of the class, once again, I explored a new way of perceiving patterns of energy during dance.  Moving again in Lyrical, I entered a partnership with a very practiced friend who seems to have a gift for seeing energy.  Though I love to soar, this friend prefers to remain grounded in Lyrical due to the need to care for his knees; and I met him there.  I experimented with resistance, dragging my feet slowly along the floor as part of the foundation of my gestures.  As we transitioned to Stillness, I let go of the dragging feet, but instead found woven resistance residing in the spaces of the air, moving along with this partner, expressing, again, the energetic patterns in and around us.

October 19, 2016, Brooklyn, NYC

Image:  Fibonnacci Spiral children’s artwork published on afaithfulattempt.blogspot

© 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: “Ouch!”

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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“Ouch!” one teenager cried out as another slammed her into the hallway wall, smiling not kindly, her arm shooting straight out from her shoulder as she passed, not even looking as she struck.  The teen who got slammed walked not ten paces, then slammed another girl into the wall as she passed, using the same gesture she had been slammed with.  Aggression seemed to be ricocheting around in rip currents.

On September 11, Daniela Peltekova taught the Sunday Sweat Your Prayers 5Rhythms class at the Joffrey Ballet in the West Village.  Loving the extra space of Sunday’s class, I stretched out on the ground, rising and falling in the shape of a moving starfish.  Daniela lead us through a very fast wave at the beginning of the class, wasting no time.  Traveling around the room, I noted a little tourist tchotchke of the World Trade Center—part of the visuals for the class that a member of the crew had created—and remembered with remarkably little emotional charge that it was September 11th.

The music faded and Daniela began to speak, stepping into the middle of the room with all of us surrounding her, still standing.  She expressed that the events of September 11 are unavoidably heavy—something that lives in our collective memory as New Yorkers whether we were actually there or not.  Although I don’t recall her exact words, she also expressed that there was some aspect of beauty in it, too, something about pain and struggle that gives us grit—the inspiration to push deeper.

My own experience of September 11th feels remote by now, but it definitely marked my life indelibly.  At the time, I was working in downtown Manhattan.  I rollerbladed to work, as was my habit, and paused on the way to look at what I thought was a fire at the Bell Atlantic building.  I even took out my sketchbook and did a few drawings, standing in the middle of the bike path that parallels the East River.  Concerned I might arrive late to work, I continued on my way.  It slowly began to dawn on me that things were not right.  People seemed to be walking slowly in many different directions, some with white stuff (which I later realized was ash) on their hair and shoulders.  Skating up Chambers Street behind City Hall, a man was yelling at the top of his lungs, “Get out! They’re lying to you!  It’s terrorists!  Get out! Save yourselves!”  I moved more and more slowly, not processing the information fully.  A few minutes after I heard the man yelling, I finally realized that I wouldn’t be going to work.  I began to retreat and make my way north.  Streams of people now seemed to have direction—they were also moving north, away from the World Trade Center.  No one ran, no one screamed.  Almost no one made eye contact.  The scene devolved into silent slow motion.

I skated north, more or less.  I had just given up my cel phone, believing it a passing fad that was having a negative impact on my consciousness, so I tried to use a payphone to call a girlfriend, my sister and my parents.  The payphone just buzzed angrily—tied up with system overload.  Skating in the East Village and on the Lower East Side while searching vaguely for a working payphone, radios were on everywhere.  Many people stood beside their cars with the radio on, staring into space.  Everywhere I went, people gathered in silence or walked north in droves.

Eventually, I made my way home to Brooklyn across the Williamsburg Bridge, skating slowly.  Stranded and shell-shocked commuters made their way across the bridge on foot.  A group of people stood silently on a section of the bridge just before the descent into Brooklyn where they could watch the two burning skyscrapers.  Many hooked their fingers on the caged safety wire as they overlooked.  I don’t remember anyone speaking.  I went to my favorite café.  There was a TV on the counter.  No one was speaking.  I went to the health food store on Bedford Avenue.  There was a TV on the counter.  No one was speaking.

I went home and climbed up to the roof.  I had a full view of the burning towers from there, and stood watching as the first tower turned to toxic dust and crumpled, buckling sideways, then down.  Nuns from a church on the next block stood on their own roof, also watching the building fall, their royal blue, full nun’s habits flapping in the wind, emphasizing their frozen gestures.

My mother’s hair turned white that day.

In the first wave, I had stepped cheerfully into partnership with a tall, white man.  We began to dance together again just as Daniela began to speak.  In concluding her remarks, Daniela invited us to turn to whoever was closest and join them.  I smiled unshyly and stepped my foot next to his, by way of introduction.  He stepped his foot in relation to mine.  I stepped again, turning my foot and noticing how much darker my skin was than his—tanned from a summer spent outside.  In this case, we moved in Stillness first, gently around each other, back to back, side to side, rising and falling in response to silent currents in and around us.  Then, we moved together into Flowing and into Staccato, receding and advancing, smiling and looking into each other’s eyes.

A friend cut in then.  Bereft, she clung to me, sobbing.  I held her tightly and rocked with her side to side, wondering if she was feeling the post-trauma of September 11th.

The music got heavy, resistant, hard with only short bits of rest.  One song lead me back and forth between dragging, clawing, harsh gestures to brief, uncompressed, spacious movement.  I was deep in the hips, gyrating and jiggling.  I thought of the song, “My Name is NO!” that I had spent the week dancing to along with my six-year-old son, who has developed an entire choreographed staccato routine to the tune, including a dramatic spin with a hard end-stop.

Chaos was a collective exorcism; and on this day there was no way around it but through.  It went on and on and on, sometimes spiking in intensity, but holding back from Lyrical.  An idea for a project I have been wanting to make burst through; and I got excited about new possibilities.

I very much wanted to dance with a friend I had met several times in an interesting pocket a few months before—a tiny, contained dance of precision and restraint.  He did not seem available, and I stepped into another partnership, realizing that the same unique, quirky dance I was sharing with him came into my partnership with the woman I was then dancing with, as he continued to dance nearby.  I thought about how much energy slips around, how mercurial it is, how much we are subject to the currents that race through us.

On September 11th after I watched the first tower fall, I skated to Woodhull Hospital to volunteer.  There, I found empty, parked ambulances and paramedics leaning on them with crossed arms.  No volunteers were needed, as there were so few survivors.  I lingered for awhile, then skated to Prospect Park and looped it again and again on the bike path, watching the smoke rise across the river and hearing the rush of military fighter jets racing overhead.

When Daniela finally lead us to Lyrical, we tipped right over the edge of Chaos and found flight.  It contained the beauty that can only arise from maturity, from the clarification of intense pain and perhaps from opening—instead of closing down—to grief, sadness, fear and insecurity.

September 18, 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.


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