Soon after I moved to the Pacific Northwest in 2014, I was introduced to the concept of ecstatic dance. I delighted in the freedom afforded by moving my body in an unstructured manner that some would term "hippie dancing." Drums, sound bowls, and other similar instruments would often be present at these events, and I delighted in exploring how my body responded when I would play with these sounds.
But as much as I enjoyed these large free-form gatherings, the ongoing presence of a few men who could not respect boundaries dampened my ability to fully relax and let go during the dance. So I began looking for those dances where the person leading the event knew how to create safe spaces that respected bodily autonomy.
In particular, I felt drawn by those ecstatic dances that grounded the dance by starting out with a group meditation. These reflections helped me to connect at a deeper level with my fellow dance participants, as well as grounding me during my dance.
In my explorations of how to meld together music, meditation, and movement, I was introduced to Sara Mains. She offers 5Rhythms classes and workshops at her studio in the Columbia Gorge. The 5Rhythms practice was created by Gabrielle Roth in the 1970s; there are now certified teachers throughout the world.
What Is 5Rhythms Dance?
Mains described the 5Rhythms as a map that, when moved through all the rhythms, is called a Wave. The rhythms are Flow, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness. 5Rhythms is a practice of being in your body; of exploration and discovery. Dancing the 5Rhythms can help integrate all the parts of being an individual and create a connection with others. And, of course, the dance will always be unique because we are constantly changing and are different from one day to the next.
The Wave begins with the rhythm of Flow. Flow is round, yielding, and continuous. Moving with the internal energy of how you physically move today, Flow is connected to the earth; it is rooted and grounded. Mains suggests moving like a never-ending river that yields to the eddies, rocks, and rapids as you connect to that rooted part of yourself. Then you can come up and out and connect to others in the world.
Moving into the next rhythm of Staccato, the movement changes from circular to defined, clear, and connected. In Staccato we physically explore our boundaries, clarity, and connection to ourselves and to the world around us.
The rhythm of Chaos follows. In Chaos, we release the head and the whole body, letting our feet move faster than we can think. Dancers can experience a range of emotions as the dance becomes uncontrolled; as tension in the body releases, there is a breaking-free and breaking-through into the more intuitive mind.
On the other side of Chaos is the rhythm of Lyrical. Here there is a lightness, effortlessness, and spaciousness in the dance following the release during Chaos. Mains compares this portion of the dance to an artist or writer whose work was all over the place but then comes together into a cohesive whole.
The Wave concludes in the rhythm of Stillness. While this word may suggest motionlessness, the body remains in motion even if it is simply the motion of the body rising and falling with breath, moving with what remains, dancing with the breath as a partner in a form of slow motion moving meditation. Practicing wraps up as the Wave ends.
Where Can I Practice 5Rhythms Dance?
A listing of 5Rhythms classes led by certified 5Rhythms teachers can be found on the 5Rhythms website. Though connecting with others in a group setting offers a fully immersive dance experience, some teachers continue to offer virtual classes for those who cannot attend these dances in person. Also, some teachers post 5Rhythms playlists online. Listening to music by myself without a virtual leader to guide me isn't ideal, but I find some benefit in feeling the music of the 5Rhythms move throughout my body.
Unlike other dances that may require specialized training and equipment, Mains says all you need to bring with you to a 5Rhythms dance is a water bottle, comfortable clothes, and a willingness to be open to letting the dance take you where it will. "Anyone can dance regardless of physical conditions as they learn to communicate deeper with themselves and their bodies," she reflects.
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