Ecstatic Dance and the Writer's Practice

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I’m really surprised I’ve never written anything about Ecstatic Dance. I love to write and I love to dance. Dance is good for my writing, so one would think that it would be a natural marriage. In truth, writing about dancing is extremely awkward for me.

I have loved dancing for a long time - all of it, partner dancing, dance orgies in clubs, getting down to live music. There truly is nothing sweeter than getting a groove on with a live band; in and of itself, that is ecstatic. During the time I lived in Juneau, Alaska, I got really lucky with the bands who lived and played there. They really savored the high that comes with a rhythm that got people on the dance floor to shake it. It was communion of sorts - a better, cleaner high than anything found in a bottle. Dance is healing for many reasons, but what really sets it apart for me is that dance creates joy. Ecstatic dance is not the same as dancing in a nightclub or to a band. I’ve also heard it called “Dance Church,” which makes sense to me because movement is a powerful way to worship.

Ecstatic Dance is a practice. The dancers are always barefoot, usually sober, and they are expected to be. The dance sets range from 1-2 hours that follows a wave or a double wave. The two pioneers whose work evolved into Ecstatic Dance are the late Gabrielle Roth and her 5 rhythms (New York), and Vinn Marti and his Soul Motion (Portland, OR). In a 5 rhythms set, the rhythms of Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness happen in sequence to make a Wave. In Soul Motion, each dancer moves through 4 relational landscapes – Dance Intimate where we move alone, Dance Communion where we move with a partner, Dance Community where we move with everyone, and Dance Infinity where we move our practice to everyday life.

Most Ecstatic Dance communities combine these two approaches, and the experience is powerful. I have felt everything from irritation to exaltation to ordinariness to exhaustion to euphoria depending on my mood, my openness, and how deeply I connect with the music, with myself, and/or with others during the dance. During a typically good set, I get into a state of bliss and often, a tingling along my skin that is very similar to a full-body orgasm. I’ve almost walked out because I wasn’t feeling it until a song transported me, or I made eye contact with somebody and connected with him/her through dance, and then I could fully arrive to the place and let go.

At my first Ecstatic Dance, a young woman described the feeling of her soul leaving her body during the set. I can’t say I’ve had that happen, but my experiences have been enough to satisfy. Is Ecstatic Dance a hippie-dippie thing to do? Well, yeah. And no. All kinds of people from all walks and all ages come to dance every week.

Regulars include an old man well into his 80’s. His range of motion is very limited, but he moves with what he’s got. Sometimes he’s dancing using a walker. Yet the radiance on his face inspires me every time I see him. Another is a young woman with cerebral palsy, who is confined to a wheelchair. But she dances from her wheelchair, and she has her share of dance partners. One handsome man I’ve seen for years seemed so closed off when he first came, and he’s opened up so much. I don’t know these people by name. These are wordless connections. We meet on the dance floor and that’s how I know them. It’s kind of magical, really.

I heard about Ecstatic Dance from a guy I met at Hippie Hot Springs. We fell into a spontaneous dance on New Year’s. And it struck me how present he was in the dance. I mentioned that to him the next day at breakfast. He nodded and told me he went to Ecstatic Dance every Sunday, and that’s why. He said he started this after his divorce, and made all his new friends through that community. I had just moved to Portland, and he told me where I could find all this marvelous information of ecstatic dances in the area. I got on it and went the following week. I loved it immediately. Then I didn’t go again for 6 months. I don’t really know why. I think the intimacy and intensity of it both intrigued and frightened me. I guess I couldn’t handle so much of that at the time.

So what does any of this have to do with being a writer? Besides an experience that gives me something to write about, very little directly, but indirectly, Ecstatic Dance has a lot of value. Writers need nourishment. We need practices outside of writing to keep us healthy and balanced. Writers are a heady bunch and Ecstatic Dance brings me out of my head and into my body. It also moves energy within and through me, which keeps the channels open for inspiration and creativity. Dance brings me community when I feel lonely, solace when I feel sad and angry, expression when I feel overwhelmed with celebration and joy. On a pragmatic level, I’ve also gotten some gorgeous ideas for stories and blog posts, and solved plot snafus where I was stuck while dancing. Dancing clears the mind, opens the heart, and supports the body. Dance is great therapy, and what doesn’t need that?

So find an ecstatic dance in your area. Google “Ecstatic Dance,” “Dance Church,” “5 Rhythms,” or “Soul Motion.” If your area doesn’t have anything, you can always take your shoes off, play your favorite jams, and dance like an idiot in your living room. Or kitchen. Or bedroom. Location hardly matters.

For writers and readers and dreamers and travelers and even couch potatoes, dance is good for you.