Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dancing for the Health of It

Last Thursday afternoon, I left home late in the afternoon feeling besieged by deadlines, denials and disheartening news. Rode two buses to Pacific Heights. Walked into dance class completely in my head, all sensations of the body fully blocked – not a comfortable place.

Dance class was exactly where I needed to be.

I needed to dance, to whirl and stretch and twirl my way through the dimly lit room, past the wooden shelves that hold rolled and folded yoga mats and blankets displayed like bolts of colorful fabric, past the windows that reveal calla lilies blooming in the healing garden just outside, past the words of wisdom painted on the pale green walls.

I needed to dance among the other women in the class, women whose names I do not know but women who every Thursday danced away the cares of their day, first conjuring up personal disappointment, delight and everything in between -- and then shaking it all off to begin anew.

I needed to experience once again what I had dubbed the “kinesthetic touchless car wash,” where the dancers send waves of energy and affirmation toward one person in the middle of a circle. We took turns, of course, and everyone moved out of the circle reinvigorated.

I needed so very much to get out of my head, to return to inhabiting my entire body again.

Thursday was the last night of an eight-week class at the Institute for Health & Healing called 5Rhythms®, a remarkable “movement meditation” that encourages freestyle dancing to music that embodies the following five rhythms, or “states of being,” as founder Gabrielle Roth describes them:

FLOWING – the fluid, continuous, grounded glide of our own movements

STACCATO – the percussive, pulsing beat that shapes us a thousand different ways

CHAOS – the rhythm of letting go, releasing into the catalytic wildness of our dance that can never be planned or repeated

LYRICAL – the rhythm of trance, where the weight of self-consciousness dissolves, where we lighten up and disappear into our own uniqueness

STILLNESS – the quiet emptiness, where gentle movements rise and fall, start and end, in a field of silence
Some 245 teachers are registered to teach 5Rhythms, and it seems as though that is not enough. Here’s a remark I overheard the first night of class: “A friend of mine on the East Coast has to drive three hours to take a 5Rhythmns class offered just once a month, but here in San Francisco, you can find a class five nights a week.”

So it’s popular. Before I signed up, I was assured that anyone of any age, size, or physical ability could be in the class. “Do we dance together?” I asked. I had to ask. I can’t count, so I can’t dance as part of an ensemble. Trust me on this. Once, three decades ago, a professional dancer spent hours over the course of several weeks, trying to help me count the beat so I could dance in a show. I ended up with a solo.

The IHH brochure spells it all out: “There are no steps to follow, no choreography to learn, no way to do it wrong. The only requirement is a body that is still breathing, a heart that is still beating, and mind that is still curious!” So after a free sample class that left me exhilarated and exhausted, I signed up.

The remarkable Sylvie Minot teaches the class at IHH (see, and she incorporates Caroline Myss' energy anatomy work into the 5Rhythms movement practice. Sylvie recommends the class for “anyone who would like to increase their physical and emotional health, joy, vitality, and overall well-being.” Among the benefits are stress relief, improved physical fitness and emotional health.

Roth, who founded 5Rhythms in the 1970s, says you “put the body in motion in order to still the mind.” Thursday, it worked.

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