“Ecstatic dancing” is an umbrella title applied to a variety of forms of free-form improvisational dance. It’s not exactly accurate for the dancing I do, where ecstasy is an occasional – and wonderful – byproduct but not the primary goal, which is pure self-expression. One of the wise experienced dancers in our group told me once, “Whatever you are processing in your life will come out on the dance floor.” So it’s not a panacea for depression – and if I’m really depressed going in, I can be really depressed on the dance floor – but it can provide great physical exercise, many people in the fairly large group of regular dancers have become important community to me, and overall it is one of my key tools for a more balanced life.
It’s done in a dance studio (or big hall) – a large one on Sunday mornings, when there can be 60-120 dancers, and smaller ones for some other smaller dances. Guidelines include:
- Dance by yourself as much as you wish
- Interact with others as you wish, somehow getting their OK: eye contact, mirroring of movements, etc. You can pretty much tell if they are into it. Don’t expect that someone you have danced with many times before will necessarily be into it in this moment. A dance with another person can last 30 seconds or the whole 70-minute time, according to what moves the two of you. When one of you is ready to let it go, you can give a wave or a little bow or – with a short little dance – just up and dance away.
- When dancing together, you can simply mirror each other’s movements, move in and out of each other’s space – or blend this into “contact improv”, improvisational dancing while touching each other (continuously or intermittently). You can be touching hand to hand, shoulder to elbow or head, suspended on the other person’s back, rolling around on the floor together, etc. (There’s a big strapping young bear of a guy, aptly nicknamed Kodiak, who tosses me around like a little kid. I absolutely howl with delight.)
The particular form of ecstatic dancing that I practice is inspired by the work of Gabriel Roth (she led movement workshops with Fritz Perls for many years) and is called 5 Rhythms (or “Sweat your prayers” – here it gets called “dance church” because the biggest dances are on Sunday mornings and for a couple of years it met in a converted church). It generally follows a wave pattern, with five movements: flowing (more soft and rounded and feminine), staccato (more sharp and angular and masculine), chaos (combines feminine and masculine, with a hard-driving beat and lots of encouragement to totally release your body and emotions), lyrical (still quite active, but lighter, more playful, happier) and stillness (easing back down towards totally quiet, typically with most participants flaked out on the floor).
I love this stuff and typically dance one or two waves on Sunday morning. The 9 a.m. dance is smaller – 60-80 people – in general older (maybe a median age in the 40′s, I am sometimes but not always the oldest at 66) and maybe a little more serious, though it can still rock. The 11 a.m. dance clusters around a median age in the 20′s, is more crowded (80-120) and wilder (you can get bumped into by young dancers throwing their bodies around). After for a long while being turned off by this wave, I have come to greatly appreciate the heart and abandon with which these young folks dance – and the wild, Dionysian party energy they generate, and how it helps me to also cut loose. I am also devoted to an all-men’s dance on Tuesday evenings. It’s kind of small – around 10-15 guys – in a much smaller and lovely room. There is a very regular core and a real feeling of tribe is generated there. In some ways I take risks there that I don’t at the other dances.