Thursday, July 2, 2009

Better Living Through Dance

In a return to the original charge I set out with for this blog, I offer you the following post. Last month marked the 8th anniversary of Ecstatic Dance Seattle . This seems like a great time to share reflections on my experiences with it (part 1) as well as an interview I did with this thriving community’s founder, Mary Anderson (part 2).

Part 1:
World music wafts up the stairs as I open the door. I descend them with anticipation. Greeted with a warm hug and a smile at the door by Mary Anderson, founder and den mother of Ecstatic Dance Seattle, I move into the darkness surrounding the floor. If dance is already cooking, it will be swirling with happy folks grooving in a variety of ways: drumming, jumping, hooting, howling, dancing in every style possible, rolling in puppy piles, flying through the air. I wade into the fray and find my way to my own rhythm. As the evening unfolds, I might share a few dances with friends or a circle thereof. I usually visit the corner altar for a few moments of prayer or meditation. Maybe I’ll take another crack at my terror of contact improv.

If it is a rough day, I have been known to break down and cry my eyes out. This is totally ok. In fact, the several times this has happened, I opened my eyes to find myself surrounded by circle after circle of folks who had stopped dancing and were simply quietly holding space in support of my tears. I have done the same for others in turn. Eventually, we wind down for circle at the end.

The whole group, which can include 70 folks easily, gather in a circle to share thoughts and experiences of dance, then discuss community events. It is here that the fabric of the community is woven. This simple exercise has generated powerful bonds. Many romances, friendships, and a vibrant community have formed here over the years. Housemates are located, workshops of all kinds are announced, assistance is arranged for those in need, innumerable parties are organized and advertised.

When I first got invited to check out Ecstatic Dance, the Gen X curmudgeon in me giggled and tried to distance myself from these heartfelt displays of emotion. I was too self-conscious to dance with abandon and express my emotions in public. But something kept pulling me back, week after week. Over time, I have experienced dance as a place to heal my relationship with my body, express my feelings, and to open up to my connection with the divine. I have made friends of all ages. Dance has become a practice I cannot go without for too long.

I remember once looking at a photo at the Seattle Art Museum of a tribe somewhere in Africa dancing and my companion saying that she longed for connections to a tribe and the opportunities to dance like the people in the picture were doing. We agreed that these opportunities are largely absent from mainstream American life. I feel incredibly blessed to prove this assumption incorrect.

As one dancer commented with glee in circle recently, “What’s happening here is just outrageous!” And it is - In the best way possible. No matter how demoralizing the events of the week may be, when I enter Ecstatic Dance space, I know a better world is possible- heck, that it exists now. It’s a world in which we are encouraged to express our emotions no matter what they are and to support each other in doing so. Where we are encouraged to relish our bodies in whatever state they may be, and to build truly supportive connections- a network to activate in happy or sad and difficult times.

Ecstatic Dance is part of a larger movement of facilitated free-form dance. Its cousins include Five Rhythms, Contact Improv, and hooping. Conscious Dancer magazine chronicles this community in all its permutations across the country. Embodiment, full emotional expression, and community building are core values of free form dance communities.

Between Ecstatic Dance Seattle, Turtle and Flying Turtle dance, Dance Church at the Transcendent Church of Bass, and The Morphic Field Dance, you can dance every night of the week in this town! Check out Soleil Hepner’s Seattle Dance Source for a calendar and news about the community. Looking forward to seeing you on the dance floor!