October 23rd: I posted this article yesterday and just discovered that yesterday was the day Gabrielle Roth passed away from lung cancer. I never met her but am profoundly grateful for her and her work. She has left us a wonderful gift in ecstatic dancing.
“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a shaman or medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited or depressed, they would ask you on of four questions: When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in the seet territory of silence?
So begins the forward to Gabrielle Roth‘s book, Maps To Ecstasy written by Angeles Arrien, Ph.D., a cultural anthropologist who has written The Four Fold Way and Signs of Life. Maps to Ecstasyis an introduction to the wonders of ecstatic dance.
Why Dance Is Making A Comeback
It’s noteworthy that dance is making a comeback at this point in time. Dance has never died. However its role is changing aided by several popular dance shows, Dancing With The Stars and So You Think You Can Dance. Although dance has always had a social role, increasingly its healing role is being recognized. So You Think You Can Dance in particular has presented this therapeutic role of dance using dance for emotional, psychological and cultural healing.
These changes are not accidental. As institutional structures fracture and a new way of life comes into being, dance has the ability to help us not only heal the past but also to be more fully engaged in the present. You have to be present to dance, otherwise you trip over your feet or worse.
Dance gets us out of our heads. It heals the mind-body connection. Dancing helps us be fully in our power and lets us see that we are OK and can trust ourselves.
It’s in the air. We can feel it. As our monolithic economic system breaks up, the world is becoming more tribal. Tribes have had a negative reputation in maintream culture for a long time. Tribes have been depicted as ignorant, dangerous, worshiping many gods and having strange practices.
We are now learning a different story about tribes. Tribes have skills that we are very removed from: understanding nature, healing skills, and ecstatic dance skills to name a few.
Tribal dance is very old and has many functions. Many of us have heard of rain dances, but tribal dances actually had another function. Tribal dances have been used for emotional healing and psychological growth for thousands of years. Tribal dances let the dancer enter into the energy of their lives, relate to, accept it and let go. It is a way of processing deep emotional issues that is both non-harming and healing. It is a way of staying in right relation to life and the world around you.
Tribal dances are used at important life transitions to help an individual process the emotions they are experiencing so that they can release and be clear for the next events in their lives. Blocked and unprocessed emotions are inevitably harmful and prevent us from wholeheartedly engaging with life. Tribal dance prevents people from becoming frozen in an emotional state by using the free form dance to help the individual to move through their feelings.
Gabrielle has written extensively about dance as a way to reclaim our ecstatic experience of life. Ecstatic dance gets us out of our heads into our bodies and helps us see ourselves as the actors in our on lives. It creates unity between ourselves and the life force of the planet. It helps us be one with the stages of life and accept and move through them gracefully.
Gabrielle has identified five universal life energies that she has incorporated into her dance. Interestingly they are also the stages of the creative process. She describes the five rhythms as:
- the flowing rhythm: a teacher of fluidity and grace. Flowing is like a warm up, when we start to engage. It is gentle and curious.
- the staccato rhythm: the teacher of definition and refinement. Staccato is structure and order, like working with building blocks. Staccato works with what is.
- the rhythm of chaos: the rhythm of creativity seeking form. chaos occurs when we go beyond what is. We have worked staccato and now move into a creative phase with what we have been working on. All the curiosity of flowing and working of staccato prepares for chaos.
- the lyrical rhythm: the rhythm of synthesis and integration. In the chaos phase of our creativity we open to the new and consider many possibilities until we find what will work. Lyrical is the integration and synthesis of that new information or solution.
- the stillness rhythm: the rhythm of contentment and peace. After synthesis and integration, we can stand back, consider what we have done and gracefully let go, releasing ourselves and our work until we engage again.
The Value Of Ecstatic Dance For HSP’s And Everyone Else
As we enter a more tribal age, we each need to be in our own power and connection at the same time. For so long we have been glued to computers, assembly lines, and other structures of the industrial age, that many of us are stiff in our bodies, hearts and minds.
Ecstatic dance loosens it all up, gets our energy flowing, helps us see what we can control and what we have to let go of. Ecstatic dance is a dance for helping is to heal into a more mature and joyful time.
Ecstatic dance can help you learn to lead, to follow and to get out of the way, each in its own way at the right time. It can make us whole at a time when we desperately need whole human beings. Becoming more whole will also help us to respect and like ourselves more and in doing so we can like each other more as well, making a better world possible.
If you are a highly sensitive person, ecstatic dance can help you remain connected and remove stress so that you can stay more in your natural creativity. If you are a non-HSP, ecstatic dance can help you safely step out of your mind into you body and help you feel your connection to all things. If you have suffered harm or trauma, ecstatic dance can help you move through your feeling so that you feel like living again.
Ecstatic dance is a wonderful safe practice that can help each of us feel better and connect better. I can’t think of anything better for each of us than ecstatic dance.