5Rhythms is a free style of dance that draws on esoteric mind-body practices like Feldenkrais — and letting go like Pamela Anderson on Dancing with the stars
BY CARMEN CASADO — Many profess that this mind-body routine is a path to the very center of aliveness and pure bliss. An outsider looking in will likely say it’s absurd.
I’m often asked, what exactly is 5Rhythms? Right, it’s a dance. What style?
It’s actually a trademarked-name for a style of free movement with a “spiritual” and meditative undercurrent. The 5Rhythms consists of, well, five rhythms: dance-tracks with a narrative of dynamics, much like the “tunnels” and “peaks” at trance and rave events.
The 5Rhythms was developed by Gabriel Roth in the 1960s, and incorporates eastern and indigenous philosophies.
It is now practiced in Creative Class cities across America, with its main hubs in New York City, L.A. and San Francisco, California.
Rhythms of the saints
Comparable dance modes are not exactly Dancing with the Stars: they’re more like “ecstatic dance” sub-cultures that arose in the San Francisco Bay Area — and “Dance Medicine” based out of Ojai, California.
Here is what I experience, while another 20 million Americans sit in their seats and phone in votes to Dancing with the Stars:
I enter a dimly-lit room, usually in a dance studio, gym, or art gallery. Along one side of the room you may see some type of alter with an artistic theme on it, whether it be flower petals, spheres, or abstract art creations.
The dancers, or the “tribe,” are slowly moving about in their flowing-earthy-urban or workout wear. They are usually barefoot or sporting dance shoes and span the adult-age spectrum, although I’d say most are between 35 and 50.
The music starts gently with the first of the five rhythms “flow.” The room is quiet and the dancers amble to the music however they feel compelled. Some linger on the periphery, in a down-dog or a seated meditation.
The second rhythm, “staccato,” heats up the room. The dancers match their motions to the DJ’s cadence, speeding up their movements, bouncing around, swooping and twirling, with arms about in graceful gesture. As the room energizes the dancers enter the zone of dance, minds let go of daily obsessions and preoccupation and the beauty unfurls.
In this space of presence many members of the tribe engage each other, and frolicking begins. Whether it be a few coquettish steps in tandem, a long locked gaze, or a full romp on the ground, it’s a great place to connect if you’re called to. And if you’re not, I recommend you keep your eyes down and avoid making contact.
The rhythm accelerates to the quickest beat of the wave, “chaos.” In this wild catharsis the participants jump, scream, hoot and yelp in a state of sweaty trance. The collective energy is a thrilling celebration. The music descends again, and the dancers echo the calm. The “lyrical” rhythm gently leads to the final “stillness,” which beckons many dancers to the ground, swaying in slow motion or frozen in beautiful pose.
After the first wave there is a pause where the teacher speaks and dances to the group. The chats often relate to our struggle, the human condition, and how the dance serves us in our personal inner journey. The dancers sit around the teacher, in agreement, inspired, re-hydrating and massaging one other. Then the second wave begins.
Expect the unexpected, except…
You can expect about anything in a 5Rhythms class: uncontrollable laughter, spontaneous headstands, crying and grieving, repetitious animal movements, prolonged embraces with total strangers, group dance . . . but there are some rules. For example, you cannot talk, you cannot check your cell phone — and, to my chagrin, you cannot lift each other into the air.
To the dancers the practice is more than a workout, it’s a method for moving past the thinking-mind, and connecting with the soul. And to the collective dancers it’s a support group, a safe space.
Carmen Casado is an immigration lawyer based in San Francisco, California, and the newest member of the Soul’s Code team. She balances her law practice with a Zen Buddhist practice , vinyasa yoga, ecstatic dance and contact improv.
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