Archive for the ‘Reflections on Dances’ Category

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Permission Granted: Dancing our Insanity

August 4, 2010

“Permission granted.”  With one wave of the magic wand, the dancers zealously transformed into lunatics. As I was searching for an image to illustrate this piece, it suddenly occurred to me that I felt like a fairy godmother bestowing everyone with mysterious powers and that I needed a photo of a magic touch.The “big hair” theme emerged from the choices offered… a delightful happenstance that caught my creative whim…had to do it… too good. Hysterical. Perfect for paying homage to the creative genius unleashed when the dancers were invited to explore their insanity.

This dance was dedicated to the Tarot card of the Tower. The Talking Heads tune “Burning Down the House” kept running through my brains, egging me onto dismantling our fundamental structures, our castles in the sand. What could be more undone than lunacy? Whether we care to admit it or not, I’m sure every one of us has had moments when we perceive our own manic-ness. Rather than sweep that under the carpet, why not expose it and give it space, giving ourselves the chance to embrace that as a part of our wholeness? Frankly, I feel we are all on the edge of “reason” whatever that even means… allowing insanity can be pretty darn funny and wildly creative.

What is fascinating and a bit sad perhaps is that generally, permission needs to be granted to go to places that are “dark,” “crazy,” “sexual.” People usually don’t go there of their own accord. An invitation by a “leader” however, is met inevitably with great enthusiasm. Curious. What I am finding is that there are such amazing gifts to be discovered in going “there.” I write this to dare us all to give ourselves permission. Invite ourselves to our own party. Truly, what are we waiting for?!

Observing everyone dancing out their madness, people moved in ways I had never seen them express themselves in several years of dedicated practice. Sometimes the driving beat was categorically ignored taking dancing to the beat of one’s own drummer to another level. Voices engaged in wild expression. Rampant creativity  and total presence were never more palpable. Most of all, people were having tons of fun. We get to be whackos every day when we are kids, spinning ourselves out on our own delirium. How ever do we lose touch with cracking ourselves up on our own bellybuttons and drool? Note to Self…

When we shared our experiences after the session, someone felt that it was more exhausting to dance madness. My take on this is that you had to actually be more present in order to embody this state. You couldn’t just trance out or dance on automatic. Your imagination responding to the music and to the people in the room was full tilt boogie. Not that it isn’t otherwise but the invitation to dance crazy evoked a super fresh response. Most people agreed that they had discovered ways of moving they could never before have imagined.

I guess that’s my longing here, that this may inspire you to dance and live outside your box, to be your own invitation to creative adventure, to see your “madness” as your genius. The only permission needed is your own. You are truly the master of the magic wand.

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Dance of Entanglement: Exploring Our Attachments Literally Tied Up

July 17, 2010

“I’m tying my students up tonight,” I toss off gleefully to my sweetheart as I leave to go dance. I am giddy with excitement to play with this new experiment. Was it OK to feel so elated about this? I wasn’t sure but oh well, I was! Felt like a mad scientist on the brink of discovery.

“I knew it was sexual,” he replies.

“No darling, we’re exploring our  addictions, bondages and attachments. I thought being literally tied to a corner in the room would help illustrate that point.” Somewhere in my memory was a Butoh performance I’d seen by the brilliant  Sankai Juku dancers where, bald and completely painted chalk white, tortured figures moved across the bare stage with huge red sashes around their waists. Intense.

Giddy and anxious… never having done a dance like this, the outcome was a wildcard…. could be a disaster. Creative risk compelled me; I have been trying to listen to my guts and go for it, especially when it scares me  a bit. Encouraged by watching the making of the HBO series “Queer as Folk,” a very edgy and ground-breaking show about gay life, the directors talked about how they chose to do scenes because the material made them nervous so they knew they had to go there. I admire the courage in that attitude and am grateful that they embraced risk as the show goes to brave new territory, refreshingly honest and real. Undoubtedly, the dancers would initially be less than enthusiastic to be attached to a leash as they come to dance freely. Here goes nothing!

To start, we shared about potent addictions and attachments we have and how we react when we find ourselves caught up in one. Sugar, computer, people-pleasing, self-doubt, stress, shopping, alcohol, fear. Reactions varied from indulgence, denial, anger, self-criticism to enjoyment. What I hoped to achieve in the session was a graphic and visceral exploration of attachment ultimately to foster a sense of humor and greater consciousness with regards to our entanglements. Mission accomplished…phew! It seemed pretty chaotic at times. It was only after the dance, when everyone shared their experience, that I understood it had indeed, served everyone more open.

All of the participants were tied by a long colorful rope from their wrists to ballet bars around the room. The instructions were to dance feeling the connection to their ropes and also to engage with others’ ropes and investigate relationship. At first, all seemed to be enjoying their new toys, wrapping themselves up in cocoons, engaging in sensual tangos,  playing tug of war. As the music got faster, ropes began to intertwine and turn into enormous knots; people got stuck attached to this big mess and frustration ensued.

“Oh no,” I thought. “People are stopping to dance and are simply trying to untangle themselves.” I inserted myself into the knot and encouraged those imprisoned to dance with their current limitations. It was an “Aha!” moment and a new dance emerged.  So easy to get sucked into wanting to be free at all costs, becoming locked into the problem and freezing into anxiety and seriousness; creativity and joy disappear. Tugs of war became more heated… the leash became shorter… no more Mr. Nice Guy. Towards the end, bodies were on the floor seemingly defeated by the rope, exhausted.

And then they were set free….Susheela Raman was singing “I’m set free,” and everyone was invited to undo their bonds and dance. Arms reached for the sky and the whole room began to twirl. The atmosphere instantaneously lit up like a blazing comet… it was that radical.

Individual experiences were shared when we concluded. For most, the graphic imagery of many ropes intersecting and feeling the bodies attached to them clearly illustrated this web of connection, how we get caught up in it, the stickiness of it, the frustration. Liberation felt so joyous but one person was surprised by their sadness to lose their rope and longed to keep a piece. Interesting to observe even our attachments to wanting certain results and I was certainly no exception as I wanted the session to be a “success.” A big discovery was how we forget to dance when we are stuck in a mess instead of dancing creatively with it and continuing to have fun. Really something to remember… how to stay fluid and creative given the limitations you may find yourself in…and really “limitations” are simply your attitude about the situation. Your rope is simply shorter…only a problem if you make it one.

Someone also could not physically remove their wrist tie and I had to cut them loose; they saw this as a metaphor for asking help from friends when we were too deep in the quagmire… you can ask for help when you cannot liberate yourself. Someone may have the golden scissors…

May all beings be free.

“Attachment increases desire, without producing any satisfaction. There are two types of desire, unreasonable and reasonable. The first is an affliction founded on ignorance, but the second is not. To live, you need resources; therefore, desire for sufficient material things is appropriate. Such feelings as, “This is good; I want this. This is useful,” are not afflictions. It is also desirable to achieve altruism, wisdom, and liberation. This kind of desire is suitable; indeed, all human development comes out of desire, and these aspirations do not have to be an affliction.

…when you have attachment to material things, it is best to desist from those very activities that promote more attachment. Satisfaction is helpful when it comes to material things, but not with respect to spiritual practice. Objects to which we become attached are something to be discarded, whereas spiritual progress is something to be adopted–it can be developed limitlessly, even in old age.” ~ His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

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Wheel of Fortune: Dance of Surrender

June 25, 2010

The Wheel of Fortune Tarot card can be read as a sudden stroke of good luck but it has a much deeper meaning: surrender to all the changes Life brings, knowing that when you are on top of the world, you may fall into rough times and rise again… much like the economy! Learning how to be graceful and fluid with change is one of the great gifts of the ecstatic dance practice. Currently, we are doing a series on dancing the archetypes of the Major Arcana Tarot cards which was easier when working with the initial ten, the people cards, like the Magician or the Empress. The Wheel of Fortune marks the beginning of the more metaphysical and conceptual cards.

Surrender to change is not a comfortable place for most. We’d rather hang onto the familiar, even if it’s not really serving us well,  instead of jumping off into unchartered territory. Fifty fifty chance it could be worse…. or better! One thing for certain, change is bound to happen whether we care for it or not. It’s the only thing that’ we can be sure of in this life. Undoing the fear habit of resistance is learning the art of let go. Ecstatic dance is one of the best meditation practices I know to understand change on a cellular level and become comfortable with allowing. You may hate a piece of music… it will be over in a few minutes…. you may enjoy dancing with someone….it too, will end in a few minutes. Like  a river, the dance flows forward. It becomes so instantaneously clear that if you cling to or resist a particular moment, you create misery for yourself. Buddha truly understood the core issue: desire creates suffering.

Easy to say…. society’s messages usually point to creating security…. marriage, homeownership, bank savings, insurance. Lots of fear-based advertising tries to convince you that you can successfully guard against unwanted change. The main attitude in the Western world  seems to be one of protecting oneself from life’s twists and turns. Different in places where there is belief in re-incarnation. Better luck next time!

How to practice surrendering to change lovingly? When we danced the Wheel of Fortune, we first shared stories about the greatest moment in our lives where we felt clearly “out of the driver’s seat,” and the most distinct sensation of “karma” at work, tuning into the concept that there are forces beyond us over which we have no mastery. When I visited Ramesh Balsekar, an Indian guru of the Advaita tradition, he forever blew my mind with the concept that we have zero control of our destiny, that the idea is only created by the ego for the ego, that there is no personal doership… talk about surrender, off with your head!!!! So as an avenue to physically ground the sensation of letting go and getting out of one’s own way,  we started by letting our bodies fall into a simple, repetitive pattern. We had to stay with the movement and let it transform organically without trying to manipulate it. Practicing this with others, it was obvious how difficult it was for everyone to just allow and not want to try to make “something” happen.

It’s a powerful exercise. Next time you dance, try starting with a repetitive motion every time a new piece of music begins. LET IT TAKE YOU. Remain curious with the subtle changes that start to unfold and follow them into unchartered territory. Watch the mind  making comments like, “This is boring,” or “My arms are tired doing this.”  The idea is to practice coming from a place of no concepts and letting things happen in THEIR time… not your ego’s. Becoming comfortable with letting go will foster greater peace and acceptance that will ripple out into all aspects of your life.

Leaving you to contemplate the question put forth by guru Ramesh Balsekar regarding free will. Years later it still shakes me to the ultimate core!

“Now, let us investigate the supposed free will you have to make a decision. What is ‘your’ decision based on? If you investigate this point you will find out that you always base your decision on your ‘programming’, i.e. the genes or DNA and your conditioning which includes your education and practical experience, over which you truly have had no control. Recent research has brought out the fact that many of your actions – both good and bad, positive and negative – can be traced to your genes. So consider for yourself: how genuine is my ‘free will’?! (..) There must be an honest and thorough investigation into what you think are ‘your’ actions from day to day. This investigation is really one step further from Ramana Maharshi’s famous ‘Who am I?’. This investigation that I suggest is based on theory: ‘Am I the doer of what I think are my actions?'”

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Express Yourself: Dancing the Fifth Chakra

May 10, 2010

“I missed the freedom of expression,” a dancer answers when I ask how they feel about the fifth chakra dance session we’d just concluded. Hmmm… I was hoping to create a context where greater creativity of movement could be fostered. Suddenly the demons of creative insecurity raise their ugly heads wanting to engulf me… perfect. We had danced a piece on expanding self-expression: I had gone out on a creative limb with the structure of the evening’s session and this feedback touches the core of my own self-expression.

Many people have received very little positive feedback for their creative endeavors and experiments in their lives. We started the session sharing stories of the messages we’ve been given about our artistic abilities: being told we can’t sing, that we had poor fashion sense, that we couldn’t cook, and so forth. Scholastic achievement gets much more attention; art, writing, decorating is just that “cute” thing you do. My mother was always hoping that I’d grow out of my love of theater and become a business major… the prevailing idea being that you can’t make money with art. Granted, it’s challenging in a society that doesn’t value it highly. Never did make a living with it but I have never regretted the enriching experience of following my heart and doing what I loved.

The fifth chakra deals with expressing one’s truth, being authentic in communication, The idea with the dance session was to cycle through different body parts, letting them express their story in their own language. For example, I’d call out, “Feet,” and everyone would explore their feet, first on their own and then with other dancers.  My intention was to encourage everyone to break out of their patterns and expand their movement vocabulary. Ecstatic dance usually has very little structure so I was taking a big risk departing from the norm and what the dancers were used to. I came to the session excited to play with this creative experiment. I was going to draw outside the lines…

What was curious though, was that the structure I imposed on the dance seemed to get some people more in their heads than breaking barriers. Conversely, other dancers totally moved beyond their comfort zones into fresh new territory and expansion. What was the challenge here? Observing the participants, I really could see how differently people approach creativity. For some, the task of dancing a particular body part opened the door to adventure; they relished the problem-solving quality of the exercise. There was something specific to work with, just enough of a parameter to use as a foundation to jump into the unknown. Without the invitation to intimately delve into their feet, they would not have necessarily gone there on their own and missed this rich experience. For others, structure became a head-trip, a nuisance, and closed down their self-expression. These folks operate more fluidly with an empty canvas. The blank page terrorizes others….

“I missed the freedom of expression,” says the dancer. “Ah, but what might be interesting to see,” I answer, “is that the invitation is for feet AND freedom of expression, spine AND freedom, hands AND freedom. They don’t exclude each other. Just see how your resistance to structure  prevents your flow when it is there actually to help. ” I remember hearing Osho, the Indian spiritual master, give a talk about creativity and how we could approach and engage in the most mundane acts as artists…. things like washing the dishes, doing the laundry, shopping. It really is a question of being present to whatever act you are doing and enjoying it. You will never wipe the windows in the same manner again…. you are dancing over the pane with the cloth, swirling this way and that, zig-zagging, making wide sweeping gestures. Next time you do this same act, you will probably do it differently. The window becomes your blank canvas. Windows AND freedom. Creativity is that simple and we all are artists. Take a risk and draw outside the lines. Express yourself!

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Dance of Power: The Third Chakra, Manipura

April 26, 2010


An ancient council tribe of warriors meeting in a circle…better yet, peacekeepers or Superheroes…grounded, spines straight, hearts and eyes ablaze, fully present…that’s what we all were radiating when we closed our dance dedicated to the Third Chakra, Manipura. Everyone was relaxed and rooted in their power, very earthy feeling until you caught the fire burning in a dancer’s eyes, challenging you to match them in greater integrity and strength. So inspiring to behold! Personal power embodied and not ego-driven. It feels important to experience our friends and family more often as warriors and warrioresses, fighting for their and others’ highest good, co-igniting ourselves towards achieving this ideal.

The Third Chakra deals with issues of power and will… enter the Ego. How do we get what we want? Manipulate? Dominate? Beg? Or simply ask? Watch out for the “selfless” act too, a wolf in sheep’s clothing…Yikes! My ego’s already squirming, comparing and wanting to feel “better than” as I write these words! That’s it’s job. So we might as well have fun with it and learn to laugh at our ego masks.

When I was researching the third chakra qualities, I came across a great explanation that emphasized the ability to laugh; to laugh at oneself or a situation is to have power over it. Makes total sense…you have to be detached from your trip to find the humor in it. This concept inspired the evening’s dance experiment.

Normally, an ecstatic dance experience is an open field for you to explore your inner world. So I wondered how it would be to very specifically direct the energy of the dance, enacting roles…loved what transpired from this creative risk, thanks to courageous souls who went for it with gusto. We cycled through a progression of five archetypes of the Manipura energy: Beggar/Victim, Anger, Diva, Clown/Fool and Warrior. I asked everyone to exaggerate these masks, to really become a caricature of these roles, with the intent of ultimately being able to laugh at ourselves. Great exercise to do with yourself if your ego is getting difficult…let it have a voice, daring to say the most outrageous things that you are too polite to say…”I’m the best. I am the hottest. I totally suck. I am the most pathetic. I am the most giving…”  Go for it… put a costume on and play it up and let it go bananas! That’s what it’s doing in your head and what you are trying to resist. It’s not going away… might as well enjoy your own hissy fit and  be able to crack yourself up at your own ridiculousness.

As part of the role-play dance, I invited the participants to connect with the energy of trying to out-do the other, try to out-victim or out-diva one another. The Beggar role had everyone on the floor in a wee ball of misery….no connection really wanted to happen. Anger… whoa! The room exploded and we got in each other’s faces. As in the sacral chakra, we had to be invited to explore our sensuality in dance, anger was also by invitation. And by the sound of it, most were thrilled to go there. Talk about fire and energy! It’s exactly that fire that helps us burn through our own inertia. The room was so alive… it was a celebration! The climax of the music came on with the Diva. That character was more cool and controlled though, an interesting juxtaposition. The Clown character helped us start to laugh at the whole thing and to allow ourselves to be even more ridiculous. Ending with the Warrior and meditation, we were brought back inside to a state of dignity and inner strength. And from that place, we gathered into a closing circle, silently acknowledging our power.

Giving space to anger was a huge piece of reclaiming our power. It needs healthy expression. And not taking ourselves too seriously, having a good laugh. You feel so cleansed after. De-toxing the physical body is all well and good….yet we neglect doing an emotional de-tox from time to time. Find a fun way to purge your sludge… no one however, should get hurt in such an exercise, especially not you. Be sure that if you don’t do your sludge, it will do you. May the Force be with you!

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Dance of Desire: The Sacral Chakra

April 20, 2010

Chocolate. Silky sheets against my skin. Cat fur. Wine. Moaning…nervous giggles erupted on that one followed by many heads nodding in agreement. Smiles were lighting up the room: everyone was starting to purr.

We were dancing the energy of the second or sacral chakra that night and we began with a round of sharing on what we personally deemed as “sensual”  for all five senses: touch, smell, sound, taste, sight. Talking about pleasure instantaneously made everyone happy… next time you feel blue, just start thinking or writing about YUM and watch how magically your energy shifts. There was an air of complicity as well, people leaning forward into the circle as if to speak of deep pleasure, it had to be whispered, a secret. What did you dare reveal as sensual, something so intimate… could you really tell that to people you only met last week? Observing this, I clued into the subterranean layer of guilt or shame that can  rob us from fully claiming the ecstasy of pleasure for ourselves.

Reclaiming our birthright to be sensual and sexual creatures was one of the focuses for the dance. That and intimacy, dancing with the Other. It was a luscious session: people rolling on the floor, connecting skin to skin, eyes half closed reveling in the soft undulations of their own bodies. It wouldn’t have happened unless we were invited to go there though. When encouraged, everyone was delighted to dive in….and how!

The tendency to keep our sexuality under wraps warrants some exploration. There’s a jungle of morality and societal conditioning to wade through… let’s face it, most of us receive messages from an early age that “too much” pleasure is not OK, if it’s even OK at all. As babies, we all start out in the ever-nurturing, warm womb and as newborns, all we do basically is respond to and bask in pleasure. Then society’s judgment casts us from Eden with “proper” behavior and ecstasy gets put away in a dark closet, emerging only when it’s safe. But we might not even fully be able to enjoy our “stolen” moments of pleasure due to the twinges of guilt and shame that are not even our own!!!

The “safe” part is the key here. People are so amazingly powerful when they are in their sexual energy, part ferocious animal, part divinity. I noticed in my own dances with others that after X amount of time, I pulled away feeling like I could only handle so much of their blindingly beautiful glory.  It was a certain shyness inside that felt like it was not OK to behold so much power for too long or get too wild with it. Boundaries… which need to be in place but have deeply crippled our vitality as well. We need to reclaim this wild animal god/goddess to empower all that we do.

It starts with saying YES to our sensuality. While taking a shower, really get into feeling the warm water penetrating your skin, smelling your shampoo, watching the rainbows in the water drops refracted in the light, sliding the soap on yourself. Too often we jump into the shower thinking about what we need to accomplish that day, rushing through it so we can get on with it.  We miss the joy of this moment. Think how much more relaxed and happy you could be by simply taking the time to enjoy your shower or your food or smelling the roses!

Loving ourselves in this way is not shameful or indulgent. Shame and guilt disempower us, making us shrink and fear our own true nature, turning ourselves against ourselves in a futile war. Time to bring ecstasy out of the closet and share ourselves in our mighty glory! Allow way more YUM into your life; you deserve it!

“Ecstasy is our very nature; not to be ecstatic is simply unnecessary. To be ecstatic is natural, spontaneous. It needs no effort to be ecstatic, it needs great effort to be miserable. That’s why you look so tired, because misery is really hard work; to maintain. It is really difficult because you are doing something against nature.” ~ Osho

“Sexuality is a life force. It is a force too often denied or perverted, and being robbed of our pleasure, we are robbed of our power. When we lose our desire, we lose our will. Power and will are attributes of the next chakra, and pleasure and desire are their seed. Sexuality is the flower of that seed. Power and will are its fruits.”  ~ Anodea Judith

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The Jeweled Dance Floor

April 12, 2010

If God invited you to a party and said,

“Everyone in the ballroom tonight will be my special Guest,”

How would you then treat them when you arrived?

Indeed, indeed!

And Hafiz knows there is no one in this world

who is not upon His Jeweled Dance Floor.

~Hafiz, 14th century Sufi mystic, translated by Daniel Ladinsky

A jeweled dance floor… that’s exactly what it felt like as I witnessed the beauty unfolding before me at the Sweat Your Prayers sessions over Easter weekend in the San Francisco Bay Area. Visiting family, I was overjoyed to have the opportunity to dance and celebrate the concept of resurrection. In a purely metaphysical sense…I love the idea of rebirth. It was also great to just be a participant and totally let go without a single thought regarding facilitation… almost… did make a few mental notes about wonderful music I heard. A highly recommended practice for any teacher or facilitator of any subject, being a student can refresh your passion and perspective; it always does my own.

Saturday morning in San Rafael, California. About sixty people arrive, start to warm up and gently dance. An exotic, dark woman with a shaved head, dressed in flaming orange walks over to the altar area and reverently places two photographs of people on the table. She squats with her face in her hands and contemplates the images. As the dance rhythms start to pick up, I notice that this woman is beginning to move wildly before the altar. She throws punches and kicks into the air. At times, she doubles over, clutching her stomach. When I see her face, stained with angry tears, I understand that she must be grieving a recent loss. I am awe struck with her raw beauty.

Thankfully, no one is rescuing her or interfering. She is processing and we simply dance with her in our hearts. One day it may be us in her place. That’s how I’d want it to be for me…a safe space to let go, move the energy and feel held by a loving community without anyone trying to make me feel better or calm me down. Her sad rage is a total gift to behold and be around. The room is electrified by her passionate love and we are invited to become more vulnerable and real in our dances. Some of us women dance with her…she is crouching like a ferocious lioness, moving like a tribal African warrior…. we are also crouching, moving in circles as if we are around a bonfire where this grief is being exorcised. As her anger subsides, a woman enfolds her from behind and she weeps in her tender embrace. It feels perfect.

I turn to the altar space and see a familiar mop of wild, red pixie hair. She is placing a plastic dinosaur on the table. I go over and poke her. Here is a delightful, mad woman that I danced with in a ten day workshop two years ago and haven’t seen or heard from since. She jumps, turning in shock only to see my face and break out in a huge grin. Laughing together, we start to jiggle and pop to the staccato beat. We lock into a madcap dance that is so magically spontaneous, playful and totally in tune with our every move. It’s intoxicating… a train ride with no brakes and it just continues to spiral into greater delirium. We’re giggling because it’s so crazy good. God, I love it when this dance magic suddenly showers you with it’s grace. You can’t anticipate it as you can’t force it. Truly, it is grace descending…. or ascending…whamo! You are transported to a realm that unfolds every second with synchronicity, boundless creativity, perfectly in tune, moving faster than you can think, in the Zone.

Then the song ends…we smile our gratitude and head off in opposite directions. No words are exchanged between us ever; I slip her my email before I leave. Pure nectar… our spirits deeply entwined in this intimate exchange… God knows what her name is… and so not important. We have met in essence. People really need to do this more often for humanity’s sake. And play together more. The child within was so tickled to play with someone. It felt like we were imagining and spinning out some story like we all have done for hours and hours as kids. Sheer joy!

Next day, Easter Sunday, I am bowled over by a man dancing full tilt with a prosthetic leg. He’s apparently a regular. That’s when the poem by Hafiz bubbles to my consciousness… the “jeweled dance floor” and everyone being God’s guest. What rich exchanges and amazing souls I have had the honor to bear witness to on this bejeweled dance floor. I am flooded with gratitude for this place where all hearts beat as one dance and essence meets essence.