What a Full Moon Dance taught me about letting go

IF I asked you to stand in a group of people you didn’t know and do some sort of freeform dance, would you do it? Does the sheer idea have you breaking out in a sweat?

Let tell you what it’s like, and why you should absolutely try it.

Have you ever heard of 5 Rhythms Dance? One of my more new age friends had done a (bless her) fairly poor job of describing them to me years ago but it wasn’t until recently that I experienced it for myself. My sister-in-law suggested we go together. That’s the sort of witchy thing we like doing together, and so we went.

I think for anyone who finds dancing under ‘normal’ circumstances, perhaps wedding dancefloors or in the cloob a bit awkward, me just describing it will be enough to make you panic.

Five Rhythms is an ideology that treats dance as a moving meditation, and a key attribute is the way the five stages or rhythms of the music allow the participants to express themselves emotionally, peaking in a stage of euphoria in the middle.

Anyone who has been to a rave or Pentecostal church worship service may be able to relate to that.

On entering the church building where the dance was being held, I observed instrumental music, incense and women – lots of women. Women and non-binary people of every age, shape, size, ethnicity and fashion leanings. Women were milling about, either around the edges or already in the wide open space which would be our dancefloor. Many were sitting or lying on the carpet, others were chatting, stretching or swaying gently already to the music that was playing.

One of the organisers welcomed us over a microphone and talked the attendees through the five rhythms and a few house rules – be mindful of your surroundings, use the whole space, look out for helpers around the room who could help you if you needed anything.

And then it began. Gentle but rythmic music started and the mass of women began to move. As a newbie, and feeling pretty self-conscious, I started with a little light seated swaying to ease myself into it. But, sooner than expected, I felt an impulse to stand and start to move more.

Now, I can’t stress enough how much the ‘dance’ couldn’t be less about the way you look. It’s totally different to the confined, performative definition most of us have for dance. The five rhythms – flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness – are described on as ‘a series of healing maps for the body, heart, mind, soul and spirit’. Designed to ‘release the dancer that lives in every body, no matter what its shape, size, age, limitations and experience’.

Gradually, the intensity of the music ramped up, and energy builds as you transition from the ‘flowing’ stage to the more insistent, thrumming ‘staccato’ rhythm. By the time we hit the ‘chaos’ stage, I was throwing myself and laughing like an absolute loon, and it was exhilarating, joyful, cathartic. I was fully ‘inside’ my body, fully immersed in the present moment. During the ‘chaos’ rhythm, occasionally a holler would rise up from someone in the group, and we would all begin to cheer and whoop together like a group of Amazonians.

Eventually, the pace slowed slightly, as chaos melts into the lyrical stage, which felt more inquisitive and introspective. There were definitely moments in this stage where, after the total immersion of the chaos stage, I returned to my usual patterns of thought and wondered what on earth I was doing? But, then. the music began ebbing away into silence, and our bodies found their way gently to the floor.

My sister-in-law and I left floating a few inches above the ground.

It scarcely needs saying that a Five Rhythms Dance is not everyone’s cup of tea. A moment comes in the dance when, confronted by all your impulses to preserve your dignity and composure and your judgements on the people around you, you have to throw all that away. You have to allow your centre of consciousness to descend from its usual cerebral ivory tower, and flow through you, through every muscle, until it reaches your fingertips and toes.

It’s not easy. But you’ll be amazed at the results. At how letting yourself arrive fully in your body will feel like a waterfall of clear water flowing through you.

But to access both that euphoria and full-blooded embodiment was an utter gift, and I wish everyone could experience it. Also, there’s a lot of freedom in standing in a big church, dancing around like an ancient temple priestess, surrounded by a load of people who couldn’t give a fig how you look or what you’re doing. It reconnects us to a childlike freedom and un-self-consciousness that some of us maybe didn’t even allow ourselves as kids.

It makes you wonder what the impact might be if certain public figures, known for their inability to entertain for a moment their own human fallibility, were forced to shake off all of their bluster and bravado for a moment and recognise the humanity in themselves and those around them. Would the world be a better place?

Have you experienced 5 Rhythms? Do you have another experience of group euphoria or connecting to yourself through dance? Please share it in the comments!

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