Ick! (Insights, Inspirations & Challenges)

This blog consists of my own subjective experiences on the 5Rhythms® dancing path, and is not sanctioned by any 5Rhythms® organization or teacher.

I promised my uncle—who has been kind enough to read this blog, but has no context for the writing—that I would offer some explanation for people who don’t already know about 5Rhythms. Every time I attempt a definition of the 5Rhythms it comes out differently. It is at once incredibly simple and infinitely complex. The best I can do is try to explain how I, personally, experience 5Rhythms.

For someone who steps into a 5Rhythms room for the first time, it probably just looks like a wild dance club with no drinks. Over time, practitioners learn that the five rhythms are Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness. Guided by a 5Rhythms teacher, we investigate each of these rhythms through various suggestions, exercises, and as the music guides us. There are no prescribed steps, and it may look and feel different for everyone. In general, Flowing is characterized by awareness of the feet, and looping, unending motion. Staccato, the rhythm of the heart, is characterized by stops and starts, clean lines and may seem sharp or edgy at times. Chaos (my longstanding favorite) is characterized by uncontrolled, energetic activity, and may include rapid shifting of the body weight from one side to the other. Lyrical follows the release of Chaos, and may be characterized by a kind of lightness, curiosity or playfulness. Stillness—the concluding rhythm of a wave—is breathful. It is how you move with whatever is left after moving through all of the other rhythms. There is no set music, but most of the teachers are audiophiles who use their extensive knowledge of music to guide practitioners through a wave. If you are going to a 5Rhythms class, you should expect to dance, but it is interesting to note that 5Rhythms is by no means limited to dance. Rather, it is a way to describe the entire creative process.

This blog is about how I experience my own practice in 5Rhythms classes and workshops. It is also about how I carry my life into 5Rhythms, and how I carry 5Rhythms into my life. Does that help, Uncle Greg?

On Friday night, Tammy led us through two seamless waves during her Night Waves class, without any pause in the middle. A wave is a process of moving through each of the five rhythms in sequence—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness. Often, there is a pause between the first and second waves in a typical waves class (such as the one I am writing about) when the teacher take a few moments to verbally explain an aspect of practice or to propose a particular investigation while students sit and take it in. I love these teaching interludes and have learned many valuable lessons from this part of the class, but Tammy is expertly unpredictable—just enough so we benefit from structure, yet continue to be challenged with novelty.

I stepped right in, though I arrived 20 minutes late. The entire first wave was devoted to Flowing, so we moved through all five rhythms, always retaining some aspect of the first rhythm of Flowing as we moved through each of the rhythms. I was elated to find expansive movement; and that I had all the energy I needed to move.

The second wave was dedicated to Staccato—so we moved through each of the five rhythms—Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness—and in each retained some aspect of Staccato. I found it a little difficult to access Flowing with the percussive drumming track Tammy played, but found my way into the wave with the help of another dancer. As we moved into the Staccato rhythm, Tammy instructed us to take a partner, and I turned to a friend who happened to be next to me. As per our instructions, the dance was an investigation of the concepts of Yes and No. My energy had faltered slightly, but as we entered into our Yes-No investigation my interest peaked. I thought of one of the mantras I have designed for my small son, who occasionally seems like a five-year-old teenager, “We should always have more Yes’s than No’s!” I tell him frequently. Sometimes I love to dance No, but on this night, the energetic expansion of Yes captivated me. At times, we were supposed to dance opposite roles, and I wasn’t sure if we were, in fact, in the same role or not, an interesting lack of clarity in a dance otherwise characterized by delighted specifity.

I moved around the room, partnering with everyone I encountered. In a smiling dance with a friend, a large man with downturned eyes barged right between us, sliming the side of my face with his completely sweat-soaked shirt. Believe me, I am not easily disgusted, but a revolted shock settled onto my features, and I dashed off to the bathroom to wash my face.

Stepping back into the room, I planned what I would say to the purveyor of slime after the class. “Excuse me! I’m not sure if you are aware that you slimed me during the dance? Um, in the future, could you please give me a minimum of two feet of distance? And, um, could you please, um, try to notice when I don’t want to be approached at all?” When he came too near me again, I put up a hand in his direction, scowling. I perseverated briefly about how, over the years, he has often invaded my space, crashed into me, and bumped me with flying limbs.

As I continued to perseverate, the music shifted us into Chaos. I started to laugh. I thought, “Oh, I am going to have a good cathartic laugh now.” As soon as I had that thought, the impulse left. I was lifted then by beautiful Chaos, and tossed by its currents and riptides.

As Chaos spit us out into the Lyrical rhythm, we were instructed to group with several others. One person was supposed to lead with a simple movement, and the others would follow. My group was a disaster. We had a very hard time finding one movement and there were several stops and starts. I was resistant for some reason, not liking what we were coming up with, not able to give myself over to it.

The day before, I had attended a teacher training along with thirty educators. I moved tables often (thank you, Flowing!) so I could meet different people in the room and learn about how they do their jobs. Many offended me. One table in particular made me particularly disgusted. A white woman in her mid 60’s who lives in Long Island but teaches in Brooklyn started to talk in a heavy Long Island accent about “them” (her students): how entitled they are, how their sneakers are more important than their studies, etc, etc. A younger woman, who I didn’t dislike at first, jumped right onto the bandwagon. A much younger woman, too, joined in. They went on and on. I resisted the temptation to ask them to explain who they meant by “them,” but left the table, again scowling, to refill my water bottle instead. Sometimes I really feel out of sync with the people around me, even in the dance in that moment. When Tammy said we could move around the room on our own, I fled, without looking back.

Despite these minor challenges, the overall tone I ended with was uplifted and energetic. I noticed repeatedly how happy I was to have access to so much movement. I noticed that a foot injury that had given me pause for weeks had evaporated. I noticed how much I love the heat and how far we had come from the depths of winter. I noticed all of the beautiful humans around me, being beautiful.

I always feel blessed when a strong theme emerges, but can’t force it if one doesn’t. The class was another thread in the tapestry I am living—complete with its unique insights, inspirations and challenges; and I am, as ever, blessed to have access to the 5Rhythms map that helps me to navigate it with grace and curiosity.

June 7, 2015, NYC

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