When did you stop dancing?

Traditional Tibetan dancer

“In many shamanic societies, it you came to a shaman or medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask you one 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 sweet territory of silence?”

                                              ~ Gabrielle Roth, Maps to Ecstasy

On October 22, 2012, Gabrielle Roth passed away and crossed over.  She left with us a legacy of the community dance framework, the 5 Rhythms — a somatic way to experience and process energy and emotions.  Watch this short film to discover more about her work.

West African traditional dance

My first experience with 5 Rhythms was around 2006, at Auroville, a 50-year old intentional community in South India.  There, I danced to traditional Indian drummers in a butter-lamp lit open stage of sorts.  I danced well into the night and I was covered in sweat by the end of the drumming.  A couple of times I felt waves of nausea as the music played on…I had come across blockages in my body that were surely moving.  It was an amazing experience and I will never forget those wild drums, the soft glow of the butter lamps, and my sweaty clothes!

Since then, I have participated in many Sweat Your Prayers, Dance Churches, and Ecstatic Dances from the SF Bay Area to Esalen (Big Sur, CA) to Asheville, NC.  Where there is a dance, I will eventually find myself there.

Traditional dance in Ukraine

I have always enjoyed dancing.  In the toughest of times while in Ukraine, largely by myself (in Peace Corps), I would turn to dance to ‘work things out’ when I didn’t have the words to express myself.  Many days and nights in Ukraine were spent dancing in my living room and shaking things out!

While on hikes in my recent home in the Southern Appalachians, I would stop by streams and creeks and dance by their sides.  I started to do this because I saw a man doing this once, although he was doing Tai Chi.  I once learned that this was done in Tai Chi to harmonize the body with the flow of the water.  I thought to myself (after I saw this man), ‘why don’t I try that out?’  Since then, I have enjoyed the spontaneous and fluid movements I have found near the water’s edge when no one is around.

Traditional dance from Gujarat, India

Dance, like food and shelter and clothing, is essential to our lives.  It may not be as obvious as the others, but dancing is our way to connect to and relate to our bodies and express ourselves in a language beyond words.  I feel that Gabrielle Roth was able to effectively communicate this to our culture in the US and allow movement to be available to all kinds of people (not just people who consider themselves ‘dancers’).

Thank you, Gabrielle.

5 thoughts on “When did you stop dancing?

  1. Roth was a totally inspiring force. I have developed five-element dances I facilitate (guided improv) inspired in part by her 5Rhythms and by the Chinese Wu Xing understanding of the movement of energy in five phases. I danced to move through my “divorce” from my partner of many years. I totally hear you and I am so moved to read your post, sad Roth has danced on and glad she is dancing free of a body, something you may have dreamed about and I do for sure!

    • Oh wow — what a wonderful framework to use! — the TCM five elements… Hmmmm…something for me to think about and be inspired by! And, a powerful notion — the use of dance to breath through a divorce process… Thank you for sharing this…

  2. So sad to hear that Gabrielle is gone. Dancing the Rhythm Wave connected me with my body and transformed my life. I am so grateful for her work.

  3. Wonderful post. Dance helped me through a very difficult time in my life – to the music and words of Astrud Gilberto. How neat to know that it is an established way of healing. Thanks so much as always!

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