What is Ecstatic Dance?
Ecstatic Dance – or free form, conscious dance – is an invigorating mind body practice of uncensored spontaneous movement for normal people just like you who love to dance when no one’s watching. Just think of it as rockin’ out to your favorite tunes at home, only So. Much. More. Imagine recess – grownup style – as a group of friends drop inhibitions and let loose; animating the room into a dynamic and interactive playground engendering total freedom of expression.
Fun with Benefits
Called “the happiness trick you haven’t tried” by Prevention Magazine, Swedish researchers have shown dance to improve mood and increase mental health. So fun it’s considered the exercise that “just doesn’t feel like exercise;” dancing does more than build cardiovascular, bone and muscle strength: it can also decrease onset of dementia, and boost immunity, memory and cognition according to the New England Journal of Medicine. And a Stanford study says “Dancing makes you smarter … improving mental acuity by requiring split-second rapid-fire decision making … Trying unfamiliar, different kinds of movement creates new neural pathways by integrating several brain functions at once – kinesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional- further increasing your neural connectivity.”
So what Is An Ecstatic Dance?
There are some important distinctions about Ecstatic Dance that set it apart from most other dance experiences you’ve had. An Ecstatic Dance is not a “class” with a teacher instructing, but rather a facilitated space with a leader who sets the theme, tone and intention of the room. There is no following-the-leader and no structured steps. The focal point of the room is the center of the floor rather than the front mirrors, where a vortex of positive dancing energy lifts the group. It is not at all about what it looks like, but rather how it feels. Ecstatic Dance is spiritual in nature in that participants use this practice to bypass the thinking mind entirely – directly accessing the body’s wisdom for the sake of health, healing and spiritual growth.
Entering an ecstatic dance is like entering sanctuary: One’s outside life is left at the door. This is a ritual of community gathering. Gentle music and ambiance greet participants and the floor is open for warming and stretching. The facilitator then assembles an opening circle for a brief welcome and intention setting. The intention being that this is safe, sacred, fun, liberating space for all to drop their inhibitions and be free to express what is within them. Subsequently words fall away as the music becomes the invitation: starting in a smooth and flowing manner, climbing into more percussive and rhythmic beats, raising up into hard-driving tribal, club, electronic and house tracks, then bursting into celebratory, lyrically light tunes, and finally drifting into embodied stillness for integration and completion. The leader utilizes a vast array of musical styles to evoke many different moods and modes of movement, allowing for a full spectrum of cathartic self-expression and emotional release.
When the music ends, participants are guided back into a closing circle, allowing for a collective moment of silent meditation to integrate, hold and embody the accumulated joyful release inevitably offered by the dance. All participants are given an opportunity to share themselves with the group, which has now evolved into a deeply heartfelt and openly bonded community.
Movement as Meditation and Medicine
Because freeform dance requires 100% presence of the participant, it is an engaging form of meditation, coaxing the dancer to listen deeply and follow oneself faithfully. Unstructured freestyle movement generates a meditative, trancelike state out of which great joy, freedom and peace arise. The Ecstatic Dance floor becomes a majestic field of freedom inducing complete immersion into the present moment.
At its apex, the room heats and whirls into a tended crucible allowing for loud, stomping, primal sound and movement, catalyzing a frenzied floor of bodies romping mindlessly to the beat. This is where the medicine comes in. We all know that at times a much needed walk outdoors into nature and away from the chaos of our lives can be just what the doctor ordered. In opposition, ecstatic dance employs intentionally induced chaos – much like a vaccine’s injection of a small amount of the poison or disease – in order to move directly into and thereby through our very own internal fires; emerging cleansed, purified, transformed. Participants oftentimes report feelings of exaltation and release beyond verbal articulation. Many communicate a completely euphoric sense of emptiness upon completion.
The community that gathers, though different each time, enters into complicit agreement that each individual is necessary and vital to the co-creation of this liberating environment. Going through the wave of movement and feelings of catharsis and release together generates a unifying experience for participants akin to tribe. People bond easily and effortlessly. Many newcomers find this to be their first authentic place of belonging in town.
Do I need dance experience?
No. The less you “know” what you’re doing, the better. You’ll experience the magic of being danced – or becoming the dance – easier without any prior ideas of how it’s supposed to be done. In fact, it’s so not about what it looks like that we cover the mirrors to decrease self-consciousness. This is movement for all people, all bodies.
What kind of music is played?
Depending on the day, a range of various styles of music are woven together into an hour-plus long playlist including anything from world, reggae, jazz, blues, rock, folk, Latin, tribal, club, house, electronica, dance & DJ, R&B, soul, funk, gospel, classical and new age.
Do I need to be “spiritual” or know how to “meditate” to come?
Nope, not at all. The only necessary requirement for your attendance is a desire to dance for the joy of it.
What should I wear?
Wear comfortable clothes you’d do yoga and stretch in. Clothing that allows you full range of movement.
Reference & gratitude - Soul Kitchen
So where did this all-inclusive dance-music community of free-form expression originate? The story begins in the 1970s with dancer Gabrielle Roth’s creation of 5 Rhythms movement, then turns to fellow enthusiast Max Fathom, who incorporated Burning Man–esque beats to Roth’s style in 2000, and eventually culminates on the Big Island of Hawaii where yoga instructors Tyler Blank and Donna Carroll discovered what Blank describes as “DJ festival culture and electronic music blended with conscious dance.” They brought the concept to Oakland and thus the Ecstatic Dance Community was born. It has since spread to cities and countries around the world and conitnues to pop up in new place all the time bringing together communities in dance and free expression!