Ecstatic Dance

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About

NOTE: This page is a daughter page of: Dance


No matter how many types I try to explain "Ecstatic Dance", or it's closely related cousins such as "Open Floor" and "5Rhythms" to people, I fail to do it justice. Perhaps I don't understand it particularly well.... I just know that I love it. It's how I spent almost every Monday nights when I lived in the south bay, and it made me feel great. I've written this article to try and explain it better explain to friends... and hopefully convince some of them to try it.  ;)

I've generalized over all the various venues and ecstatic dance events I've been too. Each has it's own flavor, but they certainly have a lot in common!

A room doing ecstatic dance.


Child Pages

Here are some of my favorite ecstatic-style events:


Related/Child Pages:


What is Ecstatic Dance

If Ecstatic wasn't already tricky to explain, matters are made more complicated by the fact there are slight variations called "5Rhythms", "Open Floor" and others...... and since none of my peers have heard of either these terms, I call it by the affectionate name "hippy dancing". Just pretend all three names are synonymous, because honestly, they all look pretty similar. Personally I related best to this description from the Daily Telegraph:

I love it precisely because it isn't based on learned steps. Instead, the idea is to find your own dance by moving your body in whatever way you fancy.

It's as much meditation as it a dance.


Eclectic Music

One of many things I love about Open Floor is the music. It sounds impossible, but after a year of going I still don't think I've ever heard a song I didn't enjoy. It's a lot of "world music" but honestly, you'll hear everything from classical, tribal drums, chill-out, trance, jazz, rock and then out of no-where a modern pop song with funny lyrics. You can expect anything from Bach, to Micheal Jackson, Toto, Enya, Adele, The Eagles and a hundred artists you've never heard of but wished you owned all their albums. And yet somehow all these different songs blend seamlessly together.... and they blend in "waves".

DISCLAIMER: There are some videos on the 5Rhythm website, and some of my friends found this youtube clip. In most of these videos the dancing is very "tribal" and there are a lot of shirtless guys - which I think seems a little intimidating in a video! In some eclectic dance places this may occur, but in Mountain View we do wear shirts and the dancing is far more varied I find. The pictures above don't do it justice either - I think you need to be a part of the dancing to appreciate the freedom, space and the fact that everyone has their own unique way of dancing. For me I find almost every song brings something different - especially if I find myself suddenly dancing with someone else or a spontaneously formed group.


Where does this happen

All over the world! See the links at the bottom.


What to expect

If you decide to come, arriving at hippy dancing feel a little strange. If you arrive early you'll walk into room with just a few other people - all of them stretching and flowing around the room like... well hippies.  :)

If you arrive 15 minutes later the room is probably full with 40-80 people (depending on the venue), and depending on the song they might all be dancing like maniacs - some people might even grunt. Arrive another 15 minutes later and these people might just be lying on the floor and some of them hugging. If you're not used to that then you'll think "what the hell is going on here!". You might be worried you've walked into some free love movement. With time you'll realize physical contact pretty normal here. It's usually not "funny business" you're seeing - the regulars know each other well and hugs are pretty common.

I guess with my personality and love for dance, I wasn't intimidated my first time. Here's a place where you might dance one song by yourself, then you might dance with a girl one song, or a guy for half a song, and then the next song you'll find yourself with a big group. Warming up can take a while for many, but it's when you do start interacting with others that wonderful spontaneous things will happen. Whatever you're comfortable with.


Some instructors give more "instruction" than others. I'm most used to Salsa, where you have patterns you need to follow, but it was immediately obvious to me that you do whatever you want. The other thing about Salsa is.... well, let's be honest, all the songs sound pretty much the same! Here every song is different and scrumptious in its own way.

At the end of most of these dances, you might either get a "sound healing" session, where someone with face paint plays a weird but beautiful instrument and people lay on the floor and zen out to the relaxing music... and/or you might get what I call the "feelings circle", where people talk about their feelings about the dance, and share announcements at the end. Again, "feeling circles" is an affectionate name I came up with - so I hope it doesn't sound like I'm being mean! Lots of people leave before the circle, but I like to stay because in smaller circles everyone says their name (week after week I usually forget - it's a lot of names to remember!) and has the chance to talk about anything they felt, discovered or have on their minds.


Who dances?

So what type of person attends these kind of events?! I'll like to joke that we are mostly (a) long haired, tie-die wearing hippies or (b) software engineers. There's a smidgen of truth to that, but don't let it scare you! Yes, a couple of dancers wear colorful clothes, and yes, there are lot of people who practice or teach meditation and well being.... but in reality these are people who love dancing, and yes, lots of them have been to burning man or have alternative lifestyles. You don't have to own a bead shop to enjoy the dance though. :)

As you dance you'll notice a few people have had experience with some other form of dance - I like to guess who's done couple's dancing before. I'd say over half have never done any other form of dance. It really doesn't matter if you're good at dancing or terrible. If you want to do some weird yoga pose, spin in circles, or jump... it doesn't matter. You are not being judged... and that is very refreshing. I've been told I'm a good dancer, but at hippy dancing I embrace the freedom to do something weird, like crawl across the floor, or make a funny face at someone. It's the opposite of most other dancing where you're trying to look good and act like you have things figured out. It doesn't matter if you have two left feet, there are no steps to learn. In such an practice it's not about how you look, it's about how you feel and the energy you feed into the room.  :)


What to wear

You will sweat, so I'd recommend a simple t-shirt and loose fitting pants or anything else that breaths. I've worn jeans before, but they can get sweaty. Most girls wear dresses or tights, but I personally wear dresses on weekends only. :-P

If you've been to burning man, you'll already know what people wear dancing.  :)

The biggest thing to know here is that we to dance bare foot! Shoes are very discouraged and socks are banned. This "encouraged" rule is more about safety than anything else - to prevent you from slipping over or crushing a foot. Ballet shoes are fine but seriously.... just give barefoot a try.

There's a drinking fountain and good bathroom / changing rooms with towels just outside the main dance area, but I like to bring my own towel and a couple of water-bottles. Almost all of us bring a bag and we leave them around the edge of the room. If you live far away you'll probably want a change of clothes for the drive home.

Foot thongs

Dance paws from Amazon

As liberating as it is to be barefoot, if you dance as vivaciously as me I'd suggest you invest in a pair of "foot thongs" (sometimes called "foot undies") to look cool and protect against blisters. Quite a few of us wear them. Most choose the thong style design, but I prefer to wear dance paws" that you can get from Amazon or the Capezio Dance Theatre Shop in Mountain View for ~$30. These have a hole for each toe, and feel awkward at first, but they don't slide off like some others might. My pair has lasted about 3 months, but I'm pretty heavy on my feet, so hopefully they'll last longer for you.

Getting sweaty

Depending on how you dance, these events can be an incredibly intense workout! Most of us are sweating pretty heavily come the energetic part of the wave! Hence the towel and water bottles

Let's put it this way: over Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday I used to do yoga (moving slowly through strange poses, ignoring everyone around you and focusing on the mind), couples dancing (moderate music and dancing with other people) and an insanity workout (a hardcore group workout to upbeat pop music). Ecstatic dance is like doing all three at once - yoga, dancing, workout..... and then some. In fact, at times I feel pretty confident these are events are more relaxing/spiritual than yoga, more energetic than "insanity" and was more varied than any type of dancing I've seen. If you have good dance experience you'll probably find yourself embracing a dozen different forms of hybrid dance - messy-ballet, hip hop, contact improv, completely-interpretive, sloppy-drunk-jazz, almost-salsa-but-not-really, some-weird-varient-of-tango and whatever-you-feel-like-trying - over a two hour period. If you have no dance experience this translates roughly to: spinning lots, dancing like a rapper, holding arms and getting personal, lying down cuz you're tired, bopping about, holding hands and being silly, prancing around for a song and jumping up and down on the spot. Actually I'd suggest you don't use these highly technical terms at all. Your dance can and should get influenced heavily by (a) you're own energy, (b) the music's energy and (d) the other dancers, to the point where it you shouldn't be able to put it into any existing category of dance.


Communication without words

They don't have many rules, but aside from the hard shoes and being generally respectful of others (i.e: don't dance so recklessly you might hurt someone) the other big one is no talking. I think Claire knows I'm a little bad and break this sometimes - and I've been shhh'd a couple of times (*blush*). The rule exists because talking in the middle of a soft profound song kind of spoils the ambiance and experience for everyone else, so if you do have to say something make sure you whisper! I'm always tempted to tell people how much I loved dancing with them - and often I will - but after a while you realize that you can say everything you want with a simple nod, bow, hug.... or even just your eyes. Try all four at once or "something completely different" for bonus points.


Saying no to a dance - using namaste hands

For all these dances, if there is an invitation to dance, but you'd rather dance by yourself, putting your hands together in a pray like position is saying "thanks, but I want to dance by myself now". If someone does this to you, smile and do it back to say "thank you for honoring yourself". It sounds a little bit hippy, yes, but trust me, saying no and receiving no in this way is quite beautiful to witness or be a part of. I actually have started to do this hands to anyone that says no to me and they always appreciate it, because it takes the awkwardness out of getting a "no". It's not a rejection, it's a "not now sorry", but you seem like a cool person.  :)


Meeting people

The story of how I discovered these dance events is fun I think. I'd just moved from San Diego and had joined an online dating site. On this site I chatted to a lovely girl who challenged me to come along. I took the challenge immediately - I love trying new things. I'm forever thankful for her friendship, wisdom and introducing me to the world of open dance!  :)

In terms of romance, I know of at least one couple who met dancing, but generally I don't think people go to dancing looking for romance. It's not the most likely place and it's nice to show up and dance with people without that agenda/distraction clouding your mind. For me I actually like the age difference means that most people there are married/coupled up, and also just more relaxed about everything - not really worried who dances with who. Guys dancing with guys is fine, and if you dance with someone of the opposite gender it's as much physicality as you're comfortable with. Get a bunch of people all the same age together and the dynamics change and people feel like they are all in competition. At dance, what you can sometimes get in one night feels like a dozen or more beautiful "little relationships" from the people you dance with.... and it helps you feel loved.

For me, I feel very lucky I discovered these events so soon after I moved here. I grew up in Australia, so that's where all my family and most of my friends live.... and I definitely found myself a little lonely when I moved to silicon valley. I still do at times! If you're single and living by yourself in silicon valley you probably know actually what I'm talking about, and if you grew up affectionate you'll appreciate any place where you can get that friendly openness, hugs and just physical contact you probably don't get much at your software engineering job at Google! ;)

Joining the dance

Some dance events you are more likely to dance with others than other dance events. The Open Floor - Mountain View is especially friendly. Others people just dance in their own space and don't want to be interrupted. I am constantly surprised by the connection you can share with someone when you dance. I dance as I hope to live - to be happy, open and I dance with everyone! If I make eye contact and they smile back, I'll usually want to dance with them... sometimes I almost have to force myself to say "okay, I should dance the next one alone". Every person I dance with is a unique experience, and the most wonderful unique dance movements have just naturally occurred. Throwing a pretend ball in a group, sitting back to back and rolling someone across the floor, pretending to wrap twine around each other, dancing with our heads connected an entire song are just a few of the beautiful bizarre things that can happen in two hours. It's an outlet for collaborative, spontaneous creativity. I've had people come up afterwards to say "how did you think of that", and the truth is it's something I only came up with by connecting with them - we came up with it together. When dancing with other people in this trusting, playful and open way you might be very surprised what organically emerges. Some connections are stronger than others, often it's playful and sometimes it's more profound. It's about as well as you can ever know a person without actually saying a word.

I think this level of vulnerability isn't for everyone, but even if you come along and dance alone I highly recommend the experience of coming along to understand why this form of dance is getting popular. I've only managed to get a few dozen friends to come along so far, I think about 60% of them love the experience, and 40% decide to come back. Depends who you invite!

More than any other form of dance, it's got a huge element of meditation, of expression, of freedom. The cardiac benefits are great but I find it helps my heart and mind in other ways. The energy it gives me can help improve my entire week.  :)

Hope to see you there on the floor!

Sincerely,

    Andrew Noske



Related Breeds

5 Rhythms

The "5Rhythms" dance refers to 5 different styles of dance which together form a wave:

  • flow - (earth) - pleasant flowing music.
  • staccato - (fire) - sharp, edgy music.
  • chaos - (water) - chaotic, energetic, and often wild dancing.
  • lyrical - (air) - playful.
  • stillness - (spirit) - gentle music, at this part you'll naturally slow down and come to rest... some people will lie on the floor.

I've listed these rhythms because I was curious myself - I can never remember - but honestly, I don't like to think about what song is what category, because I feel like that might influence how I dance to it. You dance to any song however you want.

A single wave can last as long as an hour, and during that time the music goes from soft and flowing, where people are moving slowly around the floor, to something more upbeat, where people move faster and might grab a partner, and then up a crescendo where you experience a crazy high level of energy and often see people dancing in big groups. Only when you reach the point where you feel like you might collapse, the music starts becomes lighter and softer to the point where many people will lie down on the floor with a friend, allowing them to breath, meditate and recover and be ready for the next wave. It sounds like there are now hundreds of venues that do 5Rhythms - most of them in the United States and Europe. You can find locations on the official website:

Open Floor

The "Open Floor" movement is explained here: openfloor.org


See Also

Links


Acknowledgements: My friend, Olivia Fox Cabane‎ - a great girl, fantastic dancer and author of The Charsima Myth for introducing me to this world of dance. Special thanks to Claire Alexander and the people form Open Floor - Mountain View for friendship and incredible dances in my original dance tribe.  :)