Updated: Oct 4, 2019
I showed up to a camp with about 40 strangers. Most aimlessly wandering as I was, some clearly ready for what was about to happen. A beautiful pregnant lady called attention to everyone, "We are about to start our ecstatic dance session, can we form a big circle?" We gathered around as she began to guide us through some grounding breath work, proceeding to explain the structure of this movement inspired activity. Within seconds of being in that circle, I could feel a swirling of energies meeting, coming together, for the first time. Some were experienced, excited, hyper, others nervous, reserved, and maybe even skeptical. The objective here was to dance, to move, to express yourself in any way, shape, or form that your mind and body allowed. An invitation to listen to your inner sensations and let go. There would be music guiding the energy of the room starting slower, building up, and coming down; a warm-up, the development, and the closure. She put no restrictions or rules on how we were to move or were supposed to be moving. It didn’t have to look like any sort of movement you could put a label on. Basically, the only rules were 1. consent to physically touch another person. 2. no talking. 3. No awkward dance circles where one person shows of skills while everyone else stands around. You can make eye contact, you can smile, use your body to express yourself fully, but no words.
At first, I was one of those who were a little skeptical, nervous, and a little reserved. I just stumbled upon this, I wasn't sure that I even needed to express myself to this room full of strangers. More so, I certainly did not understand the effects of what this could do for me.
The music begins. People start getting up, moving around, reshaping the circle, finding our starting space in the room. I sat down. I was in my head and wondering what kind of image I wanted to put off to this room of strangers, so I decided to use the warm-up very privately, very secluded in my own body. I was excited to sit back, stretch and watch this weirdness unfold. I would extend my limbs and fold over into a meditative state, easy yoga postures, closing my eyes. I started to hear myself. I would sit up and open my eyes, look around the room and see movement on all different scales; there were people moving really vigorously, super graceful, and anywhere in between. Within the first five minutes, I was starting to sense a little bit of each person’s personality just by the movements of their body. I, as a dancer and yoga practitioner, didn't necessarily feel embarrassed or like I didn't know how to dance, rather I felt guarded and unsure. Questions buzzing in my mind like, is this really a safe space? Do I even know how I want to feel? What do I look like? Should I dance with someone? Do I want to move right now? Will I look like I’m trying too hard? Am I taking up too much space? Do I look weird just sitting here? So many mental blockages that were actually just hindering me from full self-expression. There was a moment of releasing all the doubts about this in my mind and just being receptive, I mean, I would catch eye contact here and there, smiles, and the goofiest faces, and it all started becoming very infectious. The Rhythm in the air, the movements of bodies, energy just pouring out of people, I was truly acknowledging these people through eye contact. After locking eyes with several people I noticed this feeling of non-judgement, both in my eyes and theirs. I realized I didn’t feel so scared here anymore, like something encouraged me to let my body talk.
I started to stand up. I stood up slowly, moving with the music and the pace of the energy around me. I metamorphosed in this exact moment. It was this sense of opening up, coming out. And This Feeling, coming out, is so powerful across so many self expressions; coming out of retirement, coming out of the closet, coming out of the woodwork.
As I stood up, the music was starting to build, people were sweating, people were shaking, making silly faces, finding dance partners, and time paused. I had this sensation of intimacy and this space to just let go. I began to lose myself in the music, lose myself in the movement I realized it was okay that I was shy, moving slow in the beginning because those still moments with myself allowed me to wake up and provided me a space that I was now ready to share. I wasn't sure exactly what I was sharing but something told me I could trust my body to decide that. Once I was up with the movers and shakers, I found myself all over the room. Within 40 minutes, eye contact, movement, and rhythm, I had formed relationships with these people that felt too deep to even understand. And I didn’t just connected to them, I felt joy in vulnerability. There was a sense of sharing parts of myself that words couldn't describe.
This was beautiful. It’s like I could understand these random people without actually knowing them at all. Here, I also observed the purity in not judging them. Of course, my brain is still working, and I'm having many thoughts, but somehow, I was really only seeing these people in a positive light. Some of their movements involved crying, slow, still, and very reserved, familiar to my experience in the beginning. I looked to these people as I was experiencing empathy. Empathy for everyone in the room. Not just the quiet folks, but every body. There was no “This person's ugly”, “That person's fat”, “This person's a bad dancer”, “That person has no rhythm” mentality. It was all, “I love that person's goofy smile”, “Those people look really happy together”, “That girl dances like me”, “Wow, I feel you”, and so on. It was inspirational, overwhelming and totally controlling. As the music began to descend, a sense of ending was near. This experience, everything that had just happened there, was exuberating power and solidifying connection.
The music stopped and no one really knew what to do. For me, my entire body tingled with the most beautiful feeling of pure joy. A therapeutic release and connection to mine, and others, mind, body, and spirit. All with no words.
We gathered back in the circle and sat in about 2 minutes of silence. What happened within that hour and most noticeably the moment of silence forever changed me. I was in a room of complete strangers who felt like my best friends. They didn't feel like my best friends because of some conversation that led us to talking about similar places we had travelled or similar experiences we had had. They felt like my best friend's through movement. I sat in that circle and was able to hold eye contact with every person for an undisclosed amount of time because even in my silliest and most embarrassing efforts of moving, they saw me. Again, not once did I feel judged. I felt loved by these people. We were directed to grab hands. The first time touching someone the whole hour I was there, and I felt everyone’s pulse in the two hands I could hold. The lovely lady leading the class began to speak, uninterrupted with everyone’s full attention. We were all listening, crying, laughing and just sharing this magnificent, pure, energetic field we had created. She spoke and I can't really remember the prolific statements she made to tie this all up, but it was authentic and refreshing. Not one person in that room showed any sign of hurrying off, trying to leave.
She asked us to go around the circle, telling our names and opening the floor as a safe space to speak. We could share where we were from, where we had been, what we were doing at Burning Man, or nothing at all. I knew these people. Hearing their names and stories after this sort of bonding was indescribably beautiful. I love them all.
All anxieties I had had previous that morning, that week, were non-existent. There were tears in my eyes and laughter in my heart as I listened to everyone and shared my playa name as well. You’d think at this point it's time to move on and go explore the rest of Burning Man, but still, not one person moved. It was like we were ready to take on the rest of the Burn as best friends. Hey, if we did, I’m sure we would’ve been unstoppable. Of course that wasn't possible, and part of the beauty in this moment was sharing something so vulnerable with complete strangers. A beautiful lesson in impermanence.
I walked away from the ecstatic dance group, never to reconvene with another person there. At the time, I had no idea what to make of it, except the feeling of REAL joy. The physical and emotional movement of a happy place I could always visit in my heart. It’s now a month after the Burn, and it’s here that I've thought of how this translates into many other spaces and places in my life and beyond. Achieving a therapeutic, joyous experience through movement, through music, through rhythm, and through connection. As I've moved throughout my everyday endeavors, passing people on the streets and in cars, one thing that has really stood out to me: familiarness to strangers and my comfortability with eye contact. Comfortability in the silence between conversation. Comfortability to host a space with someone else, friend or stranger, totally capable of returning to that sense of safety and acceptance. Since this dance circle, I make eye contact with all the strangers and feel familiarity. And not until now, as I write this, did I realize that our brains can perceive these connections through memory and movement and that desire to return or facilitate joy. These familiar faces aren't people I know, but the most brief exchange of eye contact. People of the world don't feel as much like strangers anymore and I credit this to movement. The confidence and acceptance of movement.
Will you move with me?