Our dance journeys
Grew up with rock bands in all the railway taverns
Our dealers were theirs..
But it was only after acid and sex
I found I was only happy
On the floor
Then lost it till a friend in therapy recommended Sue Rickards
And I complicated 10 years
By being teachers private dancer
Then .. had to start again
Aerobic more than cathartic
Acceptance before ecstasy
Almost giving up waiting
For my zombie apocalypse
Of frozen flow.. then detonation
Of joy rooted in rich grief
Beyond selfish conscious
Put humpty very gradually
Together again for the millennium
With help from Sue's funky faith, the darling khan's reverence,
Gabrielle s radical sexy urban
Tim Broughton s beat angel
Kay's devotion and the moorland women, Tim Alain Kathy Hilary Bernadette, big brave birds over the border that separated me from myself
When I could not sit or think or not think care or care less speak or seek or ask or wish even wish for anything... I let dance take me and my sins.. by which I the dancer mean lifelessness or unwillingness... away. Out and off and away.. to a wider simpler and ... eventually... A deeper sense of being. Some trust. And an end to grudges.. to trudging.. and this slow rocky return I see in my dear peers.. to surrender of some sort.. often to real reviving encounter ... but usually to a grounding and nourishing EMPATHY.
40 years and twenty teachers and four long groups. And still curious about "first base".
I hope you all get my gratitude.
For our fire!
This innocent child.
This innocent child. Sitting in a patch of sunlight aged three and realising that she was in her body, that her body was only part of her, and how good it was to be there, to be alive again and to realise it. To realise where I’d come from and to marvel that I was there in that patch of sunlight. Voicing my amazement and gratitude to my mother. From then on seeking the same saving sense of self. A sense of self that could not, would not, let her be destroyed or obliterated, violated by violent words and actions. A sense of self, however, that was seeking that saving patch of sunlight. Then, falling in love, and not being good enough and rebounding into something that was not worthy (it felt), of that saving sun-light/sunbeam. Seeking but not finding that light. Letting that sense of unworth eat away at the light within. Holding all together, until it burst at the seams, and oh how…
Shutting down and shutting out feeling and light, until, remembering being a tree in music and movement at school, and oh how her body wanted to be rooted in the nourishing soil of soul. “Have you heard of five-rythmns- I think you’d enjoy it.” Jo on a Friday night in Exeter, then Ali. Then, wandering with trepidation into St Matthew’s, and bursting forth to “ I want to be Free”. Opening to the sunlight again. Feeling it in my soul, opening up to love and light and knowing that it is always there, just move and be. Still hold back at times, fear of exposure of the dark parts that the fingers of light and movement are still seeking to reach. Knowing that it ‘s OK to root in the deep dark soil and to be… held.
Through dancing I learned to love myself again and was opened up to loving others. xxxxx
DANCING DOWN THE DECADES
From light excursions to deep immersions - or, before and after 40
1950’s Being allowed to stay up late to watch Come Dancing on TV. (Ancient black & white ‘Strictly’ predecessor). 1960’s Notably ‘62 & ‘64 of course, for my prize-winning Twist and Hippy Hippy Shake at Butlins holiday camp, aged 8 &10 respectively. Bless my little cotton socks! 1970’s & 1980’s Discotheques. Glitter balls. Pan’s People on Top of the Pops. Hot Gossip on The Kenny Everett Show, whose unique sexy style was considered soft porn.
Live ‘groups’. Strobe lights. Wembley stadium, university & polytechnic halls, outdoor festivals, dingy dives, clubs & pubs - beer-sticky floors, fag-fogged haze. Mods & Rockers. Dance moves morphing through multiple musical genres. Pop, Rock, Underground, Heavy Metal, Reggae, Ska, Motown, Northern Soul, Punk, New Romantic......
Privately: Within these socially accepted norms for stress-busting recreation and invisibly safe in the crowd, I could to some extent, ‘let it all hang out’. Professionally: With psychotherapeutic work as my career, I had self-expressive movement such Laban up my sleeve, but reserved this for my patients because I’d spent a lifetime mastering maskery. I was Queen of Incongruence.
Repetitive removal of rust from armour wears the metal thin. Aware of the fragility of mine, before entering my 4th decade, I knew I had to discard it. I released myself from all work, titles, roles masks and facades and went into free fall, to hold the mirror up to myself for a while. With more of a psychospiritual focus dance re-defined itself, consumed my life and became my sanctuary because early in the 1990’s Discovered and fell deeply into Dances of Universal Peace and The Five Rhythms, both sacred, devotional, heart-opening, community-building, body-prayerful disciplines and dance forms where I found safe enough space to support my rapid psychological unravelling and my gradual spiritual unfoldment. Through inner and outer exploration, sound and silence, movement and stillness, my soul awakened, my spirit became sated and I grew towards my true self. The powerful medicine and magic of these modalities were a profound part of my personal journey. The DUP became my work, my yang expression of inter-spiritual service through which I was able to touch the lives of thousands, and the 5R’s became my balancing and grounding yin. Intensive output, much travelling and many home locations followed until landing happily in the south west.
Fast forward. Specifically: 2004 - Committed to Barefoot Dance at Matthew’s Hall for some years, facilitated then by Fiona, Laurence et al. Interrupted by more years of intense busyness, losing connection with conscious dance and, inevitably, full connection with myself. 2016 - Rescued by regular Movement Medicine evenings & days with Ali Young. 2018 - Returned to Barefoot Dance after 10 or more years absence, topped up with intensive days and weekends, mostly with Rosie Perks. 2019 - Healing Moves with Xenia, for invaluable monthly prescription medicine.
2020 into 21 - Virtual connection only with Barefoot Dancers and continuing Healing Moves. You know the rest.
Only blooming Zooming - but keeping our stories moving!
What a blessing to have found ‘home’, in every sense, in and with this wonderful community.
Dance Movement Journey, March 2021
I grew up on the Welsh border, exactly where Wales meets England, on the banks of the river Monnow. Working with edges and boundaries, and flowing with rivers are still very much part of my life and exploration in dance.
Mum took me to ballet when I was four, so that I could meet other children. Totally terrifying, but I loved the dance. Betty, my teacher, was a dragon, scary as a child, but later I loved her until the end of her life. My sister was born – a lifelong companion and frequent dance partner.
Ballet, and later also contemporary and jazz until I was 18. So much else in my young life that flowed alongside, but there was always my home in dance. Betty asked me to teach with her, I was tempted but had been told I was academic so chose University instead. Too young to know my own heart and mind then, taken up with the drive to get more women into science.
University was bleak. The windswept Warwick campus, mixing with Biologists and Engineers, hard to find my soul group, I lost the dance. Then found it briefly with a women’s dance group. Huge relief.
Then London. I had a ball. Lived with my oldest friend. Wild times, lots of dance, mainly at parties. And lots of aerobics in my 80s leg warmers. Not true dance, but kind of related. The seeds of later main threads were planted – body, mind, spirit; Jung; astrology. Many friendships. Dancing at the Africa centre.
Then Geneva. A good job editing medical books but extreme social isolation especially at the start. Learning to ski and speak French, different kinds of dance, but not so directly connected with my soul path. Saved by a wonderful astrologer who gave me a map for these times, and by an old friend then living in France. The pain of first Saturn return, everything is taken so something new can emerge. Not much dance.
Back to London and into a very deep, dark hole. No longer able to see the words on a page for editing work. Long term partner gone. Friends had all moved on – I’d been away for two years. Like trying to find my place on a now very crowded dance floor – I didn’t succeed and only just survived these times.
But the seeds of something new were emerging out of the utter darkness. I dragged myself out one day and found a job in a café in central London and saw an advert for adult dance classes at Danceworks. So now dance almost literally saved my life. I danced, and then worked in the café in the basement. Then I worked on the reception. Then the manager left so I ended up managing a dance centre just off Oxford Street. I was kind of back on my feet. Betty visited. Meanwhile I trained in massage, another different kind of dance, and practiced at Natureworks, upstairs from Danceworks. I met Suzannah Darling Kahn – she and Yacov were thinking of using some of our studios. This was my first glimpse of a truly different dance.
Met a new partner and we moved to Devon. A completely new dance floor, and this time there was ample room for me, and it was the right dance floor. I set up my massage practice and this funded my first therapy training. One of the tutors on my Gestalt course introduced us to 5 Rhythms. He said, rightly, that 5 Rhythms and the Gestalt cycle go together really well: flowing, awareness; staccato, mobilisation; chaos, full contact; lyrical, satisfaction; stillness, the fertile void. A beautiful symmetry: two different systems that both reflect some of the cycles of life.
Devon has been good to me – full of beautiful landscapes, and beautiful soul friends, daily work, workshops and retreats, several moves and then a settled home, marriage and travel. Some very hard times too of course with many deaths witnessed through my work and in my family. Many trainings, e.g. journeying, described as the bridge between shamanism and psychotherapy, transpersonal psychology, healing, reiki and Celtic spirituality. A lot of much needed personal and spiritual development. Lots of dance.
So we are coming closer to the present day. I found the 5 Rhythms community in Devon, dancing with Dilys Morgan Scott and Jo Hardy. I found Movement Medicine and danced with Suzannah and Yacov. I was on the list for dancing in the basement, but didn’t quite get there. I danced with Fiona in St Matthews Hall. Now I dance with Karen and Laurence and all of you. I am deeply grateful for this community, and as always for the dance.
And then the pandemic. This time the dance has saved my sanity, with our zooms, dances in the barn and at the oak tree, and movement in the Arboretum. A lively thread that has brought life, sound, colour and company during this year of lock downs.
So much love and thanks to all of you, my dear soul of the dance community.
Dancing, Moving and Being Moved
Tiny feet dancing freely at my grandparents
Exuberance held by their solid concrete floor
Imagined audience clapping
The sugar plum fairy, the nutcracker, youthful lyrical
Young toes pointed, muscles tense, spine straight and eyes focused
Body confined in a small allowed space
Piano plonks, positions one, two, three, four, five
Imperfect, effortful, flowing grace
Youthful feet still following rules, this time unspoken
Self-conscious body, visible but not too visible
Cool rules, One step beyond, baggy trousered staccato
Boys, sweaty handed boys
Alcohol fueled free feet
High energy, head loose, whole body wild
Heads and limbs of others close, laughter and loud thumping music
Pushing edges, wild wild Chaos into the night
Hesitant feet of a new mother arriving,
Flow, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness welcome me in
Moving on the edges at first, then stepping in further
Embraced by my tribe of dancers, here I am home
Feet heavy with stillness,
Energy zero, pain one hundred, Time endless
Every movement effortful, a world contracted
This body demands I listen - stop and rest, rest, rest
Feet no longer dancing, but moving
Inner listening, practice deepening
How can I share this with those that most need it?
Travelling, journeying far, embodied learning
Stepping forwards and back, being seen and hiding
Expansion and Contraction, Grounded then disconnected
Courage and Fear
Held in my community as I practice my offering
Older feet, now more connected to earth and ground
Waiting for sensation, movement impulse, breath to guide me
No longer dancing, no longer even moving
Trusting my body to guide me, I am being moved
My Dance Journey
I am 3, then 4, then 5 in the Ballet class, twirling and twirling in my fairy costume with silver wings
At 6 I am on the stage dancing, flying through the air, feeling like a magical unicorn, then falling to the ground as I search to see my Mummy and Daddy in the audience and forget the edge of the space. I am frog marched out as my crying is too loud and ruining the rest of the performance.
7 years old I am dancing to The Rolling Stones “Ruby Tuesday” and making up my moves on the patterned carpet. I am not keeping to the lines; my dance is not very neat.
I am alone in my bedroom pretending to be at Covent Garden in Swan Lake with my little record player and my crown on, preening and looking sad at the tragic beauty of it all.
Daddy look at me, put down your newspaper – I am practicing my rond de jambes and arabesques, standing using the mantlepiece as my bar.
Then platform heels, flairs, plucked eyebrows and discos in the village halls in Somerset, I am 15 and dancing round handbags with Denise and Tina to the sounds of the 70’s, feeling self-conscious and not daring to do a move that doesn’t fit. But inside I am waiting to explode onto the dance floor.
Sweet sixteen and at my first Barn Dance and loving it. Swing your partner, do si do, this is fun and I am laughing, feeling a sense of abandon and freedom, until I realize there is a formation and I am going the wrong way and people are tutting. Me and Angus, my friend, start laughing even more. Slip out and go to the graveyard for some cider.
Dancing at my Cousins wedding to “We are Family” with my sisters, while the others sit round the edges of the room trying to persuade their boyfriends to dance with them. We feel like the mad women as none of us has a boyfriend. I don’t want one if they don’t dance.
London and New York, club scene. Drugs and vodka, Talking Heads, Genesis, The Jam, Patti Smith. Loose limbs at night while daytime precision of Tap classes and Rock Jazz at Pineapple Dance Studios in Covent Garden.
Late 20’s -Still waiting to embody myself and searching for somewhere to express all that is inside me, dancing and cartwheeling on the estuary while my baby sleeps. Feeling free when I am outside with the shore, the trees, the sky, or later alone in the garden with the moon.
As part of my 30th Birthday a friend buys me a present of a dance workshop she has heard about with Dilys Scott Morgan, a 5 Rhythms teacher, who is coming to Colchester A WHOLE DAY OF DANCE and all about the Heart and I love it, there is a sense I might have found my tribe, other people who are wearing weird and wonderful clothes and you don’t need to know the steps so can’t get it wrong!!!
Now I am in Bristol and immersed in the 5 rhythms culture of Suzanna Darling-Kahn, Dawn Morgan and Bernadette Ryder, doing groups and diving deep – I am flowing down the river navigating blocks in myself and moving through them, even though it is painful at times, joyful at others and deeply cathartic.
We are moving to East Devon and I am scared there will not be a 5 rhythms group, how will I manage? The week I arrive a woman called Fiona puts a notice up at The Phoenix Arts Centre in Exeter advertising a peer group in a ballet studio where I will definitely be going every Wednesday evening to continue dancing these waves.
When I dance something comes alive, I feel free and happy, connected and part of something bigger than myself. The dance often moves through me, a life force that is ancient and ancestral. I am at home in my skin and do not need to hide or wear a mask anymore.
Barefoot Dance is my community and I have made some of my dearest friends through it.
From Flower Power Maid to Queen Shaman Crone –
a wild and precious life
Young girl in the swinging Sixties – practising ballet steps, accompanied by Julie Andrew's auntie on the piano.
Anxious teenager gobbing off with the punks – and pogoing at live performances of The Damned, The Clash, 999 … and more.
Student hanging out with the ‘London Boys’ – I put on my red shoes and danced the blues every Friday night at The Venue, Victoria, SW1.
Unemployed science graduate – I volunteered with Marie Ware, a pioneer in Dance Movement Therapy in Bristol, circa 1986. She was my mentor and got me my first dance movement job.
Working Mother – Set up ‘DanceWorks’ in 1992 and ran creative dance and movement workshops with children in mainstream, special needs and pre-schools in the South West.
1993 – Discovered 5Rhythms in Bath. Yippee! Laughed and cried at the freedom I felt in my body.
Devon blow-in (1997) – Joined an adult ballet class and did lots of dancing to bands at the Exeter Phoenix, and occasionally underground at the Cavern.
Educational innovator (2009) – Started developing ‘Movement Play’ my own therapeutic approach with children, based on the work of Veronica Sherborne.
2010 – Found Barefoot Dance community and have been swaying under the moonlight with them ever since.
Menopausal anarchist – Began moving with my shadow and letting myself off the hook alongside Helen Poynor.
Glorious grandmother – Now I live by the river. So glad to be dancing among the trees!!
My Dance Journey
Firstly, thank you to whomever initiated this dance journey project. I’d never thought about having a dance journey before. It has ignited many resourcing memories some of which I’ve included here.
My earliest memories of dance were moving to Yellow Submarine, Sugar Sugar and frenetically to The William Tell Overture, added to that was some occasional country dancing at primary school.
Moving on I remember the urge to dance at secondary school discos but mostly restraining those urges as I felt a sense of threat from other boys and embarrassment at doing something that appeared socially unacceptable for teenage boys.
At sixteen, and with a fake ID, I used to go with my brother to the Quay Club on a Friday night, Exeter’s then premier night club. I felt a little safer to dance there especially as my brother and a few of his friends would take to the dance floor too. Even then I was still aware of a general sense of threat in a place where there were often sudden outbreaks of violence.
Going to see Madness, The Specials and Selector at Exeter University with a couple of girlfriends was my first taste of feeling connected to “the whole” through dance. What an energy!
In my early twenties I was introduced to the active meditations of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (by my dad). Many of those active meditations had phases of dance and for some of them you wore a blindfold which helped me feel less self conscious.
As my connection with Bhagwan increased so too did my connection with dance as both a sense of creative self expression and a meditation. I took sannyas in 1985 and in 1987 took my first trip to the ashram in Poona, India. Wow! I was hooked.
In 1989 my partner and I sold up everything and headed off to Poona on the beginning of a round the world trip. We spent the first 10 months in India mostly at the ashram. Dance was daily often multiple times and regularly with live musicians. Dance became an integral part of my life whilst I was there.
Dancing in Buddha Hall , a white marble floored auditorium, with thousands of other like minded souls was at times mind blowing. I had finally found a place where it felt safe to dance, to be me.
During the next five years I would spend time earning money in the UK to then go to Poona from autumn until spring.
It was there that I started training in Craniosacral Therapy and various forms of therapeutic bodywork. In all the trainings we danced as way to embody and “move our energy” I noticed that as my body/mind changed through receiving sessions and practicing meditation so too did my dance. More freedom, flow, totality and celebration became available. My understanding of bodywork became embedded in my dance.
The international mingling in the ashram gave a chance to dance with people from around the world. My favourite was connecting with a group of Brazilians at the all night dance parties that had sprung up around the ashram.
When my back and forth to India reached its natural end I was living in Germany where dance became a more occasional visit to a club. It was a bit dull dance wise, to say the least.
After five years in Germany I moved back to the UK and reconnected to dance through various festivals, concerts and groups.
It was in the noughties that I encountered different 5 rhythms teachers. I particularly enjoyed some 5R Heartbeat workshops that explored the subtleties of dancing emotional tones through the rhythms. I also experienced practicing Grudjieff Sacred Dances an invocation of archetypal energies through individual and group movement and awareness.
I finally moved back to Exeter in 2015 and looked for somewhere to dance. What a joy to find Barefoot, to be welcomed by Karen into a safe, loving and creative place to dance, to dance alone or with others, to connect, to be. Somewhere I can feel at home however I find myself. To dance anew with familiar faces over the years. What a gift.
I continue to remain deeply fascinated by the dance emerging in me, that interplay between whatever is alive in me in the moment, the music, the people and the environment.
Thank you all for this co-creation
painting by Helena
Dancing journey without distance
Child six or eight watching
Swaying skirts gallant partners
My parent’s ballroom dancing in the lounge to entertain guests!!
How I love it!!
Books about ballet, dance lessons, visits to the ballet with my great aunt...
Visions of flying over the heads of the audience, immersed in the rapture,
Transported by the desire for transcendence!
Teenage years filled with London west end clubbing
Enthralled by rock and reggae bands
Nights of utter bliss!!
College years, Brighton clubbing,
Hendrix comes to Sussex uni!!
Dance, dance, dance!!
Can life get any better than this!!!!
Devon. Torquay nightclubs,
the splendour of it all, lost in the rapture, found in the flowing love
Of bliss shared......
Traumatic marriage...yes, dancing stopped..
(well not quite, my son carried the torch then
entering Rambert and making me a very proud ballet mum!!!)
So the fires went on simmering and gradually burning brightly again:
Dancing with Kay as friend and Suzanna DK
Kay does the training so then many years dancing with her at varying venues, mainly deep in the countryside and sometimes naked. Stripped naked of all resistance, coming to the floor empty, leaving identity on a hanger by the door, entering the ocean, embracing the Divine...oh devotion, oh love:
So so much gratitude to you Kay!!!!!
And eventually I find my way to Exeter and to glorious Fiona
Dancing in that wonderfully hot sweaty little basement room.
O what joy! What delight!
Robert's social dances, Fanny's Diptford days,
and then our move to Matthews Hall
and here my gratitude to Laurence for holding me as I processed flashbacks
and to Jarl, beautiful dancer, for loving me
AND to us all!! Beautiful devoted dancers, all One Being of everlasting Light!!!
I get up. I walk I fall down.
Meanwhile I keep dancing.
All my love and blessing
My Story of dancing
My story of dancing is pretty straight forward. Didn't even think about how much I loved dancing in my teens. Didn't everyone love dancing when they were in their teens? Then in the 80's I started going to camps, as the festival scene was heavy going at the time. Rainbow circle, Oak Dragon, Unicorn. Healing, Ancient Britain, Peace Through the Arts, Music and Dance camps and many more besides. It was at Oak Dragon camps that I first encountered Five Rhythms dance. Live music in big metal geodesic domes with January Jayne guiding us through. At one camp we danced 9 mornings in row. Some evenings as well. Lovely stuff.
It all made such an impression on me that 10(?) years later at some creative writing classes I wrote the following piece. We were all given the title, ' Learning to Dance'.
I walked up the hill, the wind pushing and shoving me. Even in the dark I could see others moving towards the lit marquee, as if walking up the spokes of a wheel towards the hub.
I started to enjoy the elements and walked a little slower. The trees complained, telling the wind to shoosh. Now regular, now irregular, but always constant. I held my head up and face forward. There was no point at looking at my feet when it was so dark. I bounced along unable to judge where and how my foot was to fall. I stepped out in faith that I would not step in something nasty.
Excitement and anticipation rippled through me as I stuck my head through the canvas doorway. Hurricane lamps, candles, incense burning, musicians, drums, a flute, more people and him.
I faintly smiled at the few I knew.
OK, January began,' It's a dark and miserable night. We better start with pleanty of warm up exercises.'
I tried not to feel silly as I rotated my toes, my ankle and so on. Rotating my rib cage proved difficult, but then I saw the grimaces on the others' faces and I chuckled inside.
Next: Traffic lights. Rushing into spaces. Never clashing, but stop turn and rush into another space. Only he hesitated and said sorry. I took my blushes to the other side of the marquee as quickly as possible.
We stopped. We breathed and then we began. Moving through the cycle of the wave. Losing consciousness of our surroundings, concentrating on the flowing feminine, choppy masculine, beautiful chaos, the quiet power of the lyrical and finally the peace of stillness.
When the flute played it's last few notes, I slowly came back to myself and the world. I looked at the people around me and they looked back smiling. We were smug. We shared a secret.
As I got my coat on again, he came up to me and laughed, 'Sorry I nearly hit you back there, just now.'
'Did you? I didn't notice.'
We headed off together towards the cafe at the bottom of the field, walking slowly despite the soft rain now gently falling.
After an involuntary break of quite a few years, I made a friend at 'Better Parenting' classes, who described a dance group who danced 'the wave'. Several venues after that first return and rekindling of my love of five rhythms, I came to reside in Barefoot Dance, Wednesday nights, 7.30 till 10.15 or there abouts.
That journey between loving the dance and being in love with the dance has been choc full of real, good friends, life lessons, deep emotional expression, fun, confidence, safe spaces, refuge. I could go on. In fact the dance will go on for me, because stopping is not an option.
Love to all,
I can’t dance!
My teenage kicks never extended to picking up girls at the end of a dance session, in fact I would walk out, hot and sweaty, when the music slowed down – why did they finish that way? I never understood. Looking back on this now it’s as if my relationship in such moments was primarily with the band and not with anyone else, except maybe people dancing near me, seemingly experiencing a similar connection like me, to the musicians/DJ and their music.
I continued to have these memorable peak experiences from then on. The music was inside me and I was another of the instruments being played, I almost had nothing to do with it, except I could really feel it pulsing through me. My body a set of reflexes without the interference of conscious thought. I never really knew when it was going to occur, it just happened from time to time – local band ‘Impact’ playing in the church hall down the road: Osibisa, African sounds in an upstairs room at a hotel/pub in North London; Blurt a group of sax players from Stroud who played like they really meant it, one performing curled up on the floor as he played his instrument. I was totally immersed in his sound and his sound was totally playing through my body. Magic! Interesting.
It was 1980 by now and I discovered Tai Chi – the form yes but also beautiful repeating movements based on the 5 elements, wood, fire, earth, metal, water, repeating over and over, the repetition totally mesmerising and touching me without needing music as a stimulus. At the end of the Tai Chi session, Naryano, my sannyasin friend, introduced dynamic meditations from Bhagwan (now Osho). These really worked for me! We did this to some sort of music (I think!), fifteen minutes of deep, fast breathing, fifteen minutes of shaking, fifteen minutes of hoo hoo hooing and then fifteen minutes of silence (all perfectly timed for the 45-minute cassette tape of the day!). I found this to be a powerful experience for getting into my body, energising, cathartic, tingling, still.
But it was 1985 when I was a participant in a 2 year group-work training programme (IDHP, facilitator styles, Bath) and Gabrielle Roth was a visiting facilitator that I suddenly found exactly the vehicle I was looking for. Gabrielle was with us for a weekend and I was totally inspired by this woman whose energy and passion for dance and expressive movement was absolutely IT as far as I was concerned. After that weekend I attended several workshops in London in the late eighties with her and later a couple of residential weekends. I had discovered the five rhythms. The experience of being seen moving to the beat of a solitary drum and being totally immersed in that beat was transformative.
I was really interested in whether I could reach a state of ecstatic presence through dance as Gabrielle’s book ‘Maps to Ecstasy’ seemed to suggest. I asked Gabrielle about this. When I look back I already knew it was possible.
Through the nineties a few of us would gather from time to time in a community centre in Swindon where I lived and dance to a cassette tape one of us had put together based on the rhythms. I was hungry for more dance and attended a few all night raves in London and Bristol which all had a flavour of being with people who were like me, well maybe a bit younger than I was! There was a transmission between us and it was about love and being lost in the moment and moving with it. Although a sense of tribal togetherness I never felt there was a true connection between us on the floor at those times.
I moved to Exeter in 2001 thinking I would be moving to an out of the way dance backwater and would have to drive to Bristol for my now adult kicks … how wrong that assumption proved to be. When I arrived, Devon appeared to be the centre of the 5R universe in the UK as far as I could tell. So many 5R teachers in and around Totnes. What a serendipitous moment. I never knew!
In St Matts Hall, round the corner from where I live was Lorna and Ben (live drumming) on the first Saturday of the month, Kay was there on a Monday morning, Fanny and the live rhythms band were at Diptford on the second Friday and I was delighted to discover the 5R peer group in a basement in Colleton Crescent, Exeter, every Wednesday, run by Fiona. At last a weekly experience which offered music, movement and connection. The group outgrew its basement home and moved to St Matts Hall around 2004.
There’s another story here which is about the formation of the barefoot dance group and that belongs in a different place.
For myself I am never happier than when I am moving to music. As I take to the dance floor I am often deep in thought, worrying or going over things in my head, what I said earlier, is everyone else okay, maybe feeling a little self-conscious, do I belong here, am I good enough, how do I look, am I accepted and acceptable, loveable even? …. certainly not very aware of my felt state. How’s my body doing in this world dominated by my thoughts and funny ideas about things? It takes a while and then almost, without trying, I am out of my head and into my body, heart and soul, sensations and feelings. I can be joyful, I can feel pain, I can feel alive. This is a solitary experience, a kind of meditation and a journey I need to experience on my own. No one can join me on this part of the trip. It’s very personal.
It doesn’t always work in this way or in this particular order but often after my solitary experience I can then pay attention to what else is going on around me. If there are people out there who are up for connection, then so am I.
Sometimes I need to come back into myself, cover my eyes, turn my back, withdraw, take stock, be alone. When I know deep down that this is the case then it’s easy.
I’ve made several discoveries on my journey in dance and movement. The first is I can’t dance! When I say to folk I like to dance they get some idea that it’s co-ordinated, there’s pattern, maybe grace, choreography, steps or at least discernible rhythm. A form I've put some effort into learning! Something you might see on ‘Strictly’. There are possibly none of those things in what I like to do. I’m just going along with where my body is taking me. If I can successfully attune to myself, aware of the sights and sounds, the people, the atmosphere around me then I am satisfied, however it looks.
The second discovery is that there is a great deal of pleasure in finding a partner, man, woman or live musician, spontaneously moving together and being totally in sync, though there has been no teaching or learning of the steps or notes involved in this particular dance. It is unique to the two or more people involved, who intuitively connect in that moment, aware of the music playing, the other people in the room. It cannot be saved, can never be re-created and it ends as it began, with individuals going their separate ways.
My third discovery is that when a group of people spontaneously come together and feel the rhythm with each other, then magic happens. Our wonderful dance and movement teachers can sometimes gently guide us to this experience. What I’m talking about here though, is when we have no one designated as ‘teacher’ or ‘facilitator’ and something happens to bring us together, in a line, in a circle, in a common feeling of togetherness, in chaos or silence, we become as one.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to experience myself in a safe space where there is love, understanding and generosity of spirit. I am so grateful to be free to move as I wish. I am so grateful to you, everyone who comes onto the dance-floor every week to be just as you are. You are perfect!
As I write (March 2021) it’s been just over a year since the start of the first lockdown. Over a year since we last danced to music in the hall. Sometimes I have connected in movement with fellow dancers on Zoom but often not. It can be a solitary one dimensional experience and squeezed into the confined space of a room in my house. I often don’t like it! The saving grace is that we chat, we’re all in it together, it’s not forever and soon we will meet in person again.
Also during this pandemic, like many of us, I have been pushed to be outside more. More walking, more moving in nature, more being in natural surroundings. I have come to truly appreciate an approach which involves giving myself my full attention before I move an inch. I am standing still, my eyes are closed, I sense my chest rise and fall as I breathe, the sound of the birds, the wind passing through the trees, the noise of distant traffic. My feet are rooted to the earth. I have no thought, no idea of what will follow. I sense my body moving; my heart is opened. I am seen. I am a part of everything.
CONNECTED BY DANCE
“That’s neat, that’s neat, that’s neat, that’s neat, I really love your tiger feet, I really love your tiger feet”. It’s 1974 and I’m 12, going crazy on the school stage. For a few minutes, our bleak boarding school lives are transformed into something joyous, glorious and connected. We feel like kings.
Fast forward to the late 1980’s and I’m in a church in Piccadilly. I’ve somehow heard that this African drumming band are going to be there. I feel strangely drawn to it. The pews are full of suited professionals like me – lawyers, bankers, office workers - on their way home from work with a few splashes of vibrant colour highlighting the huge cultural chasm of the occasion; but then the music starts and bit by bit our initial British reserve softens as we all start stiffly moving our hips, with nervous glances to our neighbours and something warm inside now competing with our shyness and anxiety. Relentlessly the music invites us and slowly people start shifting from out of the pews into the aisles, swaying and stomping. By the time the last beat disappears, we’ve been dancing ecstatically on the pews and waving our hands in the air, smiling at those around us as we share this secret pleasure of being lost in the rhythm. And then I’m running down a busy West End street, laughing and jostling the crowds, carried by a euphoria buried for so many years.
The years between these two vivid dance memories were very dark and deeply traumatic. Suffice it to say that I emerged in the mid 80’s with a very fragile sense of self and even more disconnected from my body. But I had a yearning for something more. I had no idea where to look and my so-called privileged upbringing kept me distanced from more useful sources of nurture. I was in group therapy at the time, beginning the long journey of putting myself back together. Through a friend I start going to lambada classes and on a blazingly hot August Bank Holiday in 1991 find myself dancing for 6 hours on a float at the Notting Hill Carnival. I have a photo. Is that really me, in green satin trousers and painted cardboard breastplate? It makes me wince a little but also smile.
And then I’m married and have moved to Exeter to start a new life out of the big smoke. Two children follow in quick succession and there’s little time for anything but work and providing some respite to my partner from the endless hours of looking after two toddlers. How I get to Colleton Crescent in about 1998 I’m not sure. I’ve never heard of 5 Rhythms but I know enough about myself to understand that dance provides a vital key for sensing the real me. I can remember the terror as I descended those steps into the basement for the first time one evening sometime at the end of the last millenium. This was way outside my comfort zone and, to cap it all, everyone seemed to know each other and more importantly know what to do. And with a wall of floor to ceiling mirrors down one side of the dance studio there was literally nowhere to hide. But, oh, the music... I’d never heard anything like it. My musical taste was boringly middle of the road with just a few excursions to more exotic destinations. This was totally different. I was intoxicated and in love. And all those vibrant smiling faces gyrating their bodies and weaving their way around me and each other. How wonderfully sensual and exciting. I knew this was the tribe I was ready to join.
And what a journey it has been. 5 Rhythms opened a door for me to so much more than just the dance. I threw myself into it wholeheartedly. It’s difficult to explain to those who have not experienced it what violence you have to do to your psyche – how much of your essential self you have to cut off from – in order to survive the trauma of being sent to boarding school at the age of 7. And yet 5 Rhythms provided a way to reconnect with my body and long submerged feelings. I couldn’t get enough of it. Monday mornings in St Matthews Hall with Kay, Friday evenings in Diptford with Fanny and live music. Around my 40th I had a whole weekend with Ya’Acov and not long after that 6 glorious days with Gabrielle Roth and 60 others as she led her “God, Sex and the Body” dance retreat. What a revelation that was. Fiona Keevil allowed me to ransack her wardrobe – and the freedom of inhabiting a different part of me for those few days was another step to exploring more of who I am. And then I joined an ongoing group with Fanny and Colin where more time and more sharing allowed me to dive even deeper. So much pain, so much pleasure. And for me, it has been a real mix. As I’ve pranced and danced and interacted with so many gorgeous fellow explorers in the adult playground of the dancefloor, I’ve experienced not only exquisite bliss but also deep psychological torture – feeling totally connected to myself and others and yet at other times feeling totally alone and ‘beyond the pale’, excluded from myself and my fellow dancers. I’ve come to learn that what I was experiencing were just normal feelings but, when you’ve spent half a lifetime cut off from them, they can feel very frightening and overwhelming. What’s been so interesting is that, as the years have passed and I’ve continued the “practice”, turning up on a Wednesday evening again and again, I’ve been able to track how these feelings have become more integrated so that I’m now no longer on quite the same roller coaster of emotions as in those early days but instead can enjoy the dance in a more measured and perhaps even more satisfying way.
What has also been a complete revelation to me is my ability to create “waves”. That has been a journey in itself. Pre Spotify and Shazam, it was just a case of begging teachers to let me know what a particular track was and ransacking my rather limited CD collection to burn tracks onto CDs. How exposed I felt putting my first wave together twenty years ago. Via minidiscs and iTunes, it’s just got better and better for those of us who love doing this sort of thing - and what a privilege and joy it is. About 8 years ago, I set myself a personal challenge of never using the same track twice in my waves or warmups. 37 waves and 26 warmups later, I’m still sticking to my self-imposed rule and yet the available music just keeps expanding. I love the whole process – hearing a track on a TV or radio programme or someone else’s wave, storing it sometimes for years for future use and then every couple of months or so embarking on the task of putting a wave together before re-listening to it, refining it, polishing it until at last it just feels ripe for sharing with all the highs and lows of that particular experience. Dancing with others to your own choice of music and seeing others touched by it is a rich and unexpected gift.
So, as the song doesn’t quite say but as you can hopefully see….A 5 Rhythms DJ saved my life tonight! Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you who have been part of this life-saving journey with me.
I had never taken a dance class or given much thought about dancing.
At 50, I was going through a deeply painful and private grief. My 15 year marriage and life that included three growing children and a busy household, was falling apart.
I felt as if my heart was at sea, endlessly being smashed against the rocks. The anguish of my impending divorce dredged up painful memories of my childhood, step-parents, ‘blended’ families that didn’t blend, financial ruin and the loneliness of families divided. I felt nothing but hopelessness and endless pain. I started to dance alone in my large family kitchen, with a bottle of wine, late at night. It gave me relief. I expressed my grief in my dance. I flung myself around, moving in anyway I needed to express the heartbreak. After hours of this, I always felt something settle, release or resolve within me.
I’d went to Holland on a retreat. In one of the classes we spent a morning, “Dancing with our noses, dancing with our elbows, dancing with our hearts.” Someone mentioned that this free style dancing, was called Five Rhythms. They were people who danced with their toes, their ears and whatever body part called forth to be expressed and moved. I Googled ‘Five Rhythms Exeter’ when I got home and found there was a group at St Mathew’s Church Hall called, Barefoot Dance.
There are times in life when healing lies in the body. The mind can only take us so far. Things too painful, or deep, or complicated, the body will untwist, soothes and throw off. Where the mind can keep us endlessly in circles with mesmerising theories, groundhog day loops, and analytical numbing.....The body knows, an instinctual animal, that intuitively can dance itself to healing.
The magic of of the dance, takes place in the moment. A knowingness is there, a energy takes over, the dance flows through the dancer in the exquisite delight of BEING. Nothing is recorded, kept for prosperity. I’m there, completely in my body, completely in the moment. The dance, dances me. It is a freedom and joy like no other. Like a bird taking flight, as solid and sure as the oak tree, wild edges form, taking me out of the mind, into the bliss of the present.
I can remember once in the early days, feeling an overwhelming need to slide across the floor on my belly during a wave. I trusted this, although feeling like a twit. As I slid across the floor, with fellow dancers all around, my whole body and being was screaming ‘Yes! Yes!’ In that moment, for whatever reason, it was what I needed to do, to be, to express. My body loved the contact, earth to belly. The sliding as a snake, released something deep within. The dance is as mysterious as life.
Eight years on, Barefoot Exeter is like a second home, my tribe. My children sometimes join me. They also love the dance. I continue to dance for the sheer physical delight and mental freedom. It is the place where my heart sings. Coming to the dance, and a dance community, felt like coming home to myself. It has been an important part of my healing and brought me immense joy.
painting by Helena
More of our journeys will be published here as they are sent out and the author gives their permission to share