Thursday, May 7, 2009

The 5 Rhythms of Ecstatic Dance - Chris Alford

The following is a report of my experiences and observations of a 5 Rhythms movement meditation/ecstatic dance “waves” (Roth, 2009) class, held on the 18th of April 2009, at the Jagera Arts Centre in West End. This report is an exploration of ways in which the 5 Rhythms class brings about transcendent and ecstatic experience. Firstly, I aim to inform the reader as to the process in which this experience manifests an exploration and transformation of the Self and further why this leads to meaningful and healing outcomes.

What are the 5 Rhythms?

The 5 Rhythms are: flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness. Founder Gabrielle Roth (2009) defines them as “states of being”. “They are a journey,” she says, “a path through which we move towards the realisation of a wild, vulnerable, passionate, instinctive Self.” The 5 Rhythms are, for Roth, “a way of seeing and feeling life as rhythm, as change and energy”. (Stone, 2009) Fellow dancer Emily Zambon reflected that she felt a powerful shift in consciousness as she progressed through and related to the changing movements and rhythms.

Waves in West End

I entered the warm, open space of the Jagera Arts Centre, attempting to present myself in the same manner. There were around thirty people gathered. They were of varying age, from 6 to around 60, and there was a balance of women and men. The group were also of diverse ethnic backgrounds. I perceived a clear sense of expectation, a shared notion that we were on the edge of something very different from the world outside.

The gentle atmosphere of the hall was created by the subtle lighting and peaceful music. The resonating empathy of the 5 Rhythms guide, Deva Nandan, helped to create a dynamic space in which people could feel welcome to explore and express themselves. Deva’s gentle guidance and interactions with the group during the class played a vital role in nurturing the experience of the individual in the context of the collective.

First, we were guided to create our own personal space in which to awaken an awareness of our bodies. Finding myself in an intimate situation with unfamiliar people, I felt a heightened self-consciousness, which I learnt is common thing for most beginners. (5 Rhythms of Ecstatic Dance, 2009) The combination of the calming, expressive music, my previously liberating experiences in uninhibited dance and the obvious interiorised awareness of the other participants enabled me to begin to let go, to surrender to the movement.

The first rhythm began with a request to let the music connect us to the flow of our own energy. Gabrielle Roth’s son and senior teacher of the 5 Rhythms Jonathon Horan describes flowing as, “coming to rest in the space of our inner Self, letting go of who we are not and thus merging with the wave of our endless creativity”. (Roth, 2009)

Having let go of the rigidity of ordinary life, it was time to let this creativity spill from the heart. Roth’s son and fellow teacher Jonathon Horan (2009) describes Staccato as “the rhythm of truth and clarity in which movement becomes lucid and well defined. This is a place in which I felt there was a shared ‘rightness’ in the expression of our movements, coming from the interior harmony of self-acceptance. Deva was able to utilise and expand this self-unity into a shared expression by having us move together like a school of fish, weaving in and out, moving and connecting with one another, moving as a whole.

The journey reached its peak in the rhythm of chaos. This was the space in which we were open to experience the dynamic relationship between frenzied, unrestricted movement and the liberating spontaneity of being totally in the present moment. (Roth 2009) I observed in the collective achievement of chaos, the particular transcendence of personal boundaries that is often realised when a group of individuals share a profound experience.

In facilitating this breakdown of personal boundaries, I felt that we were coming into a new space in which we were able to feel comfortable and spontaneous in our interactions with each other. Now in the lyrical stage of the 5 Rhythms, we gathered into groups of four so to more intimately explore this relationship. Looking directly into the eyes of another, we attempted to look not at the exterior but the interior, and into the childlike Self, able to flourish in the absence of judgement. (Nandan, 2009)

Coming to the end of the journey, the mood and the rhythm became one of stillness. The purpose of this rhythm was to try to integrate all that we had experienced. With slow, fluid movements, those still dancing weaved in among the still, grounded bodies of the remainder of the group.


The objective of this section is to explore the therapeutic benefits of the 5 Rhythms particularly as they relate to the development of self-awareness, inner growth and healing. In developing an appropriate understanding of the therapeutic nature of this experience one soon discovers fundamental similarities between the 5 Rhythms experience, Movement Therapy and Jungian Psychoanalysis.

The therapeutic outcomes of the 5 Rhythms experience can be well understood within Jung’s vision of the completeness of the Self. (Whitehouse, 1999) This vision is not exclusively defined by the ego self but rather a “Self with a capital S, meaning also the world of the transpersonal, a world greater than the individual, more powerful than the ego”. (Whitehouse, 1999) Pioneers in Movement Therapy, Mary Stacks Whitehouse, Janet Adler and Joan Chodorow place an integral importance in understanding and working with the many aspects of a human, constituting the whole Self, in order to bring about inner processes of self-recognition, self-acceptance and inner growth”. (Pallaro, 1999) It is in the context of the relationship between the many aspects of a human being that the therapeutic benefits of what Whitehouse (1999) terms ‘Authentic movement’ can be realised. Authentic movement can be understood simply as movement in which a person lets go of habitual, goal-oriented, unaware movement, surrendering to the expressions of unconsciousness. (Whitehouse, 1999) Whitehouse (1999) posits that in the modern Western World, the loss of awareness of the kinaesthetic sense, which informs us of body movement, is due to a fundamental separation between mind and body. She attributes this separation to the dominance of verbal communication and rational goal oriented movement. The important question in regards to the prevalence of psychophysical disharmony in the West is, as Whitehouse (1999) imparts,

Could it be that the body is the unconscious and that in repressing and, more important, disregarding the spontaneous life of the sympathetic nervous system we are enthroning the rational, the orderly, the manageable, and cutting ourselves off from all experience of the unconscious and therefore, of the instincts?”.

The 5 Rhythms process enables the individual to transcend habitual, goal oriented movement by allowing movement to arise spontaneously, without restriction, thus affirming the connection between the consciousness and the unconsciousness. (Chodorow, 1999) Active imagination is a Jungian term for this process, in which, “while consciousness looks on, participating but not directing, cooperating but not choosing, the unconscious is allowed to speak whatever and however it likes”. (Whitehouse, 1999) The 5 Rhythms is Active imagination in that it opens the individual to unconscious material, allowing images, emotions and feelings to be experienced and expressed in movement. (Chodorow, 1999) Thus, the psychosomatic recognition of the distortions, tensions and repression of the unconscious is a way of making as Whitehouse (1999) puts it “a serious discovery of what we are like – for we are like our movement”.

My participation in the 5 Rhythms has opened a whole new way of experiencing and relating to myself. I think that it is in this bringing forth of the often restricted and suppressed expressions of the body that people like me who live ‘in the head’ can begin to experience the essential and inseparable relationship of mind and body. It is a fundamental human capacity to experience ourselves as a whole and unified organism, but one that is surely not easy for most of us in contemporary Western society to realise.


“5 Rhythms of Ecstatic Dance.” Byron Events. Accessed 30/04/09.

Khan, Susannah, Darling., and Khan, Ya'Acov, Darling. “School of Movement Medicine: A Short Introductory Film.” School of Movement Medicine. Accessed 30/04/09.

Levy, Fran. J. Dance and other expressive art therapies: when words are not enough. New York: Routledge, 1995.

Levy, Fran. J. Dance movement therapy: A healing art. Reston, VA: American alliance for health, physical education, recreation and dance, 1992.

Michael Stone, “Podcast Interview with Gabrielle Roth.” Movement Centre. Accessed 30/04/09.

Nandan, Deva. “Class comments”. Waves Class. Jagera Arts Centre, Brisbane, QLD. 18th April 2009.

Pallaro, Patrizia. ed., Authentic Movement: Essays by Mary Starks Whitehouse, Janet Adler and Joan Chodorow. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 1999.

Roth, Gabrielle. “5 Reflections” Gabrielle Roth. Accessed 30/04/09.

Roth, Gabrielle. “The Dancing Path” Gabrielle Roth. Accessed 30/04/09.

Roth, Gabrielle. “The 5 Rhythms” Gabrielle Roth. Accessed 30/04/09.

No comments:

Post a Comment