Ecstatic dance is an umbrella term to describe a number of dance practices. It describes practices that use dance and movement to explore our social, psychological, and spiritual lives. Ecstatic dance is a drug and alcohol free way to let loose and explore movement. Ecstatic dance practices are usually improvisational and open to all ages and abilities. There is usually an element of moving meditation. Ecstatic Dances usually take place on the evenings and weekends. Sunday morning practices are popular in cities like Olympia, Washington and San Francisco. Because Ecstatic dance encompasses a variety of practices, it is difficult to define precisely. Instead of trying any further, I will describe some of the most popular practices.
5 Rhythms is a trademarked ecstatic dance practice pioneered by Gabrielle Roth in the 1960s. 5 rhythms dances are called “waves,” because that is the shape that the flow of the music accompaniment takes. Dancers begin moving to flowing rhythms then move through the rhythms of stacatto, chaos, lyrical, and stillness. 5 rhythms is done barefoot and there is generally a no talking rule during each wave. Shouts, grunts, or other vocalizations are welcome though. 5 rhythms can be facilitated by a leader or just take the form of an open dance. Be mindful of the guidelines of the dance you are going to. Some waves are specifically for solo dance, others encourage social interaction.
Nia is a bit different than other forms of ecstatic dance, but I include it because this fun workout has social, psychological, and spiritual aspects to it. The easiest way to describe Nia would be aerobics for hippies. The Nia technique combines elements of yoga, martial arts, and modern dance. This dance form developed by Carlos and Debbie Rosas is about seeking pleasure through movement. Nia classes feature choreographed routines as well as free dance elements. The instructors are known to be fun, postitive and encouraging. Nia is done barefoot and is offered at yoga and dance studios across the country. All ages and ability levels are usually welcome.
Contact Improvisation is a form of ecstatic dance that relies on a point of contact with a partner or partners. Around since the 1970s, Contact Improvisation sessions take the form of jams. Jams can be done with or without music. During a Contact Improv jam, dancers perch on ledges of their partners bodies and take turns giving and receiving weight. Dancers are barefoot and knee pads are a must for this practice.
Dance therapy or the psychotherapeutic use of dance often fits in the ecstatic dance category. This field, originated by Marion Chace has grown to include a wide variety of practices. Clients that benefit from this therapy include children, the elderly, people with cancer , people with autism and people with mental illness. Dance therapy can be done barefoot or with shoes and often includes props like octoband.
Authentic Movement is a dance therapy practice developed by Mary Stark Whitehouse based on the work of Carl Jung. Jung’s idea of active imagination encourages people to directly communicate with their unconscious. Authentic Movement faciliates this communication through dance and movement. Authentic movement is done with a mover and witness or movers and witnesses. The mover is instructed to just wait in silence until they start to feel something. Then they simply act out those feelings through movement. When the mover is done, they have the option of talking with their witness.
Journey Dance is an ecstatic dance method created by Toni Bergins. This experience is done barefoot and includes guided choreography as well as impovisational dance. Like Gabrielle Roth’s 5 Rhythms, Journey Dance uses shamanic principles to guide exploration in movement. Journey Dance is suitable for all ages and ability levels.
Ecstatic dance is an amazing workout with social, emotional, and spiritual benefits. These seem to be the most widely available forms of ecstatic dance around, but there are certainly many others. If you are looking for a fun workout and dance experience also keep an eye out for things like trance dance, body choir, kundalini dance, puja groove, body mantra, capoeira or a barefoot boogie. If you still can’t find any of these, satisfy your urge to move with a 5 rhythms, kundalini dance or Nia DVD.