By Ivan McBeth
Nearly 30 years ago my partner at the time dragged me fighting and screaming to a 5 -day dance workshop led by a remarkable person called Gabrielle Roth. My first impressions of her were of a thin, willowy woman dressed in a black leotard who possessed an awesome air of authority. When she danced, magic would happen. She became a mixture of snake, cat and bird all merged within a human body and she filled the space with beauty and power.
Her dance seemed effortless yet full of energy. It was spellbinding to watch her, and I was completely inspired by her magic. More than anything, I wanted to dance like her. I found out later that if I had said I wanted to dance like her, she would have said, “O.K. Then dance like you!
Gabrielle taught me how to dance. Not by teaching me steps, or how to move my body to the music, but by creating the conditions where I had no other alternative than to move my body and express my soul. In her presence and receiving her support, I faced my demons and started to move my body. I heard her message: “We can only start to heal when we have learned to inhabit, and move our bodies.” I realized I had started, with Gabrielle’s help, to heal my life.
I learned that the purpose of ecstatic dance wasn’t to create a nicely choreographed set of movements. Or to exercise. Or to do it every Friday night after a hard week’s work. Or as a social event. Or even to look pretty. Definitely not to look pretty! Another dancer friend of mine wears his T-shirt with pride: The words Dance ugly and drool! leap out from his chest. To get clear: Dance for me is the medium through which I find and heal myself, becoming the divine being I truly am.
Gabrielle taught me that the purpose of dance is to experience Ecstasy. I wondered for many years what this word truly meant, and I read, and heard, many descriptions. The vision of ecstasy was only a dream for me then, when I started to dance with Gabrielle, and for many years afterwards. I wasn’t even sure if it was real. I wondered if the word ecstasy was simply a poetic description of a particularly good dance experience, a romantic turn of phrase used by people with a flair for words. Now I know that ecstasy is very real, and a state of consciousness one can attain through the medium of dance, if one is prepare to go all the way.
Finally, about three years ago, I understood from my own experience what ecstasy really means: it is the unadulterated joy of experiencing my wholeness, my authenticity, of expressing my soul while totally in the present moment.
My experience of Ecstasy is a feeling of being filled with what I call Spirit. It is a force, an awareness of being filled with a power far greater than me. I feel extreme joy, a humming sense of wellbeing, and a capacity to create whatever my heart desires. I become a manifestor of magic and miracles, I feel unique and beautiful, an empowered human being. I feel like God. Or at least, I feel as if my inner Divine being has awakened. It feels as if I am fulfilling my purpose here on Earth.
The pursuit of ecstasy is a spiritual path, similar to Tantra in the East. Ecstasy is the goal of the accomplished shaman. It is the result of having committed ourselves to going all the way, as far as our souls will carry us towards full self-actualization in this life. It is the hero’s journey, the alchemist’s sacred process to transform him- or her Self into the gold of spirit. It is no easy or quick fix, for it requires almost superhuman determination, courage and focus.
The act of dancing is for me a metaphor for life. I see the dance floor as the arena in which I can become my unique creative self of the moment, authentic and magical; through expressing myself fully, I evolve, heal and grow. The dance becomes my response to the tune, the rhythm and the circumstances in which I experience the moment. Any challenges that appear are my lessons; conversely, the harmonious flows in my life are my joys. My challenges are my joys, and my joys become my challenges. I do not try to alter my life to avoid anything that comes my way, for I am dancing my destiny.
I see the dance floor as a microcosm of life. My intent, when I enter the dance arena, is simply to dance. I am on the dance floor every moment of my life, witnessed by Great Spirit, my soul, the spirit of my beloved teacher Gabrielle, dancing my dance as impeccably as I can. I wish to express my feelings, my passion, my authenticity, and my self through my dance. I wish to dance my total self, which includes both my radiant, and my shadowy parts. I want to be myself and share it: it is all I have, for this is all I am. I want to interact with you, in the most authentic and loving way. I want to create something new, something unique, through my interactions with you. I want to share my joys, and I want to dance through my fears towards you, and I hope you will understand.
I want to be so totally in the present moment that every movement, every breath, is unique and has never happened before. In this state of consciousness there is no past and no future, only an eruption of pure creation like an ongoing process of birth. It is a huge, eternal lovemaking between spirit and matter, God and Goddess, in the creation of the Universe. The Dance of Life. The Dance of Creation. Om Namaha Shivai! This is the art of ecstasy in practice, and it happens to me more often now. There is so much joy to be experienced simply by dancing ourselves!
I understand now that I am a Dancer, and I experience my entire life as a dance. The great Bard Shakespeare once said that life is a stage, and that we are all actors on that stage. I say that life is a dance floor, and we are all dancers interacting with our destinies and each other, some consciously, some unconsciously, eternally. What an extraordinary, ecstatic, enjoyable medium through with which to interact, on our spiritual journeys to find and express our authentic selves, and the freedom to simply be!
The following is one of my favorite poems:
We have come to be Danced
“We have come to be danced
Not the pretty dance
Not the pretty, pretty pick me, pick me dance
But the claw your way back into the belly
Of the sacred, sensual animal dance
The unhinged, unplugged, cat is out of the box dance
The holding the precious moment in the palms
Of our hands and feet dance.
We have come to be danced
Not the jiffy booby, shake your booty for him dance
But the wring your sadness from your skin dance
The blow the chip off your shoulder dance.
The slap the apology from our posture dance.
We have come to be danced
Not the monkey see, monkey do dance
One two dance like you
One two three, dance like me dance
but the grave robber, tomb stalker
Tearing scabs and scars open dance
The rub the rhythm raw against our soul dance.
We have come to be danced
Not the nice, invisible, self-conscious shuffle
But the matted hair flying, voodoo mama
Shaman shakin’ ancient bones dance
The strip us from our casings, return our wings
Sharpen our claws and tongues dance
The shed dead cells and slip into
The luminous skin of love dance.
We have come to be danced
Not the hold our breath and wallow in the shallow end of the floor dance
But the meeting of the trinity, the body breath and beat dance
The shout hallelujah from the top of our thighs dance
The mother may i?
Yes you may take 10 giant leaps dance
The olly olly oxen free free dance
The everyone can come to our heaven dance.
We have come to be danced
Where the kingdoms collide
In the cathedral of flesh
To turn back into the light
To unravel, to play, to fly, to pray
To root in skin sanctuary
We have come to be danced
We have come.”
by Jewel Mathieson
From This Dance: A Poultice of Poems
The Five Moods, or Levels of Dance
Inertia is the first mood of dance. The dance has not yet started; it has no pattern, no rhythm, and we feel a little lost. The music starts but we are scared. We don’t want to walk onto the dance floor, the arena, to be seen, to be judged, to make an effort, to engage with life. It all seems too much yet the pressure builds. Shame, guilt, inadequacy, all the heavy dudes are sitting on us trying to bury us alive. And we let them! Inertia is basically total unconsciousness: the frightened passive wallflower too terrified to dance.
Security is the main desire of the ego. When our egos have too much control over us, we want life to be safe, hygienic, myopic, familiar, and unchanging. In inertia, we are unconscious, timid, imprisoned due to our fear, and life simply happens to us. We are victims of life.
Don’t rock the boat. You’re making a big mistake. Don’t act impulsively. Think before you act. Play safe. You’ve got to plan ahead. Be careful. Be prepared. But think of your family. But if you do that…. Don’t burn your bridges. You’ll regret it. You’ll be sorry, mark my words…
There is a place for Inertia. Inertia is OK. It is our starting place. It is where we start to move.
Initiation is the second mood of dance. Here we start to move onto the dance floor. It is very scary, for all our fears arise. How will others judge me? How will I perform? It’s so hard, being active takes too much effort, I can’t dance! Etc. All our excuses and negativities, all of our self-judgments arise, to prevent movement… Nevertheless, the inner desire to live, heal and evolve is finally strong enough to push us forward into life.
Maybe we have been inspired by seeing a skillful dancer, or have read a book, watched an awesome performance on TV, a friend is a dancer, or we simply like to move. Flowing, natural movement can happen in the initiation phase, but it is rarely our own authentic, spontaneous movement. Normally we are very self-conscious and control ourselves rigidly. We try to synch our movements to the music, with varying success. We feel clumsy, stiff, spastic, out of our element. Still, we have started to move. We are finally launching our boat into the capricious currents of life, and floating away from land. We are moving out of inertia, and towards life.
Imitation is the third phase of the Dance. In life, the Imitation phase is when we join a religious order, study at a school, find a teacher, a guru, or a mentor. Imitating another person allows us to move out of inertia into new energy, and evolution. The movement is not ours, we are not expressing our authentic self, but it is a necessary start. Animals and children learn through imitating their elders. By copying somebody else’s steps we catalyze change in our own lives. We are jolted, shaken, seduced, and persuaded to move creatively. Imitation is healthy and necessary, but it is important not to get stuck here. There is so much more of ourselves to explore and unravel!
Imitation is a difficult energy level to work with as we are still affected by inertia but cannot yet access the joy of our own authentic expression. There are many uncomfortable feeling states that besiege us – all our insecurities – and it needs great determination and discipline to carry on. We start to learn the attributes and qualities of the spiritual warrior in this second stage, and realize we simply cannot succeed in our dance without transforming ourselves.
Our feelings start to thaw from the long icy sleep of inertia and our aliveness grows in proportion to the awakening of our feeling nature. As we start to live and stand on our own two feet, so we must dance through the intensity and growing pains, like the sensations we feel after a limb has ‘fallen asleep’ and is waking up. This is not easy, yet we can now sense our potential, and enjoy the glimpses of the bliss of being fully alive.
As we move through this third level of dance, we sometimes feel very alive, yet it can also feel overwhelming. All our past traumas and pain are set free as we start to move. Sometimes we experience the dark night of the soul and the pain that drove us to shut ourselves down in the first place. It tends to be a dark, intense and stormy time, and we recoil as our feelings threaten to overpower us. But if we have successfully accessed our power, have strong motivation, and have cultivated a healthy attitude, we will have prepared ourselves for this encounter.
In this third band of energy, we start to leap into the Unknown. Gabrielle Roth said: “After you jump, and before you land, is God.” Jumping is scary and is very insecure, but it awakens us, energizes and inspires us.
Bob Dylan describes it very well:
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?
All we can possibly do now is to keep dancing… and dance for our lives. We must never give up, and must continue to dance through the self consciousness, pain, awkwardness, doubts, insecurities, inner judgments and negativities that would devastate a less determined person. In order to succeed, we must awaken our inner warrior, for he or she will give us the strength, courage and inner tools necessary to break through this third energy level of dance.
The fourth phase of the Dance we call Intuition. Having started to move, and after practicing our dance with courage and determination over years, something changes gear. Suddenly, during a seemingly normal dance practice session, we realize we are dancing and expressing ourselves in a new, spontaneous way. We are making original and authentic movements we have never made before! Our hair stands on end, for we understand that an entirely new stage in our dance evolution has begun.
The chaos of our inner turmoil becomes like a storm receding into the distance, grumbling, rumbling and losing power. We know it will return periodically, but not in such a destructive, enduring way as before. On the dance floor we have flashes of authentic movement; our bodies start to move almost by themselves and we are amazed by the magic of our potential. We glimpse the possibilities of dancing our lives totally and creatively. It feels as if we are slowly coming out of imprisonment. We realize that we are starting to actively enjoy life!
We have finally started to connect with our inner dancer, who has been trying to express itself through our physical body for years. This inner dancer is our spiritual power, until now unmanifest, desiring an open channel to the physical world where it can dance and unite with its lover, or its equal and opposite, the Earth. Although our channels are not yet permanently open, we can feel our awakening starting to happen and this new awareness thrills us to the core. Our belief in ourselves is starting to pay off; faith transforms to actuality. There may be periods when this new ability may fade, or seemingly withdraw, but the crack is there in the once-armored door and we know that the periods of unbridled creativity will increase from now on.
In this fourth mood of dance, we have the strength of character now to simply be and express ourselves authentically. We are becoming the star of our own unique and individual dance. For increasing periods of time, our mind, emotions, feelings and body exist and move together in harmony, like a shoal of fish, or a flock of birds.
In Imitation, we fell to pieces. The opposite of falling to pieces is coming back together again. On this fourth level, we return to Earth, to structure, but it is our own creation, an expression of our self, our dreams and our vision that we build.
The fourth level is energizing, healing and empowering. It is a wonderful state where our inner joy emerges… we start to have fun after all the trials and tribulations of our healing process. We try out new movements, new projects and enjoy their manifestation. We have fully arrived here on Earth.
The fifth mood of dance we call inspiration. Spirit enters the arena and we transcend our personalities. We become the dance. We become channels through which the eternal dance pours and inseminates the world. Our egos are gone and Spirit remains. Ecstasy is our companion and inspires our dance for the good of All Beings. We are complete, like children at play, yet empowered like gods and goddesses.
On this level, artificial, self-conscious creation ceases. We step out of our own way. In this state of energy we are fountains of creation, where every breath, every movement manifests truth and beauty. This is the moment when the great artist picks up her paints and brushes, and a masterpiece emerges onto the canvas or page. It is when a writer allows the words to emerge from his or her soul unannounced, uncontrolled, uncensored. In this state we become channels for Spirit made manifest.
Our dance takes wings and we fly across the dance floor, manifesting our beauty and secrets. We now have the courage to express how we feel. We are in touch, in the moment, manifesting our dreams. Our dance has become exciting, fulfilling and joyful. We imagine the next creative move and dance it. We are the leader, the creator, and the responder all at the same time and revel in our empowerment. The dance floor is our home, our blank canvas to fill with our own unique colors and shapes.
Ecstasy is here – not all of the time, but frequently, and we don’t have to work for it, or manipulate our world for it, any more. We simply are. We are dancers, expressing Life itself, and who knows how it will manifest this time? We are aligned with the flow of the Universe, and are in contact with the Source of All Things. Our Spirit radiates from us into the world and we become beacons of light for others.
We have become mature and powerful warriors. We receive visions, and we dance them into form. We change the world by becoming active participants. Others respect us, as we walk our talk and live our dream.
This fifth level cannot easily be talked about. It must be experienced. We can all experience it, if we are sufficiently motivated and are prepared to dedicate our lives to it. Ecstasy is not restricted by gender, race, or culture. So… dance for your Life! This is my invitation to you.
In inertia, our fullness is empty.
In ecstasy, our emptiness is full.
Spirit becomes manifest.
We become the Gods and Goddesses we truly are,
And the dance never ends.