“a radical form of surrender, a ritual of shattering”Gabrielle Roth (Maps of Ecstasy)
The driving impulse behind this reflection is my ongoing exploration of the 5 Rhythms (a movement practice developed by Gabrielle Roth and today danced by thousands of individuals all over the globe).
As Gabrielle writes in the introduction of her first book, she always felt like an “obsessed cartographer surveying the geography of inner space” (p. xviii). Through her own work exploring the “uncharted interior” to observing the movements of her students, she came to see patterns that guided any dance. She came to believe that those guideposts (5 rhythms) were not individual but universal. They were an underlying structure of all experience and a “living language”. She called them maps.
Throughout my past years, I have experienced various dance forms and movement languages, starting with classical ballet to learning highly stylized and artful Georgian national dance, exploring folk dances, modern dance, Gaga People, Acogny technique, and Devotional (Sufi) whirling. I have also danced the ecstatic dance, which I could never truly connect to for the reasons I may explore on another occasion, and last but not least, years of raving with mind-revealing substances at psychedelic trance music gatherings with a large community of dancers.
My first experience with the 5 Rhythms was in 2019, in a dancing space on top of a pool club on Admiraal de Ruijterweg in Amsterdam. The lights were dimmed, walls dark, despite the efforts to clean the area, the walls still carried the smell of smoke and alcohol, but the floor was of rubber, perfect for barefoot dancing. Around the dancehall, a long rope of tiny Christmas lights was stretched, demarcating a space for dancing. Mirjam van Hasselt, my first teacher of 5 Rhythms, guided the session very subtly, with little verbal guidance but much grounded and supportive presence.
As the music carried us, I found it extremely easy to dance; there was no pressure to stay in line, remember the steps, to count. I thought to myself: “yes, finally, I can dance the way I want, and this is the dance I have always been looking for”. From this vantage point (after having danced 5 Rhythms for three years), I realize how my first impression was – naive. Back then, during my first dance through 5 rhythms, I did not yet know the actual practice.
As I kept returning to the 5 Rhythms dance gatherings, exploring rhythms with different teachers in a format of classes, long dance quests, and weekend workshops – I was forced to admit that every time, the dance sessions unleashed something new, be it physical, psychosomatic, or emotional release.
After the dance, I always arrived at a (the same familiar) place of calm, expanded presence, feeling fully alive, entirely capable of experiencing and relieved. The state of satisfaction and inherent content with what is. However, the process which would lead me to this state of calm – turned out to vary greatly; stuckness, heaviness, pain in the lower back, inability to fall into dance, being seized by judgment, caught up in thoughts, struggling to release emotions, continuous laughter on the face, the raising joy of being alive, the relentless urge to explode, coming up memories, the pain of loss pressing in my throat as a cotton ball, tears rolling down on my ecstatic face. Regardless of the process I went through, and how the dance unfolded, I always arrived at that familiar state of being. The state of the expanse, openness, and presence.
5 Rhythms fascinate me; I feel that there is something in the maps Gabrielle Roth developed which can truly help one to explore own inner landscape. As she wrote herself, it is “a body of work designed to show people how to turn their life experience into art. Survival art.” (p.2).
As I understand Gabrielle’s writing, the aim of the 5 Rhythms was to bring an individual into wholeness, what she calls an “egoless, timeless state of being” where there is total unity and alignment.
As I keep dancing the 5 Rhythms, read Gabrielle’s books, and learn from the senior teachers of the method, I feel a connection is being forged, building a bridge between my limited understanding and practice of Dharma and the 5 Rhythms movement meditation. It comes to my mind that infusing the 5 Rhythms with four noble truths can be expanded from “the Survival Art” into the Art of Happiness and Liberation.
My deep aspiration, supported by the experience of witnessing students whom I guided through dance, is to build the liminal space between dance and Dharma. Explore the (conceptual and practical) relationship between the ground of being and stillness as the last rhythm in the five rhythms maps, and endow this skillful means (dance) with the (non-dual) wisdom from the Buddhist middle path.
After the dance, I always arrived at a the same familiar place of calm, expanded presence; feeling fully alive, capable of experiencing and relieved, the state of satisfaction and inherent content with what is.