Last Wednesday, I was invited to what I thought was a dance party called “Ecstatic Dance” in Oakland, CA. I was told: “It’s going to be awkward at first, but so freeing afterward!” to which I thought: “Oh boy, I have a feeling this is going to be super hippie, brace yourself!” Well let me tell you, my experience going to Ecstatic Dance was not only liberating but also healing (and worth mentioning, affordable!) So much that I’ve decided to include Ecstatic Dance in my schedule as a weekly group “workout/therapy” time.
Held in an inspiring temple-like space, Ecstatic Dance is a free-movement dance session. The rules: No shoes, no drugs, no scents, no alcohol, no cellphone, no photos, and no talking. The only directive: move however you wish and respect people’s space.
Ecstatic Dance is like a sacred version of clubbing minus the constraints of clubbing (i.e having to dress up, feeling like you have to know how to dance, being surrounded by intoxicated people or being approached, to name a few) that takes place at reasonable hours (the one in Oakland is from 7 pm to 11 pm, with 1-hour yoga or free movement class,) and in the most non-judgemental environment.
The music of Ecstatic Dance is characterized by the meeting of conscious dance with modern electronic music (live DJ and intruments): each dance includes a period of gentle warm-up, peaks of ecstatic intensity and resolves into peaceful savasana-like sound healing.
What drew me towards Ecstatic Dance was the idea of letting the body move to the music, without trying to dance: “Dance like no one is watching.”
As a first-timer, what felt awkward to me was to witness how much people didn’t care about how they looked like while dancing: some were jumping, others were making funny shapes with their bodies, a few were rolling on the floor, I also spotted couples dancing with eye masks on … they were all experiencing total freedom.
Then suddenly, I thought about how amazing that must feel like, got over my awkward feeling (it only took 5min) and felt compelled to join people on the dancefloor: I let my guard down and let myself be!
Donna Carole, the co-founder of Ecstatic Dance Oakland, describes it so well in this article on Byrdie :
“It’s a safe container, whether we’re dancing alone or with others. When people dance together, they entrain their movements to that of the larger group consciousness. The communal part of us longs for others—for company, skin contact, eye contact and for something bigger and more important than our own problems.”
Dancing without any care not only took the pressure off, but there was also something cathartic about it: I felt courageous, empowered and connected with myself and others. It’s like I was meditating through movements: I let go of the control over my mind and body and experienced pure bliss.
My body was so present, I knew it released some of the pain I was holding on. I was not thinking about the past nor the future.
Most importantly, I felt a sense of belonging on the dancefloor: we were all in communion with one another, the music connecting all of us. No word exchanged, yet we were in it together. Like a tribe.
Movement was the language and Acceptance was the rule. Dance your heart open.
What an invigorating experience!