Generally, I've been very behind in my trip reports, but this particular experience from my recent trip to England needs to be blogged about while it's still fresh in my mind.
My sister-in-law, Ali, invited me to attend her Thursday night, 5 Rhythms class. I had not previously heard of 5 Rhythms, but I've since learned that it was started in New York City in 1977 by dancer Gabrielle Roth. I may be butchering this explanation, but it's a type of dance/meditation and the idea is to use the movement to calm your mind.
The class took place in a beautiful church near Oxford. Ali drove us through a huge rainstorm with the skies clearing as we arrived. We stopped to pick up snacks for after class, which ended up being a wise move. There is nothing quite like salty potato chips and sweet Starbucks bottled drinks as a pick-me-up, after an intense workout.
The chairs in the community space had been pushed aside to create a large, open dance floor with wood planks. Ali is a decoration volunteer and she made the altar: a small shrine with gorgeous fresh flowers and candles that sits to one side of the room. Although 5 Rhythms is not religious, it definitely has a spiritual/ New Age vibe. Pretty fairy lights were also draped around the room to add to the atmosphere.
Ali explained to me that pretty much anything goes and there is no judgement. There is also little to no instruction. The music starts and you just move around the space however you wish. If you don't want to move, you can sit or lie down, maybe enjoy the altar. Although forbidden might be a bit harsh, the participants are not supposed to really talk or stare at the other participants. Eye contact is okay, if the other other person is willing to engage. Basically, the idea is to be sensitive to those around you. It's great to interact, but also respect those who wish to have private time. Depending on moods or what is going on in an individual's life, the dancing might be an emotional experience for them and they might wish to have private time.
I love to dance. This is not to be confused with me being a good dancer. I lack all sense of rhythm, but what I lack in rhythm, I make up with joy and enthusiasm. I'm not ashamed to be the first person out on the dance floor in a club. However, there was something that made me hesitant about 5 Rhythms. Unstructured creativity, especially with movement and visual arts, makes me very nervous. Having to dance on my own made me nervous.
I started by stretching. As others moved around the space, I sat on the floor. Primarily this was my way of easing myself into the class, but I also needed to stretch. The previous year I had a terrible bought of sciatica and I'm still recovering. I don't stretch enough. Does anyone? I stretched for about thirty minutes and then moved into ballet positions. I have a little bit of a ballet background ( a smidge), so I went through the positions as a way of sticking to the familiar. My body is not as limber or steady since having sciatica. I've spent the last year learning to be patient, rather than frustrated by the slow healing process. It makes me feel old.
The class instructor stood at a DJ booth controlling the music and she would occasionally suggest an action. When she mentioned that we should move around the space, I tentatively stepped beyond the few feet where I had planted my roots. Slowly, I became freer and even skipped around the room, owning every part of the space. Maybe twenty minutes later, she suggested that we dance with a partner.
My first partner ( I think I ended up dancing with everyone in the class, about ten people) was an older gentleman. The class had a large range of ages, from early twenties to late sixties. Admittedly, it was a bit awkward. He was also chatty, which isn't encouraged and under the guise of being helpful ( when he learned that this was my first time), he kept giving me instructions- which is definitely a "no-no." That said, I just went with it.
I was surprised by how quickly my awkwardness sloughed-off and I was enjoying myself. 5 Rhythms is a lot of fun. It can be silly and playful. I felt at ease when I caught the eye of other participants and they were smiling or laughing. Within the first hour, I was comfortable in the space and with my body.
My only real problem was sustaining the level of energy. I have a hard time holding back and this created a pacing issue. The class was long, at least two hours, but I suspect closer to three. Although you can certainly take a break when you wish, there is no formal break time. The music ramps up and it's hard to just stop. i joined the frenzy! Other than to take an occasional sip of water, I didn't stop. I was exhausted. I dripped in sweat and my heart raced, but I kept going. The next day, my feet had blisters and every muscle, including those I never knew I had, ached.
After a cool down period with the music slowing in pace, we sat around a circle and talked about our experiences in the class. It was an all-around good vibe with a great group of people. So much kindness and acceptance. I thanked everyone for welcoming me into the class. After class, everyone stayed for a piece of Vegan Chocolate Cake to celebrate two recent birthdays, including Ali's. I'm not vegan, but the cake was very tasty.
I would definitely attend a 5 Rhythms class in the future. They are offered all around the world, but unfortunately, not in our small town. For anyone thinking of giving it a try, just go with an open mind and a sense of adventure. Don't forget a large bottle of water and whatever you do, pace yourself!