text by Dominic Stephen / image via PicJumbo
It took around ten minutes for the itching self-consciousness to dissolve while the darkness enveloped our twirling silhouettes. In the dimly lit performing arts studio, insecurities were gradually transformed in the space between and around us. Rather, the very possibility for insecurity had been replaced by something quite liberating and empowering. I wondered where this unexpected sense of confidence and freedom had come from; I wanted to uncover the part of the human psyche responsible for this euphoria.
Have you ever stood still in a bar, party or club and just observed? It is strange to watch all the moving arms, stomping feet and hands with a life of their own moulding invisible shapes… the huge smiles of bliss; the closed eyes of intense concentration; the tightly clenched facial features of something vaguely resembling orgasm. Dance seems to come naturally to us but as with the most fundamental parts of the human experience, its specific value is elusive and difficult to define with any confidence. Is dance a careful moulded art form, truly accessible only by the talented minority who devote hours to the craft? Or is it, in all forms, simply the engagement in one of the purest forms of self-expression, open to all? Among the communicative toolbox of our species we have singing, the written word, musical instruments, the visual arts… After one hour of Meditation through Movement, it was clear that Dance deserved its rightful place in this box of human antiquity.
Dancing is at once introspective and intrinsically social. Listening to Indian-infused techno or a deep-house remix of Ray Charles, the landscape that I explore will not be identical to yours, but the undertones, colours and topography might be similar. As the songs rolled forward, the handful of ecstatic dancers sank deeper into the collective ritual. Comfort within the group grew stronger despite the darkness; we knew that nothing we did, or in no way that we chose to move, would be considered inappropriate. This strong sense of togetherness is perhaps ironic since all eye contact, conversation and body contact was minimal. Some were sat on the floor stretching; others were skipping around the room with the glee of an unburdened child; some were simply standing still and breathing deeply. I noticed a number with crossed legs on the floor, meditating. This might seem odd at first – sitting down with closed eyes and observing the objects of consciousness is not the first thing usually associated with energetic dub, soul and samba. But legitimate comparisons can be made. If meditation is the understanding of the mind for all its quirks, unpredictabilities and unexpected distractions, then “ecstatic dance” is gaining familiarity with the body, both as a fascinating artefact of biological engineering, but also as something over which we have limited control. The attention of the meditator follows the movements of the breath; this anchors the focus on the events of the present rather than in concerns for the future or in the retrospective evaluations of the past. Similarly in dancing I found my mind following the changes of my moving body in real time, without periodic retreats to regrets of incomplete homework or ideas for possible sojourns in the mid-term break. I found this direct, uninterrupted confrontation with movement as it moved to be inherently blissful.
There is a curious fountain of freedom that can be tapped from the thrusting and spinning of ones body in the surrounding air. Perhaps this is because through movement we can construct our own individual sense of space, creating and opening doors of possibility that did not exist before. Through stepping within and around this personally crafted area, and through drawing invisible patterns with our hands, we affirm our physical capabilities and we are empowered. There is a reason that a conversation is enhanced with hand signals, that the simple movements of a walk in the fresh air are so invigorating, and that a perfectly functional but cramped room can feel so existentially limiting.
Amidst the waving hands, yoga poses and spinning pirouettes of Meditation through Movement, I caught myself smiling. It felt as if we had been given the key to a free mode of expression denied to us by the world of rigid routines and limiting conventions. Regardless of whether we danced, stretched or just stood still breathing, we had been reduced to children playing in the rays of a sunny afternoon, rolling around and giggling in a pile of crunchy autumn leaves.