The Healing Practice of Ecstatic Dance.
For tens of thousands of years, “ecstatic dance,” which produces an altered state of mind, has been a popular spiritual movement.
Cave paintings from 40,000 years ago depict groups of people dancing wildly. “Ecstatic Dance” as a movement is now growing quickly in places like Toronto, New York City, and the West coast of Canada, including Vancouver Island.
My personal experience with ecstatic dance has been nothing less than miraculous.
I suffered extreme trauma in school at ages 13 and 14, causing me to be stuck in my head and suffering from blocked emotions and very little body awareness. I worked to escape from my mental prison for 50 years, trying dozens of therapies. I slowly recovered, but ecstatic dance was the ultimate therapy that freed my spirit. Dancing allowed me to stop the mind and live from the heart.
Ecstatic dance produced a deep healing, erasing the trauma that had closed my emotions when I was a teenager. Eventually, found a peaceful mind and became a bodywork healer—and have an abundance of love for my clients. Dance was a major tool for healing that I now recommend to clients who are out of touch with their bodies and emotions.
Every Sunday morning, over 100 people attend a gathering called the “Dance Temple” in Victoria, B.C., Canada on Vancouver Island to share spontaneous dance.
The dance temple experience starts with a brief guided meditation involving breathing, stretching, shaking, and gentle yoga-like movements to help everyone become more heart centered and “embodied,” or fully conscious of their senses.
Then the dance music starts: gentle and slow at first so we stretch, bend, and flow to the music as we wish. Most participants are solo dancers and there is no expected style. The music ramps up over time from slow and gentle to wild and crazy music with drums. As the music changes, we allow our bodies to move, taking inspiration from both the music and the dancers around us.
We dance with our whole bodies, stretching, jumping, spinning, and stretching out our arms and fingers. Some shake all over, some spin occasionally—or endlessly. Some lay on the floor, writhing to the rhythms. Some who practice martial arts perform Tai Chi-like movements. Most are smiling, often with eyes closed, feeling free to release themselves to the dance in this safe space. Moms and Dads dance with their kids, sometimes with them on their shoulders. Everyone gets hot and sweaty. Many eventually strip down to minimal clothing due to the the extreme (but effortless) exercise that happens in the trance.
Women in particular feel this is a space they feel safe in.
No talking is allowed and there is a clear sense this is not a “pick up” event. Women dancers reported to me that this is key to a successful ecstatic dance.
There is a feeling among all of us that this is a place where we can return to the freedom and fun of our childhood. Occasionally, after a peak of frenzied dance, whoops of joy, cheers, and rhythmic clapping fill the room. Most people are there to dance on their own, according to their mood and intuition. Sometimes, couples will dance together, or contact improvisation dancers will come together spontaneously from time to time, but everyone eventually drifts apart to dance on their own.
The whole event is “a deep freedom-celebration of the modern human tribe” as one dancer expressed! This is true “ecstatic dance.” It’s an easy meditation, which allows you to just let the mind drop away while your body takes over. I have given up silent mindfulness meditation groups because it is too much work compared to dancing. If I sit quietly and meditate afterward, that too becomes easy.
Toward the end of the dancing, the music slows right down and people once again move slowly and flow through the final gentle minutes. Then, we all rest (some lay down) for five minutes before forming a giant closing circle. Those who wish to hold hands in the big circle of 100 dancers do. People are encouraged to exclaim single words describing the experience. “Healing,” “gratitude,” and “freedom” are often heard. Children often run around wildly in the center of the circle.
It is a deeply healing experience for the vast majority of the dancers. And it’s a meditation where the mind takes a break. It’s a chance for “embodiment” meditation. Hugs are commonly given and accepted before, after, and even during the dancing.
Anna Danylchuk, one of the regular dancers comments:
“The benefits of expressive dance at Dance Temple are, literally, almost beyond words. It awakens high energies of mind, body and spirit among the dancers, creating joy and clarity—personal and communal—which remain and sustain for days following.”
Modern healing ecstatic dance history:
Ecstatic Dance is not planned and is considered the “jazz of dance.”
It is a type of meditation that allows us to quiet the mind while celebrating the transforming effects of spontaneous movement.
Some ecstatic dancers are disillusioned ravers who want the rave high but in a drug-free way. It’s easy, automatic, and no dance experience is required. Spontaneous dance is exploding in popularity worldwide. The CBC news in Toronto reported in 2017 that early morning ecstatic dance groups have become very popular before work—even as early as 6 a.m. It helps people to become “embodied” or in touch with their bodies in the here and now and to let go of stress.
“Trance is not just some mystical experience, which belongs to special people, it belongs to human beings who are prepared and willing to dance themselves into that state,” says Ya’ Acov Darling Khan, co-founder of the School of Movement Medicine in Devon, United Kingdom.
Dancing is a deeply healing activity and his website explains the mechanisms by which healing can occur from conscious movement.
During the dancing, a state of deep-body consciousness or “embodiment” displaces thinking. Ecstatic dance effortlessly induces a true meditation state. Although ecstatic dance is an ancient practice, it has only recently become extremely popular. Dance groups are often called “Conscious Dance” or “Dance Temple,” and one group even calls itself “Ecstatic Dance”—the trademarked name. In this article, I am using “ecstatic dance” in the anthropological sense.
Gabrielle Roth was an American dancer and musician in the trance dance genre, with a special interest in shamanism. She created the 5Rhythms approach to movement in the late 1970s. 5Rhythms is typically guided at various points during the dance, and there may be times when dancers are encouraged to interactively dance in a 5Rhythms tradition.
Many groups, such as the Dance Temple, are spin-offs from 5Rhythms, created by and for people who want less guidance and more freedom. All of the groups offer a safe place for dancing, following the guidelines established by the 5Rhythms tradition, where “no talking while dancing” is universal among these groups. We have to give credit to the 5Rhythms school of dance which popularized trance dance and provided the basic foundation.
Shauna Devlin, a dance teacher and therapist on Salt Spring Island works with both “5Rhythms” and the Saltspring “Dance Temple.”
Here she is conducting one of her healing sessions with a special group:
Ecstatic Dance on the Canadian West Coast Islands
Vancouver Island, on the West Coast of Canada where I live, is as big as England and Wales. It is surrounded by many smaller islands and ecstatic dance is quickly spreading to include all the islands.
The “Dance Temple” that I attend was formed on Salt Spring Island initially by Naomi Jason, a dancer who started dance at age three. She trained in Montreal in contemporary dance and then moved back to Salt Spring Island where she grew up. 5Rhythms workshops on the island led to the Dance Temple idea, which became a regular event in June 2010. Naomi enlisted the help of Cedar Mathias and Cat Love to form the Salt Spring group which they named “Dance Temple.”
Facilitation, the short guided meditation before dance, was added to help people tune into their bodies and release their stress before the dancing. Breathing consciously, making sounds like “ahhhh” or “om” on the out breath, shaking, and other yoga-based exercises were added to help people let go. These exercises are key to help the dance come from your heart, not from your head. The focus for the work is healing—to help people feel great and become “embodied” or fully conscious of their bodies.
In 2013, Jaz Snider, Lila Spencer, and Luma Catherine Malone formed a dance group in Victoria, B.C. and decided to independently name it “Dance Temple.” When they discovered that a similar group of the same name existed on Salt Spring Island, the two groups collaborated and became “sister temples.” That is the history of the magic dance groups that I’ve connected with.
The technology of the dance music:
The music used in these events is provided by DJs who blend music using modern electronic and software tools. Sometimes, live music is blended with DJ music. One DJ at the “Dance Temple,” Alex King-Harris, pointed out that there is sophisticated software and hardware that allows for the creation of the music in real time. What is most used by DJs is software called Traktor. There are many more DJ tools that have become important so please visit my author profile for these details.
Aging gracefully with dance:
On the Greek Island of Ikaria, one third of the island is over the age of 90 and still dancing! And at the age of 68, ecstatic dance is making me feel younger, vibrant, and more alive each week. Meditation has become easy. It is making my mind sharper and more focused for writing and research. It’s opened my heart for the bodywork healing I do. It has turned my retirement years into a celebration!
Author: Ian Faulkner
Editor: Catherine Monkman
About the Author:
Ian Faulkner of Vancouver Island is known as a “crazy eccentric inventor” by his friends and neighbors because he does not own a car, has supported his family for 40 years by inventing electronic products, and has dozens of unusual hobbies. He is a Sufi, Buddhist, Christian, and Taoist spiritual explorer using meditation, psychedelics, bodywork, and ecstatic dance. Ian’s professional skills include electronic engineering, Trager massage, intimacy education, web journalism, and scientific research for product development. He has many hobbies including beekeeping, alternative medicine, photography, rock collecting, astronomy, mushroom study, jewelry making, dancing, yoga, and meditation. He is active on Facebook and maintains many web sites which are showcased on the landing page here.Browse Front PageShare Your Idea