By Nick Jankel

Global Keynote Speaker, Transformational Leadership Theorist & Practitioner, Exec & TV Coach, Author, Wisdom Teacher, Co-Creator of Bio-Transformation®

Ecstatic Dance: Delivering the Endorphins, the Work-out and of course the Ecstasy

If you’re after a strenuous cardio workout, a fix of good old endorphins, and a feeling of bliss, you may need to look no further than ecstatic dance – a practice that’s become increasingly popular in recent years. 5 Rhythms and Biodanza are two forms of this practice that have taken the world by storm. Ecstatic dancing offers a space to open your heart and free your mind. How? Simply by moving your body as it wants to be moved and creating your own dance. No agenda, no ‘steps’, no limitation. The free-form movement of ecstatic dance practices like 5 Rhythms also helps with stress relief and gives a re-boot to a tired and overwhelmed body and mind.

Benefits of Ecstatic Dance: Energy, Fitness, & Less Stress

You might now have an image of tranced-out, incoherent dancers rolling their eyes and shaking uncontrollably. Think more raves, replacing the Ecstasy with ecstasy – but with the same freedom and connection to others. In fact, many ex-clubbers are drawn to the ecstatic dance scene, finding in its natural high something far more genuine. The idea behind ecstatic dance is that a trance state of ecstasy is not reserved for shamans and gurus.

It’s our right as human beings to experience this feeling of bliss, where our everyday problem-solving beta brain waves chill out and allow our creative, transcendent theta brain waves to come to the fore. As well as the physical exercise benefits, ecstatic dance can increase energy and vitality and reduce stress levels. You can literally ‘shake out’ your tension and worries – inspired by great music. Peel off the masks and find more of who you really are underneath your day-to-day politeness and nice-ness – let a little wildness out. But there are all kinds of flavors to ecstatic dance. 5 Rhythms practice for instance includes a ‘stillness‘ part of the class.

If you give Sufi whirling a try, you might get a little green around the gills, but you might also get a taste of divinity. Many ecstatic dance classes provide a strong sense of community, and give you a chance to experience being accepted as you are, moving just the way you do. You can let go of self-consciousness and even accept yourself in your self-conscious moments – all good practice for the rest of life!

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Getting a Flavor of Ecstatic Dance – Classes & Meet-Ups

First off, don’t worry if you think you can’t dance. Everyone with a body can do ecstatic dance. It’s easy to find an ecstatic dance class or meet-up near you. 5 Rhythms is a good place to start with ecstatic dance, and there are classes everywhere. There are also other popular forms of ecstatic dance such as Biodanza, Movement Medicine and Trance Dance. Classes allow for the random creativity of meeting and dancing with other bodies, which not only adds to the fun but also improves self confidence.

If you go along to an ecstatic dance class or more informal meet-up, here are some guidelines to remember. Keep moving, be aware of others, and drink lots of water both during and after. No talking – this is a non-verbal space to move into deep connection with yourself. You don’t have to dance with anyone else if you don’t want to – the protocol is to give a simple little bow with your hands at your heart to say ‘no thanks’.

You may want to ground the ‘high’ feelings you experience by eating something after the class and taking time to be aware of what you’re feeling. You may feel very different from usual! Ecstatic dance teachers advise dancers to remember there’s no right or wrong way to ‘do’ ecstatic dance, and if you feel self-conscious there’s nothing like time and practice to improve your confidence. If you want to try some ecstatic dancing at home, try this music for starters, or check out Gabrielle Roth’s videos.

5 Rhythms, Movement Meditation & Connecting to Your Emotions through Dance

Gabrielle Roth, who pioneered 5 Rhythms in the 70’s, famously said that all you need to do is put the psyche into motion and it will heal itself. Rhythms is a form of movement meditation based on the idea that everything is energy and moves in waves, patterns or rhythms. By dancing through the rhythms, which correspond to the stages of the natural human creative cycle – flow, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness – you are able to access the wisdom of your own body and still the mind. This creates a stronger sense of aliveness to help you thrive in today’s stress-y world.

There are also ecstatic dance groups such as Urubu in London which features a percussion band. If you’re hesitant to dive in at the deep end, there are teachers who offer short taster sessions. Biodanza is more structured than 5 Rhythms but there is still a lot of freedom within it. Biodanza also allows you to connect to your emotions and bond with others, experiencing blissful feelings through these connections.

Ecstatic Dance Offshoots: How It’s Evolved from 60’s to Today

While we have always, as a species, danced for ritual and celebration, Ecstatic dance as a phenomenon exploded onto the international scene with New Yorker Gabrielle Roth’s 5 Rhythms in the late 70’s. Roth observed people dancing and noticed certain patterns, which gave birth to her idea of the rhythms. Since then, 5 Rhythms has been used in various therapeutic settings including working with addiction. 5 Rhythms has many offshoots, such as Movement Medicine, which has a more directly shamanic approach. Bio Danza, originating in South America in the 60’s, uses music and movement to deepen self awareness and positive feelings. Vital Development is an offshoot of Biodanza and has been used in the Human Resources and Health Care fields for improving communication and motivation as well as stress management. For more on the history of ecstatic dance, see here.

How will this help you to transform your problems and pain?

Ecstatic dance helps us shake out stress and inhibitions, bringing us closer to our true alive-ness while experiencing the bliss of connection with ourselves and others.

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