The wild dance — how to let your body remember how to dance

I was introduced to Five Rhythms dancing about six years ago. A friend of mine took me. She explained that we’d dance to five different rhythms through the class; flow, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness. You didn’t need to know how to dance, you just moved your body how it wanted to move to the rhythm that was playing at the time.

I remember feeling nerdy, awkward as we arrived into the large council building hall with ultra high ceilings. The smell of high school lurked around the corners, but it was clean, tidy and without personality. A blank canvas. The room was lit tenderly with several low wattage lamps. It gave a warm glow and offered enough privacy to not feel like you were about to expose your self flasher style to other dancers.

We arrived at the first class and my friend trotted off to join the ‘dancing space’ after saying, ‘oh and don’t worry if you hear people making animal noises, they’re just releasing whatever comes up for them with the dance’.

WTF? I thought… what weird cult thing has she brought me to???

I nervously stepped into the space and shuffled anxiously in my bare feet (trying to pretend I really wasn’t watching anyone else or listening for weird sounds).

As a child I’d danced from the age of the three. Mainly the traditional stuff, ballet, tap, stage and modern. I’d absolutely loved it. It was such a release for me. Bizarrely (for someone who doesn’t like rules so much), as a child, I loved the discipline and repetition of learning the positions, the moves, the choreography. There was something comforting and expansive about being in my body. I loved the connection that the synchronicity of the group dances brought. Something primal was stirred in me although I didn’t know it at the time.

My ballet career ended when my (what was soon to be large) breasts started to grow and my body curved in all the right womanly places, but wrong for ballet. Nobody had to tell me, I knew. I did not have the right body for a career in ballet. The transition coincided with a family move to North Yorkshire and so dance became a hobby for a while before I put my dancing shoes and my tutu to rest.

I missed it terribly over the years. My body missed it. Something of the ease in which I’d inhabited my body at the time I danced was gone. I swapped dancing for the gym but didn’t experience the same release. University years brought nightclubs and the dance scene of the 90’s and there was some small release when fuelled by other substances. Mainly by that age I was too self conscious to let myself go. Trauma had struck my body and inside it I was trapped.

Many years later after leaving employment to become a free range human I relocated from Berkshire back home to Yorkshire. I felt free. Empowered. I could do anything. Literally anything. I wanted to dance again.

I scoured the web for a class I could drop into. Salsa was never my thing and I didn’t want to be tied to a partner. I wanted to be free. To feel strong, to find my flow and be in my power. I couldn’t find anything that called to me and so I gave up.

Another day scouring the free-ads for shelves for my home office, I came across a randomly placed advert for flamenco dance classes. I was grounded. That was it. I’d always loved the sound of spanish guitar and as a child we’d often holidayed in Spain and watched the local flamencos off the beaten track of the over trodden tourist circuits. I’d been dazzled by their bright carnival colours, strength of movement, speed and snappiness of the tight accented rhythms. I’d dreamt as a child that my brown hair, easily tanned skin and quick rhythm would some how make me an honorary member of their club.

I fell in love with flamenco. It was everything I needed at the time; rousing music, the discipline of repetition, the sharpness of the lines, the power my body felt. A groundedness my feet had not experienced in any other dance. I continued class for over a year until the teacher sadly moved away. Another dance journey paused and more dance shoes retired to the bottom of the wardrobe.

My body still yearned to move more freely, to release, to express. But my mind was tortured by self control, inner loathing and not good enough diarrhoea.

And so eventually I could resist my friends calling to try five rhythms no longer.

Remarkably, the music invited me in. It took my hand gently and I started to feel my body starting to sway. The music was soothing, gentle, like a small stream, gently meandering you through a valley, no beginning and no end, just flow. As my body woke up, my mind started to quiet.

Eventually the second rhythm, steccato began. A more choppy sound, more flamenco in some ways. It had a sharper rhythm to it. My body responded as if the sound to march had been trumpeted into the arena. I felt like a knob but I didn’t actually care. No one was watching, they were all too busy enticed in their own rhythm. It wasn’t dancing like I’d known as a child, there was no discipline, no choreography, no uniformity. The music and the space were the container. Beyond that you were free to be.

The rhythms are the only certainty of the dance class. Chaos follows steccato, then lyrical and finally stillness. Chaos supports a release I can only say feels in some ways akin to being off your head at a dance club in the 90s. Your body wants to throw itself around, shake off the trauma, release the shitty day. No words are needed, just expression through movement. Some people allow the release to come through their voice. But no one cares. We are all connected but alone on our inner dance floors releasing what’s willing to be let go.

After the release comes lightness in the form of lyrical, a sense of the freedom that comes when we’ve left our emotional weight behind us. A liminal space which is neither there or beyond. It’s somewhere in between, a place where we figure out where next, with hope, optimism, anticipation. And finally into stillness, where we find gratitude or more grief. A slowing down to the tiniest of careful, well placed, stretched out limbs, circling the end of the story our body’s have chosen to release in this wave. And letting go.

There is silence as we let things be.

No unpacking. No analysing.

Just be.

At the end of my first class, replacing my socks and shoes to my very contented and aching black feet, my friend looks over to me. My eyes, I can feel are like space cakes. Like the young child back from a birthday party high on sugar and running around. Too much oxytocin flooding the system. “It was amazing” I mouth to her. Stunned at how willing I’d been to ‘let go’ after all that ‘holding on’. A natural high of sorts. I felt euphoric.

I would discover over time that flow and lyrical were my favourite rhythms. They both have a potency of water that flows within me and through me and I catch myself sometimes being meandered around the room like a pebble being washed down a stream, sometimes fast and furious and sometimes gently ebbing the banks. The key is staying within the body and keeping out of your head… a rather large challenge in this day and age.

It couldn’t be more different to the discipline of ballet, tap and flamenco and yet in some ways it steals essence from all forms of dance and weaves into whatever turns up on the dance floor. Four years later I’m now less ‘bovvered’ by what other people are doing in the room (or the noises) in fact I’ve been known to release a few of my own. Particularly useful if you’re carrying alot of frustration and anger from your week.

Something wild happens when I let myself go, when I drop into my body, let go of perfection and expectation and I can tell you some of the moves I’m making are not pretty… (when the DJ plays Born Slippy my body drops into happy sober raving convulsions…) A release happens on a physical level. Which clears something on a mental and emotional level.

It’s wild for sure. But it’s also soothing, healing and frikkin good fun!

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Jennifer Potter

Jennifer Potter

Woman’s search for the meaning of life and love

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