Do you know what I’ve learned? That although ecstasy is the ability to stand outside yourself, dance is a way of rising up into space, of discovering new dimensions while still remaining in touch with your body. When you dance, the spiritual world and the [physical] world manage to coexist quite happily.”
-From “The Witch of Portabello” by Paulo Coelho
I was fortunate to grow up in a culture that valued dance. Every weekend, the whole extended family would get together at a relative’s house, eat together, socialize, and dance. After everyone had had time to chat and digest their food, we’d all pitch in to help move the furniture to the outskirts of the room, thereby creating a dance floor. The record player belted out Top 40 hits, world music, dance music, and all sorts of other eclectic beats and sounds; we’d easily go from Michael Jackson to Julio Iglesias in an evening! Although I confess, I was never much of a Julio fan, the adults in the group certainly loved him. And that leads me to the other brilliant thing about these evenings: they were multi-generational. The kids danced with the adults, teens, and elders. Everyone was included.
This went on until I was about twelve years old. I knew that something was wrong in my extended family when people stopped gathering as often. But I knew that something deep was at work when my family stopped dancing altogether. Internal family conflicts divided people and they simply did not know how to utilize the dance for anything other than celebration and personal expression. They didn’t know that dance was therapy and that they could dance through anything and come out the other side of it more balanced than before. I often wonder what might have been different and if communication would have improved if they had had this knowledge at the time.
It took me about sixteen years to recover my love of dance after that. I found myself attracted to non-choreographed dance modalities such as belly dance, rave, and trance dance. I’ve been dancing 5Rhythms (www.5rhythms.com) for almost two decades now and it is a practice that has supported and moved me through some serious transitions in my life. I’ve danced through tremendous grief, exhaustion, fear, sadness, joy, rocky love relationships, moving away from my family, and healing an addiction. I dance because my body doesn’t lie to me like my mind does. It is utterly honest. When I come to dance an issue in my life, my body tells me exactly what is going on as I move the way it wants me to. My body tells the story of what is out of balance and gives me clues for what I need to do to regain my centre. It does not use words so I’ve learned to uncover the messages of the somatic language of feeling throughout years of practice.
Going to class isn’t a “So You Think You Can Dance” sort of atmosphere. It is the polar opposite of competition, showing off my steps, or learning rigid dance moves. It is a spiritual experience where my body literally moves and heals me. All I have to do is follow my feet and my instincts. Often, I can feel burdens lifting off my shoulders and emotions leaving the hidden caves they’ve been trapped in- sometimes for years. I never know what is going to happen and that unpredictability is a part of the attraction for me. The unknown is where we heal, learn, and grow. They body knows how to move us in that direction if we surrender to its non-linear intelligence.
Dance, rhythm, and music have been used since the beginning of time by shamanic cultures throughout the world for healing and celebratory purposes. These elements were and are often entwined in ceremony and guided by the culture’s medicine person. Shamanic cultures the world over weave these three practices into their daily lives because they know of the increased health and well-being they bring into the lives of the people. These creative modalities give the body and the psyche expression without words. In short, they take the ego mind out of the equation so we have a chance to experience our true selves.
It is fair to say that most people in the Western world are disconnected from these readily available healing tools. One need not have extensive formal training in any of these modalities to receive healing benefit from practice. This is intended as an invitation into a spiritual experience that has no dogma and is not affiliated with any religion. Everyone can practice it. It is through the experience of it that healing naturally occurs and since no two people are exactly alike, each person will have a different experience.
When in the midst of dance, we can heal without words by learning to tap into the body and spirit wisdom that is lying dormant inside of us. Along with patterns that don’t serve us any longer, we have a chance to witness those that do. The beauty is that it is never too late to heal pain or celebrate victories from the past. Indeed, engaging in this ceremony takes courage and willingness to show your true self; that is a huge victory in and of itself! Dancing within a ceremonial context is very different than a class; however, practicing in dancing meditation classes is a good way to connect with our bodies if this is a foreign concept!
These days, I lead Soul Vine Dancing Ceremonies, which are done in a spiritual container of safety with a very specific alchemy. Folks come and dance at their own pace in a way that works for them, their bodies, their hearts, and their psyches. Most of all, I encourage folks to be gentle and to forgive themselves through the practice. They can allow what’s there to be there: joy, grief, sorrow, anger, boredom, exhaustion, resistance, or sadness. This includes negative inner dialogue. We can keep moving through all these; they are indicators that something is shifting! We can talk to our High Selves while we dance for guidance. It’s safe to let go of the past and move that healing right through our beings. We dance for and with ourselves because we are all worth it.
*Part of this article originally appeared on the author’s blog in August 2014 (https://jenniferengracio.wordpress.com/). The author has added content to the original for PaganPagesOrg Magazine.
About the Author:
Jennifer Engrácio has been a student of shamanism since 2005. Jennifer is a certified teacher who has worked with children in many different education settings since 2001. She is a certified shamanic coach, reiki master, and lomilomi practitioner; in addition, she runs Spiral Dance Shamanics. Originally from Vancouver, Canada, she now lives in Calgary, Canada with her life partner.
Engrácio participated in self-publishing three books that are now available:
“The Magic Circle: Shamanic Ceremonies for the Child and the Child Within”
“Women’s Power Stories: Honouring the Feminine Principle of Life”
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For more information go to: www.spiraldanceshamanics.com