from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Monday, 16 January 2012

at the still point, there the dance is


On the floor
near where Shiva dances
a woman's hair
breaks gold-tipped
wave upon wave

beyond the glass
the cedar stretches
towards translucent
January blue

and beyond the tree
the heather moor



And after a break of nearly five years I am back, dancing, starting my week with this catalytic practice. Last week I posted Ravi Shankar: 'Sound when stretched is music. Movement when stretched is dance. Mind when stretched is meditation. Life when stretched is celebration.'

It is as natural for the body to dance as it is for the mouth to make sound. And it's hard for us, especially perhaps here in England, to let go enough to simply listen to the music, feel the beat in our body, allow the mirroring of the one in the other and dance with all of ourselves – or even, often, with some of ourselves. Fears inhibit us: fears of not being good enough, fears of being visible; maybe even fears of being present to all of ourselves in the dancing moment. 

When I came across 5 Rhythms dance in my late 30s, it was – there is no other way of describing it, so forgive the cliché – truly transformative. I live in imagination, in my feelings, in the realm of possibility, in my head – but rarely in my body; although actually since beginning this dance practice, and making yoga a much more regular component of my life, I suppose I do now inhabit it more. (Learning African drumming on the heels of discovering 5R dance helped, too.) My dance teacher, Dilys Morgan Scott, was such an inspiration, too, and pushed me to realise more than I thought possible.

The universe is pattern, wave and pulse. If we are to be part of it rather than set apart from it, we can wake up to that in ourselves too.

The founder of Five Rhythms dance, Gabrielle Roth*, sees this dance as a kind of shamanic practice. What's more, she sees the five rhythms embodied here as underpinning all of human life and its cycles, whether those are to do with subtle inner cycles or more obviously reflected in eg love-making or childbirth.

In brief, the five patterns consist of flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness. Each one taken to its peak will 'tip over' into the next rhythm (and once you complete the wave with stillness, then a little more energy pushed into it takes you to flowing once again), and I discovered, as people do, that dancing that five-pattern 'wave' would invariably free up energy and allow me to move through inner psychological stuckness. Even if I only devoted ten minutes to it the magic happened and a process was completed.

It is a personal process. There is no need for a partner (though transient partners may be met and connected with on the dance floor); there are no set steps. There is only one's own process in movement, mediated by music. And yet deep intimacy happens: not only with oneself, but also with the Others with whom one, in passing, dances. I learnt, not without a great deal of embarrassment and shyness initially, how to hold eye contact with one person and dance your dance in relation to them for up to twenty minutes at a time; how to be visible in this way and how to witness another's being visible – exactly as you are, exactly as they are.

And yet there is no striving – no steps to learn, no need to be anything other than what you are, who you are, in the present moment. Gradually you learn to trust the music, trust the dance, trust yourself to know how you are. 

It becomes a whole-person meditation. And you learn to see yourself very clearly, because as one is in the dance, so one is in one's life. To adapt Anais Nin's phrase about our encounters with others, 'we don't dance the dance as it is but as we are'.

I was good at flowing: a so-called 'feminine' rhythm, being fluid, working with and around others, accommodating, yielding. I was good at chaos – letting go into wildness. I loved stillness – coming to rest in T'ai Chi-type postures very quietly, very slowly. Lyrical was harder – I realised that allowing myself to be silly, playful, with others was not easy for me unless I trusted them deeply. And I was terrible at staccato, to begin with. Staccato, the 'masculine' rhythm, has a firm pulsing beat; is about edge, angle and decisiveness, claiming one's space, saying no, defining boundaries, choosing whether or not to engage with another, holding to one's own course and one's own dance when in connection with another, or despite the pleas from others to join with them.

I danced a lot. My then-partner knew if I'd missed a session by an absence of a quality of inspired high-level enthusiasm in me; although a two-hour session can be tiring, you follow your own energy levels and you can drop out for a bit; or even spend the whole session lying on the floor, if you prefer to, and it is so invigorating that even one's quality of tiredness has a clean uplifted vitality to it.

Then in 2006, after my mum's diagnosis of Alzheimer's and my dad's stroke, my life imploded, and I have danced at most a dozen time in the last 4 or 5 years.

So it was an utter joy spontaneously to decide to attend the first class of this year with a new-to-me teacher, Kay (whose style is very different from Dilys'), and find that my body knows how to dance its own dance, make all the shapes (and has become very good, too, at staccato). 

And just two hours allowed me to release so much of the pain, holding, inner conflict, tension and sorrow of the last particularly hard year; and to let in the many joys that occurred too last year: to embody all of them, and know I could greet them all. 

At the still point of the turning world.
Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards;
at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement.
And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered.
Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline.
Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance,
and there is only the dance.
~ T.S. Eliot ~
(from 'Burnt Norton', The Four Quartets)


*Maps To Ecstasy, Gabrielle Roth


  1. I was very uplifted to read this. It reminds me of when I came out of hospital, after a serious illness in the mid-00s. I had not been able to write or draw while I was ill, although it would probably have done me a lot of good, in terms of giving me some more strength to cope. But when the 'scars began to heal' so did my ability to get into the flow, so to speak, of creating. And for that I am still createful. It is like spring, I think. A sign of renewal - but through a familiar activity or event; only returning in a new form.

    Yet another beautiful post! :-)

    1. Chris, once again thank you - for bothering to read the post and to comment on it; and too for sharing your own experiences. 'It is like spring, I think.' Appreciated.



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