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Monday, 4 February 2013

Rhythm is a Dancer: My first (and last) 5 Rhythms class.

I've just been to my first rave. A hedonistic orgy of dance; arms flinging, sweat flying, beats thumping. Except there was no booze, no drugs, and a disappointing lack of glow sticks. In fact, I'm starting to suspect that it wasn't a rave at all...

Here's what happened: I had a really terrible day. At about 6.45pm I was sitting on my sofa in floods of tears, contemplating cheese on toast in front of the telly. Not a particularly grim prospect, all things considered, but also unlikely to cheer me up. Then I remembered that a friend had recently recommended something called '5 Rhythms', a form of moving meditation that might help me through these tricky emotional times. A quick google later and I was in possession of the knowledge that a 5 Rhythms class was due to start at 7.30pm at the Old Finsbury Town hall, in Islington.

I deliberated. Cheese on toast? Strange unfamiliar dancing thingumy? Once again, Thirty@30 made the decision for me. I grabbed a bottle of water and off I went.

Here is some pertinent information related to me and dancing:

  • I love dancing
  • I don't need alcohol to dance all night
  • I have tried all of the following forms of dance:
    Ballet, jazz, tap, belly dancing, contemporary, African, flamenco, salsa, tango, modern jive and hip hop
  • This happens ALL THE TIME:


Given all this, 5 Rhythms should have been right up my alley. Because although there's clearly a huge philosophy behind it, at its core it's just dancing. Lots of dancing. I should have totally rocked it...

When I walked into the room a trance-like, rhythmic music was already playing. Four bodies were writhing on the floor in slow motion, and another thirty-odd people were bouncing, twisting and gyrating slowly. One woman was juddering. There's no other word for it. I felt like I'd walked into a scene from Hieronymus Bosch. Now, I actually love his paintings, but I wan't expecting to find myself in one.

A detail from 'Hell' by Hieronymous Bosch.
So this is what I did: I knelt down on the floor and I started sobbing. A wave of utter despair passed through me. There was no way in hell I was going to be able to join in. I felt completely ridiculous. I felt like I was in a room of people speaking a foreign language that I had absolutely no frame of reference for. I was a total outsider. I went to the Ladies' and sobbed some more. I came back into the room, stood at the edge, and sobbed for a bit longer. I  thought about leaving. I really, really wanted to leave. Of all things, OF ALL THINGS, a dancing challenge was about to get the better of me. I was small and awkward and embarrassed. I couldn't understand what was going on around me. I couldn't tap in to the energy that was making these people dance. I felt like I'd walked into an orgy that included my parents, all my ex-boyfriends, and a selection of zoo animals. So, pretty wrong then. I grabbed my handbag and made for the door.

I stayed. Out of absolute sheer bloody mindedness, I stayed and did everything I could to join in. By closing my eyes I managed to centre on the music enough to do a bit of bouncing and gyrating myself. A very small amount. Then a little more. At some stage, my arms engaged in some moderate flailing. After four or so tracks of this the class leader, Cathy Ryan, took to the microphone and started what she called 'the body parts meditation'. This was massively helpful, because I felt less of a twit twisting my elbows around when someone was telling me to do it. That's just the kind of twit I am. 

Mid-class, I almost found my mojo. I indulged in some intense bouncing. I managed to make eye-contact with a couple of people and not instantly wish that the ground would swallow me up. I positively pranced at one stage. But I never lost my self-consciousness in the way that the others seemed to. Despite the weird, primal movements going on all around, no one else seemed as uncomfortable as I was. One woman spent 99% of the class on the floor. At one stage she was curled up, semi-foetal, caressing someone's shoes, in danger of being danced on. She troubled me quite deeply. I wanted to know what was going on with her, what she was getting from the experience. When she did kneel up for a while, I couldn't tell if she was about to cry, or just at the edge of orgasm. 

There are no specific steps to 5 Rhythms. It's all about how the different rhythms - Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness - work, to, erm... so then there's the maps - the Waves, Heartbeat, Cycles, Mirrors and Silver Desert - well they, erm... OK, so I've read the Wikipedia page a couple of times and I confess that I still haven't got my head around the theory. I strongly suspect that the only way to really get it is to do it a lot. Which I won't. In fact, I think that this is the first of my challenges that I have no intention of repeating. I know I said that about the triathlon, but frankly I think the triathlon was easier. I wasn't expecting to find it so incredibly difficult to let go. That is clearly something I need to work on, but 5 Rhythms was just too intense for me. 

I'm really pleased that I managed to get to the end of the class, though. Considering the state I was in at the beginning, it was no small feat. Plus if I'd left I would have missed the elderly dancer singing a full verse of  'If You're Going to San Francisco." Don't ask. I don't mean for this to put anyone off trying out 5 Rhythms. It may not have been for me, but everyone else seemed to be attaining significant levels of bliss. In fact, I strongly urge everyone to try 5 Rhythms at least once, if only to assure me that what I saw tonight was real. Perhaps the greatest thing I gained was the knowledge that this strange, tribalistic ritual is actually going on. Now, the next time I am sobbing on my sofa, I can cheer myself with the knowledge that somewhere out there a room full of people are freestyle gyrating in a village hall. This happy vision will doubtless dry my tears and allow me to enjoy my cheese on toast.

Nineteen down, eleven to go...