Getting high on a Sunday morning and moving like not-Jagger.
Sunday morning, 9.30 am, a Worthing dance studio. Oddly (if you’re used to choreography and dance as a practice of rigorous self-correction), black-out blinds blank out all the full wall mirrors. Like No Lights, No Lycra then, this looks like one of those places where we’re being encouraged to let go of self-consciousness and drop into our bodies, uncensored by fears of being ridiculous or not moving ‘right’. Shoes off, hush up the verbals, here we go. Over low slow music, Denise tells us that we’ll each find our own moves and action style, but that she’ll encourage us to become aware of our self-imposed movement limits – as a first step to grow beyond them. Ah – so this practice promises self-knowledge, with promises of growth and change. That kind of makes it part of the massive body of ‘spiritual-but-not-religious’ phenomena, doesn’t it?
Many people blame Descartes, with his mind-body dualism. Others point out that the rot was already well set in with ancient Greece. All that race, gender, property ,hierarchy, (kyriarchy, if we want precision here) which needed some kind of justification and naturalisation. Dualisms / binaries are handy building trick-bricks. Splitting the ‘rational’ mind-based few from the irrational or animal body-based many was a good trick: so good it lasted through that ancient moment, on through European and colonial histories, into new and terrifying forms with modernity and is still with us now. Split selves, then. Mind, body and spirit envisaged under European modernity as ‘parts’ of a person – and separate. This, naturally, produced a whole counterculture around reintegration and a set of practices aimed at healing that split and transcending dualism.
We begin with small actions, presented not as stretching or body warm-up, but as space-awareness. We reach up high, bend low, stretch sideways and bend around behind us, while Denise encourages us to feel or visualise the space, marking out our little bubble around our body. Slowly, we ease those reaching movements into dance, allowing us to travel, change levels, enquire into the space around us, between us. The music changes tempo and style every so often.
Denise’s few words suggest more than instruct: This one is high-energy – if you’ve got anything you need to shake out, this might be the moment to go for it. Allow yourself with this music to feel the floor, the ground, and your own sense of connection to the earth. Now we’re going to see if we have anything flowing or swinging in our bodies. This one feels sharper – can we dance ‘sharpness’? Let’s just see how this one makes us feel.
Denise reiterates often that there are no right ways to do it, urges us at moments to be self-absorbed and at others to smile or make connection with others, to notice their movements. We’re not trying to show off moves: we’re trying to feel the music in our bodies, become more instinctual in our reactions, allow the music to take us, become bolder in our movements and our travelling. I leap, roll, shake and stomp. One window opens onto a church steeple and the other onto the council car park – which I swear at one point looked exactly like a mountain range.
After a long time of solo dancing, Denise asks us to line up at one end. Now she asks us to dance across to the other end, one by one, observed by the group. (Wince, fear, closed-body clutching from some: “Ummm, let’s make it two by two”, Denise quickly suggests). We cannot but notice how differently everyone moves to the same music. Someone is moving only their arms and shoulders as they almost walk across; another swings from the hips, with bold round gait; one punches the air around, exuberant; one speeds across with enormous energy, the air parting crisply. Without having to mimetise or shift, we all witness the ways different people move the body, and this prompts us to notice our own style and realise that we never include our neck in the dance, that our hips are frozen, that our arms wave but never swing, that we hear the rhythm at double-time to some others – or that we dance to the guitar but not the drum. In a later exercise, we dance in a circle and take turns to pick up a gesture or rhythm – anything – from the style of each of us, in turn. We are trying each other’s bodies on, awkwardly feeling our way into what it might be like to move like not-Jagger, understanding something about our own embodied being and that of the others in the circle. Once you get over your opening five minutes of embarrassment-fear-cynicism, you find strange and gorgeous phenomena. After two hours, we have danced out whatever we needed to get rid of and brought our sense of self firmly into the whole body, right through each part of it. There’s a sense of connectedness here. And peace.
There’s a huge – overwhelmingly so – conscious dance scene in the Other place: Classic 5 rhythms; dance which meets neo-shamanic practice or personal transformation work; and even B’town specials like aqua dance, done in warm water. Morning Gloryville seems to have come and gone from the Sussex dance scene and lots of the Deep Dive Dance events are way out west. ‘Conscious dance’ alludes to the the booze-and-drug free policies of these movement forms, where the high and the altered state comes from the dance itself; and to the dance being a moment of being conscious and aware of – learning about and knowing – yourself, within the dance space; and often, too, to aspirations towards wider consciousness (spirituality, then, if you like; becoming adept in your own neuroplasticity if you prefer). Many churches now recognise praise dance; Gabrielle Roth famously suggested “sweat your prayers”; and people are dancing away the kyriarchy, any time of day or day of the week. Most definitely not just on Friday night.
Worthing’s scene is tiny, but growing. Heene Road’s circle dance is sadly off-limits to many workers, on a weekday, but Spectrum Dance Wave runs on midweek evenings. If dancing your way into healing, personal integration or cosmic unity appeals to you; or if your god is a DJ; or if you’re just a neuroscience nerd and willing to shake that tail-feather in the interests of making some new pathways or cultivating your body intelligence, dancing without the booze or drugs is an interesting experience.