Dancing with Spirit


I was deeply saddened to hear today of the passing of Gabrielle Roth, meditative dancer/artist/musician/shaman/healer. Although I never had an opportunity to participate in one of her classes, I’ve been awed by her videos and her philosophy of retrieving our souls, our humanity through the metaphor of dance.

When I was a child, I used to dance. Not the usual little-girl structured dance experience, though my parents did send me to ballet and tap classes in response to my kindergarten dreams of being a ballerina. Like poorly fitting toe-slippers, between chronic respiratory issues and two (apparent) left feet the lessons didn’t get far…but somewhere, somehow, some vestiges of the dreams and the lessons did remain.

Who knows where the record came from, like a fairy godmother, with the wild  cover image of a woman and man in abandoned dance beside a bonfire. I can see my mother buying it – she loved the minor keys of Eastern European folk music. The title of the album was Dance, Gypsy, Dance … and for me, that was the gateway to dancing my little heart out. “Two Guitars,” I remember, was my favorite, slowly leading up to an apparently endless climax in which I’d spin and spin till the piece ended and I collapsed on the sofa, my consciousness floating as I watched the room spin around me. There was never any hesitation in those steps, those flowing arm gestures; my body knew exactly what the music suggested.

Somehow in the early years I must have convinced myself that Mom and Dad couldn’t see me, that my dancing was in my own little world where the music and I were one and pure instinct and delight dictated the steps. Come seventh grade, though, and the thought of dancing to the music of the day – which we’d now call classic rock, but which seemed discordant, chaotic, and (in that church hall) deafening – I was petrified; the idea was about as attractive as the prospect of a pop-final exam. My best friend tried to teach me the steps, but I was hopeless. I could manage swaying to the rhythm, stepping (sort of) to the beat, but that was pretty much it. Immerse and surrender to….that?? Show my ecstatic soul there?? Impossible. And so I became convinced that I had no rhythm and couldn’t dance…a conviction that lasted almost twenty years of marriage to a husband who loved to dance.

Oh, there were hints…college courses in ballet and modern dance, a summer Jazzercise program, a course in bellydance at the Y, a workshop titled Rhythm is the Cure with Alessandra Belloni, teacher of the ancient Italian trance-dance tradition of tarantelle. In each of these classes, I’d feel the tug of …. some …. long-ago memory aching to cut loose, but couldn’t quite connect with it.

Then there came the ritual circle  of Lammas in 2010, when I finally surrendered to rhythm, trance-dancing by the bonfire for who knows how long, as my husband’s spirit came to tell me that I had reclaimed, with his blessing, the gift of dance I had surrendered years ago.

But it wasn’t until two years later, in a Cosmic Celebration with the Creation Spirituality Communities, that I fully reconnected with the exuberant, tireless, intuitive child-self who had whirled herself into trance. Then I realized that, as Matthew Fox writes:

Dance is an ancient way to pray:… in many African languages the word for “dance” is the same as the word for “breath”which is the same as the word for “spirit”  (as it is in Hebrew) .

When I heard Gabrielle Roth’s words in the video below, however, it all came into perspective: the depth of surrender, the passionate abandon….and the feeling that long-lost parts of myself were, through that surrender, gravitating back into the whole…..

Relax, Surrender, and Remember: If You Don’t Do Your Dance, Who Will?

This next video comes about as close as anything I’ve found to consciously replicating the experience of dancing in ecstasy:

Finally, a video to honor Gabrielle Roth, who blessed so many lives with her teaching to reclaim the human soul through dance:

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