I'LL TRY ANYTHING ONCE: Ecstatic Dance AKA Trance Dance AKA Movement Meditation

Ecstatic dance, also called “trance dance” is a crazy fun dance party that can leave you in a meditative state.
Publish date:
August 26, 2013
dance, new-agey, trying new things

Last year, if you had asked me to go to an ecstatic dance party, I would have wrinkled my nose, my imagination spitting images of sweaty neon-clad kids on E dancing to some really awful Swedish techno beats. I also would have thought of that guy I dated from Jersey who, after we broke up, got really into glow sticks and started traveling around the world poi dancing.

While, I'm sure there ARE a bunch of MDMA fueled neon-clad kids (from Jersey?) at many ecstatic dance parties across the country, I now know those are not the only types drawn to what's often referred to as “movement meditation.”

Late one Sunday morning a few months back, I was lazily drinking coffee and over-watering my plants when I heard bumping music coming at me from down the road. It went on for nearly two hours, the lively rhythms turning from jam-bandy to electronic.

Someone has a lot of energy for a Sunday, I thought, feeling super domestic as I drowned a papaya keiki. But the next Sunday, the music started again. And the next, and the next. After a month of this, I asked the couple who lives across the street what was up with the weekly Sunday raves. They told me that the resort a mile away from my house is home to a well-known Sunday morning ecstatic dance session.

So I did what anyone would do. I went home, Googled it, got on my dance pants and went. Ecstatic dance, also called “trance dance” is a crazy fun dance party that can leave you in a meditative state. Or at least, really sweaty. Sessions are held all the world, lasting roughly an hour and a half. During the session, speaking is not allowed, so you're left with a moving mass of people all silently flailing about to the same beat.

5Rhythms is a similar thing, started by Gabrielle Roth in the 70s in NYC. Roth's idea focused on 5 separate movements (flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical, and stillness -- which is sort of a funny way to describe movement) that are danced to in a specific sequence.

I think the activity has ancient shamanic roots,and it was used by ancient healers, but whether you call it ecstatic dance, trance dance, movement meditation or the best church ever, the idea is that you put the body in constant motion to quiet your brain, get your creative juices going, and connect with yourself and -- if you're open to it -- with those around you. It can also be very emotionally moving; I have been to several ecstatic dance sessions where people are weeping at the end.

The first time I went, I was beyond nervous. What if I dance wrong and everyone stares at me? What if I wear the wrong thing and everyone stares at me? What if it's obvious I'm new and EVERYONE STARES AT ME? Obviously, I don't like to be stared at.

However, after a few minutes of self-conscious bopping, I realized that no one cared what I was doing, because they were focused on their own experience. 

I got over myself and got into the music. That's the reason that I have kept going –- it allows me to let go of a bunch of shit.

No one is judging, and everyone is delightfully weird. You can feel connected to everyone while talking to no one. Also, I just like to go to boogie (Do people still say that? They don't, do they?) and get high off the incredible energy that builds up throughout. You can literally feel the room vibrating, and I swear it's not just from the bass.

Sometimes the music is live, sometimes it's a DJ, but it always begins with everyone sitting in a circle -- there are usually about 100 people, give or take. A facilitator goes over the rules; no talking, be respectful of personal space, no biting. OK, I added that last one but I'm pretty sure it's a general unspoken societal rule.

Then the music starts while we are all still sitting and slowly people begin to crawl out onto the floor and writhe around like animals. Eventually they all stand and start dancing. I usually stretch on the floor until the dancing begins because my writhing skills are sub par.

I love the collection of people that gather at these Sunday sessions -- men dressed in khakis and men wearing tribal headdresses, topless glitter-strung women and sports bra and gym-shorted women, the old, the young, the big, the small. People I would never imagine convening in a room together are all there, dancing away. One guy sporting a two-foot-long white beard even brings his sweater-wearing Daschund.

I also enjoy the dance because of the bizarre time. While 10:30 PM is a standard dance party time, 10:30 AM is not so much. It also seems, for the most part, to be an alcohol-free event. This could also be due to the time, but I remember how it was in college: “drunk” and “awake” were acceptably interchangeable.

Until I started attending ecstatic dance, I probably hadn't danced sober (in public) since I was 13, which is sad. Everyone in the room could be stoned out of their mind, but the lack of raucous booze fueled bump-and-grindage is refreshing.

I do wonder what these classes are like in other cities. What kind of people sneak out of their offices early, crawling off subways and buses to vibe together to the same beat? I can only imagine. I took the cast and crew of the film I shot in July to ecstatic dance here, and now that they're back on the mainland, they've been meeting up weekly in New York to dance, a connection that thrills me to no end.

I guess that's really what I enjoy about ecstatic -- the connection that forms between everyone in the room. It creates extremely interesting parallels: You're connected to all of these people you've never spoken to, and your brain quiets despite the noise coming at you.

Have you ever been to ecstatic dance? Tell me about your experience, please! Or tell me the weirdest thing an ex has gotten into post-split. That's always fun, too!

Zoe writes in 140 characters at @sexytofublog. You can also find her on Instagram. If you want. I mean, you don't have to.