Thursday, April 19, 2012

Coming Down from "the Embodied Heart" 5 Rhythms Dance Workshop with Gabrielle Roth and Jonathon Horan in Montreal, April 2012

Things are winding down for me back in Toronto after the amazing “Embodied Heart: 5 Rhythms” Easter long-weekend workshop in Montreal. Sadly, I am already feeling the everyday urban cacophony buzzing inside me, dissipating the incredible emptying out my ego and emotional body to find the pure, embodied being in the dances of the 5 Rhythms.
The Embodied Heart workshop weekend was organized by Montreal 5 Rhythms teacher Erik Iversen. He began studying with Gabrielle Roth in the 1980’s, and invited her back along with her son Jonathon Horan to offer this special Heart-themed weekend.

The 5 Rhythms are a form of ecstatic dance developed by dancer, musician, and author Gabrielle Roth. One wave through the 5 Rhythms includes Flow (Earth), Staccato (Fire), Chaos (Water), Lyrical (Air) and Stillness (Etheric).

As I understand, the flow rhythm is about connecting with the body and earth, arriving to a place where the world and the feminine* are invited to our dance.The sharp-tempo staccato rhythm invites the masculine* energies to enliven our core and set our hearts ablaze and power our dance through the remaining rhythms. Chaos opens us to the emotions within us and allow them to begin to effortlessly flow out, to be expressed, leave behind our sense of self, get out of our head and give completely over to an fully embodied sense of being. From this chaos we enter lyrical rhythm. Having let go of our ego-self we are entranced by the spirit and in the full flow with the universe. Stillness comes and there is no thought or ego. We are fully given over to breathe and enjoy a sense of peace and wholeness in connection with all things.

In the Embodied Heart workshop Gabrielle offered heartfelt discussions about her experience of life, what it means to be alive, and to break free of worldly illusions through the map of the 5 Rhythms, which she calls, “the DNA of the creative process.” I was truly surprised by the level of movement, demonstration and instruction she offered personally. She spoke openly and freely about her struggles with lung Cancer, and about her current sense of mortality. She was masterful and sweet and accompanied by the Mirrors bandmates Robert Ansell (Gabrielle’s husband) and Nigerian influenced, Sanga on drums. Gabrielle’s son Jonathan Horan’s bristly charm and whit gave a humorous tone to the weekend. He offered many of his own heartfelt stories about how the 5 Rhythms transformed his life, helping him him come to terms with his emotional experiences of growing up.

The workshop was well-attended. I drove up with some friends from Toronto. We rented an apartment for the weekend through, which I totally recommend to everyone. I will never get a hotel now if something is available this way. We were right around the corner from the studio, off Mont Royal. There were plenty of great cafe’s and restaurants, and amazing boutiques. Like Gabrielle had caught boutique fever: -during her welcome speech Gabrielle says “this is a dangerous place for me. Its all the boutiques.”

Back in February I attended Lucia Rose Horan’s Waves 5 Rhythms weekend at the Great Hall in Toronto, which is prerequisite for Embodied Heart. It was real taste of what the 5 rhythms had to offer my regular ecstatic dance and moving meditation practice. Like Lucia, her brother Jonathan offered Embodied Heart participants masterful facilitation, and DJ’d an awesome mix of beats to make our hearts beat, our feet move, and spark the magic link between the heart and the breath of the dance. A note for DJ’s, Jonathon guards his mix like a carefully treasured secret, but during a break he kindly tipped me off to a 90’s Electronic gem for my own Ecstatic Dance collection.

The walking meditation gave us opportunity to learn to share space and be firmly in the flow of things, but giving of space. Moving into Staccato I found myself slipping out to the periphery acting out some ingrained pattern of avoiding my darker more fire-based emotions. I went with every intention of working through ‘my shit’ at this workshop, but felt I was disappointing myself.

Instead of blasting out my emotional baggage my work was turning out to be about staying with the dance. I wanted to unload, empty out, and let go, to get mad and express any pent up frustrations I had about life, but every time the beat changed or a short-lived authentic improvised burst found its way into being and dissipated, I subsided to the edge and sometimes left the room entirely. “What am I doing here again,” I asked myself. Catching my evasive mood, I prepped myself to give it another try. “All you have to do is stay with it,” I told myself. “That is my work this weekend.”

Not so easy.  I got back out onto the floor as many times as I left it, only to find myself avoiding it again. It was the part of the session where we were called to bring up anger. Clearly I was afraid of my own anger and responding with avoidance.

But, with Gabrielle’s encouragements fresh in my head I thought, “if I cant work on the emotion, then I will work on the avoidance.” To my surprise I was able to arrive at anger in the dance, not by thinking of my own anger or conflict, not by thinking of the ways the world makes me angry, not by taking in the images of atrocities in the world being shouted out by the facilitators, not by thinking at all... By mimicking other people’s angry dances, I was able to reach these emotions in myself. From this place I expressed “fire” emotion without attaching value or ideas to it.

I simply danced, felt and found I avoided the floor less. Free flow ego-less movement became easier. Gradually I found myself rocking out in ways I never imagined. Not only had I passed into emotional territory, but I was reaching new territory. I connected to a part of my core I’d never touched before.

Something in the impenetrable void that was my solar plexus and stomach was breached for the first time in my life. Suddenly, in the chaos dance, I felt into the mass of a part of my body that long remained mysterious to me. I could peer for a short time into the dysfunctional workings of my digestive system. Instead of a struggling life support system fraught with food allergies and nutritional sensitivities, and emotional scars that live there, I ignited a new spark of tremendous vitality. A new fire in my core propelled me completely and effortlessly. My breath and heart, passion and pace were all synchronized. As I moved faster, i breathed faster. As I stepped lighter, my breath become light.

And when the music stopped, I kept dancing. I kept dancing for another ten minutes before finally following calmness and space to settling in and bring me to the floor.

If the workshop had ended there, I would have been satisfied. It was money well spent. The experience was marvelous and life-changing. However, Gabrielle imparted other life-lessons before we were done. If I were to take nothing else away from this intense and invigorating workshop, I would want it to be this: “zero.”

Gabrielle’s concept of “Zero,” put a name on something that I had always been doing, but poorly understood. Though it was long a natural part of my dance practice, no surprise, Gabrielle’s honest and and intimate account of her recent new appreciation for “zero” offered a major transformation for my practice and for my life.

Zero is a place 5 Rhythms dancers go between their expressive, emotive dance gestures, repetitions, and interactions. Zero is a relaxed stance, arms at your side, both feet on the ground, or idling in rhythm, mind relaxed. We let go of the improvised dance sequence or pose we just held, and the allow any emotion to drain out of us. We physically let go of any muscle memory or tension in our body language and redistribute our weight to a state of rest. Our breath returns to calm.

From zero we are set to spontaneously improvise a completely new gesture or sequence. Jonathon or Gabrielle will call out a single emotive word and the whole room is inspired anew to silently and physically communicate the feeling behind the word, in time or in rhythm with the percussion or beat. Anyone looking at us from the sidelines will clearly recognize our body language, empathize with the emotion behind it, and clearly experience the meaning of the word that was spoken aloud by the facilitator.

So, how if “zero” is a place I naturally go in my practice, did Gabrielle’s  discussion so dramatically transform my ecstatic dance practice?

Until Gabrielle brought this very basic concept up I had a tendency to judge the moments my movement on the dance floor slowed or stopped. I associated these uninspired zero periods with falling out of the flow. In short, I saw my dance practice as failing. “I was failing to stay with the dance. I was failing to stay with my emotions,” or “uncommitted to working through my shit.” I often entered disappointment over my lack of effort to dance my pain and shatter my ego-sphere. Idleness and emotionlessness was not the expected outcome of my practice.

Gabrielle’s teaching at the Embodied Heart workshop changed the way I think about those idle moments. She helped me to see that we never need to pass seamlessly from one emotion to another, one expression to another, from one dance sequence to another, uninterrupted. Gabrielle’s simple approach pointed to a rigidity within my own ego about myself. Once I could see it, I could explode it. I was then able to feel gratitude for my idle moments when dancing out a feeling was fulfilled. It is only natural to return to zero, reground, settle into a softer rhythm, catch a breath, and be ready for the next wave of inspiration to take me through the dance of the 5 Rhythms

* masculinity and femininity are addressed here independent of gender. It is my belief that all genders include aspects of both masculine and feminine energies. I certainly do. : )

For more information about Ecstatic Dance and the 5 Rhythms, or for classes and workshops visit:


New York
Gabrielle Roth

Lucia Rose Horan
Jonathan Horan

Erik Iversen


Ecstatic Dance

The Move

San Francisco
Ecstatic Dance SF


Anonymous said...

From Marilyn W. (Montreal)
Robbie, this is so well written and honest and heartfelt! I loved reading and remembering those magical moments of the workshop- including the turn you inside out dance your pain moments... especially them! Thanks so much for sharing your journey of transformation. One of these days, I'll have to share my reflections with you. Keep the sacred fire burning!

Robbie Wychwood said...

Thanks Marilyn. So happy to hear from you. Thank you so much for sharing a bit about your experience with the workshop too. I would love to hear more. Are you going to the next one in June, with Lucia Rose Horan. Maybe I will see you there.. Be well.. Dance dance dance..