Last night I had the unusual and lovely experience of assisting Sam at a trance dance he was leading. It was totally spur of the moment — I had planned to go to another, earlier group meeting but didn’t get off work in time. So I’d just found myself uncommitted for the evening when he texted to say more people had RSVP’d for his event than he’d counted on and he was desperately seeking a helper. I’d done it before (and Sam had very generously taken my car waaaaay south for a free oil change just that very afternoon) so I said sure, I’d do it.
Sam’s ecstatic dance events blend shamanic breathwork with a type of blindfolded conscious movement practice that we first learned from Vic Day and the MidMOtion Collective when we lived in Missouri. Participants have an inner journeying experience in a group environment. My job: keep folks from slamming into walls or whapping each other on the head while dancing to world music with their eyes covered by a bandana. And, he said, I could slip out before everyone “came back” at the end of the dance, and still have some time to myself that evening.
It has been a couple of years since I’ve played the part of trance dance helper, and it was interesting to see how Sam’s style of maneuvering people away from collision has evolved. I found myself trying to gauge what was about to be a gentle physical interaction and what could be a painful smack — and get out of the way of the former while attempting to prevent the latter. I didn’t want to err on the side of caution, because I know that the negotiation of energetic boundaries can be an important aspect of the experience for the dancers. On the other hand, nobody wants a kick in the elbow while they’re peacefully doing a yoga headstand.
A few times I also caught myself thinking something like “No, it should be this way, not that way” — and I had to tell my “take charge” part to take a step back.
Most of what I did was simply watching the dancers and feeling the energy and trying to create a container that was safe but not obtrusive. I wanted to be like the walls of the space, sturdy and reliable — so much so that you never have to think about the work the walls are doing. But unlike the walls, I moved among the dancers. In reflection I can see that this, too, was a dance.
A different kind of dance, though — one in which I had full access to my sight. And I’ll admit that the “I can see you but you can’t see me” thing made me a little uncomfortable. When I caught myself admiring the fluidity of one bearded, dreadlocked guy’s spiraling flow, I noticed myself feeling like I was somehow cheating by watching someone’s private dance.
And when I saw this other girl curled up on the floor with her hands covering her head — then watched her slowly, slowly start to move — and finally lift her face and raise her chest upward — so that I could practically see the light pouring from her clawed-open heart — and tears sprung to my eyes, I told myself — stop it now — you’re projecting.
Well, sure. A room full of blindfolded people expressing their souls’ primal movement is pretty much a blank canvas for projection. I’m looking at them and seeing aspects of myself. And I’m also appreciating the uniqueness of each person’s steps which, all together, including mine, make up the Dance.
Later it occurred to me that witnessing could itself be a valuable part of this ritual. Sam reflected that to me as well when he commented that I’d seemed to be trying to disappear into the woodwork all evening and I admitted my discomfort with what felt like a voyeuristic position.
“No,” he told me, “People actually like knowing that you’re watching them — watching over them, really. It makes them feel safe, protected, free to explore the outer reaches of movement. ”
By the time the pounding drumbeats had smoothed out into oceanic tides of gentle sound, and the dancers were all lying on their backs, blissed out, it had become clear to me that I couldn’t exactly leave. It would feel too strange — like the closed container had sprung a leak before arriving at its destination. Although sitting in the sharing circle was the part of the ceremony I least looked forward to — feeling awkward as a watcher among the temporarily sight-deprived — I knew I had to join in.
It’s funny how I always assume people are making negative judgments about me, and they’re only waiting for a lull in the conversation to spit them out. Does everyone do that? I certainly expected these cute young Boulderites to see me as a strange hulking ghost whose purpose was mainly to disrupt their shared intimacy with my weird silent vibes.
What they actually told me:
“In my mind I think of you as Rainbow Lady … Holding the sacred space.”
“You had such a beautiful energy. You grounded the whole ritual.”
“Your name is Angie? Oh, like an angel, of course.”
“You really brought it, girl!”
This, accompanied by many hugs, without my asking for any feedback at all.
How striking that if I could have, I would have skipped that part entirely. And I never would have heard any of that — because of my fear of being dissed by the in crowd.
Who says they’re in? And who says I’m out?
Maybe in reality, I have more freedom AND more safety than I think. Maybe it’s me who chooses to move in and out of circles as they suit my needs in any given moment — or as I am called by a power greater than myself. Maybe my whole dance of life is like my dance last night — gliding from my place of watchfulness on the sidelines, to active intervention where I see I can help, to, when my courage is great enough, open and vulnerable relationships with other human beings.
With my eyes open, I have more choice, and more responsibility. I have more opportunities to practice compassion for others and for myself.
In this sketch I tried to represent some hint of the presence of music as a physical force, sound waves that filled the room and wrapped our moving bodies like swaddling clothes. Out of this chaos, something was surely being born.