Growth Through Movement: An Interview with Jennifer Paige of RhythmWave

For the past 6 years RhythmWave has been an on-Playa dance stage centered around 5Rhythms, a conscious dance practice developed by the late Gabrielle Roth. The camp brings out a 1600-square-foot bamboo stage and offers dances and special events throughout the week.

I had the chance to sit down with Jennifer Paige, the founder and one of the lead organizers behind RhythmWave. We talked about camp organizing, its history, and how things have changed over the years.

Burners dancing at RhythmWave at Burning Man 2012.
Burners dancing at RhythmWave at Burning Man 2012.

What is your role within the camp?

It changes from year to year in terms of camp infrastructure. I work with great co-leads to build the residential camp. What never changes is my main responsibility: recruiting the teachers and putting the week’s schedule together. I spend all year recruiting teachers and getting people on board, organizing everything. It’s absolutely critical to me that I have the right people who can hold the right space.

Jennifer at RhythmWave.
Jennifer at RhythmWave.

Tell me about the role of the facilitators.

Someone wrote me a really sweet email the other day, and it said “I can’t call these people DJs, I call them TJs – teacher Js,” and I thought “Wow! This lady really gets it.” Now of course our facilitators are playing music, but in reality they are guiding people. The music is structured in such a way that it guides people along a certain experience. Our teachers pay close attention to what’s happening on the dance floor.

If they see someone struggling, they could change the song or even do something as simple as getting on the microphone and reminding everyone to breathe. And it takes training to do that. You have to have an emotional intelligence to hold space for 150 people and know what’s going on energetically in the room. You have to know when to move from something chaotic to something lyrical, or maybe you can tell the room needs to go into stillness.

Burners embracing at RhythmWave.
Burners embracing at RhythmWave.

What do you see as RhythmWave’s role on the Playa?

Both RhythmWave and the 5Rhythms practice provide a container, a space so people can experience what is true for them at that moment. All kinds of things happen at Burning Man that really crack us open, and we provide a safe space so that can flow through us. After a super wild night on the Playa, people can come to RhythmWave in the morning and really ground themselves, metabolize that information. Even something as simple as dancing barefoot on this bamboo floor allows people to really ground into it, breathe and feel their bodies come home to themselves.

One of the first things people do when they arrive is check in with their body. We have a saying in 5Rhythms, “Put your body in motion and the psyche will heal itself,” and it’s true. But first, the psyche will feel itself. First you can feel your feet. Where am I right now? Am I really feeling myself? Then you put this into motion and truly discover what it is you are feeling, and through that we can begin to heal. We can discover both the lightness of being and also the depth of our experience, riding that wave and coming out the other side.

But also by bringing 5Rhythms to the Playa, we are doing a significant outreach for that community. It’s good publicity for the practice, but it also gives people a chance to explore it when they don’t have teachers in their hometown.

Why is it so important to provide a safe space?

At Burning Man in particular it is important to have a safe space because people are really open from all of their experiences, so there’s a huge vulnerability there. But when you are in that safe space you can move into it, really lean into it. That might mean you can be vulnerable enough to cry, to feel shaky, but also to ask for help from those around you.

I remember I had a profound dance with someone a lot younger than me but whom I really trusted, and at one point he held me for almost 20 minutes. I told him I really needed this support because of all the feelings that were bubbling up. I want other people to have the heart-opening experiences that I’ve had. It’s all about safety. If you’re not feeling safe, it’s never going to happen.

It helps to know that you’re going to be held by the teacher, but also all the people we bring to the camp need to be really great spaceholders too. I make sure people are being respectful, that no one’s boundaries are being violated. Women in particular need to feel safe on the dance floor, and we work hard to make sure that happens.

dancing 3

How do you see people respond to it?

There are a lot of opportunities for self-growth in 5Rhythms. I’ve been involved for over ten years, and have seen people change and grow over time. I’ve see somebody with a lot of trepidation around expressing themselves on the dance floor. They would sit off in a corner and just watch, and you got a sense that their body was tight, enclosed. But then over the years, as they come to more and more dances and workshops, they open up. They really transform themselves.

And I see this all happen at Burning Man, except it’s over the course of a week. I see somebody on Monday, then see them again on Sunday and it’s clear that they’ve grown so much.

Camp sign

How has the camp changed over the years?

The camp has been running for six years now, and we’ve gotten more efficient along the way. We’re a lot more mature now. We’ve expanded both the dance floor and the shade structure over the years. The first year I only had two teachers, this year I had seven, and next year I’ll have more.

What’s more important though, is that the same people come back year after year to dance with us and they come back with more energy, more depth to bring to the space. It gets more powerful over the years. The dance floor really absorbs the energy of all the dances. The feedback I get is that it’s the best place to be. Some people tell me they wouldn’t go to Burning Man if we weren’t there.

And lastly, I have to ask, where did that bamboo floor come from?

The floor was built by Coyote (John Byrnes) who lives in Santa Cruz, California. He’s amazing. The whole thing is spring-loaded and cut together. It has an underfloor as well. We have to rebuild the panels every year.

It’s super laborious to put it together, and store as well. But as far as I know it’s the only place you can dance barefoot on the Playa, so it’s all worth it to give people that full experience.

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