On the Playa for six years, RhythmWave is a positively unique dance stage. The camp serves as a beacon for the larger conscious dance movement. This is a companion piece to an interview with Jennifer Paige, aka the Empress of RhythmWave.
If I can’t dance I don’t want to be in your revolution. – Emma Goldman
Nexus. Opulent Temple. Root Society. Disorient. DISTRIKT. Janky Barge and the Disco Fish (if you can find them). These are some of the large sound stages at Burning Man, where we go to dance, to shake our booties and swirl our bodies. We lose ourselves in the music, forget ourselves in the moment, let go of all that is holding us back and flow into it, move into it, groove into it. If you want to party surrounded by lights, fire, beautiful people, heart-pounding bass, climb atop a 20-foot platform, and twirl that LED hoop, head to the corners of the Esplanade.
If you’re looking for a different dancing experience altogether, you’ll need to head away from the enormous lights and stages, away from the Esplanade and deeper into the city. Approaching 4:45 and F (or 4:45 and B, depending on the year), you’ll come across a beautiful 1600-square-foot dance floor made entirely out of bamboo. The waxed, cool and shaded surface allows visitors to dance completely barefoot. The music sounds ethereal, worldly, uplifting and sometimes a bit wompy. The dancers smile and form deep connections on the dance floor, moving together in body and spirit.
The space belongs to camp RhythmWave, a collective devoted to a budding conscious dance movement. The camp brings in conscious dance facilitators and teachers from all over the world to guide dancers on their journey. But what exactly is conscious dance?
Christians go to church and speak about God, we dance in our temples and become God. – African saying
In Christianity and Judaism, it is believed that God said ‘let there be light,’ and the universe was born. The Hindu belief is that in the beginning there was a sound, a universal ‘Aum’ that brought the world into existence. In both cases, life begins with vibration, a principle recently corroborated by quantum mechanics and string theory. In fact, we can say that every spatial and temporal scale from the atomic to the astronomic has a wave-form—from our own heartbeats, brainwaves and breathing to those found in nature such as as night and day, the four seasons, planetary orbits and the spin of electrons.
5Rhythms is a conscious dance practice developed by the late Gabrielle Roth, an American dancer and musician. The practice asserts that “just like light, sound or ocean waves, a dancing body when moving freely passes through five distinct rhythmic patterns: flowing (continuous movement), staccato (pulsing beat), chaos (letting go), lyrical (loss of self), stillness (quiet emptiness).” Through dance we tune ourselves and our bodies to the rhythm of the music, which brings us closer to experiencing the vibratory nature of the universe.
Some might call it being closer to God, or to the great Spirit, or in the words of D.H. Lawrence, to a “Life Everlasting wreathing through the cosmos.” You can think of it however you want, but you must admit, there is something special about dance. Humans have danced for millennia. It provides a container for an indescribable experience.
Jennifer Paige, the Empress of RhythmWave, describes 5Rhythms as “more than just dancing, it is a moving meditation, a moving prayer.” Just as religions provide temples and churches to practice in, so too the conscious dance community provides sacred spaces for dancers.
Donna Caroll, co-founder of Ecstatic Dance East Bay, explained her role in creating a sacred dance space: “Freedom can be found within structure. My job as Sunday morning’s Ecstatic Dance facilitator in Oakland is to help create the sacred space every week, setting the stage for the magic to happen: sweep the floor, create the altar, invite the musicians and DJs, check the sound, light the candles, create an intention, send out prayers… and breathe as the dancers arrive, each with their own unique brand of magic to add to the symphony as we let go and allow the Spirit of the dance, the Spirit of the music, and the Spirit of the space to infuse us with its essence.”
Once that sacred space is established, Ecstatic Dance follows three simple rules: no talking on the dance floor; dance however you wish; and, respect yourself and one another. From there, the magic begins.
Each bodily movement is embedded in a chain of infinite happenings from which we distinguish only the immediate steps and, occasionally, those which immediately follow… In every trace form created by the body, both infinity and eternity are hidden. – Dance artist Rudolf Laban
We perceive and experience this world through our sense perceptions. Thus the more connected we are to our bodies, the more alive we feel. Conscious dance encourages us to pay attention, to shine the light of awareness on these sensations, what in Buddhism is referred to as mindfulness. I like to think of it as the mind getting ‘full’ of experiences and sensations found in the body.
The experience of conscious dance allows one to experience and flow through more senses than one could while sitting in meditation. While we were taught in school that we have only five basic senses (sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste), in reality there at at least nine and perhaps up to 33 senses, depending on how they are defined. Some of the senses most related to dance, for example, include a sense of balance (determined by ear fluid), an awareness of body parts without visual input (proprioception), a sense of acceleration (kinesthetic sense) and a lack or increase of heat on the skin (thermoception).
By going into our bodies and exploring these sensations, we are getting out of our minds and can begin to experience a sense of egolessness, or better yet, a feeling of one with everything. This is why Buddha taught that the body is the gateway to enlightenment and why Buddhist teacher Ajahn Buddhadasa advises meditators “not to do anything that takes you away from your body.”
Vinn Marti, founder of the conscious dance practice Soul Motion, explains:
“The roots of our modality is centered around three areas: the perception of pausing, the orientation of being in orbit, and the inspiration of echoing what is around you. That is our template. We launch from there in a classroom. From that template, we launch into the relationship aspects of dancing alone with one, with all, and then the bringing it out into the world of the everyday.” (from this interview in Conscious Dancer magazine)
The paradox that going deeper into ourselves actually connects us to something greater was similarly expressed by Donna Caroll, referring to ecstatic dance: “We relax and allow our bodies to entrain with one another and we know, without a doubt, we are a part of something greater than ourselves. We become freed from the separation, freed from the heaviness, freed from our mortal worries. In essence, we become more whole, happier human beings through the simplicity of the container and through the magic of the dance.”
To summarize, conscious dance encourages participants to journey deep into their bodies and viscerally experience a natural rhythm and flow. From this place, a feeling of oneness and connection naturally arises with other dancers and the rest of the world. Most importantly, this open space gives participants the freedom to dance however they want, to flow through whatever moves them.
“RhythmWave is a place where people can come home to themselves be with whatever is true for them,” says Jennifer Paige. There are no dance steps to memorize, no right or wrong way to move. If you are feeling ecstatic, great! Jump up and down. But if you are feeling sad or lonely, you can ride the wave of those emotions, too. It’s all OK. This freedom and acceptance allows conscious dancers to truly express their deeper selves.
Life is a dancer, and you are the dance. – Eckhart Tolle
RhythmWave brought an uplifting, enlivening and heart-opening experience to the Playa. On the last day at the camp, facilitators, dancers and teachers took the time to express their gratitude in a final closing ceremony. As the sun descended behind the mountains, tears filled the eyes of the participants as one speaker asked, “Will you keep dancing when the music stops?”
That question has been running through my mind ever since my return, as I wonder how to keep dancing. How do we keep the Burning Man spirit alive? I find it important in these moments to remember one of the most important principles: radical self-expression. Dance is one way we express ourselves, so is art, and so is love. We can’t stop, nor should we. We will never say, “Well, I’ve sufficiently expressed the depths of my experience.”
If Burning Man has taught us anything, it’s that we all have something to contribute. We all have something to share. Even you. Please, share your story, bare your soul. Keep dancing, keep creating, keep loving. When all the temple ashes have all been swept away, keep burning.
Final note: This article was written as an introduction to RhythmWave and the conscious dance movement as a whole. It was completed days before the untimely passing of Gabrielle Roth, creator of 5Rhythms. The author would like to express his deep gratitude to the conscious dance community and sorrow for the passing of such an important, powerful woman.
I find it necessary to conclude the article with Gabrielle’s own words, written for the playa:
Thank you for taking my Spirit
To the Black Rock Desert Dojo
To dance our wildest dreams
May your feet burn beats on bamboo
May the wind blow through you taking all you don’t need
Burning Woman meets Burning Man
By your good graces
By your sweet dreams
By your sweat and prayers
You honor me.
I love you.
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