I tried ecstatic dance to see if it’s the ultimate therapy

Right. Are we ready for this? asks my friend looking me dead in the eye. They were still in the car. We could still go back. I shake my head.

Probably not. But we’ve come this far.

We actually came to a town hall in the middle of nowhere on a Saturday morning to try something none of us had ever done before: ecstatic dancing. Not to be confused with any standard workout, this isn’t some body-pumping class that encourages you to do an embarrassing approximation of a twerk while dressed in exorbitantly expensive Lululemon sportswear. This is supposedly closer to therapy.

And there couldn’t be a more appropriate time to try it than after recent research revealing that dance is one of the best cures for depression on the planet. Australian researchers published a study The BMJin February 2024 showed that the most effective form of exercise in reducing symptoms of depression was dance, beating out walking, running, yoga, tai chi and strength training. Not only that, it also outperformed cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

I wasn’t surprised at all when I saw these results. I’ve tried almost every form of dance at one point or another, from ballet to Irish dancing as a kid (the latter earned me a guest appearance on The game of the generation, the undisputed highlight of my media career) for tap, disco, street and Latin in my teenage years. During my drama degree, I took a whole module in interpretive dance, led by a slightly off-kilter choreography tutor who once put us through an hour-long performance using just her eyebrows. I now spend Tuesday nights in a sweaty room full of menopausal women doing Zumba at my local gym. And at 37, I still regularly do Big Nights Out and book festival tickets just so I can dance for hours with impunity.

But I still remember the first time I fully understood that dancing was more than just a fun pastime. In my early twenties Id suffered my first proper heartbreak after a sudden dump. There is very little that is as painful as that initial time. Age and life experience really dulls the sting; the scars of battle pile up, and while separations still hurt, it’s never the same searing, white agony that is exacted on a soft, unblemished heart. Cat Stevens perhaps said it best when he sang The first cut is the deepest.

Dance is more effective at treating depression than CBT and SSRIs, study finds


So, you get the picture. I was distressed, with all the classic accompanying symptoms: insomnia, lack of appetite, and, worst of all for a pathologically optimistic person, anhedonia, the inability to enjoy or even be interested in anything. This didn’t change for over a month until, one day, I was listening to music as the sunlight streamed in through the window and I suddenly felt like dancing. I was present in my body for the first time in weeks. There was no conscious thought, just the deep rooted knowing that he felt the movement good. A little spark of joy that I thought was extinguished forever came back to life.

Fast forward 14 years and here I am, at the town hall, getting ready to join a room full of strangers and dance my emotions out, I’m Ken style. This seems a lot less discreet than my solo epiphany, after all there will be witnesses.

We enter the room, greeted by the soft-spoken facilitator, Sasha, and the sight of about 10 participants rolling on the floor and stretching while soft music plays. I have a sudden irrepressible vision of the iconic episode of Peep Showwhere Mark Corrigan attends a Rainbow Rhythms class. I’ve walked into my own personal nightmare, he runs his internal monologue as he enters the room. It must remain without tension Even if they make me play confidence exercises with their genitals.

Sometimes my eyes are closed, sometimes they are open and I watch with quiet joy as the people around me lose themselves in the music and the movement.

Before the session really begins, however, there is an opening circle and an introduction that helps reduce the feeling of discouragement. We were told more about what ecstatic dance really is for the benefit of newcomers: a movement practice to explore the exhilarating feeling of moving the body freely. If you feel inhibited at any point, we suggest you close your eyes, listen to music and come back to your breath and body, says Sasha. The point is to move but the music inspires you not to think, just feel. It is to take advantage of something primordial; the epitome of the old dance like no one else watching banality.

There are no rules, per se, other than respecting the space and personal boundaries of other peoples. While it is possible to dance with other people, there is certainly no expectation of this and you can only do this if the other person is clearly open to it.

A final note, or perhaps a warning: this practice can cause great emotions. Even though it’s called ecstatic dancing, they won’t necessarily be happy that you might find feelings of anger or sadness stirring. I scoff internally; I’ve never felt anything like that while dancing.

And then they were off to the races. I describe myself as a natural exhibitionist in many ways and I don’t feel overly self-conscious. However, perhaps because of this, I find that I am in over my head; I’m used to dancing for an audience, it feels like a kind of performance. This is almost the opposite, requiring you to tune in to what’s going on internally and what the music might be asking you to express, rather than focusing on external aesthetics.

Ecstatic dance is completely unchoreographed, encouraging you to embrace free movement


A man behind the back decks handles the transitions and picks the songs. Although I was expecting music from the hippie world, the selection is surprisingly eclectic. At one point, my friend and I are in the same corner of the room, happily strutting our stuff to a remix of Missy Elliotts Get Ur Freak On. In another, a classical piano piece segues into my childhood ballet classes and I feel a wave of nostalgia wash over me as I do a pirouette.

Time becomes elastic; I have no idea how long we’ve been dancing or how much time we have left. I’m not sure when it happened, but the brain part of me has been replaced by pure instinct. Sometimes my eyes are closed, sometimes they are open, and I watch with quiet joy as the people around me lose themselves in the music and the movement.

Sometimes I feel compelled to fill the space to travel through it, growing bigger and bigger like an ever-expanding balloon full of joy. Sometimes I find myself shrinking, going down to the ground, feeling the pull of the earth. The beat drops: I’m sweating; i’m smiling I seem to have lost the plot and couldn’t care less.

But the truly amazing incident happens during the penultimate issue. Its Lambs My Angel Gabriel an evocative song that never fails to punch me right in the solar plexus. The next thing I know, I’m crying. It is not a solitary tear, subtle and elegant, but an undeniable torrent. God, I’m dancing crying, I think hysterically. Sasha was right. It’s actually happening. It’s like all the pain I’ve experienced over the past year is pouring out of my eyes. They were far enough down the rabbit hole that I feel no shame or embarrassment. I continue to silently cry as I, yes, dance my feelings away. It’s weird, sad, and ridiculously cathartic. There is pain but there is healing. Casun the pot

I continue to silently cry as I, yes, dance my feelings away. It’s weird, sad, and ridiculously cathartic

We ended the session with a closing circle, where we were invited to share insights from the experience if we wished. Again, a Peep Show Rainbow Rhythms refers to my thoughts.

There was a lot of new energy in the room tonight, and some of it was just soRainbow Rhythms, and some of them were like that noRainbow Rhythms, says a participant during the episode.

Well, listen, I’m sorry if I didn’t get it right and I’m sorry if you assume that I eat red meat and I don’t necessarily think money or Tony Blair is a bad thing, but if there’s no place here for people who object to everything you believe So what kind of hippie is this? Mark answers.

A fair point. I can’t imagine any of the people in our group being that judgmental. Still: I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, I’ve waved my hands in the air like I don’t care, and I’ve danced like no one was watching. I definitely feel it so Rainbow Rhythms right now. And I’ll definitely be back for more, after all, it’s a lot cheaper than therapy.

#ecstatic #dance #ultimate #therapy
Image Source : www.independent.co.uk

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