As I am not from Northern California, nor am I a joiner — especially if it involves exercise cults/classes. I didn’t know Ecstatic Dancing was thing.
I was under the impression I was being dragged to something called “Static Dancing” and since I was very tired, I thought it might be a nice place to take a nap. Not that I am especially excited about the concept of a group nap —but the alternative would have been falling asleep outside on an uncomfortable folding portable chair. Plus I thought some music would be nice.
Also I had a persistent friend I don’t see nearly often enough pleading with me to come with her. (I would later learn this friend teaches Zumba — so yes, I shall be more vigilant about a full interview process next time I open myself up to others).
I should also mention we were at a high school theatre festival and I’m not really my true self around the other field trip moms. I morph into the PTA version of me — not exactly a joiner, but a do-er. In this mode I lose all ability to say no, which is why I always end up as one of the “Same Ten People” who get stuck planning and executing shit. I blame this on being a Girl Scout. They get you so young and all leadership biz gets grafted into your bones and you can’t shake it — even when you’ve embraced a rebellious streak in your teens and a general apathy for life as an adult.
Before this devolves into a therapy session, let me get to the point. I left our cozy little home base under a tree to participate in what I thought was a “Static Dance” workshop, but I entered the class to find it was actually “Ecstatic Dance.”
Obviously, I was not amused, but I also didn’t know how to tell the pushy, smily Bay Area babe in colorful spandex leggings telling me to take off my shoes that I wasn’t staying. My Pumas went onto the pile and I slid in my socks into the middle of the shiny polished cafeteria floor.
I have a feeling the Ecstatic Dance community’s mellow would be harshed by calling them rules.
Apprehensive is not a strong enough word for my feelings once we were instructed to sit in the floor in the circle and start stretching. With a name like Ecstatic Dance you’d think this would be all kinds of hippie dippy free form fun, but there are rules — nay “guidelines.” Like “No Cell Phones” — so I couldn’t google what to expect and not knowing was giving me a mini-panic attack. Also, our teacher/guide person called it “movement meditation” and that is a major red flag. Yoga may be all fine and good, but I can’t do it because I refuse to be left alone with my thoughts. There was a strong Yoga-esque vibe in the room.
I also didn’t dig the “No Talking on the Dancefloor” guideline. I am either delighted or disgusted by life being lived around me and as such I like to share my snarky observations not only in this column, but also in person. So, this no talking to my audience/friends was going to be rough.
You also can’t wear shoes (which is a great rule, had I time to prepare with a pedicure).
Showing up drunk or drugged, is also a no-go. As is taking pictures or video (fair enough, I didn’t want visual proof of this endeavor).
The biggest rule is “Respect the Space”. Other’s space, the collective space, etc. The dance floor is the altar of this freeform movement temple. It’s a sacred space. If you want to dance with a fellow congregant, you need to make eye contact and feel their “yes” and on the flip side respect their “no” if they won’t look at you. Though the polite thing to do is put your hands together in prayer position at your heart to indicate you prefer a solo dancing groove. It’s all ritual, baby.
And so there I was, a woman in her 40’s, lying on the cold high school cafeteria floor.
Stretching in a group is one thing. I suck at stretching, but I can fake it. I know the moves. I can also hold in my farts, which, let me tell you, is not a universal talent. But when you make me lie on my back on the cold hard ground, um no.
It’s one thing to realize you are in your 40’s going while going through your normal daily routine, but it’s absolutely another thing — an absurd thing — when you come to terms with your age while on your back on a cafeteria floor. Forget about the racing though of gross high school kid shoes that have tread here and the nasty food dropped there, that’s just white noise to obscenities your back is screaming at you.
Thankfully, the panic and plotting over how I would escape my current position on the ground while wearing socks with absolutely no traction on the waxed up polyurethane coated vinyl floor allowed me to miss the quiet inner reflection time pre-dancing. Also, FYI, I made it to my feet, fabulously un-gracefully, but without help.
It’s like dancing around your room, except other people are there, and you don’t have control over the music.
The dancing is just free-form movement in a judgement-free zone. So, basically it’s what you do when you are dancing alone in your room. It wasn’t hard to just let go. Not that I care if I look stupid, but if I was that person I think I would have gotten over any hesitate to let loose pretty quickly. There’s an amazing power in being in room full of people who are just as awkward and uncoordinated as you.
Of course, some people danced beautifully — but I wasn’t bitter. I just pretended I was just as naturally flowy and fabulous.
Soon enough, I didn’t feel tired any more and I was into it. Though I can’t promise you that I was doing any kind of meditation or soul-searching. Though I did have thoughts such as:
- This would be so much better if I was high.
- I don’t even need to be high, a two Cuba Libre buzz would be sufficient because this is pretty fun on its own.
- Ugh, this music sucks.
- I wonder how many FitBit steps I’m racking up.
- Play Madonna! Damn you! That’s not Madonna!
- I’m going to write my column about this.
- Oooooh “Puttin’ on the Ritz” – I’m going to tap dance.
- Tap dancing in socks on this floor isn’t a wise choice.
- If we were all on drugs this would be like a Rave with better fashion choices.
- Remember when that psycho Emily took Brandon to the rave on 90210 and they had to bring the egg to the liquor store? Emily probably does Ecstatic Dance now.
- Would I pay $30 a class to do this? Probably not, however, I should go dancing at a club. I miss going dancing.
- I’d probably actually connect with myself if there were cocktails.
- Who could I convince to go dancing with me? Is there an 80’s night somewhere? I wish I could check my phone.
- I’m going end up sore tomorrow.
- Oooooh Katy Perry! I love Katy Perry.
Connecting. Tears. Oh crap, did this spiritually New-Age voodoo work on me or is it just PMS?
Near the end of the hour, the music went into this kind of new-age-y spa waiting room place and we were supposed to go back to the circle for a cool-down stretch. The dance high-priestess (really a drama teacher from San Francisco, I suspect) gave us reassuring and calming words of enlightenment though it reached my ears more like a softer, sedate Charlie Brown adult mwah-mwah-mwah as I mentally freaked about having to get back down on the floor. Tempting fate twice is not the way I roll. Anymore. And for a reason.
We held hands. Some people knew the rocking of hands things a little too well. Theatre students from Walnut Creek or Sonoma, I suspect. We all had to say our names. I resisted the urge to make one up. See…already this has made me a team player.
Some people talked about how it made them feel. How the music guided their spirit. One of my mom friends said it was like dancing with her daughter around the house after the older siblings had gone off to school and now her daughter is graduating so this was perfectly full circle. That was exactly what it was like!
Ecstatic Dance is like when you hang out with a kid you love and their freedom, hope and energy is so electric it’s contagious, so you throw your inhibitions to the fucking curb because you never want this kid to know the harsh reality of being a grown-ass adult with all it’s rules, decorum, and tediousness. So, you dance like you’re rolling on molly, the way only sober little kids can. It’s all pure joy. You get ahead of the music just enough to be in the moment completely.
My kids are going be Seniors next year. We used to dance like that. Cue the waterworks.
Ten minutes later, the Pumas are back on and I’m going to the Chaperone Lounge to coffee-up and eat bagels. I clocked 6,000 steps give or take. I had to pee. My upper back was already hurting, so I was digging a the bottom of my backpack for Advil and bitching about being old. I looked up Ecstatic Dance and the closest one was in a gentrified hip area in L.A.
I wanted to be cynical about this whole thing. I really did, but it was kind of magical. But mostly it was fun. I could have gone to one of the other two sessions that day, but instead I opted to sit around and gossip. Later we got ice cream from a food truck and I had to pop more Advil. The next two days my back was in spasms. I also pulled a muscle in right arm.
But I’m still not mad at Ecstatic Dance.