Ecstatic Dance in London
Ecstatic dance is not new; it’s old, old as the hills. People around the world have been gathering to dance, celebrate, worship and belong for millennia. It’s just that in the Western world, we had a pause. According to historian Barbara Ehrenreich, from around 1600 AD, group activity of this kind was wiped out by organised religion, the needs of emerging capitalism and social control. People lost the instinct for group cavorting, for carnival, for fun. The power of group energy was lost. It lay dormant for hundreds of years.
Ecstatic Dance London, the 1960s
It took the social revolution of the 1960s, the break up of an old order, for group ecstasy in the form of free dancing to re-emerge. In London, the ‘Swinging Sixties’ (1960s) were about the embracing of modernity, youth and fun-loving hedonism. The ground was fertile for beginnings of new things, which in the case of groups gathering for fun and freedom, turned out to the re-establishment of a very old story.
5 Rhythms Dance, the 1990’s
5 Rhythms Dance was the first conscious dance practice to emerge, ‘free’ dancing where groups of people were encouraged to follow their own impulses and just move, free of drugs or alcohol, in any way their body wanted. Ecstatic Dance arrived during the 1990s in London. The beat caught on. Echoes of shamanism, whirling dervishes of the Sufi tradition, African ritual dance and Carnival became a remembered rhythm in the West.
The Rave Scene
By this time the rave scene and a new drug, Ecstasy, was well established. My own story connects here: I was in my 20s and keen for a party. Being in a warehouse with hundreds of people, or in a field with thousands at a festival, was about as good as life could get. Little did I know I was following an instinct of ancient generations.
Personal Growth and Therapeutic Enquiry
As hangovers and late nights became a burden, I was drawn to Transpersonal Psychotherapy, also a product of the 1960s revolution, with deep roots in ancient Eastern traditions. I realised there was a crossover in my daytime and night time pursuits: what was taking place on the dance floor of London clubland and raves had echoes and vibrations of other ways into deeper consciousness that I was discovering in the world of personal growth and therapeutic enquiry.
Spirit in the House
I developed ‘Spirit in the House’, a workshop to explore the rave scene in a non-drug setting. Something was shifting. Many in the tribe could smell the scent.
Ecstatic Dance in London, the ‘Urban Mystic’
Amoda Maa, who was responsible for establishing an early branch of Ecstatic Dance in London, described herself as an ‘Urban Mystic’. She made connections between the world of hedonistic youth wanting to ‘get out of their heads’ at raves, and a deep spiritual yearning for community and connection. Barefoot Doctor described her book, Moving Into Ecstasy, as:
‘The ecstatic experience of a thousand club nights sensitively distilled into an essence you can work – and play – with.’
The flame was lit. Ecstatic Dance began to proliferate both in London and around the world.
Ecstatic Dance UK
Ecstatic Dance UK, ‘London’s epic Ecstatic Dance Community’ runs weekly sessions in Hackney, east London. Their mission is to:
‘Create a safe, sacred space for people to come and express themselves through movement – regardless of age, gender, background, or social status…we believe dancing is a form of therapy which can help us to connect to ourselves and to others.’
Dance the Medicine
Dance the Medicine is an international training school teaching the next generation of leaders in the field of Ecstatic Dance. This is what they say:
‘Ecstatic Dance is an emerging global phenomenon. Conscious Dance practices are quickly becoming as common as yoga classes. There is an undeniable movement sweeping the globe in which we are reclaiming dance as our medicine’.
Conscious Dance in London
My passion for dance and movement practice has not only encouraged me to become a teacher of Ecstatic Dance, Open Floor and to devise Flomotion.dance, I also am a regular attendee at conscious dance nights throughout the capital.
‘Return to Source’
One session I enjoy is ‘Return to Source’, an Ecstatic Dance night in London’s Camden Town. The class begins with ‘smudging’; each person is offered the opportunity to have their energy ‘cleared’ with the smoke of burning sage. This is an old ritual of indigenous peoples. There is then a cacao ceremony, a centuries’ old ritual. Each person is invited to drink a cup of cacao (akin to cocoa). Amongst other things, it is supposed to increase blood flow to the brain, strengthening focus and awareness.
Participants are offered the opportunity to do some or all of the dance with eyes shut to allow a deeper connection to self. There are candles, soulcards, scarves to dance with, possibilities for intention-setting etc The dancing then begins, some of it guided, much is not, and people are encouraged to find their own moves, their own dance. At the end there is time for rest and ‘integration’ to soothing music.
Being Present and the Breath in Movement
The difference between this sort of Ecstatic Dance session and Flomotion dance is that there is no ritual element in Flomotion. We take some time at the beginning to ‘arrive’. Participants are encouraged to stretch and become present to whatever they are experiencing in the moment: mentally, emotionally, physically. There is strong emphasis on attention to breath.
‘Inner Dance’, Guided Dance – The Sounds of London Nightlife
Dancing begins and includes time for ‘inner dance’ with the eyes shut, and some guided dance with the whole group, when we meet live in a venue. There is plenty of time for unfacilitated ‘free dance’, much like at an Ecstatic Dance session. The music is perhaps the biggest difference. The music at flomotion is influenced by club, rave and urban culture. It is the sounds of London nightlife that I -and many others - grew up with; an eclectic mix of reggae, soul, jazz, funk, African, disco, house, Latin, Samba etc. The music at an Ecstatic Dance usually has a more tribal or trance element; mainly tracks without lyrics, and possibly less known music.
Conscious Dance Practice in London
Amongst the many conscious dance practices in London, it might be fair to say that Ecstatic Dance tends to attract a younger, more (ex) clubby crowd. Perhaps a more diverse crowd too. 5 Rhythms Dance and Open Floor which might better be described as movement meditation practices have a more rigorous philosophy and training.
My own offer, Flomotion.dance, grew out of all these traditions. It also grew out of London: the sounds, the clubs, the raves, the social scene, the influences of many cultures and peoples.
Why not come along and try a session? Join us at www.flomotion.dance/bookings
*Link this copy ‘The music at flomotion is influenced…’ to the blog post: Back to the Playlist