The Ecstasy of Dance
By Silas Rose Oct 13th, 2020
Every generation has a reason to rebel and every rebellion has a sound track.
I grew up in the retirement hamlet of Qualicum Beach in the 1980s, the golden era of hip hop and punk. I was too young to really appreciate the message behind the music, but I embraced the physicality of it… how it moved me.
The mosh pit
The west coast was an incubator for a vibrant alternative music scene at the time. Soon after graduating from high school I moved to Victoria and discovered bands like No Mean No, Fugazi, Fishbone and DOA.
The beating heart of this community was the mosh pit. No live performance would be complete without a swirling, sweaty mass of bodies at the front of room, all writhing to the pulse of the band.
From the outside this display seemed chaotic or even violent, but for those brave enough to enter it was a catharsis like no other, a blissful release of pent up adolescent angst and rage.
Despite the boiling over of raw emotion, it was rare that anyone got hurt. More often than not if someone was pushed to the ground multiple hands would come to the rescue. In the mosh pit I found an unlikely sense of camaraderie with total strangers.
By the turn of millennium the punk scene had mostly waned, for me at least. I played drums in a couple of bands and it was becoming clear I was rapidly aging out.
Having been so absorbed in one genre of music for over a decade, rave and the emerging new sound of house and techno music seemed to come out of no where.
To my untrained ear techno was cold, mechanical and painfully repetitive. The missing ingredient was drugs, but that wasn’t really my thing. Only when I heard it at volume did I finally understand what I was missing.
My first rave was in 1995. I tagged along with some friends to a discreet location about an hour north of Victoria. I felt old, really old. Most attendees were teenagers, but this didn’t stop me from dancing the night away.
The pounding four on the floor beat, low frequencies bass lines and contact high from other dancers was enough to induce gnosis.
My love of electronic music evolved in clubs and small festivals that catered to underground music, rather than the all night warehouse parties, which were quickly becoming a parody of youth culture. I also began to collect music and dabble in DJing.
Despite being in my forties I still managed to stay up past midnight and have a good time. Coffee and the company of an eager middle aged wingman helped. We were a spectacle for the twenty-somethings, who approached dance more as a mating ritual.
“Who invited the dads?” I was too old to be a raver.
Soon after my 45th birthday a friend introduced me to 5 Rhythms, a form of ecstatic dance.
The ecstasy of dance is illusive. Even if the music, sound system, people, and venue were perfect, it would still take me hours to reach any kind of bliss.
Condensing ecstasis into a 2 hour lightly facilitated dance class seemed like an impossibility, but to my surprise the code had been cracked.
The founder of 5 Rhythms, Gabrielle Roth among other pioneers of free form dance, found a way to tap into something primordial within the human experience and it had a name – the wave.
As any good DJ knows, the magic is in the journey invoked by the music.
A wave is a progression of mood, tempo, and intensity all building to a peak. Reminiscent of ancient tribal drum and dance rituals the wave creates a powerful collective experience. If one respects this basic formula the blessing descend.
The first couple of years in this dance community were awkward as I began to relate to dance as a relational practice. The invitation and safety to explore both connection and loneliness feels very raw at times.
A microcosm of life
To describe any form of conscious dance as ecstasy is perhaps a bit misleading. Moments of freedom and bliss are often followed by stuckness, the familiar repeating patterns that constrict our vision of what is possible. The only antidote is to keep moving, keep opening.
Life is the dance and I am less concerned now about aging out.