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Conscious dance, compersion and the music that moves us with Shauna Devlin


Since time immemorial humans have danced in tribal and shamanic ceremonies for healing and social harmony.  The rhythmic beat of a djembe or a subwoofer connects us with the internal rhythm of the heart and entrains us with others. When we move together we co regulate our nervous systems in times of high stress. All over the planet the phenomena of ecstatic dance is breaking down barriers to connection and building diverse communities.  In a time of great uncertainty dance is the perfect medicine for casting off fear and reconnecting to joy.

In this instalment of Awake In Relationship I speak with Shauna Devlin, the founder of Dance Your Ability, a Not for Profit organization that is bringing conscious dance to marginalized populations including elders and the differently abled.  Shauna trained in 5 Rhythms with Gabrielle Roth and has rocked dance floors for over 20 years. In this conversation we explore the many facets and forms of conscious dance from the perspective of a seasoned facilitator and DJ.  We also discuss the power of music and moving together for healing old wounds and how to make dance medicine more accessible to those who need it most.

Show Notes

If you enjoyed this episode on conscious dance you might also enjoy episode 028 dancing on the edge of fear with Anne Marie Hogya


Episode transcripts

intro  0:16  
Hello friends, my name is Silas Rose and this is Awake In Relationship. If you’re a regular listener, you probably know that I am a huge lover of dance. I’ve actually done a few interviews on the topic. I really believe it’s the perfect medicine for this time. And if I was still practicing Chinese medicine, it’d be the one prescription I would give to everyone. Go find yourself a dance floor, it will make you feel better. Since time immemorial, humans have used dance as a form of sacrament, and tribal and ceremonial settings for both healing and social wellbeing. The rhythmic being of a Jjembe  or for that matter, a sub woofer connects us with the internal rhythm of the heart. When we move to the beat with others, we also discover something so missing in our world these days, a deep sense of connection. I see dance is really a form of co regulation in public space. It’s no wonder that ecstatic dance, a form of conscious dance has really exploded in the past few years. And in a time when there’s so much change and things feel like they’re just falling apart everywhere. This form of dance is really breaking down barriers to connection, and building community in a most exquisite way. In this episode, we can relationship I speak with a returning guest, Shauna Devlin, the founder of Dance Your Ability, a not for profit that is bringing conscious dance to traditionally underserved communities, including elders, and the differently abled. Shauna trained in fine rhythms under Gabrielle Roth, and has been rocking dance floors for over 20 years. In this conversation, we explore the many facets and practices of conscious dance. From the perspective. of a seasoned facilitator, and DJ. We also discussed the healing power of music and moving together, and how to make this medicine more accessible in the world. So regardless, whether in your seasoned dancer, or just dance curious, this episode is for you.
Silas Rose  3:10  
Shauna Devlin, welcome back to the show. You were actually one of my first interviews back in 2020.  I think it was before the pandemic, so might have been 2019. And at that time, you were, I think just about to launch Dance Your Ability. So maybe you can give us a little bit of a update on when you’ve been up to
Shauna Devlin  3:34  
Yeah, so that was the first DYA training that we offered that I offered back then it was me was 2019, 2020 and then COVID hit. So during those years, we did have two or three online, and then one in person and Vancouver. Which was great. And now we’re  going to Calgary, Victoria and Toronto. It’s exciting to bring it to these places. So this the way we’ve formatted the training now is it’s two weekends in person a month apart. And then within that month, there’s four zoom sessions, were things that we can do online that we don’t have to do in person so that the intention is that when we’re in person, we really, you know, practice and so people, participants really get to step in front of the group and try some of the tools on and really practice leading which is more of a challenge on Zoom. 
Silas Rose  4:51  
Yeah, it might be interesting to just explore what is conscious dance?
Shauna Devlin  5:20  
So of course, when we think of dance, we think of, like dance class, like ballet, or performance stuff, or we think of partner dance, perhaps like Latin dance, or something, you know, dance, the word dance brings up a lot. Sometimes people will immediately go back to being 13 at their first high school dance and have experienced that sort of painful moment, or maybe being a child and doing your free dance and someone saying, oh, you know, settle down or, in boys can’t do that, or whatever society stuff is telling us. So conscious dance essentially, is a place where a facilitator or a DJ is going to create a music set. And following an arc or a wave, generally, not always, but that’s how I work and the five rhythms works with that, that style. So the music starts off sort of slow, and it builds and it Criss ends, it has a peak, and then it comes out the other side. And what people are invited to do is to move to their response to that music, whatever that looks like. And so they might, someone might come in really tired. And they’re invited to move with tired or so it’s, it’s, it’s an embodiment, practice, right? It’s a community, it’s can be very therapeutic. It’s not therapy, per se, but it is very, I mean, I’ve had countless people say to me, I just did five years of therapy in an hour and a half class. It’s a place to release to place to check in, like, how am I feeling, I’m gonna move my shoulders and and then it’s like, wow, I’m really tight. So then I’m gonna spend some time there. And all of a sudden, there’s a some release, we can work with emotion, and dance, partner work solo work, it’s all there. So depending on the modality and the intention, lots can happen. An ecstatic dance is different. And it’s not generally facilitated. It’s more of a kind of conscious rave in a way, like there’s just that difference. So there’s a real space just to move and dance and and then conscious dance generally is done by a person that’s done some sort of training or facilitator and they said, they’re going to facilitate throughout. And so really different different kinds of vibes ecstatic dances tend to be larger, a little bit higher energy, but not always. And so they they crossover, but there is some difference there.
Silas Rose  8:20  
Here in Victoria, we are blessed with Dance Temple, certainly Sunday morning there can be over 150 people in the room sometimes. So I love that idea. You know, it’s kind of like a rave with less,
Shauna Devlin  8:37  
Less intoxicants and the that part and it’s, you know, and it has a start and a finish. Yeah, there’s a beginning and an end. And those are generally held with some intention and sacredness. And then there’s a big dance in the middle. And then with conscious dance, you can work with themes, there can be a teaching involved, you know, partner exercises, conversations, things like that. So dance your ability. What I saw is that I would go into outreach settings, and I wasn’t really doing the five rhythms per se, who I am is from my practice, which is the five rhythms and I any space I walk into, I’m bringing that’s my practice, right? It’s my, it’s everything. It’s my spirituality, it’s my meditation. It’s my embodiment practice. So it holds a lot for me. But I wasn’t really doing that it was different and but my goal was to give people space to experience the goal of conscious dance, that goal, that ecstatic dance where you just get to do your dance. And it’s so miraculous and it’s so beautiful. And so much joy happens and with joy, there’s always the sadness so we get to dance with The sadness and we get to dance with the joy and we feel connected.
Silas Rose  10:03  
I am a real lover of electronic music. Which really, you know, goes back to the 90s which I guess I was a bit late coming to the party in terms of rave, but it lite a fire for me, especially in terms of dance. There was something really, I found quite raw about the music particularly like techno and early in dubstep, there was  kind of a punk element to it. I’m curious if you ever spent time at the rave in those days?
Shauna Devlin  10:43  
 I didn’t. I was busy in discotheques in the Caribbean. My family lived down in Dominican Republic and St. Lucia during that time. And so I, I also worked in the ski industry. So I would come to Canada for the winters and then be in the Caribbean for the summers. So I missed that was being the late 80s. And most of the 90s I moved back to Canada and the night late 90s. But I started a family so I was living on a gulf island. So I was I missed those the raves. But I was busy in Latin American style, like I was really enthralled with Latin dance Marvin Gaye and salsa. It was like almost 10 years of being fully immersed every single night born in the discotheque
Silas Rose  11:39  
back then the DJs were really kinda like gods, in terms of the magic they weaved. It’s sort of a different story these days,  in a sense, you know, everyone’s a DJ. The barrier to entry has been lowered, you know, you don’t really have to learn how to beat match. And you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars on records, you can just buy mp3 files. So in some sense I feel like the the art of DJing has been maybe a bit watered down because of that. What distinguishes a good DJ from, from the herd?
Shauna Devlin  12:24  
Well, one that, you know, makes you feel your feelings, probably, that’s what I mean, I think that DJs that dance, make good DJs
Silas Rose  12:37  
Is that not a given,
Shauna Devlin  12:39  
No, I you know, there’s been some I’ve seen over the years that I’m like, Do you dance? And I don’t think it is a given. But and that’s okay, too. There’s a lot that’s transmitted. So a good DJ, you have to have some good skills, of course. And I think you have to have such a deep love for music, but music outside of yourself as well. So there’s a real like, you can be a real music nerd. But that doesn’t mean that you can you know, which ones to play for group. So there’s always that fine line, like when, if I mentor anyone on playing music, I’d like to remind them like that song that you think is so great. But you have to break down why it’s great for you. And it could often it’s a memory that’s attached to it, you know, or moment where you’ve felt it, and it just doesn’t translate to a floor. Like me a lot. A few years ago, I played something. And in its day, it was an 80s. Song. In its day, it was great. But and sometimes those off, a lot of those songs can translate and still be current, but just didn’t work. And I realized it was like one of my tracks from when I was whatever how older I was 15 or something. And I yeah, anyway, it’s, I don’t know, I think that if a DJ can be really in tune with themselves, but also with the audience or the group that they’re working with. And that’s the thing like, I don’t work. I use that word audience. That’s, that’s not my place to play. I’ve played for audiences, and it doesn’t really work
Silas Rose  14:26  
Yeah, there’s some exchange.
Shauna Devlin  14:29  
Yeah, like I don’t like being the entertainment. And I like creating a community space rather than being the entertainment. In my time I have DJed for weddings or parties or whatever it is because that people have come to my event. And they felt good and they’re like, I want that at my wedding, but it’s so different, like people are coming to a wedding and they want to have fun, they’re gonna have some alcohol , so one lady came up to me one time she was drunk, what are you gonna play some disco. And so that’s not my thing. So there’s so many different types of DJs. And there’s so many different venues within conscious dance or rave community or festivals. And so, for me, I’m creating a journey. And that’s what I like to do. And even like, I play a lot of dance temples, which I would deem ecstatic dance. And those can even start to wear on me a little bit, because of the lack for me the lack of connection, and where it’s just me playing music. And I don’t get to stop and say, Okay, let’s try this, or let’s create some art together, or things. And so, the ecstatic dance world can get a little bit lacking for me. So, and it’s amazing to have, you know, 100 200 people dancing their faces off together is beautiful. So I don’t mean to take away from that. I’m just talking about my experience.
Silas Rose  16:10  
In your work with Dance Your Ability, you probably play out more than a lot of club DJs. Which makes me wonder how you prepare in advance. 
Shauna Devlin  16:19  
That is a good question. Yeah, I mean, I’m, I have, I have my way, like, I consider myself to be an artist. And that sort of like an artist, I kind of feel, you know, like the Tarot deck. That’s how I feel with the music because I have so much music, I let things surface, I let songs come to the top. And, and then I see what’s there. Then I also have a reading disability. So I can’t just say, Oh, that song by John Smith, let’s find that song by John Smith. I don’t know the names of tracks. Of course, I know, some but not I don’t know, many. So I have a way of organizing them with certain words. And so I find music that way. So again, it’s sort of like a tarot deck, I never if I type in, you know, it would say just with five rhythms in the five rhythms practice, for those that don’t know, is created by Gabrielle Roth in the 70s. And it’s a beautiful practice, but we follow a map with five different rhythms and first rhythm is flowing. So within my library, I’ll have things tagged under flowing, and then there’ll be sub tags, like flowing inertia, or flowing into staccato, or whatever my thing is. So then I never know what songs are actually going to come up, because I’ve tagged them. And so then I have a pool to look at. But so say, preparing for a dance your ability class, of course, it depends on the group. And if I’m working with people that say, are living with dementia, then I’m going to pick music of their generation only. That’s how I work. I do see some people to other like they play current music, but I just I’m in there for the medicine. And I know that medicine happens when they hear music from their generation. And of course, they can hear new music, that’s not a problem. But that’s just not the way I go about it. So I just go in and I listen to listen to tracks, and I like I’ve gotten very good at having my library’s much bigger with music from the 40s and the 50s. I only play songs that I really like. Because that’s another thing is to embody the music that you’re playing. And I think that’s really important. But save for a five rhythms event, I Okay, since I work, I have a say I’ve got three events for the week. I have playlists, I open up playlists, create a playlist, I should say. And then throughout the week, I just throw songs. And as I’m always listening to music, and not always but I go, I go for walks to listen to music, and I’ll just put them in those playlists like oh, that’s a good dance temple song. Or that’s perfect for the theme I’m working with with the five rhythms class, or Oh, that’d be a fun one for kids. That’d be a good one to get them moving. And then then I have those playlists and then when I go to work with that playlist for that event, I tag any songs that haven’t been tagged, so I’m constantly organizing my music. Organization is for me, I think the number one thing for working with music, otherwise, you’ll just drown.
Silas Rose  19:39  
I feel in my limited experience in DJing that it’s incredibly vulnerable to playing music. The art is really about managing your internal state. When you are actually enjoying the music and really into the music then chances are people are going to dance. How do you manage your internal state?
Shauna Devlin  20:08  
You know, when I first started, I remember, like literally pushing play and looking away from the dancers, because I was too nervous to see how they were going to respond. Now I surrender to the dance. And you know, I have a lot of years and a lot of hours like I work a lot. I say yes, I don’t say yes to everything anymore. But I used to say yes to everything. Because I knew the way for me to to get better was to do it. I’m not going to learn in my office by myself. I need to be with people and be courageous and push play and fail and flump and, and do other things. But you know, honestly, I’ve I have played music since I was younger. I often gravitated towards the stereo, you know, back in the olden days, it was records and I was really comfortable looking at someone’s record collection and picking what to listen to and stuff I that was a place that I liked to hang out. And so, and I grew up in a really musical, not not instruments, but they didn’t my mom and stepdad had a massive record collection. And they played music all the time. So it’s comfortable for me to play music. But it is a painful thing like where you put a song on, like you say you say so there’s different venues right, like dance temple, people come and go, they can arrive whenever they want, they can leave whenever they want. They can leave the space and go and talk. Whereas if it’s a class or a workshop people are in. So when things get uncomfortable, we move through it. And if it’s a dance, Temple, ecstatic dance situation, go I’m uncomfortable, or I don’t like this song I’m out of here. So in that container can get kind of loose. And for me, that’s really hard. I don’t like that. I’m like, yeah, so maybe you don’t like this song. But look, this person does. And they’re part of our community. So I like to call that love, that love of music and movement. It’s like, that’s their language. And so this, you don’t speak this language, but that person does. So look to them, and look how they’re moving to this music. And that’s their language. So like, fall in love with that
Silas Rose  23:05  
I think the term is coompersion.
Shauna Devlin  23:10  
Compersion. I don’t know that word. 
Silas Rose  23:13  
Basically, it’s taking joy in the joy of others, 
Shauna Devlin  23:17  
Ah, I love it. Yes, I’m gonna look at that.
Silas Rose  23:21  
One of the reasons I love conscious dance is it really feels like something I can grow on with.
Shauna Devlin  23:28  
I hope so. I hope that yeah, I because I’ll still want to dance and I trust that others will still want to dance. And yeah, I don’t. I hope that. Yeah, I don’t know if my body wants to carry speakers into my 70s but maybe am is still good for you. You know, it’s just the lugging of the speakers is a funny thing. I mean, I don’t dislike it is just a funny thing. Yeah, 100% I want to keep playing music for people to move their bodies. And this I mean, this is my current profession, and I hope that it’s also my profession and retirement and I hope to not retire and just keep keep. I just, I it’s just the best medicine and it’s the place where magic is created and it never gets old. 
Silas Rose  24:28  
Well Shauna, thank you so much for the chat and people want to find out more about the dance, your ability trainings coming up, where can they go?
Shauna Devlin  24:40  
They can go the website danceyourability.com and you can visit me at Shawnadevlin.net yet. We’re out there and doing really amazing work and the other thing too, even if you’re not interested in the training, but it’s to go on Instagram and follow dance your ability on Instagram because we have a lot of representation there, so all different bodies, all different ages, sizes, and doing dance. And so that’s another thing I’m really passionate about is representation. I truly believe in representation. So the more we can represent different colors and sizes and shapes and abilities, that is just a better world. 
Silas Rose  25:50  
Well see you on the dance floor.


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