Are you seeking ecstatic dance Big Island style? Or looking to learn more about what ecstatic dance is? Most know it as an eccentric, potentially awkward, and utterly life-changing practice of liberated, unmediated physical expression in the presence of total strangers. For some, it is therapeutic, even transformative. Others, however, denigrate the practice as a sober rave for untamed hippies. This unique form of modern dance, void of rigidity or technique, is associated with a broad array of connotations that render the concept difficult to navigate and, to many, quite intimidating.
We have observed that most people misunderstand the true nature of ecstatic dance. What many believe to be a left leaning, new-age phenomenon actually derives from centuries of cultural expression and spiritual practice. Ecstatic dance isn’t just for hippies, and it’s not about partying. It transcends the philosophy of dance, the culture of hook ups, and all of the distorted modern notions of the mind-body connection to foster authentic, unmediated communication between the intrinsic self, the extrinsic body, and the universe. It is an energizing form of therapy, an occasion for fun, a form of meditation—whatever you, as the ecstatic dancer, want it to be.
After hosting Bodhidevi’s first Full Moon Ecstatic Dance event, we decided to shed a little more light on the practice in this week’s blog! If you are looking into the new types of ecstatic dance Big Island has to offer, check out our next event.
What is Ecstatic Dance?
What exactly is ecstatic dance? Well, it’s just what it sounds like—an ecstatic form of dance. Of course, “ecstatic” and “dance” are entirely relative. That’s only to say that the definition of ecstatic dance can only be determined by the individual desires and experiences of the dancer.
For some, ecstatic dance Big Island style is a workout. For others, it is a form of therapy, or a chance to be part of a community. Still others practice ecstatic dance to commune with a high power, or to allow a greater energy or consciousness to manifest in the physical body—a “trance dance.” The significance of the practice is 100% relative to the experience of the dancer.
The most basic definition of ecstatic dance is a form of improvisational movement that is unmediated by consciousness and fear. Ecstatic dance calls us to move in accordance with the compulsions of body and soul. It asks us to be without thinking, to move without knowing; it calls us to transcend our inner voice to get in touch with our deepest feelings and desires. In sum, ecstatic dance is the conduit for physically expressing the recesses of the soul.
What Ecstatic Dance is Not
In defining ecstatic dance Big Island style, it is also important to explain what ecstatic dance is not. It is not an event where you pick up intimate partners. It does not occur in a sexual environment. Ecstatic dance is not clubbing. It is not a place for drinking or socializing or speaking. Ecstatic dance is not about numbing yourself or getting lost in the music. To the contrary, the practice is designed to ignite your consciousness, to foster intimacy with self. In so doing, ecstatic dance empowers the dancer to confident self-expression. In order to remain conducive to such improvements, dancers are reminded that the dance floor is a sacred space. Dancers are always expected to respect the physical boundaries of others.
The Origins of Ecstatic Dance
Ecstatic dance group meet ups are, of course, a new phenomenon. Ecstatic dance itself, however, is actually an ancient spiritual practice. The modern practice derives from various shamanic traditions, spanning an impressive physical and temporal geography.
In fact, there isn’t enough space in this blog to cite all the historical instances of ecstatic dance! The San Bushmen of Kalahari; the Hindu Maruts, worshippers of Rudra-Shiva; practitioners in the Afro-American Candomble tradition, in their worship of their deities, the Orishas; all practiced ecstatic dance as a means of deistic worship.
In Greek mythology, a group of female worshippers called the Maenad’s regularly practiced ecstatic dance. They did so in order to ecstatically commune with Dionysus, the god of wine. Legend holds that, mid-winter, the Maenad’s would practice oreibasia, or mountain dance, as a means of transcending personality to commune with Dionysus. Several other Greek sects practiced ecstatic dance to transcend their physical bodies in godly worship.
Ecstatic dance wasn’t a purely religious act in all cultures. In Iran, Sufis practiced ecstatic dance not only as an active form of meditation, but also as an act of political rebellion against the dominant order of Shi’a Muslims.
The Benefits of Ecstatic Dance
Like any other form of movement, ecstatic dance yields an array of benefits for physiological health. A regular practice of ecstatic dance can improve flexibility and cardiovascular health. Because dance gets your blood flowing and boosts the production of the mood-boosting neurotransmitter serotonin, it can also mitigate symptoms of depression and anxiety. In fact, ecstatic dance is an integral element of the emerging field of psychotherapeutic dance.
A study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience demonstrated that dancing, more than any other form of exercise, slows cognitive decline and cellular aging. The effect is likely due to both improvements in physical health and the reduction of inflammation and stress, which cause longevity-destroying oxidative damage.
Finally, through improved physical and psychological health, ecstatic dance can improve body image and composition. A healthy body image lends to less stress and greater confidence in other areas of life, and can make it easier to maintain a regular practice of physical activity.
Tips for Joining an Ecstatic Dance
Ecstatic dance can be intimidating, especially for those who don’t have experience with dance. Indeed, few of us are accustomed to getting deeply in touch with our innate self—and even fewer of us are acclimated to allowing that self to manifest in a series of random physical movements. Many hesitate to try out ecstatic dance because they wouldn’t know how to move, or they are worried about how they will look to others.
But the beauty of ecstatic dance is that it isn’t about knowing; it’s about being. Your best bet is to bite the bullet and go, and to figure it out along the way. Being with other ecstatic dancers will probably empower you to get comfortable and express yourself.
If you’re nervous, invite a trusted and fun friend to go along with you and give it a try. Practice power poses throughout the dance, which serve as a source of self-affirmation and confidence. Or, if you seek relaxation over empowerment, transform the dance into a meditative practice by focusing in on your body and breathing much the way you would during a seated meditation. You can even select a mantra that will ground and inspire you throughout the dance.
As you get more comfortable, try to pay attention to how you are moving. Better yet, pay attention to what you aren’t doing. Some people don’t move around a lot; others don’t slow down. Some people stay grounded in one place and move through the legs, whereas others twirl around the room. Being aware of what your comfort zone is will allow you transcend it. You may discover an insecurity you weren’t aware of and use dance to face it.