While I can happily spend hours in meditation and delve deep into my subconscious mind, but I've always faced a block when it comes to moving my body, a disconnection. Whether it's a HIIT class or spinning, I've felt good afterwards, but during the class, I always felt like I was subjecting myself to some sort of punishment. Over time, I started to equate movement with suffering. Not ideal.
I wanted to get back in tune with my body again, but I was really neglecting it because I just couldn't find my thing. So I took the pressure off and started to think about what I actually liked to do and that was dancing. Not the choreographed, "follow each move" kind of dance, though—the free-flowing "dance like no one is watching" kind. As with the start of every new journey, I created a playlist filled with songs that I could move to.
I set my timer for 30 minutes, took my trainers off and danced by myself in my bedroom. In no set or defined way, I just allowed my body to do what felt good. The timer went off, but I kept going. I was building up a sweat, but most importantly, I was enjoying every single moment of it. It was giving me the same spiritual high that I have after engaging in one of my alternative wellness rituals, and I was hooked. Before I knew it, I was dancing in this incredibly freeing way nearly every day.
I'm not the only one either as ecstatic dance has become a movement and a community. To find out more, I had a chat with Donna Carroll, creator and co-founder of Ecstatic Dance Oakland, which now has a location in the UK.
What is ecstatic dance?
Having an empowering dance session feels pretty transformative and healing. The power of it lies in the fact that there are no expectations, but when it becomes organised, does it lose that? Carroll explains what it's all about.
"At Ecstatic Dance, we believe that dancing freely is an act of courage. It's about getting great exercise, freeing your mind and body and connecting with yourself and others in a safe and healthy space. Dance as meditation is as ancient as man himself, and free-form sacred dance is present in many cultures and religions. Ecstatic dance empowers people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds to freely express themselves," she says.
I can attest to this feeling of connecting with myself in a way that I had only had with "static" practices like meditation. Carroll shares the journey that she goes on when she's dancing: "It's my spiritual practice; my prayer. It is my playground and my therapy. The dance floor is my teacher.
"When I'm dancing, I feel that I let go of past stories and future desires; that my body is taken on a ride by the music. I start to feel whole again as I drop deeper into my breath and listen to the beat of my heart as it syncs up with the beat of the music that echoes the beat of the universe. I feel held."
How do I do it?
When you're in a traditional dance environment—whether that's a hip-hop dance class or dancing around tables at the bar—there's always this sense that you have to get the moves right. Carroll explains why this style of dancing isn't like that at all, as it's about "getting out of your head and into your body. It's not about the way the movement looks. It's about how it feels. You will see a great variety of dances in any given moment—from flowing Tai Chi–esque moves to hopping up and down to break dancing to simply walking or sitting in meditation."
Caroll adds, "You are encouraged to move however you wish. You can wear anything that allows you to move comfortably, and shoes aren't required. The musical journey starts softly and builds to an ecstatic high, slowing down near the end as a live musician takes over for a Savasana-like sound healing."
Where can I do it and can I do it alone?
I've loved every moment of being able to dance by myself, and in a way, it's been an opportunity to rediscover my body. It's become a part of my day that I can enjoy as an individual practice, so you can definitely do it alone. But a huge part of ecstatic dance is also the community and sharing space with others.
Carroll says, "It's a safe container, whether we're dancing alone or with others. When people dance together, they entrain their movements to that of the larger group consciousness. The communal part of us longs for others—for company, skin contact, eye contact and for something bigger and more important than our own problems."
There is a longing in all of our souls to feel like we are connected to something larger than—to feel like we belong somewhere. I've found that sense of belonging on the dance floor. When the dance floor is full of people jumping up and down together, arms raised toward the ceiling in ecstasy, I forget about my small world and my loneliness."
This need to belong is so understandable, as it's easy to forget just how disconnected we are in real life as most of our connections are based online. If you want to try ecstatic dance in a group, you can join Ecstatic Dance UK on the first Sunday of every month. You can also join classes across the UK at 5Rhythms, in London with URUBU and to you can search for local ecstatic dance events on Meetup to find your barefooted dance community.