Thursday, January 15, 2009
A 5-year-old boy holds two electric votive candles in his little palms and skips through a crowd of people who drift like jelly fish, smiling, glowing inwardly. Women twist their hips and circle other dancers who roll their heads and sway from their shoulders. The orbiting women twist their hips, opening the hems of their paisley and tie-dye skirts like blooming hibiscus flowers.
Save the boy’s giggling ricocheting off the walls, P.G.’s Chautauqua Hall is completely silent. It is protocol not to speak on the dance floor. Dancers rely upon body language to greet each other, spinning into long hugs and blowing kisses.
In the corner a man and a woman practice such trust as they warm up on a yoga mat. The man supports his partner, who is in airplane position, holding her by the strength of his legs. They are warming up for “flowing,” the first step in the Five Rhythms, which, according to tonight’s dance instructor and DJ, Vic Cooper, is a meditative dance movement established at Esalen in the 1970s.
“[Five Steps] is a wave. It’s sequential. It builds from flowing to staccato, peaks at chaos and sinks into stillness,” Cooper says. “During the warm-up it’s important to give dancers an intention.”
When Cooper speaks, the music stops and, abruptly, so do the dancers.
“Close your eyes. Pay attention to the space you’re in. Tonight is dedicated to stillness. With a New Year beginning–stop. Listen to the silence between notes. Let’s use those moments to focus our energy toward change– whatever your resolutions might be.”
To the side of the dance floor, there’s an altar designed by Donna Linda Kaufman, who established Dance Jam six years ago. “This represents joy and prosperity in the new year,” she says, pointing out a picture of gold coins on a collage. There’s a bouquet of flowers and two “happy” Buddha sculptures– representing joy, not religion. At the center of the collage are the words live, laugh, love. About 50 pieces of paper are spread on the altar stating dancers’ hopes for the new year. “2009 will bring: wisdom– liberation– soul play,” reads one.
After the intention announcement, ambient music returns. Cooper spins wildly like a helicopter, almost slipping on the glossy hardwood. People of all body types move like bellydancers, pythons, trotting ponies and ballerinas. A woman to the side of the free-for-all circular dancing stands alone– hugging herself and swaying.
“Dance reflects the emotions of a person’s day,” Kaufman says. “We love and appreciate all types.”
The yoga couple rolls on the floor in a deep hug, nuzzling. Jill Russell, who has attended Dance Jam for three years, explains the importance of intimacy on the dance floor, and why it harmonizes with her careers as a marriage and family counselor and massage therapist.
“[Dancing] helps me know and better understand myself, which helps me be really present with others, allowing them to emote,” she says. “At first I thought it was sexual and it made me uncomfortable, but I learned it’s OK to be sexual. It’s a safe and healing place for that.”
The crowd exhales after “flowing.” Music heavy with electric drums plays. “Flowing” escalates into “staccato,” with some dancers skipping and sashaying around a circle of people stepping on the balls of their feet.
The young boy takes a hula hoop and moves through the crowd. He sets a trend among the adults; a handful of them start to hula-hoop with him.
Techno music then triggers an acceleration into “chaos.” Dancers yelp like coyotes– grinding on each other in what looks and sounds like disco mania– minus the strobe lights and illicit substances. Some dancers take the electric votive candles and spin them rapidly, creating the effect of glow sticks.
Only no one took Ecstasy– Dance Jam is devoutly drug and alcohol free. The dancers are high on pure movement.
Soon chaos drops into the “lyrical” section. The voice of a country-crooning woman on the stereo inspires some dancers to pair off and hoedown. The music gradually sinks into what Cooper believes is the most significant of the Five Steps: stillness.
The dancers sit in a circle, holding hands. The boy sits between his grandmother and father, sitting perfectly still, balancing an electric votive candle on his head, and sighs. His grandmother, Lisa Light, has brought him and his father to Dance Jam for two years. “Three generations can share this gift,” she says, pulling her grandson onto her lap.
Before the group, Cooper poses a question. “If you take everything away in life, then what?”
The dancers ponder the question and answer briefly, most with single words. Aliveness. Release. Courage. Healthy. Then two dancers have the bravery to be more specific. “Working off inhibitions without substance use,” says one man. “I struggle with chaos because I have a hard time dealing with chaos in my own life,” says a woman.
Then she laughs, spreads her arms wide and throws her head back for a for a proclamation, “This is about wildness and freedom!”
DANCE JAM meets 8-10pm every Friday at Chautauqua Hall, 16th and Central, Pacific Grove. $10/adult; $5/teens; free/first timers, 12 and under. 375-2312. firstname.lastname@example.org