In the lunchtime of a workshop recently, a woman came to me distressed. She was feeling harassed by a man on the dance floor that morning, and she was asking for guidance on how to deal with it. I am well aware that this happens a lot. It happens the other way around too of course, and between same-genders, but I’d guess not nearly as much. Person A pursuing person B with varying degrees of intensity, apparently not noticing they’re unwelcome; person B clearly not comfortable with it yet apparently unable or unwilling to change the situation.
This is very tender ground for us collectively right now. This student was so grateful for my response that she asked me to write about it, and immediately I could feel my fear. I recognised that it would probably be useful to put something out, but way easier to keep quiet. It’ll be scary to press “Publish”. I have my own stuff to work through on this theme and am not writing from a perspective of some totally clear and sorted role model. I feel more like ‘work in progress’. I’ve offended people, got caught in my shadows, and overstepped boundaries. Maybe though I’ve made enough mistakes and seen enough going on in others to have something useful to say. I hope so.
“I want a lover”
Gabrielle used to describe the rhythms as the ultimate safe sex, and of course, when people are both attracted to each other, it can be delicious, delightful and expansive to explore that way, with so much freedom and creativity. But this works so much better if we’re not actually cruising for something to happen off the dance floor, obsessing with and identified with thought patterns such as “I wonder if there’s anyone here who would come home with me?”
If you’re hungry and lonely, it can be hard not to do that. However, if what you’re really doing is seeking a lover while pretending to do something else (going through the rhythms as though that’s your focus), that split is a difficult thing to dance with.
Rather than trying to be ‘good’ (which essentially involves you suppressing yourself), if you truly desire to find a lover then you could do it as a dance. You could do this entirely alone, and for yourself! Do it brilliantly, passionately, 100%, so you get to feel all the feelings and see what your mind gets up to. Allow all your feelings and desires, but don’t take them so seriously. Watch whatever comes up, pour it into the dance, and learn about yourself. You can still be in “I want a lover” mode, but you are making your practice the priority again rather than the script itself or the feelings themselves. It’s all just waves passing through.
“I’m not looking for anything outside of this moment, but I like you a lot…”
Then there’s the question of how to handle being attracted to someone specific on the dance floor (rather than generally cruising). Many of us will steer clear altogether, preferring to dance with the safe people — those we’re neither particularly attracted to or turned off by. If you do choose to explore an experience of intense attraction, a good first step would be to get out of your head and move with it all. This can be tough because the mind loves to get a grip on moments like that, but it works if you make a clear choice and just do it. I’ve transformed some sticky patches into profound moments by literally dancing head-trips like “Does s/he like me?” and “I want to…”, often taking me to places that are really nothing to do with the other person at all, but more to do with my own psyche. There’s no need to bother the person with this — just taking those feelings and thoughts, and going somewhere else in the room to move with the whole gamut of oneself can be very empowering.
Then going to dance with them maybe!
Whatever inner work you do, any actual relating with someone you’re attracted to will go a whole lot better if you’re genuinely paying attention to them and being responsive to them rather than obsessing with your internal dialogue. Pour everything into the dance. Keep letting go of your head-trips. Give attention.
“I don’t like you”
Dislike is an inevitable part of being in a group. I asked this woman a few weeks ago how clearly she’d said ‘No’ to him. When I suggested that she use a gesture of pushing the palms of her hands vigorously out towards him from the centre of her chest to full arm extension, and firmly saying or even shouting “Back off!”, her response was “Oh! Is that OK to do that?”
My feeling is that it’s not only OK; it’s essential if all the usual signals don’t work. You could try the gesture first without the words, but yes, if necessary: say something! Otherwise, you’re putting a social norm (in this case the 5R rule of no talking on the dance floor) before your own safety or well-being. That’s a dangerous way to move through the world.
No chatting on the dance floor is a good rule of thumb to keep attention with movement body and breath, but occasionally a word or two greatly empowers the experience, whether or not your boundaries are threatened. This can be so either with partners or even dancing solo: Sometimes one needs to voice something out loud, like “We’re alive!”, or “I love you”, or “No!!!” Very different from chatting.
Simply turning around and moving away is another one. Politeness can be deadly, at the very least to your integrity. If your whole system is saying to you “I need to get away from this” and you don’t, hoping somehow it will change, you’ll get messed up. Who cares if no-one has said “Change partners” yet? Maybe s/he will be offended or hurt, but so what? Walk away. And if s/he follows you persistently, turn around and flash a moment’s fury at them, voice and all, and then again walk away.
If someone is not respecting your boundaries, you’d better find some way of insisting upon it or you’ll be giving them the responsibility for your boundaries, hoping they’ll be nice. No-one is nice all the time. We all cross other people’s lines at times. When someone is crossing yours, it’s your call to do something about it. Be clear. Use whatever works.
“I don’t like you, but that’s interesting”
It may be that your basic response to someone is ‘Yuk’, but you realise they’re not behaving in any way that’s ‘off’. It’s simply your felt response, the result of your chemistry with them. In that case, it can be really fascinating and empowering to dance deeply with them. If you always avoid partnering with people you don’t like, you miss out on a lot. Dance with them and let everything move through you. Let all those feelings deform you out of and beyond your ‘normal’ dance, into your own shadowlands and secret places. Go there for yourself, not in order to ‘do’ anything to the other person. You’ll learn and grow.
“All this is too hard”
I know there are some of you for whom all of the above would be a big stretch. For whom even saying ‘No’ in any situation is very difficult, let alone actually allowing anger to show. If this is true for you, you could say kindly but firmly to yourself: “I need to work on this.”
In the moment, if there’s a situation that is really intolerable for you and beyond your current resources to handle, then inform the teacher or an assistant and ask for help. Maybe even walk out of the class if that feels right, but take it as a major signpost that you’ve got some homework to do.
Invasive crossing of boundaries is one face of shadow-Staccato (the other is separation), whilst essence-Staccato (and it’s emotional counterpart, clear authentic anger) is good medicine for righting such wrongs or even preventing them from happening in the first place. Find your Staccato and your anger and learn to dance with that force until it becomes a sword that you can use in the name of love to defend innocence and vulnerability. You’d better practice over time in situations where you are not up against it; then you will have those skills available when someone goes too far for you. Get one-to-one coaching from someone who can help you, whether that’s a 5Rhythms teacher or a therapist, and work on it. It may well be that the reason you find this difficult is because you’ve been wounded by an invasive experience somewhere along the line. Look after yourself. I highly recommend Karen Melin as a starting point, a somatic experiencing therapist with a lot of 5R experience who can work internationally via skype.
We’re all in this together
There’s a potential invader in all of us, men and women. Don’t we need to learn to listen? To notice when we’re unwelcome, take ourselves in hand and dance, grateful for the feedback? To dive into the longing to be met by someone else on the outside, and instead enfold those longings from the inside for a while?
How hard that can be. Yet how incredibly rewarding, to find our own embrace. To rest in our own arms, and cry our tears of longing even whilst they’re being assuaged in ways we maybe never had as a child?
At other times, isn’t it glorious to step fully into our fiery desire, standing tall and empowered, unashamed of the force of our nature, reclaiming the beauty, nobility and courage it takes to let that desire be seen and felt?
For as ten thousand years of patriarchy crumbles around us, embodying the masculine desire to enter the feminine (whether you be woman or man or other) has become deeply taboo in many circles. This is not an easy time to be a man. A big chunk of men’s natural medicine has become culturally unacceptable, particularly in the personal development world. Dance floors have a lot of men afraid to be masculine and afraid to show their desire, often resulting in a kind of subverted shame-filled leakage that feels oily or slimy to receive instead of a straight out and clear revelation that is easier to take or leave as you choose.
We all have that masculine energy: expressive and out-going, the part of us that desires connection and will reach out across borders to touch hearts and hands. We all have the rhythm of Staccato going on. We’d be lost without its essential medicine, endlessly waiting for the other to come to us, and unable to stand up for our values or boundaries.
I had a profound moment recently on this theme. As a group of men entered a women’s sacred space, I heard a wailing of anguish and rage coming from some of my sisters that was so ancient and utter, it went through my very soul. And I tell you, it felt so good to hear. As a man, I have a longing to be pierced by that cry of rage and pain, because I can sense it so often anyway. There’s a kind of “Ah…” about it. This is real. I feel it. I get it. I’m grateful to hear it how it is, and in the listening I feel the healing going both ways.
I see men and women both experiencing a collective anger and pain now, albeit in different ways. What wild times these are. All that stuff needs to come out, no question, but we can keep moving through so we find forgiveness and understanding. What if we all cut each other a bit of slack, with some good humour thrown in together with a degree of compassion? The dance is a wild spirit, and when we let go into it, we’re going to become wild too. Wilderness is not always comfortable or pleasant, just like Clarissa Pinkola Este’s wolves, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be happening. Unconscious material is going to come up. Hopefully, we’ll take responsibility for that, and learn from everything (what’s coming up from inside and what gets reflected back to us from outside), but our core lessons will come around again and again for reworking. We’re going to make mistakes.
Can we keep remembering that we are all capable of being invasive? That we all get hurt sometimes? There’s a time for saying ‘No, this is not OK with me”, but the narratives which have us believing there really are bad guys and good guys are too small for these times. Deep down we’re all longing for connection in ways that feel nourishing, respectful, and juicy. Whether we tend towards port or starboard sides, we’re all in the same boat.
Following a great many comments on Facebook, I added this addendum:
Great that this article has sparked so much discussion! More than anything else I’ve ever posted, more shares too. Clearly a ‘live’ topic.
I want to add a couple of things in response to the many many comments I’ve read:
Firstly, I think it’s a fair criticism that because I’m writing from the perspective of a white male I have been somewhat unconscious of the power imbalances that carry over onto the dance floor in my writing. Thank you to the many who have pointed that out.
I have a caveat on that though. I’ve been leading men’s groups for 25 years, and in recent years I’ve seen something new. There’s a kind of defeated stance, overwhelmed with a weight of judgement and blame that belongs with the collective, but is being carried by some individual men very deeply (no doubt those whose internal chemistry makes it a functional fit, or have been in the firing line personally for some reason). Just as it’s easy for me to not really ‘get’ the feeling of what it’s like to suffer from the power imbalances that women are at the end of, or people of colour, or trans people, it’s no doubt just the same the other way around and hard for others to really ‘get’ what it’s like to be on the receiving end of this tidal wave of judgement that is battering all things masculine in so many ways right now.
I feel a very strong call to stand up for the masculine and for men at this time, because to the extent that we lose the strength of the positive masculine as a culture, we’re all in very deep trouble.
Secondly I think some of you are writing from a misunderstanding of what the 5Rhythms were intended to be, and are. They are not purely a healing practice. They are in fact a perfect blend of shamanism, zen and tantra, forming a practice that in turn forms a perfect triangle of three approaches (not correlated with the s/z/t): art, healing and spiritual practice. I wrote about that in another Red Line post. As an art form, which is a fabulous third of the rhythms practice, all this discussion of safety is literally detrimental. Art is not safe, nor should it be. Healing does need to be safe. This is a deep paradox woven into the fabric of the rhythms, and one could argue is a weakness or a strength I guess. Reaching for solutions to the paradox, or trying to pull it one way or the other, is not the answer. Living with the paradox produces profound creative insight, and is in my opinion the way to go.
Let’s remember to dance wild and true, listen to our breath, and stay open to changing!