I’ve been an ecstatic dancer most of my life. Even in ballet classes I couldn’t wait till the teacher gave us a few minutes of release, of dancing freely away from the structure of ballet steps and poses. I liked both however, the structure and the no-structure. I danced in my bedroom as a child and continued in my life, in my kitchen in my living room, with and without my children, at parties and festivals. It has always been the passion deep in my bones and now is the main focus of my work in the world.
The experience of dance that has captivated me the most is what some people might find quite boring, but to me it holds immense power. And that is the movement of repetition, of steadily held monotonous movements of the body to the same beat.
A few years ago I was lucky enough to go with my husband Ben and a small group of dancers and anthropologists to Namibia where we connected with tribesmen in the Kalahari who shared their kind of dance with us. The bushmen appear to use ecstatic dance to generate energy for healing and during their ceremonies they invited us to take part. Here was the same beat, the same timing and beats per minute that I was used to in parts of our ecstatic dance practice, whether Movement Medicine or 5 Rhythms, but what they were doing was quite different, even subtly so.
We are aware of a particular kind of ‘shaking medicine’ that is used within our dance practice, which releases us, shaking out tension, washing away or burning off residue of past story, it is effective and certainly supports the body to let go. I loved to shake my body and allow this release to happen. But as I journeyed with the dance and sought empowerment through it, I began to discover something else, which the bushmen dancing doctors taught me.
I danced in the ceremony as we each did, meeting each other and sharing energy between us, they put our hands onto each other so the same energy could flow through our vibrating bodies. We vibrated, we fell, we got up, we sweated, we danced more and more, we fell again, losing ourselves into the trance of rhythm. Women stood in a semi-circle singing and clapping their hands, this was the only music and it was strong, repetitive and felt like it entered every cell of my body.
I noticed that the ‘doctors’ or shamans moved their hips in a very particular way that caused the rest of the body to shake. I became fascinated with this, still finding myself doing my own shaking thing with the dance I had become used to. In a conversation we had in-between our ceremonies one of the doctors asked me if I wished to carry their medicine alongside my own dancing medicine which they seemed to see quite clearly. I said ‘yes!’ What would it mean? What would I experience?
We danced again in ceremony, a long time through the night and as I followed my own dance I felt the doctors attention on me. I could sense a part of me resisting something! I knew there was nothing to resist and I am never one to resist dance in fact its unheard of in me! The dance went on and on, and something was happening to me where my own dance was meeting their dance, we were some what out of sync, but gradually as time passed and many dances danced their way through us, something happened to me as the doctor and I connected, where all resistance dropped away and I remember the thought that said ‘oh, go on then’ and suddenly my hips began to move in exactly the same way as his and we stood side by side shaking. He cheered euphorically and I laughed. According to him he had ‘put the arrows of my medicine and the arrows of his medicine’ side by side. I could relate to this as an image and have spent time learning about it and understanding it, honoring it and respecting it. This is a small moment in time, I was not on these landscapes for long, as many travelers are, but this moment was and has been very precious to me.
Since this time in the bush, I have noticed how it has affected my own dance. So used to the kind of floppy rag like quality of shaking out the body, I have come to understand the need to literally ‘fuel the body’ with shaking medicine. It is like fueling the tank through strong vibration in the hips which in turn gives power and force to what ever it is we are wanting to leverage in our lives, to literally empower our body, our psyche, our mind and our passion! It creates tension in the body, not the kind of tension that is caused by stress and gets stuck in our shoulders etc, but the tension that builds in the muscles from shear energy filling us up and enhances the psyche into action. From my own observance, the doctors seemed to use this energy for healing and creating a power and relationship with the fire, to work their magic as healers by doing extraction medicine and soul retrieval. This is becoming an integral part of my own offering in workshops around the world. I do not profess to know a huge amount about the bushmans dance, but it is with me for sure and I wish to honor it for I have come to recognize the impact this kind of dance can have on our psyche to manifest what we need, whether that is in our healing abilities, our voice, our desire or simply by the determination to say ‘yes’ to our own lives. It’s all in the muscle, quite literally! We can all make significant changes in our lives by simply dancing for it!
I shared a little of this at my recent workshop, Passion Unlimited, where we learn to understand how we are the driving force behind our own lives and passions and I will be offering my own experiences and interpretations of this medicine during ‘The Journey Of Empowerment.Particularly with how it fits with our more modern day dance of ecstacy where there is a big need to empty out the old, dysfunctional self.
Till I return once more to the bush, which I hope is not too far away, I will keep honoring the bushmen and women that I met and look forward to that time with them again.
Caroline Carey www.alchemyinmovement.com
Journey Of Empowerment ~ Dance your own journey into empowerment…beginning in March http://www.alchemyinmovement.com/index.php/event/journey-of-empowerment-uk
Photos by Ben Cole, cinematographer.