Dance your cares away
It was an ordinary Friday night in Queenstown - groups of friends sat laughing in the after-work haze, whilst others meandered around looking for foodie inspiration. I, however, walked with uncharacteristic trepidation towards St Peter’s hall, nestled in a quiet corner of town, peaceful and unassuming. I was going to an evening of... ecstatic dance!
I can’t dance, let’s just be honest here; I came close to fracturing my kneecaps in the mosh pits of my college days, and the last actual dancing I remember was when Bucks Fizz won the European song contest – I was five. Truly, I have all the flexibility of a plank of hardwood. So the thought of entering a room full of people where I’m supposed to let go and presumably express some vague happiness absolutely terrified me.
Humanity has danced since the earliest of times, it’s in our DNA, we’ve danced for rain, we’ve danced in grief, we’ve danced to unite our tribes, and danced to create peace. ‘Ecstatic dance’ is a modern term, but it’s the same; a movement of energy expressed in a freeform way that relaxes and unifies body, mind and spirit – a kind of swirling meditation. A growing phenomenon around the world, its popularity in Queenstown is not just for the physical health benefits, it’s also about connection and community; a safe space to release the week and welcome in the weekend.
I tried the first door, it was locked, I tried the second, very tempted to take it as a sign to turn tail and flee back to my car. The third door, however, between the two buildings, was wide open and three smiling women, Sarsha, Nadia and Ivana welcomed me in with a gentle blend of enthusiasm and understanding. Apparently, everyone feels this way the first time, I am... so it seems... normal. I paid my $15 and entered the hall, which gradually filled up with people who seemed perfectly at home, taking off their shoes and finding a spot on the floor to sit down. I followed suit, finding a place by the wall where I could be as unnoticed as possible, maybe even blend into the wood panelling if I had to, given my predisposition to a plank-like state of being.
The atmosphere couldn’t have been more relaxed, the hall filled up with men and women of all ages, and eventually, a peaceful lull rolled out across the floorboards. Sarsha welcomed everyone and as the music began to play, she guided us encouragingly out of our heads and into our bodies, and people began to stretch and bend, slowly swaying to the music. I wiggled my toes. After a while, I stretched out my arms. And for quite a while all I did was extend my muscles in a slightly bendy way. I wasn’t quite as inflexible as I had thought.
As the session progressed the pace of the music pumped up, from meditation like tranquillity to jungle rave exuberance. Everyone was smiling, some were laughing, and I found a hint of a grin spreading across my face as I tried hard to convince my body to move just a little bit more. I was encouraged, I was inspired, how did people have so much energy? Whilst some stayed in their own space and let themselves go, others jumped around the room, boundless and beautiful. I laughed.
After a while the music calmed into some 80’s classics, finally winding down into a soothing, grounding song where my fellow dancers returned to sitting, or lying, on the floor as the energy of the room settled. Sarsha guided us right through to the end, and I got up feeling completely different to how I had when I had arrived. Something had shifted inside of me, and perhaps it was just my fears, but I felt moved, and really, really good.
I will definitely give ecstatic dance another go, perhaps next time I will progress from hardwood to beech, or even pine... who knows, one day I may be a willow dancing in the breeze.
Ecstatic Dance is held at 7.30pm every Friday night at St Peter’s Hall, 2 Church Street, next to Halo café. There are also other ecstatic dance events held in Queenstown throughout the year, including the upcoming, natural living Biophilia festival.
Words by Cas Wylde
For more information visit: www.caswylde.com