This is an account of an evening that started in a rose garden and ended with a meal of curried tofu. This is a true account of my first experience with Ecstatic Dance, which is something I had never heard of until last week. It started with a message sent to me by my friend Jamaica. The conversation went like this:
Jamaica: Come see me! I found this place where we would have totally hung out as kids. We can dance the night away. Are you ever free on Wednesday nights?
Me: Yes! Let’s do it! BTW I am out of shampoo and soap.
Jamaica: Perfect! Come get some! Can you hang out as soon as this Wednesday?
Me with a little bit of anxiety: Yeah. I think we could arrange that? I don’t know if I have a wardrobe cut out for dancing though with all my “active wear” LOL.
I digress. unbeknownst to Jamaica I had been coming out of one of the worst episodic run-ins with depression that I’d had in a long time. “Active wear” was my attempt at becoming active. The only thing that had really been happening so far with that was that I was actively wearing active wear.
Me again: I don’t know why I made that a question. I’ll work it out.
Jamaica: It’s just a bunch of hippies. Last time I went in jeans and a T-shirt. It felt so good to just MOVE.
Okay, after our little chat on Messenger, my first thought was, “Am I really going to do this?” or, “What kind of excuse can I come up with to not do this? And…finally “Rachelle, you have got to do this.” I was so thankful for that last push in my inner dialogue because up until a few months ago, my inner dialogue would have just found dozens of excuses not to go, and that would be the end of it.
I realized I needed some self-love, maybe a little pampering, and some encouragement. Part of me was like, “Do I really deserve this?” I went and tried on Jeans. Not a good time to find out you went up a pant size, as you hand over your jeans to the attendee and tell her, “I’m going to need a bigger size.” The fact that my zipper on my regular khakis broke in between dressing changes didn’t help, but it gave me permission. Yes, now I truly needed new jeans. I now had an excuse to do something for myself.
I bought a peasant blouse and some yoga sandals. I tried on some type of Mediterranean lotion that said, “mermaid approved,” but didn’t purchase it. I could only take this self- love so far. I decided that if I made just a few purchases I couldn’t back out of any plans. The newness of not wearing the same leggings I had been wearing day after day, gave me a slight confidence boost. I was going to wear jeans tonight damn it! I got home, showered and changed, and told my daughter I was going out for a girl’s night. She said, “good for you mom. I’m so proud of you.”
I kissed my husband and children goodbye, and headed for the tree lined streets of Mill Creek. I traversed over many speed bumps, and as usual, I kind of lost my way in the maze of houses after I hit the final round- about. Jamaica called to tell me she was running late. I told her I was lost and not to worry about it. She said her boys would be home, and they would let me in.
When I got to Jamaica’s house, I was entranced by her roses. I knocked on her door, and told her boys that If there was some strange lady walking around the roses it was me, and not to be alarmed. (I took this picture).
I knew after walking through the roses that the evening was going to turn out okay. Any evening that started out with roses could not be taken as a bad sign. Jamaica’s garden was an artist’s garden for sure. “Jake” always managed to live an artful life despite being a single mother of a few boys.
Jake showed up wearing all black, with her cute little fringe-cut bangs. I always marveled at how well she could rock the bangs. She looked as willowy and tall as her boys. She seemed a little distraught as we walked into her kitchen. I sat next to her son on a wooden bench, under the light of some type of astrological mid-century light fixture. We had just been discussing some mutual connections we had in Tennessee.
Jamaica sipped Kombucha tea from some type of amber jug trying to unwind a little, then set it down on the gold speckled counter top. She tapped on the jug with her fingernails and said, “Do you know what I did today? I had a jug just like this sitting next to my tea, full of tea tree oil, and I took a drink out of it.” Jamaica’s son and I’s eyes just about popped right out of our heads. “MOM.” He said, “YOU DIDN’T!” She said, “I knew what it was, the second I put it into my mouth. I didn’t swallow it.” My mouth still burns a little and my upper lip still feels a little tingly and numb.” “MOM,” he said. “That’s serious. You could have gone to the hospital. You could have died.” She said, “I know,” and she brushed it off like it wasn’t a big deal.
After she had washed down some of the coarseness of the tea tree with more Kombucha, she explained to me that a friend of hers had told her about this place we were going to and how she had to go because “these were her people.” I followed her out the door into her sport utility vehicle. There were some metal pipes on the seat. I said, “Jamaica, WHAT are these?” She said, “Oh, those are my straws, and she threw them into the back seat.” I could not tell if I was more perplexed about the straws or by the fact that I could see that Jamaica was showing signs of duress. She had to be if she was mistaking tea tree oil for tea.
As we drove up and over speedbumps she started telling me about the ups and downs of her new business venture. I felt kind of guilty knowing that as busy as she was, she took the time to reach out to a friend who might have been a little too much of a recluse lately. I realized at this point we needed each other. “Just how many hours are you putting in Jake?” “Oh…this many hours…on top of my second job.” “Jake, I can help you. Let me manage some of your social media accounts.” I offered to come help her stock, or run her booth at the farmer’s market.” So…the conversation continued.
When we pulled into the “dance place” it was nothing like I had imagined. I thought we were going to some type of urbanized bohemian club. We pulled into some back-alley dirt road, and parked under a tree in a gravel pit. To the left, was a half-finished Krishna temple, and to the right was a painted white cinder block multi-purpose building. In the rear, I could see a large greenhouse that stood behind a dilapidated wood fence. As Jamaica pulled the car into the parking lot she said, “Let’s take a walk through the garden, I love this garden.”
The garden seemed quaint enough, and a little garden walk-through was always good for the soul. There was a place for herbs, “a tot plot,” and rows of lettuce, beets, and Swiss chard. We commented on a plant that had sage colored leaves and lovely purple stems as we were both taken by the plant’s beauty and wondered, “WHAT is it?” A very friendly, non-threatening German Shepherd padded its way toward us, and laid itself at my feet. It was nice that he found a place to rest in this peaceful garden but I was wondering what the strategic halt to my path of direction was all about. Dogs always do this to me.
We ran into two men resting on upside down garden tools. They were of the hippy type for sure. They told us to take some lettuce, and not to leave without a tomato plant. Jamaica tore off a piece of lettuce, and put some into her mouth, perhaps still trying to revive that numb sensation from earlier. I asked the men what the purple plant was, they said, “Oh, that’s Kohlrabi.” It was then that I noticed the bulb at the bottom, and how sci-fi it seemed. It seemed like some type of space alien vegetable that could sprout legs and walk away.
We left the garden and walked through the glass doors of the dance hall. We were greeted by two girls in bohemian skirts wearing some type of hippy craft. Occasionally tattooed men would walk by with bare feet, and no shirts. A bearded, tatooed man, who I later found out was the owner, greeted Jamaica. The lady at the front introduced her as the woman who is running “that organic bulk foods market where you don’t use plastics.” He seemed excited about the introduction, and what her idea could bring to their community.
I realized then, that Jamaica was also establishing business contacts, and I marveled at her ability to multi-task. I could hear music coming from behind a red curtain. We paid our way in, and were told there were no shoes on the dance floor. We slipped off our shoes off, and stepped inside.
There was a large stage where women sat on yoga mats. There were murals of various forms of Krishna art on the wall. The smell of incense made its way into my olfactory system doing a number on my limbic memory center. The DJ was at the front, and off to the side there were glass jewelry cases that had been pushed off the dance floor next to a few circular racks where garments hung that were ornate shades of fuchsia, gold, and orange.
There were no wall flowers in this dance space. People were either sitting on a yoga mat in some type of meditative state, or they were dancing. There was no rhyme or rhythm to the dancing. There was really no rhyme or rhythm to the music either. The tempo changed all the time. Sometimes it seemed techno, sometimes it seemed a little Bollywood, at one point it even broke out into an Irish jig. Jamaica told me that the DJ’s vary, and they are all different, and that this DJ had a different feel than the last DJ. This was her second visit.
Some people’s dances seemed choreographed, but for the most part, everything was ultra-free style, bordering on gymnastics, or getting into poses that you don’t see in manuals, or contorting your body in ways in which your body was not accustomed to moving. Some of it seemed like couple’s yoga. The rules of Ecstatic dance were that there was to be no non-consensual touch or anything that could be viewed as pornographic. Dancers would take cues from other dancers, and in a way, these subconscious dance cues reminded me of tribal fusion.
I told Jamaica, “I’m just going to watch a minute,” as I lied my wallet and keys down next to the wall, wondering if they would be okay. I said, “you go ahead, there’s no judgement here.” Jamaica said, “Good, because I fully intend on dancing,” and away she went. I realized then that I was more out of place not dancing than I would be dancing, so I had little choice but to let my inhibitions go. I went and joined her keeping one on eye on my wallet.
Everything about it seemed foreign yet familiar. How many times had I danced with Jamaica when we were in our teens at the Ivy tower, or the Ritz on industrial night? Only back then, we were listening to Ministry, Nizzer Ebb, or Morrisey, and this was SO totally different. We were somehow older now.
This crowd seemed younger, although there were a few of us in the “older” age group peppered around the room. We’d nod to each other, like we still had it going on. The younger people acted like they were happy to see us, as if we contributed to the diversity of the room. God bless them. I wondered if I would bring my own grown children here. Jamaica and I’s dance moves hadn’t really changed all that much in twenty years, it was the music that had changed. The ENTIRE event was about sobriety. The mind-altering experience was supposed to come from the dancing and the energy in the room.
Jamaica let out a teasing laugh and said, “I’m going to take a picture of you dancing and send it to Amy.” We knew that wasn’t going to happen. We left our phones in the car. No cameras or cell phones were allowed. It was also at this moment that I realized Jamaica may have conspired with our mutual friend Amy “to get me out of the house.” My dance catharsis? What amazing friends I must have! I had been avoiding Amy’s calls for weeks. She lived in Florida, and must have initiated a call to action. I wouldn’t put it past her.
It was after this, that I became really thirsty. I also sunk back into more of my negative self-talk. I knew the highs and lows of my psyche had stunted me from being the type of friend I wanted to be. I could be on or off like a faucet. I wanted to be on all the time, but so many times I was off at the punch of a handle.
Jamaica and I went outside to cool off, and stretched out on the lawn. We talked about Amy, and her recent struggles. Damn me for not taking her calls. Jamaica and I were no strangers to divorce. I never thought it would touch us all. Our friend Amy was supposed to be the success story. We reflected on our mutual sister and friend, then reflected on ourselves. Jamaica got the scoop on what had really been happening with me. I got the scoop on what had really been happening with her, and then it all got so heavy.
As fate would have it, an older gentleman broke us of our serious conversation and introduced himself. Perhaps it was a reminder that we had secluded ourselves from the group, and had broken from the “energy dynamic.” We could hear the music becoming more meditative and relaxed, and Jamaica intuitively said, “I feel like we need to go back inside for this.”
As we entered the group, everyone had moved to the floor. Deep breathing, stretching, and meditative exercises commenced. I lied flat on my back, taking deep breaths and exhaling with everyone else. Jamaica and I stared at the wood ceiling where half of the incandescent light bulbs had been put out, and Jamaica said, “this ceiling is so beautiful.” It was. It really was a beautiful ceiling. It took an artful eye to bring it to my attention. At one point a woman started playing some type of harpsichord. She sang songs about loving yourself, and letting that negative stuff go. We were encouraged to sing along.
I thought to myself, I needed that.” This woman on the harpsichord had no idea I had been struggling with my pant size. Then I laughed. Here I was showing up in Jeans when my stretchy recreation clothes would have been better suited for this event. I didn’t need the sandals either. They were sitting on a shelf in the other room. In fact, I did not need ANY of it to define how I felt about myself. I was even singing along to this woman and people I hardly knew, and did not feel one damn bit inhibited about the sing a long.
After the meditation, everyone scooted into the center of the room, for a few “shares.” This is where I thought, “Oh boy, here comes the Kumbaya moment.” After each one, everyone would beat their hands on the floor like it was a drum. One girl shared that we all had a purpose for being there, we didn’t know why. We may have not wanted to come, but something had compelled us to come, for a reason. That one pulled at me a little. Maybe there was something to it.
The owner reminded us all of the mission of ecstatic dance. We were reminded to create a space where peace is possible, and to bring that to the world. Community announcements were made. Hence, Jamaica’s business venture was announced to decrease the use of plastics to care for our planet.
Afterward, Jake and I contemplated eating somewhere else, but the smell of curry and spice got to us. We paid six dollars for our vegan meal, which consisted of curried tofu, vegetables, and some type of vinaigrette smothered over salad greens that were cultivated in the garden. We washed and rinsed our plates in a small sink that felt like it could belong in a hostile. Once we shook our plates, and placed them on the shelf, we knew it was a wrap.
We walked out into the twilight and bade our farewells. Perhaps we may have ruined the evening a little by overanalyzing it on the way home. Could either of us immerse ourselves in the ecstatic dance community? I felt a little bit out of my element for sure, which was strange, because at one point this was my element. Perhaps this was something that came with age. Jamaica totally agreed that if felt SO GREAT just to get out and move, and I admitted that it was the harpsichord lady’s songs that got to me.
Our conclusion was that YES, we both took a little something away from ecstatic dance that may have been lacking. There was no denying it. We decided that even if it was a place we came to skip across like a stone on the water’s edge, we could take something from it as we convened onward with our lives.
It made enough of an impression on me that I googled it the next day. I came to discover that “Ecstatic dance” was not unique to Salt Lake City, nor was it affiliated with the Krishna temple. It is part of a movement that is occurring nationwide and across the globe. I admit, I am a lover of all dance movements. Perhaps this is why I found my way to this one. I have provided a few links for anyone who may be curious about ecstatic dance. Perhaps you will skim its surface, skip it entirely, or stay awhile. Regardless, I wish all you the joy that comes with movement in whatever forms that inspire you. Peace out. I’ll see you next post. Thanks for being part of the journey.