Durham residents dance like nobody’s watching

Attendees at a recent ecstatic dance event move fluidly around the room. (Staff photo by Cheyenne Beasley)

Aubrey Griffith-Zill describesecstatic dance” as something that “happens when our thinking mind gets out of the way and our body is able to move uninhibited by thought.”

And judging from the Friday night crowd at the Living Arts Collective, it is gaining popularity in Durham.

Each session opens with a circle to go over rules of communication in a word-free space and ends with a closing circle for dancers to talk about their experience during the dance or anything else that comes to mind.

About 30 people usually attend ecstatic dance and once the music begins, dancers seem to be transported to another world, moving fluidly around the room. The lights are dim with shimmers of red, blue, green, purple and orange adding to the vibe created by the music — sometimes live and sometimes recorded.

On a recent Friday evening,  Gareth Dicker provided the music for the 6:30 class, playing a classical guitar, a cahone, a didgeridoo, bells and a violin — in addition to using his voice. The didgeridoo, an indiginous Australian instrument, he made from bamboo and beeswax. When switching between instruments, Dicker hummed and clicked to keep the sound going for the dancers’ movement.

Zill explained the background of ecstatic dancing: “My mother was a visionary and leader in the wellness community. She taught me to listen to the natural world within and around me with intention and intuition. After studying and teaching dance styles around the world for many years and then holding space for ecstatic dances locally for a few years, the need to offer an opportunity for people to learn how to hear and follow their own guidance system as we move through the world together inspired the idea.” 

Before the 7:30-9 p.m. Friday ecstatic dance, Zill offers an instructed class, the Essence of Ecstatic Dance at 6:30. During that course, she provides different acted out ideas about how the attendees can  move their bodies and get in tune with themselves. Some of her suggestions include rolling on the floor, running around, or acting like a four-legged creature.

The attendees are also taught how to communicate  with “yes,” “no” and encouragement when told “no” when it comes to giving consent to someone who wants to come into their space and dance with them, but while celebrating boundaries if they are refused consent by someone.

Ecstatic dancer Hayley Booterbaugh said,  “It’s something where no form of movement or quality of expression is expected. There’s no agenda, so I can just flow where I’m at and just move in big, excited, joyful ways or rest and integrate, and be with myself,” she said, adding, “It’s non-verbal therapy and a place to connect with people, but only when I want to.”

After the opening circle had ended and the dancing started, late attendees arrived, took off their shoes and just flowed in the room and jumped right into the rhythm with a body movement of some sort.

The experience is like a party with no words and no judgment. People just do what comes to mind and enjoy themselves while doing it.

Smiles lit up the room brighter than the colored lights, and ear drums were filled with people’s shouts and yips of excitement.

For the 7:30 Friday ecstatic dance, the recorded music went from slow, subtle and playful to a build-up of intensity and people’s movements and sounds.

Anyone is welcome to try it out on Friday evenings at the Living Arts Collective on 410 W. Geer St. on from 7:30-9 p.m. Although no one is turned away because of a lack of funds, they suggest a $7-$20 donation. The “Essence of Ecstatic Dance” from 6:30-7:15, p.m.m taught by Zill, guarantees free entry to the self-taught ecstatic dance.”

The Living Arts Collective building hosts holds many types of events and classes to celebrate creativity. More information and a calendar can be found at https://www.livingartscollective.com.

For first-timers, Zill gives these tips: “Wear something comfortable to move in. Come with an open mind and with an open heart. It is OK to be nervous. We are all in this together.”