Elyce Neuhauser believes free-form barefoot dancing can save the world. “Dance for Newtown,” she called out to men and women twirling and swaying to ethereal world music. “Dance for the people who can’t dance. Dance because you can!” That last comment from the lithe and sunny instructor may be the perfect summation of the goal of Trance Dance, a new incarnation of yogic practice.
Trance, in this case, means transcendence, not Jersey Shore-style techno music. Think more Kalahari fire dancing and less Karma (the club) foam dancing. The lights were dimmed and a dozen young, old and in-between dancers were swept up in what Elyce calls “moving meditation.”
The idea is that moving freely without choreography or the sense of a wrong or right way to dance helps achieve a higher level of consciousness and challenges you to move (and think) outside your comfort zone. Elyce doesn’t consider it to be a fitness class per se, although you will reap the health benefits of moving for an hour.
Yoga trance dance is a term coined by Elyce’s mentor, Shiva Rea, who calls herself a “yogini fire keeper” and believes the revival of free-form movement is central to spiritual yoga practice. Elyce, a yoga devotee for a decade, trained with Shiva Rea after finding transcendent dance the perfect outlet for a lifelong love of non-formalized dancing.
Although the dancing was decidedly fun and offered the same chance to get out of your own head as a good night at a club, Elyce was careful to explain that it’s not just a frivolous party. “The dancing has intentions. It’s free but conscious.”
The hour-long class at the serenely appointed Absolute Yoga studio in Woodbury started with Elyce leading a dedication. We sat with our hands over our hearts and set an “intention,” or a conscious goal for the dancing that was to come. The class built in intensity, as Elyce encouraged us to move in any way that felt comfortable, peaking in a joyfully frenetic crescendo as we gyrated, jumped, traveled and swayed to tribal beats during the “fire” portion of the class.
During the “air” part, we opened our arms wide and moved around the room, mirroring an internal opening of our minds and hearts to others. It was strange, weird and uncomfortable. And that was the point. “If it feels uncomfortable, good!” Elyce reminded us. “That’s you coming out of your box.”
Besides checking any skepticism at the door, trance dancers must arrive ready to shed self-consciousness. Elyce explained that’s why dancing in a mirror-less room is important. The dancing is not meant to be competitive, instructional or a performance. Dancers close their eyes, embrace whatever rhythm moves them, lie down in a spiritual epiphany or even bump into other dancers. “It’s okay to touch your neighbor,” Elyce told us. “It’s a positive touch, it’s a touch with good intentions.”
Indeed, after forty minutes of sweaty wildwomen and wildmen moving and a final savasana pose meditation, we sat in a circle and put our hands on our neighbors’ knees in a gesture of community and connection.
I’ve taken yoga classes over the years, but this experience was a revelation. I felt freed, released, ecstatic, euphoric and truly moved. I felt challenged to examine my own prejudices and happily sweaty and energized to be a better person and do better things.
It was also one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. Was it silly to twirl like a hippie in a room for an hour? Maybe, but by the end it felt deadly serious. What better way to celebrate being alive and able to dance, to move, to be in the here and now, than to close your eyes and dance like a dervish? You know that saying, dance like no one is watching? I’ll see you at the next desert campfire.
Note: In addition to Elyce’s class at Absolute Yoga, Mark Bonder teaches a similar form called 5Rhythms at Long Island Center for Yoga in Babylon.