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ecstatic dance UtrechtEcstatic Dance: the new dance craze is sober.

It’s summer 2013, I’m barefoot and can hear myself screaming from the top of my lungs. I’m jumping to the music with my hands in the air and in a flash the thought “I look like an idiot”, but then the DJ turns the beat up and that thought disappears. Later, I lie on my back exhausted, staring at the ceiling. The silence within overwhelms me…

This happened to me at an Ecstatic Dance event in Amsterdam together with about 100 other dancers. I estimate between 20 and 60 years old and dressed sporty, smart, summery, or alternatively.
The guidelines for these dance events are usually very simple: Sober (no drugs/alcohol), barefoot, no talking on the dance floor and no phones or cameras. But move freely, regardless of the restrictions of steps or as it “should be”.
For someone who comes from a “act normal, that’s crazy enough” (Dutch: Doe maar normal dan doe je al gek genoeg) upbringing, this was quite a task. I’m fond of structure and I like to blend into the background. But something happened here that will stay with me forever.

The world is pastel and trance.

Upon entering the dance floor, I stepped into a completely different world. The smell of incense greeted me, soft music came from the speakers and the atmosphere was one of tranquility. My fellow dancers, who slowly filled up the dance space, greeted each other with warm hugs, were dancing to the music or meditating.

We were welcomed by an English-speaking man and followed the instructions he gave as a warmup prior to the DJ. Move through space at different speeds with or without jumps or face each other during a slow-motion exercise. It didn’t necessarily relax me, but it did warm me up!
Once the DJ started, I noticed that my first hesitations were gone and everyone was already moving. The music was quiet and soft at first and most of the dancers had their eyes closed. As the beats entered the music, I became looser, and danced the stiffness out of my body.
After about 45 minutes, the music became more and more intense, and the dancing became wilder. After an explosion of the crowd, the DJ ushered in the first moment of rest with a soft piano song. Then my mind became silent.

Why Ecstatic Dance?

Ecstatic Dance, you see it popping up everywhere in the Netherlands. In big and small cities but also in the middle of nowhere. The new way to party without booze and drugs. What’s so attractive about this? And what is Ecstatic anyway?

Dancing to release yourself, to socialize or for health benefits is nothing new, but the Ecstatic Dance events seem to fill a need in our individualistic society, where human contact is driven by technology. The longing for togetherness and physical expression is great. The sense of health, being mindful for body and environment, is now also extending to the night out. How nice is it to get out of bed the next morning fresh and recharged. No high peeps in your ears and a pounding head?

Ecstatic Dance originated when Max Fathom (USA) merged his weekly dance form (the 5Rhythms – a dynamic dance form in which successive “dancing” to 5 different rhythms) with the electronic music he encountered at festivals. This led to his Sunday morning Ecstatic Dance on the Big Island of Hawaii. These mornings became so successful that it didn’t take long before it found it’s way to San Francisco and a little later (2012) it took off in Amsterdam.

Conscious clubbing = surrender in safety

Ecstatic stands for dancing your body out of stasis – out of your fixed pattern – and you could label it as a form of Conscious Clubbing (there is also dancing during the day). In addition, the freedom of movement in a safe environment is paramount.
How safe? Well then it comes down to the rules of the game; namely no cameras and telephones, no booze and drugs, no speaking…. but be respectful and the aspect of the space holders (guardians of space) who are present at such an event. It is easy to understand that the lack of telephones / cameras and being drug-free results in safer situations, after all, nothing unwanted is posted on social media and drugs give you an incalculable state of being, so they have been ticked off. Sober under the influence of music.

But also respect for the other and not being allowed to speak offers that. Taking others into account while you are mainly focused on yourself, judgments fall away, and the well-known hunting ground is no more. This in combination with the presence of experienced people (the space holders) who unobtrusively ensure that everything runs smoothly, all of which ensures safety.
And when you feel safe and know that no one is judging how you dance or how you look, you experience much more space to dance as if no one is watching. That freedom to dance the way you want with respect for each other on the dance floor distinguishes Ecstatic Dance from other events. The goal? You could say total surrender on the dance floor, and if you can be that on the dance floor, then you can also apply that in your own life.

The power of the crowd

What I also want to mention is the effect of the crowd. Being a part of this has an almost magical quality. As an example, consider the crowd singing the entire song during a concert… goosebumps! Or during a sporting event where the spectators stand behind a team as 1 and see all the emotions pass by and experience them themselves.
This is all possible during an Ecstatic Dance, where dancing within the rules to (club) music makes it much more than a party or a natural high on water or tea.
I experienced this physically that one summer evening and the Ecstatic Dance virus has infected me. So much so that since 2014 I have been organizing Ecstatic Dance in Utrecht myself. It’s difficult to explain what Ecstatic all is about because it can be so much! A simple workout, a party in full surrender, a deep dance journey, even a spiritual experience and much more. For myself it is a different experience every time and yet always a ceremony of life, every Friday night again, and that has enriched my life enormously.
I would say, come and dance and come alone, you’re not allowed to talk on the dance floor anyway 🙂

Lale Freie
Ecstatic Dance Utrecht