Adam Simon, Jamie Himler and Maya Smigel met on Dexter Lawn Tuesday morning to let go of the day for a moment and practice ecstatic dance. With nothing but a speaker in hand, they invited friends and strangers scattered amongst the lawn to join them in movement.
“No thanks,” one student on the lawn said. “I have two left feet.”
“Good to hear — we need more left feet!” psychology junior Simon said.
Ecstatic dance sends the message of inclusivity loud and clear. Rather than perfected, choreographed dance moves, mindfulness and emotion guide the movement.
The new Ecstatic Dance and Mindfulness Club aims to spread awareness of ecstatic dance and its meditative nature to the San Luis Obispo community.
“No two people move the same way,” environmental protection and management sophomore Himler said. “There’s a lot of conceptions that you have to have trained as a ballerina since you were born to be able to dance. But really, everybody is a dancer.”
Ecstatic dance is free-formed movement grounded in the practice of mindfulness. There are no rules or structured choreography that define the practice. Ecstatic dancers simply express their emotions in a single moment through whatever movement that calls.
“The core of ecstatic dance is to create a container where it’s safe and judgment-free to just move your body,” Simon said. “Some people might look like lunatics, rolling around, flipping, writhing their bodies, making weird noises. And that’s what ecstatic dance is: it’s pure expression. Being able to walk into a space, take your shoes off and take off the mask that you wear as you walk around. You just let the purest essence of yourself flow through you, through your movement.”
Simon, Smigel and Himler founded the club to give students a space to practice letting go of inhibitions that might hold them back. Smigel, who practiced many different dance styles growing up, said ecstatic dance grants her the most expressive freedom of all the dance forms.
“It’s very different from what you would find at a [typical] dance show, where every single second is choreographed,” nutrition sophomore Smigel said. “That’s how I grew up dancing my whole life. Every movement was choreographed by the teacher. But in this type of dancing, we decide how we want to move.”
That freedom to decide each movement in the moment encourages mindfulness, a crucial component of ecstatic dance.
“You are meditating as you are moving,” Simon said. “We see it as a mindfulness practice, where you are just grounded in that moment, blind to any responsibilities in the world around you.”
The idea for an ecstatic dance club was born at a Yoga Club meeting. Smigel and Himler, both dance minors, led an ecstatic dance session, and it was met with an overwhelmingly positive response.
“It was beautiful, and there were dozens of happy people dancing,” Himler said. “After that meeting, we thought, ‘Wow, we should do this more often. We should start a club.’”
So they did. They became an official club through Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) in early May.
The club held its first official meeting May 17. That night, the club founders practiced their performance for SubSession’s music festival, Life’s A Peach. It was not a typical dance rehearsal; they did not practice a choreographed piece. Instead, they brainstormed a concept, and they practiced expression of that concept through music and movement. They practiced dancing as if nobody was watching.
“That improvisational skill is an important practice to be able to feel confident enough to have a 20-minute dance performance in front of a group of people without much structure or choreography,” Simon said.
The dancers performed at Life’s A Peach for 20 minutes following an improvisational dance style. The club plans to hold more performances in the future following the same loose structure.
“Whatever you feel in that moment through the music when you’re performing, do that,” Simon said. “Convey that emotion the best you can.”
The three founders plan to lead the club with the same fluid structure as ecstatic dance. Simon said he invites every student to share their practice of movement or mindfulness in whatever form it may take, whether it is poetry, acro yoga or traditional meditation.
“It’s awesome to facilitate any of those experiences,” Simon said. “Everyone can lead. We’re all here to teach each other and to learn from each other and just experience each other.”
What started as a group of three dancers on Dexter Lawn that Tuesday morning soon turned into 10. They welcomed all people and all forms of movement: crawling on the ground, shaking in place, the worm and whatever spoke to them in that moment. The club hopes to spread the same spirit that produced a dance party from a quiet morning across campus.