"To sweat is to pray, to make an offering of your innermost self. Sweat is holy water, prayer beads, pearls of liquid that release your past. Sweat is an ancient and universal form of self-healing, whether done in the gym, the sauna, or the sweat lodge. The more you dance, the more you sweat. The more you sweat, the more you pray. The more you pray, the closer you come to ecstasy."
Dancer and healer Gabrielle Roth died last Tuesday at 71, from cancer.
I took a workshop with her in the early '80s; she was articulate, warm, luminous, funny and fierce, but it's what she did–her freeing of the dancer within everyone–that I appreciate.
Body size, age, rhythmic sense and physical limitations were simply not factors in her classes, now taught by certified instructors around the world as 5Rhythms. We moved to live music, drums and song; we sweated more than I dreamed possible. We stilled the turmoil within and were awed by what appeared. Though the dance was partnerless, I felt connected to everyone in the room.
5Rhythms felt like nothing else, though I've heard athletes who practice various sports talk about similar escape from overbusy brains, and several friends have told me of their sweat lodge visits. (A bonus: sweat benefits the skin, opening and unclogging pores.)
The broadest term for Roth's life work is ecstatic dance, also found in some religious ceremonies, folk dances and a slew of rave-ish gatherings. Common elements are that the dance is made by the dancer and is non-competitive.
I discovered that there's a 5Rhythms class in my city and plan to visit, despite a nearly thirty year pause since first experience. Besides training 5Rhythms teachers, Roth worked till her last days to bring dance to communities where it's normally not welcomed, like hospitals and prisons.
Movement was, for Gabrielle Roth, divine. She talked about the spiritual power of dance in this Huffington Post article. A nine-minute You Tube video, The Wave Dance by Gabrielle Roth, guides a viewer through the process.
She moved me.