Movement as a Metaphor: Ecstatically Dancing at Aurora
Since opening its doors in 2015, Aurora Healing Arts Center and its vibrant community has been a powerful conductor in Gainesville for healing, creativity and strikingly immersive experiences.
Mat Chandler, the man behind Aurora, has beautifully crafted a space for acceptance and expression through mediums like yoga, meditation, breath work and various ceremonies that leave participants with an undeniable sense of connectedness and community.
However, twice a month, a slightly more energetic yet similarly healing event takes place within Aurora’s colorful walls: a worldwide phenomenon that has gently wiggled its way into Gainesville commonly known as Ecstatic or 5Rhythms dance.
Expressive in nature but bound by very few guidelines, ecstatic dance is a uniquely therapeutic event where you spend 90 minutes “dancing” or moving to your own internal rhythm free from choreography, substances, verbal communication and judgment.
As Mat iterates before every experience, “it’s a practice where we step out of judgment of ourselves and of others.”
Moreover, the experience defies the common notion of dance or what it means to be a dancer. Instead, ecstatic dance provides a place where your two left feet are to be celebrated and living room style dancing encouraged.
As ecstatic dance-goer Marianne Mckey explains, the dance is where you can “step out of the confines of how you experience or have previously experienced dance, whether it was in the gym auditorium as a teenager or in a nightclub with unnecessary expectations.”
Meditative in nature, ecstatic dance also provides an outlet where even non-religious individuals can glean a seemingly sacred experience. As Marianne puts it, “With ecstatic dance, I can dance for myself and it’s my space. As someone who’s non-religious, it’s the closest form of praying and provides the spiritual experience with a physical connection to it,” said Mckey.
With music styles hitting every divot of the genre spectrum, including styles like rock ‘n’ roll, deep house, folk, tribal, jazz, ska, lyrical, international and even rap, there is a flavor for everyone to groove to.
Whether you prefer jumping around in the middle of the floor, laying flat in the corner, stretching near the wall, or practicing kung fu with a stranger, nearly every variation of movement or expression is welcomed with plenty of space between Aurora’s three rooms.
Emotion and curiosity, like movement, is also encouraged to stay fluid and free flowing during the event. While providing joy and excitement to many, the dance also gives enough space for vulnerability and a breadth of emotions.
“It also becomes a vehicle to unleash the sounds within you which want to respond to the music. For example, last week we had a clapping jam. I’ve explored singing in the corner of a room where the acoustics are great,” said musician Daimian Holiday Scott.
“You get to live inside of the music and interact with others as the moment allows,” said Scott. “It becomes full-bodied musicianship and at times, I play my body like Bobby McFerrin. At times, I jump up and down like I’m at a punk show and at other times, I lay down on the floor and enjoy quiet music as I have always wanted to.”
An individual journey within a group environment, ecstatic dance is a practice where you can fully be free from expectations, and mold the experience into your own. Abstaining from non-verbal communication provides a perfect dose of anonymity, allowing you to weave through an introspective internal monologue as you silently move amongst everyone’s idiosyncratic dancing styles.
For some folks, it’s a light and playful place to get a positivity-soaked cardio workout while for others, it’s a fully transformative experience that can translate to every other part of life. Shaking the initial shyness can be a daunting task, but therein also lies huge opportunity for self-discovery, growth and acceptance.
Mat explains his own monumental life shift after his first dance three and a half years ago which ignited his love for self expression:
“I went from being scared of what others thought to shifting away from self-judgment. During my first dance, I didn’t move much and stayed in the corner. Over the course of 6 months I watched myself coming out of the corner. I witnessed a blossoming in dance and in my life as I became confident and increasingly self-aware.”
The donation-based dance is followed by an immersive gong experience and a group potluck where you can eat and be merry with the group whom you’ve just shared an authentic piece of yourself with.
A Sunday night experience that leaves your heart and belly full as you ecstatically end your week with an appreciation for yet another rich and beautiful part of Gainesville.
Check out the last dance of the year here.