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Category Archives: Dancing

Letting go (a bit) at a 5Rhythms orgy of ecstasy

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It’s been a while since I said anything positive about a new age activity (to wit there has been positivity about tai chi, healing, singing about angels and, to my eternal shame, thetahealing), but despite my innate fear of new age men, turns out I rather enjoy 5Rhythms movement meditation.

5Rhythms originated in the 1970s and uses tenets of shamanistic, ecstatic, mystical and eastern philosophy – although to the uninitiated it looks like flailing around to music. There are now three different weekly events in Melbourne alone. Today there are around 150 of us, on a fire-hazardly hot day at Abbotsford Convent.

A DJ is spinning languorous ambient music, causing one woman to roll around on the floor, showing her knickers. Others wave their arms around like trees in the wind. We’ll be doing this – to varying BPMs – for the next few hours.

First things first, I get as far away from my cohort Esther as possible (“no touching, please – we’re British,” she mutters) and plonk myself in the corner.

Ten minutes in, I’m still grimacing at ground level. At some point I’ll have to get off the floor, upon which I am trailing the odd limb, and get jiggy with it. The BPMs are rising, and in response, people are running around the room like aeroplanes or bucking their hips wildly, as though reenacting the voodoo sequences in Live and Let Die.

I get up and get stuck in, and after some initial dying inside, I find I’m completely forgetting myself – and pulling awesome shamanistic dance moves, hitherto unseen. Cop THIS, fire twirlers. I sneak a peak at Esther. One minute she’s interpretative prancing through the air with her frock sailing behind her, the next she’s raving to an internal munt0-mix, happy as Larry.

An hour goes by. I love this. I’m secretly dying for someone to gasp of my chops: “You mean to say you’ve had no formal training?” However, I can’t quite lose the “Get fucked, seriously” attitude whenever someone comes whirling dervishing into my space. Especially new age men. They’re creepy, aren’t they? They really are. Just don’t make eye contact – that’s my advice.

One shirtless man with an unruly beard and orange fisherman’s pants curls up in the foetal position on the floor. Another man drifts over to him in a non-threatening manner and slowly reaches out a hand to touch his shoulder. They remain in this chilling tableau for many minutes.

The BPM rises some more. There is clapping. Some people tumble on each other like acrobats. They embrace. Women have, by and large, tucked their dresses into their knickers and are rolling their eyeballs around their sockets. One woman curls into a ball and a man wraps himself around her like a limpet. I try and meet Esther’s eyes so I can mimic a dry heave – I must – but she’s on another fucking plane. Another couple touch each other’s fingers and won’t stop staring into each other’s eyes and kissing. “Feeeeeeeel it” a disembodied voice shrieks over tribal drums. We’re feeling it, we’re feeling it; if only in the form of flashbacks. In fact, as Esther notes later, this seems to be an old ravers’ home, for those who have long since blown a fuse.

My interest starts to wane 90 minutes in and I go and gaze out of the window. The mix falters between tracks and I can hear everyone groaning, like we’re in some soft porn flick.

As we sit in a massive circle afterwards, in various states of undress, I draw one knee towards me to stop it touching the skin of the new age man next to me*. The facilitator is telling us about a mid-week class called “relating on the dance floor”, in which, reading between the lines, we learn to touch each other and dance at the same time.

“You should do that,” torments Esther in a whisper.

Still, for someone whose contribution at warehouse raves in the 90s was chain-smoking and scribbling down illegible horrible thoughts on cigarette packets, this devil-may-care dancing is a remarkable achievement. I’m going back in; god help me.

* This is fair enough, as a friend told me afterwards a mate of hers goes along to these shindigs purely to pick up new age chicks who are helpless to resist a shirtless man dancing to the divine force.

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Ho ho ha ha ha: joining a laughter club

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In my youth, my hatred of humankind was such that I would rather sit next to a turd than my fellow man. I know this exactly to be true, because one morning upon jumping on the tube at Hounslow East, I discovered some early bird scoundrel had lovingly laid a massive brown log upon one of the seats.

Brilliant, I thought. If I sit opposite that, no one will come near a 10m radius of me.

I cracked open a can of cider. Result.

Around the time of the turd, these new seat designs were introduced on the tube. Conspiracy theorists claimed the patterns were designed to look like the letters ‘S’ ‘E’ and ‘X’.

You’d think, then, that a laughter club in the middle of a park in country Victoria would be a cognitive challenge. However, I’ve come to realise since those youthful days that a) being open-minded and friendly to others can bring surprises and delights, b) the world neither owes me nor is out to get me, and c) amphetamines are best left alone.

I’ve come to investigate the club with Lucy and Stampy, who are game for a, uh, laugh, even if that means joining in with a group of 12 pensioners and oddballs at 8.30 on a Saturday morning. We’re conducted by a couple who have been laughter club devotees for years. “It releases… enzymes,” Barry says with a note of uncertainty. He slaps his beer gut. “Keeps you fit, as well.”

Gathering in a big circle, we’re run through a series of exercises: running around like an aeroplane with our arms outstretched and our “hahahahahaha” being the splutter of the propellor; having imaginary pillow fights, guffawing all the while; and running up to each other, staring into each other’s eyes, while tittering behind our hands “like Japanese women”. It’s all a bit manic and alarming, but so far, nothing ruptured.

In between each bout we retake our positions in the circle and clap with cupped hands (so that the vibrations run up our arms), chanting: “ho ho ha ha ha, ho ho ha ha ha”.

The idea, of course, is that faking merriment within the diaphragm region can fool the brain into releasing feel-good endorphins and boosting immunity. In fact, while laughter is now an innate instinct that comes into effect at around three or four months of age,  Robert Provine, a neuroscientist at the University of Maryland, theorises that the panting of chimpanzees as they play developed into laughter as our ancestors developed speech as a way of relieving stress and communicating our playful intent.

More exercises, back here in the park: roaring in a jolly manner like Father Christmas; doing a dance – “of your preference” – around the circle; mimicking a kookaburra and a meerkat, chortling and mincing our way over invisible hot coals; and chuckling in an imaginary elevator, into which we are crammed with all 12 others.

Towards the end, we’re instructed to use our laughter for the power of good. “Does anyone know of anybody who could do with some healing laughter?” Barry calls out.

“A double fatality!” one woman practically screams before anyone else gets a chance to think. “There was a double fatality in the newspaper last night. Car crash. Tragic.”

I’m not going to allege this lady may also be a funeral gatecrasher, combing the papers for meaningful moments, but as Stampy notes later, the laughter club does seem to be full of lonely types.

Focusing our energy, we laugh at increasing volume, rushing towards the centre of the circle, arms outstretched. We do that a few times, cackling our intent at the bereaved families.

Afterwards, the three of us compare notes and find: 1) we feel like we’ve had a fairly pleasing aerobic workout, 2) we felt a bit like we were in a cult, and 3) none of us found the laughter siblings-at-the-dinner-table contagious, which was a bit disappointing. But for a recovering gelotophobe, it’s a nice hurdle to hop.