Biodanza: Rx for the Soul.
You know that thing they say about love being like a butterfly that will unexpectedly land on your shoulder when you least expect it? That’s what happened to me one day in Buenos Aires while I was stomping the streets in my perennial search for books, cafés and cultura. I got zapped, not by the valentine version of love, but by Biodanza, the dance of life. And biodanza, which I stumbled upon in the back room of that women’s bookstore on Hipolito Yrigoyen, took me directly to universal love, freedom, and happiness. Yes, all that, one dance at a time.
BIODANZA—I’d seen the word plastered on posters for cultural happenings in Bogotá but I didn’t know what it was and I was too chicken to go and find out. I had reason to be scared. Because biodanza is not a set of choreographed dance moves—it’s a way to find yourself in your body in the presence of others, with music and with purpose. It’s like being intimate with your self in public. Yet it’s also fun, playful, and creative. Imagine being a five year-old spinning in a playground. Or strutting around at home, uninhibited, to a sensual salsa tune. But you’re not alone—you’re in a circle with strangers, dancing, at times holding hands, swaying hips, or looking into their eyes.
Rooted in anthropology, psychology, shamanism, biology and philosophy, biodanza originated in Chile in the 1960s as a result of Rolando Toro’s studies on the effect that dance and movement have on the human psyche. Toro found that the mixture of music, movement, and expressed emotions stirs the human potential and connects individuals to each other. The magic happens within classes called vivencias, on-the-spot life experiences orchestrated by biodanza instructors who come to class with a lesson plan and a CD of carefully selected music cued up.
It’s really hard to describe biodanza because you have to experience it to get it. I’ll try, nonetheless, but be forewarned. It’s like trying to tell someone what it feels like to peel a ripe mango and become briefly intoxicated with that scent.
Each vivencia has its own flavor. As a whole, the class may have a pre-selected theme, such as the yin-yang archetype, angels, totem animals, gods and goddesses, or one of the four elements. Each dance has a specific intention, such as connecting to mother earth, breathing in beauty, feeling the heart center, or flirting with desire. Biodanceros give in to the moment and to the rhythm at hand—samba, salsa, classical, rock, pop, flamenco. The music is critical and as a true melomaniac, I appreciate that the music is real and organic, as opposed to computerized techno types of tunes.
The biodanza instructor leads the way and demonstrates an interpretation of the dance at hand. She sets the tone, often with a poetic script: Dance your pleasure… Dance like now or never… Walk the walk of your life… Feel a oneness with all that is connected to the universe… Dive into the sea of humanity.
But the rest of us are without words. We dance in silence, listening inward. We do as we are told: Hold hands and dance in a circle to the rhythm of samba and greet each other with the eyes. Let go and walk tall, happy and proud to Queen’s “I Want to Break Free.” Breathe in universal love and float with the sounds of Enya. Reach into the root of the earth with the beat of African drums. Dance and touch each other with the fingertips. Caress the hair of the person in front of you.
We go inside, quiet down, even as Kitaro’s “Sundance” is pulsing inside our bodies. That is the beauty of biodanza.
I sought out biodanza in Los Angeles after that fated encounter in Buenos Aires and found Jaquelin Levin, who had just relocated here after being invited to teach a biodanza seminar at Esalen. A native of South Africa, Jaqueline trained with Carolina Churba in Johannesburg and later apprenticed with Patricia Martello in the United Kingdom. She recalls her first vivencia in Cape Town. “I was so disconnected from my body, I questioned being in that first class,” she said, adding that she masked her embarrassment with giggles. “But I went back the next week and something shifted in me psychologically and physically.” Soon after, she was hooked. “The woman [instructor] from Brasil demonstrated the dances and moved with such comfort and sensuality. I wanted to be like her.”
I do too. Not that I want to be exactly like anyone, but I want to be in my body in a happy, expressive and fluid sort of way. Like swimming, but on land.
Here in Los Angeles, Jaquelin offers a series of vivencias (weekly classes resume on September 24). She has an intensive workshop coming up at the Goddess Temple of Orange County (October 3), a workshop at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur (January 5-10, 2010) and a Caribbean cruise for International Women’s Week (February 28-March 10). Graduates from the San Francisco School of Biodanza may also offer vivencias in California. And if you google around, you can find biodanza in many cities in the U.S.
A few nights ago, I joined Jaqueline and her group of biodanceros on the beach for a vivencia beneath a full moon in Aquarius. I don’t know if it was the soft sand and ocean breeze or the intimacy with strangers mixed up with lunar magic, but something clicked all over again. I woke up, ever so briefly, in the pleasure of the moment. Even now, I close my eyes and sway in the circle of communion, arms wrapped around fellow biodanceros in our safe nest of humanity. I can still hear the chorus of Deva Premal’s “So Much Magnificence”: “There is so much magnificence near the ocean, waves are coming in, waves are coming in.”
Yes, they are. And it’s just so damn cool.
For additional information about biodanza, see:
Totó la Momposina in Los Angeles
And if you’re in Los Angeles, don’t miss your chance to experience the fabulous Totó la Momposina on Friday, August 14th in downtown at the California Plaza for Grand Performances.
The shows (at 12 PM and 8 PM) are free. Totó is a talented and dynamic traditional Afro-Colombian singer and she’ll be swinging it with some top-notch Colombian drummers.