Slow dancing with chaos (Gabrielle Roth)
Interview with Gabrielle Roth, November 2004
How does it feel to step onto the dance floor and teach nowadays and has it changed over the years?
It's constantly changing. I'm at home on the dance floor. It's my womb, my power center, my place of understanding, a place where I can drop the world as I know it and enter into a universe of energy.
On the dance floor I am reduced to essence. It's where I grew up, it's where I grew down, it's where I have been turned inside out and upside down and recycled and reinvented, ten thousand times. On the dance floor I feel connected. Everything comes together; everything makes sense. It's where I witness the unbelievable truth of what it means to be a human being. Dancing reveals the soul. It's my first language, and it will be my last.
It's like you are speaking poetry.
Yeah, my body is my pen, you know, and the dance floor is my notepad.
What do you personally find the most challenging in dancing the 5 Rhythms?
Probably my most challenging Rhythm at this moment is Chaos. My work was born in my twenties when I was at the peak of my energy. Dancing wild and abandoned was my chaotic refuge. Chaos shook me up and rearranged me. It carried me across currents of time and space, into this profoundly mysterious place, a place of total ecstasy.
So I occasionally miss that raw ride, that sweaty, pulsating, totally, absolutely on the edge ride, which is not within my experience any more, because one has to be true to one's life and to one's body and to one's age. It's insane for me to think that in my sixties I could go to that same orgasmic peak of the dance that I did in my twenties. Now my dance is equally spirited but more internal. So Chaos would be the most challenging, but I also feel that I have come full circle back to stillness, which is where I began.
So when you look back on your life what memories and achievements most warm your heart?
When I look back the first thing I see is my skinny pregnant self. The awe that I felt being pregnant and carrying a baby inside of me was holy, and giving birth to that baby was the wildest night of my life. It certainly enlightened my view of the 5Rhythms™. Being a mom has been my most intense and profound spiritual practice.
That I have been so loved by all the men in my life - my father, my brother, my husband, and my son - has been my greatest blessing. It has also helped me to truly embrace my own masculine spirit, and I could not have created the world we all dance in without it.
One of my deepest honors was being able to provide a shamanic structure for the six months of my father's dying process, to hold his hand throughout the whole journey, and to know that I had come full circle. So much of what I had learned I had received from him, and that gave me great hope for all of us: what we give is what we get; what goes around comes around. As I sat with him, holding his hand, singing to him, I remembered a particular day when his brother was in a hospital bed dying of brain and lung cancer. He had been losing control over a different piece of his body every day. My uncle's arms no longer worked, and he wanted to smoke a cigarette. I watched my dad light up his cigarette and tell him stories, massage his hands, his feet, and his head, and in this moment I understood the quality of care that I experience in my family.
I love the way my mother loves. She has such compassion for everyone. Her garden is a sanctuary for me. A lot of family roots are in that garden. I love sitting there, seeing the caring and nurturing that has gone into it, and realizing that all of that has also gone into me.
However, nobody in my little, nuclear family ever asks a question about my work. Oddly, loving somebody doesn't always make us curious. So dancing on the edge of the world as we know it could have been a really lonely place for me, but for my son Jonathan's complete devotion to this practice. His fascination with it has kept me alive, and it continues to feed me and nourish me like an umbilical chord to something truly wise.
My sweet husband, Robert has put his big, bad heartbeat behind everything I've done. And while I'm on this trail, many ghost dancers appear. In my tribal family I have much to be grateful for. This weekend I will be celebrating my thirtieth anniversary with Martha, who has been the source and sorceress for the visual expression of the 5Rhythms™. I can still remember the day I picked up the phone and Ya'acov and Susannah were on the other end of it, asking me if there was anything they could do to serve. Well, that conversation turned into a school of deep dances. And then there are the wild witches of the west-Kathy, Lori, and Andrea-who each threw their dreams into the cauldron.
The quality of people that have chosen this practice as a way of being moves me in the deep, dark waters of my being. I must say, in answering this question, I realize relationship rules my existence. In my heart I know I would not be able to ride the wave as fearlessly without the support of so many dancing maniacs.
Do you have any regrets?
I don't have any big regrets like 'I should have done that instead of this'. My regrets are personal and have to do with separation from my body and my misuse or abuse of my body, all the things I've written books about so I don't need to go into that here. I am sorry that it had to be that way, but on the other hand had it not been that way we wouldn't be having this conversation.
I think of you as a very active person, dancing and leading workshops. What's your idea of a 'quiet night in'?
When you say 'quiet night in' I think that you are asking me about a night in my home but I am thinking of it as a place in my soul, in myself. I need a huge amount of silence and space within myself. I grew up this way. My first power spots on this earth were libraries and churches (but not on Sunday) where I learned to seek out the stillness and the silence and to move through worlds with my imagination. I have always been a book worm, I read constantly. I love sitting in a chair, eating an apple and reading a book. I had to be kind of pushed to go outside and play. I was a loner child, a wolf kid. So I don't have many wild nights out. My work is so wild that it fills that cup, so that the rest of my life can be spacious and still, which is the way I like it. Did I forget to mention that I love juicy TV, like 24 or CSI. And nothing is better than a good movie. Truth be told, I am also quite lazy, so it wouldn't hurt me to lie around more. I don't get to do a lot of that by the way, it's a rare thing. My deepest yearning is to live a "quiet night".
You talk about being a book worm. Has your reading pace changed over the years, and if yes in what way?
No. That's been a definite and consistent thread throughout my life. I love fiction of all kinds. I absolutely love good stories. My thing with books is very intuitive. I go to a bookstore and cruise the tables with all the new books. It is rare that I pick up a book that doesn't pick me up. I love covers and titles like The Blue Bedspread. I love fantasy fiction like the Thomas Covenant series, or Attanassio's Arthurian series. Some of my favorite writers are Banana Yoshimoto, Haruki Murakami, and Arundhati Roy.
What dreams do you still have for yourself?
That's such an interesting question, because I never have dreams for the future. In all honesty I can say that I have never lived in the future. My ego lives in the past and my soul lives in the present. But my present is so big and full that I rarely get an opportunity, other than through deadlines and demands, to go into the future. I never get to drift there like a dreamer. On the other hand, I spent most of my childhood drifting through a dream. It's funny, but being a dreamer was considered negative by my school teachers. Often they'd comment on my report cards: 'Gabrielle is an excellent student, but she is a dreamer'. Although I might have appeared to be in outer space, I was right there in my seat. Even at a young age, switching worlds between spirit and body was easy. It drove my Spanish teacher crazy, and he just loved to break my spell, crash my world by throwing me a big, hard question in Spanish. God knows how, but I was always able to throw it back-in Spanish. He made me aware that there was a big dreamer inside me. I hadn't met her before. She was too busy dreaming. However, she never drifts into the future, she drifts into the web like a spider, in filaments, in waves, moving out into the bigger picture and then back into her tiny frame. But it doesn't translate into goals or plans or things to achieve in any way.
Mr George W Bush. What are your thoughts about that?
I certainly wished for John Kerry to win the election. For one, in America, human rights are sliding back about a hundred years. Not to mention the aggressive Bushy bulldog stance in the world. So I was devastated. I had to fall back on my faith in the process, which fortunately is pretty unshakable. From the dance I have learned that whatever is going on, this too will pass.
In my most essential self I know there is only one of us here. We are totally interdependent. We are strands and waves and energies that are all part of one organic mystery. We are not separate, solid, and secure, so it's foolish to act as if we are. But part of that 'one of us' is called George W. Bush, and I really believe that each of us has to seek deep within ourselves for that voice, that cowboy mouth he represents, to actually wonder, is that arrogance within me? Is that separateness within me? Is that bully within me? It's important to take responsibility for all that's inside of us and not put more of that energy into this world. And if he's a reminder of this, then so be it.
Do you have any intention of running workshops to train people on how to play live music to support the 5 Rhythms?
There is a part of the training where this is addressed, but we don't train people to play live music. I like working with live music, and I also love working with recorded music and with no music at all. For the last 25 years I've been married to a drummer, and I guess that sealed my fate. I'm not as experimental as I was in my youth when I worked with lots of different of musicians. It's an area to explore. But it's not about having a training, it's about having a relationship to a musician. I've had some really fantastic experiences with live musicians and some really mediocre ones. I'd rather have recorded music or no music than music that was not connected to what is actually happening in the room.
As I perceive it from my own body movement before I can start moving in flowing etc I need to start from a pulsating beat which connects me to the ground and gets me to the . I am aware that all the rhythms have the beat in them, but I wonder why you didn't add in separately the fifth so that altogether there would be six.
Yes, I've always thought it would be fun to have a birth, a childhood, a puberty, a maturity, and then die, and for the sixth coming … ANOTHER PUBERTY, DUDE! I find this question charming because it sounds as if somebody thinks that I made all of this up, or that it came from my intellect and I had any choice in the matter. It didn't happen that way. I experienced and then discovered the 5 Rhythms as separate energetic patterns, one at a time. At some point after deep investigation I began to see how they actually connected to one another. And then how they connected to my body, to my journey into trance, and to life itself. The 5 Rhythms fascinate me. I will never be able to dig deep enough to extricate all their teachings. Last month I discovered a whole new way to teach them. It's not about being clever. How do you compete with the DNA of the creative process? A baby is born, an orgasm happens, a building is designed, a life is lived, and the rhythms guide us through it all. They are so much bigger than me that it never even occurred to me to fuck with them. I'll always be a student of the 5 Rhythms. They teach me everything I know about life. Life is the master; teachers come and go.
How do you see the 5 Rhythms developing in the world?
My work has been guided by a vision I had in 1977. I saw an organism moving through existing structures. Certainly, it wasn't an organization. Or at least, it couldn't be contained in a building. In fact it was an energy field that moved like a snake through existing structures-hospitals, prisons, schools, recreation centers, senior centers-revitalizing the soul. Certainly my vision had nothing to do with the New Age. Nobody had heard about it in my town.
My Zen masters came right out of the subcultures I served. They were from lost or forgotten tribes, like disabled kids or migrant workers or abandoned seniors. We met in the back wards of institutions with pea green walls and stereo systems that didn't work. Mine was an ordinary world, and I have always felt that my work reflects its roots. We can't have enough ways to reach kids, elders, and the many among us who are institutionalized, as well as to moms, mechanics, and other well-meaning mystics who simply need to move and find their groove.
The 5 Rhythms community is spreading. Thich Nat Hahn calls community the new Buddha. Surely each of us needs a community of people who can hold the space for us to fall apart, to grow up, and to create new rites and rituals for the 21st century. We need places where we can practice being alone, being together, being in a group and going through all the changes and teachings that these relationships inspire in a creative, dynamic, meditative way. We need places where we can come and get recharged. Ecstasy isn't as easy to reach in a room by yourself as it is with a tribe of angels all really going for it.
In my vision the whole world is dancing. I used to have a game I played in my head where at a certain moment there would be a big gong that would ring and everybody wherever they were on this earth would stop and dance. Just for a minute. Just drop everything and dance. That would be my idea of just having a moment to shake it all off and to get on with a more spacious, still style.
The 5Rhythms™ moving deeper into the world is a great blessing for me. They are like tentacles of awareness reaching out into the bigger community, and I like thinking we are big enough, bold enough, blessed enough to be all-inclusive. We need ways to comfort, to connect, to dance together.
Years ago a psychic healer told me that I was hiding in black - which had always been my preferred color. Maybe I was meant to be a nun who got displaced or something. I always was attracted to black. As a dancer, my life was spent in black leotards. Then I was a baby beatnik and it was very important for beatniks to wear black-almost as important as it was for hippies not to wear black. But I just had to do it. The girl can't help it. I continued to wear black and represent the void in a psychedelic world. I would have gone to India if I looked good in orange. In my mid thirties a psychic suggested to me that I was hiding in black. So I went through this minor purple phase - what other color could I wear? I love white but I am too much of a slob to take it on.
When my father was dying, I met a Native American shaman who said to me: 'You should only wear black. It's your power color.' And she's back in black.
Later, even further down the road, my students treated me to a session with a color therapist. After deeply contemplating my palette, she announced: 'Of course your best color is black.' I sighed. Most importantly, I am comfortable in black. I don't do very well in bright. I'm very much a black person, metaphorically and in every other way. I grew up in black culture. So black to me has always been the most beautiful and fascinating of all colors.
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