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Men, Rhythm and Movement (Ya 'Acov Darling Khan)

Rhythm is our greatest ally in the search for empowerment and balance in a fast-changing world. In this article, Ya'Acov Darling Khan argues that if we don't know our own rhythm, we are like kites on the end of someone else's string.

Finding your Rhythm - from the Womb to the Self
From the very first moment of becoming, the first explosion of egg and sperm, we are moving beings. As Gabrielle Roth, movement teacher and creator of the 5 Rhythms® says: "Everything that is alive moves. The only difference between life and death is movement." I am a dancer. Not in the classical sense. My training has almost entirely been focused on rhythm; finding it, exploring it and giving it form, surrendering to it, being transformed by it and sometimes, landing at the very still core of rhythm itself.

In 1988, I discovered Gabrielle's work in the Dojo of the London Karate Centre. A Toni Childs' track was playing as we warmed up at the beginning of the workshop. I was very much a closet dancer, relying on the dulling effects of alcohol to get me sufficiently over myself to dance in public. Through the door glided a woman dressed in a full length black leather coat wearing dark sunglasses and her jet black hair behind her like some raven's wing. She danced past me just as Toni Childs was singing "the power" and she sang those words at me like a call to an ancient part of me. Eleven years later and that call is still singing through me, inspiring me, rocking me backwards and forwards, whirling me in a dancing prayer for communion with the Lord and Lady of the Dance.

The 5 Rhythms® work is all about finding our own rhythm and expressing it through the body. When we are in the womb and as small babies, we are completely dependent on our motherís rhythm. We ingest her food, her emotions, her experience of life. We suck it all in to our tiny little bodies and through this process, we learn about our relationship to our own rhythm. If our mother was able to follow our rhythm by feeding us when we were hungry, by letting us sleep when we were tired, by picking us up when we wanted to be close and letting us be when we wanted to breathe our own air, then we would have learned that our own rhythm was true, fine and acceptable in this new world. If however, our mother was on her own schedule or the recommended schedule of the time, we would very quickly lose a sense of our own rhythm. Later in life, we will find it more difficult to listen to our own bodily instincts and to look after ourselves in a nourishing and independent way.

The dance of the 5 Rhythms begins with Flowing. We practice moving the body in circular movements, letting the body remember its connection to the ground, to physicality and matter. We are searching or re-searching the instinct of motherhood as we attempt once again to listen to the messages of the body, to allow the body to follow itself in motion, seeking out the beginnings of our own dance. In a sense, we are re-creating a womb for ourselves where this time, we are both mother and baby. The dance can be slow or fast, ferocious or delicate, subtle or dense with the inertia of our history. If we live in a way in which we are not generally listening to our own bodies but feeding on the junk-food of our culture, attempting like delusional robots to squeeze our flesh and our lives into the prevailing fashion of the times, it is not surprising that when we approach our bodies again, what we find is a whole cauldron of rhythms, shapes, patterns, beliefs and therefore dances that belong to someone else. It is our job to empty out what doesnít belong to us so that we can rediscover and release the dancer that lives inside each and every one of us.

This is a task not to be approached in the same way one approaches a fast-food restaurant, expecting predictable and quick results. Finding our own rhythm and releasing itís dance is a task for the courageous. For men brought up in our culture, it's already an act of rebellion from the fixed boundaries of "what it is to be a man" to enter into this process at all. Dealing with our anger - yes, dealing with our dependency on women - well yes in theory. But working to create a physical and embodied sense of our own internal motherhood and to find its dance! Well, that may just be too much! And yet without the willingness not to take our fixed images as the truth, we are so poor in terms of our experience in life. No matter how much milk we suck from the world as we build our personal empires, we will always remain hungry and bound in our search for that original sense of nourishment and security which we had in the womb. It requires a sense of self-responsibility to transform our blaming and shaming into forgiveness and our fear and self-pity into courage. It also requires patience and a healthy dose of humor.

We have to strengthen our relationship to the element of earth and to the earth as a living being who we can go to for love and companionship. How to do this? Reading in a book or a magazine that the earth is alive may give us a romantic sense of something but that is very far away once again from the living experience of the physical body's direct relationship to the earth under its feet. Personally, when I go out walking, I talk to the earth as a friend. I have done many ceremonies which involve burying myself overnight in an attempt to come back to this experience which indigenous cultures seem to take for granted. As a culture, we are at an extreme distance from this feeling. Sometimes then, extreme leaps of the imagination are required to break the chains our rational minds have over our lives. Of course, when I was buried for the first time and began as instructed "to talk to the earth as my mother and friend", I was fairly sure that I had finally gone round the bend. But when I heard the earth talking back to me through a physical language I'd abandoned in my early childhood, I knew that I was taking an important step towards independence and reclaiming the right to be free. This feeling came right back into my dance and my flow became that much more embodied.

Right throughout the ages, men have come to the earth for healing. In our culture, men's relationship to the earth has been a lot to do with soldiering and ownership. We fight for ownership of what we have felt ought to belong to us. We have turned the earth red with our own blood fighting over the precious minerals that live under the earth's skin in order to make ourselves richer, bigger, more powerful, more important. There is a vast difference between warriors fighting with honour for the survival of their culture and the land that their ancestors are buried on to soldiers paid by politicians to steal land for the purpose of exploitation. As men, we are lost without a true sense of warriorship. I truly believe that it is our loss of this connection that a true warrior of the spirit has with his mother the earth, and the loss of the essential nature of the flowing rhythm which has led us to become so dependent on women for our support and energy and the accumulation of material wealth for our sense of security and belonging.

In the search for our own rhythm and all that that implies, it's important to have a sense of perspective. It would be a waste of time to spend years and years finding our rhythm only to lose it again the moment we come into contact with a different rhythm. I do this work in order to find my offering to this precious world we live in. The dancer in us is a paradoxical edge-walker dealing in opposites and balance. The question: "What is my rhythm?" would make no sense without its brother question: "What is your rhythm?" If I am asking for what I need, the dancer is also asking, "what can I give?" The dancer who has found his own rhythm has a fluidity of perceptive. Because he understands that everything that is alive is in movement, and because he knows that change is inevitable, he is able to be generous with his opinion and at the same time, not attached to it. This leads onto the second rhythm, Staccato and the question of creative difference or competitive comparison.

Different Rhythms - Creative Difference or Competitive Separation
From a dancer's point of view, it's possible to see that a great deal of conflict in relationship is based on different rhythm. I eat slowly, you eat fast, you sleep late, I rise at the crack of dawn, you like to be surrounded by colour and noise, I like black and white simplicity. If I am not assured and confident in my own rhythm, I will be threatened and disturbed by yours. If I am insecure, I will either collapse in the face of difference or become aggressive and try to make you the same as me. So in the dance, we practise the rhythm of Staccato in order to be able to define our own position and be able to accurately see anotherís position. I am I and You are You. The dance of Staccato is based on the heartbeat. We all have our very own drum thatís been beating away inside us for some time now. In staccato, we listen and we move in time with our own heartbeat. We give ourselves the permission to express ourselves in linear, angular more masculine forms. We give space to finding the fire of our anger and transforming it into positive action, and perhaps, most importantly, we give space for difference.

The Father is the teacher of this rhythm. Ideally, he would have been there as our first friend. He would have been the boundary maker, the line through the circle, the edge against which we could sharpen our sense of self in relationship to another. He would have taught us that to love means to allow and even to celebrate difference. If like me, you spent most of your childhood trying to get your fatherís attention, you will know that in general, the sacred role of the father as teacher of the heart is rarely played in our wounded society. And what's more, whatever tricks we learnt in order to get some of that precious attention, you can be sure that weíre still playing them now in our adult relationships. Attention truly is a precious substance. A garden needs attention to grow. So does a human being. In the dance, the rhythm of staccato is a practice which requires us to let our attention move beyond our own self and at the same time, not to lose awareness of our own self. It is a sacred task for us to learn to father ourselves in this rhythm, to go to the edge, to put all the frustration and hurt of not being seen behind ourselves as a motivation rather than in front of ourselves as an excuse.

As men, it's not that difficult, given a little encouragement, to connect with our anger and the outward expression of rage. We may have to deal with our fear of violence or our fear of our own destructive capacity in order to let the fire of anger dance through our bodies. But what is difficult is to transform the energy of our natural aggression into a useful and enhancing tool for our day-to-day lives. We have to learn to grab hold of our anger and dance it rather than being like puppets at the effect of our anger and being danced by it. We have to learn that we have an edge, a boundary and to sensitise ourselves to where this is. When I first started dancing the 5 Rhythms, I had no sense of the staccato rhythm. I had made myself into an honorary feminist and even proudly belonged to a men's group called the Wee Willy Wimpos. I was a maybe freak, never really committing myself to one direction or another but preferring the nice and pseudo kindly landscape of Maybe Land. I had a mountain of anger and resentment seething just a little way beneath this formica veneer and it didn't take long for this rhythm to catalyse this anger into motion. What a fucking relief! Over the years, I have learnt that I do have a boundary and that I, and no-one else, am responsible for protecting it. Dancing the backlog of anger and giving that space in a structured and supportive environment has given me the possibility to use my anger as a creative fuel. Through allowing it and dancing it, I have been able to return to a softer but far more honest edge. I can say no quietly or I can be a little more assertive or if necessary, I can use the full force of that fire to protect myself or my child or the people I love. A student told me a story that one day, he was walking down the road when he saw a man beating his girlfriend on the opposite side of the street. Without thinking, a huge roar erupted from his whole body. He shouted without hesitation "NO!". The man was so shocked, he just stopped what he was doing. A true warrior rarely has to fight. They are at home with their weapons and use them wisely.

In this work, we take our anger and dance it, find its rhythm, its art, its freedom of expression so that it becomes our backbone in the form of a forgiveness that is molded from the substance and the passion of the heart. Here, standing in the power of our own rhythm, we can meet another's rhythm without fear. We can look a complete stranger in the eye, give him our undivided attention, offer him the space to be true and free, and never lose the remembrance of our own rhythm. The potential of this is enormous. I can say no without guilt. I can say yes without resentment. I can dance like a deva on fire. I can see you for who you are and support the qualities that I see emerging in you and you can do the same for me. Itís worth the sweat!

A Willow or an Oak Tree - The Rhythm of Discovery
An acorn, given the right conditions will grow into a fine oak. In the natural world, a daddy oak tree doesn't come along to its young acorn and suggest that it should become a willow. As a society, we have moved quite a long way away from nature.

We have ideas based on status and security for what kind of direction our children should go in. Though we were all adolescents ourselves, we frown on the antics of teenagers and try to restrict their curiosity and experiments. Parents who feel trapped by the burdens of maturity, unfulfilled in their lives and out of touch with the dreams and the rebellious idealism of their teenage years, will naturally find it harder to have empathy with their teenage children. And yet, wherever a man looks, be it on TV or in the burgeoning new market of the new men's magazines, most of what is being offered is the stuff of adolescence. Heroes and conquests are still in fashion and we are still mostly trying to live up to someone's image of manhood and true masculinity. What a joke. Don't they know there's only one of you? Don't they realise that they throw out the mold each and every time a soul arrives on the planet?

It seems that chaos is to avoided at all costs and that we must confine our expression to one or two stereotypes. We are supposed to care fervently about how we are seen and what image we are presenting. And even though these stereotypes are changing, we can never live up to them simply because they don't belong to us. We are taught to behave as we are expected to behave and it is not in the least surprising that so many men lose it in their early forties and "fall in love" with their young secretary or au pair. What we resist persists.

And if we have not taken the space to carve out a sense of self and other from the journey through the first two cycles of flowing (birth and toddler-hood) and staccato (childhood), then the chaos of adolescence will be more of a frantic search to belong. We are vulnerable and we grab onto the nearest sense of security we can find. Rather than moving into a deep and chaotic exploration of the possibilities of life, we fall into the despair of trying to fit in and trying to live up to the streotypes and expectations of our peer groups. For young men, these roles are tightly defined. Be ready and willing. Conquer. Be cool. Keep the lie of invulnerability and distance intact.

I believed that I had to be there all the time, all ways
Hard and ready for action
Giving all in thrust after thrust
Banging home the lie upon lie
Let there be dominion over love.
Pictures sprayed on walls of battles and guns and big fat weapons
Saluting the God of war as we all march
Past in file shouting Yes! Yes! Yes!
We’re the boys who make more noise
We believe in the dreams of boys
We’re so brave and we’re so hard
Ready for action pick a card
Diamonds, clubs, spades but take no hearts
Raise the anti, aim those darts
How many bullseyes can you score
Fuck Madonna, Nuns and Whores
No room in this regimented line
For dreams or listening to the signs
Just tell me how I must be
To belong to this point in His story

Despair, violence and a reaction to the restrictive forms of our history create the scenarios of teenage madness we know so well. Looking for our individuality becomes confused with belonging to the in-crowd. We’re either in or out and the game lasts a lifetime.

How would it be to enter into this chaotic time with a solid foundation of a grounded sense of self and a knowledge of how to respect others? How different would the dance of our adolescence be? The natural movement of teenage energy is towards chaos. We all certainly have a teenager living in our psyches and it’s up to us whether we move in the direction of destruction of self and/or others or creation.

Chaos is the rhythm of adolescence and in the dance, we practise chaos as a positive force for change in our lives. Indeed, creative chaos in terms of rhythm is the place for really letting go of the forms and patterns we have built up in staccato and letting rhythm itself dictate the shape of our dance. Chaos is the rhythm where we are moving too fast for our minds to stay in control. It's the place where, if we let go of mental control and the concerns we normally have for presenting our selves in the best possible light, our body's natural rhythm can take over. The rhythm of the music magnetises the rhythm inside us and they fuse in the magical world of ecstatic dance. The skins of our socialisation fall away and our original pattern can become visible once more. Willow or Oak tree, the form emerges like a great whaleís tale from the ocean. In the dance, we are supported in this emergence by our fellow dancers. A group of relative strangers can transform quickly into a tribal group of dancing maniacs, breaking the chains of polite conditioning and letting their bodies free to do their very own label free thing. And it is this experience of breaking free from the all pervading concern we have for our self-image that creates the energy that sweeps us into the world of ecstatic dance. Here, we become free to inhabit a thousand different forms and yet be attached to none of them. This is the freefall world of lyrical and the domain of the shapeshifter.

Movement and Energy - The Will to be Free
We are all hungry for freedom. We are all searching in one way or another for our own rhythm. The dance is a radical guide in the territory of freedom, leading us to edge after edge, and walls which previously seemed to be made of steel become climbable or breakable. With practice, our style emerges and we gain more vocabulary and possibility and we regain our sense of curiosity and adventure. Only with this attitude of exploration and edge-walking can we find what kind of roots are growing through our feet as we seek to take our place in the circle. Only by giving space to the natural chaos of change within us can we find the rhythm of our maturity and step into our power as men balanced through experience rather than dogma.

The body doesn't lie. You're either in your rhythm or your not. You're either open or closed, awake or asleep, in honesty or deceit. Even reading this page will give you at the most the willingness to experience, to sweat, to dance through your mind binds. Reading about and being are two different things. Theory and practice are two different things. That's the way it is. If you want to free yourself from your parents' home, if you want to leave your mother's womb, if you want to taste the sweet taste of being swept up by rhythm itself, then cut the excuses and get up and dance.

In the dance, maturity is represented by the rhythm of lyrical. Light and trancey, being breathed by the dance itself, change in flight, free from the heaviness of history, there is only now and there is only the dance. Having been whirled and shredded by chaos, having dived into the experiment with a wild abandon, we emerge in the innocence of a new pattern. Everything is fresh. A child's eyes in a man's body. Like falling in love with possibility and action as two sides of the same coin. In the rhythm of lyrical, there is only energy and the question is do I have enough energy to be free. Good intentions count for nothing at 7am on a cold wintry morning. Only energy, discipline and the knowledge that we are responsible for the dream we are dreaming can get us out of a warm cosy bed and onto the dance floor. And yet it's true that the more we dance, the more there is. The more respect we pay to the movement potential of the rhythm inside us, the more that rhythm becomes available to us. Ecstatic dance is energy efficient. It's good for the environment. When we dance, nature is calling to us. In the lightness of attitude that is lyrical, we may hear the voice of the mother speaking to us directly through our feet. We may hear the voice of the fire reminding us that we are never alone. We may hear the voice of nature and in the respecting of our own true human nature, we may respect, enjoy and want to protect the nature around us. Our culture is stuck in a whirly-gig between staccato and chaos and we are taught that the playful world of lyrical is best left in childhood where it rightly belongs. In the dance, we are given the chance to visit our childhoods once again and retrieve this spirit of play.

For men, socialised into the pattern of doing not being, speaking not hearing, accumulationg not absorbing, it is indeed a difficult thing to fiercely reduce ourselves to nothing in order to listen. Yet that is what the dance demands of us. Listen! Listen! Listen! Alanis Morrisettte in one of her songs asks: "Why are you so petrified of silence?" The delicacy of lyrical can be associated with all kinds of difficult experiences for us. Innocence is not generally an acceptable masculine quality but without it, there is no true security. Why are we so hungry to conquer, so desperate to succeed, so fast in the rat race? We are rarely given the permission to celebrate our successes, to experience the meal we are eating. It’s always move on, move up, climb, climb, climb. Expand and do not indulge yourself in moments of wonder, awe and celebration. STOP DAY DREAMING! There is work to be done! Without the innocence of self-acceptance, there is no space for maturity.

Here’s a short story about the lyricism of growing up or one could say, down growing.

I go to the concert because I love the man. I want to see him do what he does. I want to see his relationship to the real people singing his songs back to him on the stage. I want to see him dance like a wild thing and to feel the audience moving with him. I'm tired as fuck. I've been working all day. I go anyway.

The theatre is packed, the lights are low, the stage is a blur of technicians, checking wiring, placing guitars, sound checking, taking sideways and fantasy-filled glances at the audience and enjoying their place. I move through the crowd, looking for the empty spaces and easily arriving at the front and slipping into the gap between two fifteen year olds at their first gig. The air smells of that incredible mixture of teenage sweat, cold beer and hot cigarettes. The latest techno beat is plunging continually towards us from the massive sound walls on either side of the stage. The people are waiting, coiled like a hungry snake about to dance a lashing strike at the stage. I'm waiting too. I'm watching and waiting and breathing. And when the band comes on, the whole theatre uncoils itself in a swarm of movement towards the stage. The singer begins with an old favorite and the snake sings along, its coils lifting the rest of its huge body high up into the air, its wide smile painted across many human faces. The people around me are reaching out towards their hero, touching his breath, grabbing his movement and taking in his style; they move with him, sing with him, go wild with him, reach out their palms towards him, becoming a part of him for these precious moments. They leave their lives behind and become that star on stage.

All this I'm watching, lifted forwards and backwards by the rhythmic surges of this party animal. The sound is huge, the lights are fast and bright. I don't feel separate, it would be dangerous to, but something is happening in me. I can feel that on the outside, I'm becoming stiller, on the inside I'm speeding up. No drugs here, just a day's dancing behind me. Hardly any thought now. Just a body feeling rhythm. What's happening, the question sings inside me, no dissonance. The song he's singing has its own version inside me and I can hear it with my whole body. I close my eyes, I put my hands over my ears. The outside world recedes a little. The rhythms are vibrating inside my feet, climbing up my legs, mixing with the drum in my chest, a blind and deaf world full of vision and sound. The question keeps on at me in this other world and suddenly, the bite of an answer pulls my attention further, stretches me out on the line like a tight rope walker just an outstretched hand away from safety.
It's not that I felt different from those around me. Just a head, a body, some limbs, some history. I didn't know I'd been in a competitive fantasy for most of my life, putting myself up there on stage, feeling those hands stretched towards me, needing me. It's just that when it all fell away from me, the only thing that was left was a smile of sweet contentment. I was happy. I liked my life. I loved my work. I felt satisfaction with what I was giving. Acceptance wrapped her silver hand around my feet and threw me into the air. None of this came as thought at the time. It all happened in the dark world beneath my eyes. The snake just shed its skin and when I took my hands away from my ears and slowly opened my eyes, the light and sound that fell into me just lifted me up into the night winds that were blowing inside that theatre. My eyes saw the colours on the stage, the perspex sheet in front of the drummer was a movie screen with dancing faces shining out. I saw my friend on the stage and I loved him so lightly. I saw him doing what he does and I enjoyed him lightly. There was so much space on that crazy dance floor, I felt like the wind blowing through a forest of old oak. I saw the space and I saw the oak trees and I saw the colour and I saw the sound. My eyes had woken up and released me from fantasy. And I liked the simple truth they showed me.
The words I heard were:

"Take it back, take it back, take back the life you gave away. Take it back, take it back and let your heart come out to play."

I heard these words and sang them quietly turning slowly round and around.

I remember in a particularly lyrical dance space, seeing a little boy far out in front of me in the woods. I recognised him as me as a seven year old boy. He was standing with two hooded figures and I shouted at him to run to me and escape the dark wood. He just smiled at me and curled his little finger, gesturing for me to join him. After a brief struggle with my expectation that it was supposed to me who was rescuing him, I surrendered and went to him. It turns out, he'd been under the care of these two mysterious figures for the past 27 years and more than that, he had more than a thing or two to teach me. That's lyrical, a world of paradox, spontaneity and the unexpected. A place where we finally let the weight of trying to be the man our father (on earth or in heaven) wanted us to be. Idiosyncratically and unselfconsciously ourselves! And that is magic, politics, energy efficiency and relationship all rolled into one.

Dance and Rhythm as Prayer - Many Rhythms, One Love
As one of the basic frameworks of masculinity is about power ("I’ve earned this through my own sweat and tears, I did it all. Alone. By myself and I therefore owe nothing to nobody!") it is not possible to feel gratitude if we don’t feel we have received anything. And if we don’t feel gratitude, then accumulation and endless growth is the only option. The truth that stillness offers us is a sense of partnership with what is sacred. If I am listening to the direction of the dance itself, of energy itself, then I am in a position of offering my energy to the creation of what is happening anyway. In this way, I am a co-creator. I am aware of what I am receiving from the world around me, from my family, friends and environment and especially, from the spirit itself. This awareness catapults us into the land of genuine humility. A land where our listening enables us to dance the prayer of "Thy will not mine."

Arriving back in the body of rhythm, re-committed to the respect of life in and around us, we arrive in the land of the body prayer. We are taught to pray in moments of need. Dear God, please save me in this desperate situation. Dear omnipotence, please send me a new lover, a new job, a new car. But without gratitude for what we already have, there is no space at all to know what we are truly hungry for. John Lenon knew. Gandhi knew. The images we have of prayer are confined mostly to the outward actions and garments of the ëholy fathersí of organised religion. In the dance, the prayer of stillness comes from a place so deep inside us that there is no separation anymore between inside and out. We are in a moving meditation which has the potential to reconnect us to the holy spirit inside us. All things moving in the same direction, we are enfolded in the warm embrace of gratitude, moved by the spirit of emptiness and the unknown. We may feel ourselves as a part of the circle, rather than separated from it by the chains of authority or isolated from it in loneliness.

Here, the questions that lie beneath our normal searching present themselves. What would I die for? What would be left undone if I arrived at deathís door tomorrow? What are the stories that I carry in my flesh and bones that give meaning to my life? What kind of a man am I? Is it all about how big and how much and how far I can go? Or is there something simple growing under my very own feet? Is it all about achievements and praise and recognition or is the quiet voice of rhythm singing to me this morning "dance you fool, before it's too late". Know the dance that lives in your muscles. Let the rhythm that makes up your flesh burst through your inertia. You are a dancer. Everyone is. Everyone has their own rhythm, their own pattern and if you don't let it be, then the oak will die as a willow, the lion will die as a sheep, and the dancer will die as a couch potato watching blind date for clues.