Mindful Dance: A Talk with Roman Borochin of Ecstatic Dance Chicago
What if I told you there was a community of mindful dancers that gathered in a place far away from the nightclub atmosphere that permeates much of the dance scene in Chicago? A place where non-verbal communication is empowering rather than stressful? A place where body and soul meet to find harmony? I sat down with Roman Borochin of Ecstatic Dance Chicago to gain some insight into the creation of the group and to understand the greater purpose that such a dance serves. Ecstatic Dance is a place where people can come and dance to music without having to be in a party club setting. Ecstatic Dance Chicago currently calls the Shambhala Meditation Center home, which certainly implies a deeply introspective and healing work that is taking place on the dance floor rather than merely a social gathering. So, what is it exactly?
“I think Ecstatic Dance simply put is a place where people can come and dance, because they like to dance,” says Roman. “It’s a space that facilitates the best environment for that to happen. The results of that are an increased sense of joy, increased sense of awareness of self, connection with a supporting community, and just an overall feeling of goodness from the fact that people just get to come out and move their body, engage their somatic space, their somatic state, and feel supported or see that they’re supported in that.”
Ecstatic Dance began on the dance floors of the Kalani Retreat Center on Big Island, Hawaii in 2000. But when participating in one of these dances something bigger and archetypal apparently manifests. It is a mindfulness, a profound remembering, but still so much more. Because of this, Ecstatic Dance has spread to over a dozen other countries and all around the United States, including Chicago.
“In Chicago (we have been doing it) this particular way, which is outlined by Ecstatic Dance Oakland who have been supporting us, since February of 2016. We’ve been averaging up to two dances a month. I started doing Ecstatic Dance in a lot of different formats, with a lot of different guided dance journeys and my own ideas of how to help people get into movement and authentic expression. The reason for that is my own personal experience with ecstatic dance and how much enjoyment I received out of it. How I was able to communicate non-verbally on the dance floor. How I literally saw my social interactions and faux paus and desires manifest much faster in a space where only nonverbal communication was allowed. And in a way I just saw myself meeting challenges and surpassing them and seeing the benefits of that. Almost seeing how when tapping into certain elements, as in finding my own dance or letting go of a desire, which supported my space of happiness, finding my space of happiness personally then brought all the other desires I had around being in the dance. It was very transformative for me, personally, on many levels. When I come to Chicago and I see the community here, whether it be the dance community or the spiritual community or just any community that just likes to dance, for me it’s very interesting to have a way of recreating that same environment.”
Intention and purpose are key elements of this type of dance. What separates it from a typical night of dancing at the clubs is the non-verbal agreement all the participants engage with, which includes different ways of communicating with each other.
“We set the attention, we set the intention, and then we invite others to participate in it. And as we come together with that same focus it makes it a lot easier to create that space and environment. Here we have a non-verbal dance floor. We have rules of engagement, which allow people to dance with each other or keep their own space. So, it actually focuses the intention of the event more so on the dance and movement and whatever comes through when that happens for somebody. Whereas I would think a club would be more of a place to have the same thing but without the suggested guidelines of engaging with each other. I mean, I would love it if clubs around Chicago would impose the same guidelines. I think it would make it a lot easier for people to enjoy themselves on the dance floor and off the dance floor.”
“I feel what makes it a curious and playful environment is that you have these guidelines you can use to explore the space with. Because these guidelines are upheld and respected as the intention of the dance, there’s a freedom there. So, if there was a part of you that wanted to engage with somebody but didn’t, later on you can change your mind and go and ask and see if your offer to engage with that same individual will be received. To give you that experience that you may be wanting. The ability to disconnect from a dance and not feel obligated to continue anything that you no longer want to be a part of is also a big one. So, there’s no guilt or shame around finishing something or ending something when you feel like you’re done. And the ability to stay in your own space. It doesn’t take much to see somebody that doesn’t want to engage. Usually the people that are out there looking for others to engage with and to dance with will find those that are open to that. Innately we connect to these natural rhythms in life. Yet at the same time we still have tools that can be used. Maybe somebody’s not as aware.”
But it goes beyond just a social agreement. Participants are taught non-verbal gestures to communicate their level of participation. These are the guidelines Roman is talking about.
“The tool of putting your hand on your heart and the other hand palm out to the person acknowledges the fact that you see them offering you something and you respond to them with a no. Just that action in itself I feel can be very liberating for somebody that is offering. It’s the fact that they’re actually being seen for their offer, being seen for their request. Something like that can really bring a lot of validation, can bring a lot of truth to what someone is experiencing whether they’re the ones offering or the ones holding their space and saying no thank you. So, I feel like these tools, as simple as they are, can create pathways for similar wanted and unwanted opportunities, or create pathways to receive wanted opportunities and not to receive unwanted opportunities, not just in the dance but in the rest of your life. As I said before, I really do see the dance floor as a sped up version of life, because we’re not using words and we must rely on body language. The same principles, the same mechanisms that make us the humans that we are get expressed at a much faster pace. So it’s definitely a playground to receive the best out of what you want for yourself, which can then be transmitted and related to everything else in every other place that you may inhabit. (It is an) experience of the self being in the moment. Do I feel sad? Ok, I can let myself be sad. Do I feel like I want to push my boundaries and dance with this person that’s inviting me to dance, and it feels really scary, and step over that threshold and find the joys in that? Or find the power to say no when it’s not something I actually want? It’s all giving us these skills and tools that engage us in being in the moment and being honest and truthful with ourselves.”
Certainly dance has a role in many spiritual traditions all over the world, yet also holds a place in the human experience. So with all of this transformative and mindful work happening I had to ask: is it spiritual?
“I think ecstatic dance allows you to have an inner awareness of how you are and who you are through the opportunity of the expression of your authentic self. So, some may call that spiritual. Some may not call that spiritual. There could be peak experiences where all of a sudden someone may feel a lot of energy through their body or a great emotional release. And some people may call that spiritual. Some people may call that natural. Some people may call that extraordinary or magical. To me it just feels natural. To me it just feels like it’s what makes us human and it exists within us. I look at it that way.”
Join Roman, Ecstatic Dance Chicago, and Greenheart Transforms on 3/18 to participate in one of Chicago’s fastest growing dance groups! The night will begin with a “Movement Playshop” by Janie Crick and will close with a Sound Journey by Victoria Kruszewski. DJ Taz will bring the high vibrational musical energy, mixing ancient, new world, and cosmic vibes for everyone to get down with.
Bryan Alvarez is an artist, musician, and spiritual practitioner living in Chicago. He works with Greenheart Transforms on local events each month with different people and groups in the Chicago area to foster personal and global transformation. He is a co-founder of Sweet Aum Chicago and hosts visionary art and music events throughout the year.