By Kendra Crighton
For some people letting loose and dancing freely is something that only happens at an underground rave after taking illicit drugs, but what happens when ravers grow up?
Ecstatic dance has become increasingly popular throughout Vancouver Island, with workshops and studios popping up in downtown Victoria and on Salt Spring Island.
“Ecstatic dance took about 10 years after the rave scene to become a thing. People were maturing in the rave scene and wanted something a little more easier going,” says Alex King-Harris, a local DJ and facilitator of ecstatic dance. “It’s a free space to dance in for people looking for the kind of dance energy similar to a festival or club, without the drugs or alcohol.”
Although to outsiders it may just look like people flailing around on the dance floor, King-Harris – who has a background in music therapy – explains it’s much more than simply gyrating limbs.
“There’s so much great neuroscience out there now that when the mind is fully synchronized with the body, there’s a healing that takes over. You become more open to connecting with other people so their connection can be authentic and real – that in itself is also a healing experience.”
Jaz Snider, co-founder of Dance Temple Victoria, says the freestyle movement is for people of all ages and all backgrounds.
“That’s one of the most important aspects of it, that people are encouraged to move however they wish while being mindful and respectful of others in the space,” says Snider.
It starts off with a guided meditation leading into a facilitated movement to get you “warming into your body.” As the music gets more intense so does people’s dancing.
“It’s difficult to truly articulate what it looks like except to say if you’ve ever seen tribal dancing in African villages, it’s more like that than random chaotic movement,” says King-Harris.
Snider agrees, adding the movement isn’t just for your body but “it’s movement for the heart and soul as well.”
According to Snider, one of the most important aspects of the dance style is cultivating that safe space where people feel free to move how they want in order to stimulate a healing response.
“With this particular form of dance it’s allowed me to really tap into my creativity and be in touch with my body; it helps me feel my feelings more fully and to be more accepting of those as they come to the surface when I’m moving,” says Snider.
“I can go into an ecstatic dance session feeling a certain way and then emerge afterwards feeling completely different – often much lighter and clearer.”
While the community is continually growing, Snider says an ideal candidate to test out ecstatic dance would be anyone that liked to dance that maybe hasn’t had the opportunity or the confidence to dance publicly.
“They might be really surprised in a really positive way to discover themselves in this environment and what can emerge,” says Snider.
Classes take place every Sunday morning at the Dance Temple Victoria or Monday and Thursday nights at Salt Spring Dance Temple.
“Usually when we do a show it’s usually 20 to 30 new people and then the regulars that come around a lot,” says King-Harris. “For me that’s been the power of music and movement is the ability to pull people together and find a commonality without words.”