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Some thoughts from Rupert Meese

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Biodanza: The Sisters and Brothers of Mercy

Posted by Rupert Meese on September 22, 2009


We sit in the closing circle of the fourth international Biodanza festival. I sit snuggled up against my firm friend Carol. She reaches over and gently strokes my arm and I rest my head against hers. Four days ago we were strangers, but a lot can happen in four days. We’ve taken risks together and we’ve shared deeply. The strange thing is that the first time we ever spoke to each other was just five minutes ago.

Patra, who had spent the last days cooking for and looking after the 120 delegates spoke in the circle and said “I’ve been watching you all dance over the last four days and I’ve come to realise something: This this stuff could change the world”. He’s right.

So what’s going on. What is Biodanza (often pronounced bee-oh-danza) and why is this more than just a quaint hippy love-in? Well, the first thing is that we are, all of us, simple ordinary people. All walks of life, all manner of world views, all ages. Clare who’s in her sixties says to me with a big smile “I came because I was always told as a girl that I couldn’t dance and I thought it was time to learn something different. I had no idea that Biodanza was so much more than that”. The dance itself is straightforward, there are no steps to learn and it’s impossible to get it wrong. The days of the festival are broken into two or three two hour dance sessions or vivencias, with time to eat, talk and chill out in between. We have met together at Osho Leela, a beautiful and welcoming commune in Dorset.

Biodanza is the creation of Chilean anthropologist Rolando Toro. At the time he was working in a psychiatric unit for severely disturbed patients. One evening he organised a party for the residents and staff, to pass the time and offer a diversion from the chaos of ward life. The staff and patients dressed up and danced and as he watched he was struck by the changes he saw happening in front of him. He saw a kind of health and vitality returning to both the patients and staff as individuals and into their relationships. The quality of that difference was so profound to him that he set about understanding what was happening. The final result was a theoretical model of how specific journeys through movement and encounter with others could result in a reorientation towards the natural biologically driven physically, emotionally and spiritually balanced human condition. It facilitated a return to the way god or evolution intended us to function. Something that NLP founder John Grinder called the return to the state of grace that we are all born entitled to. He called it Biodanza.

A typical Biodanza session or vivensia goes something like this- music plays as we enter the room and we variously dance, lie down or greet friends. Niraj (of the Dorset School of Biodanza) the teacher for this vivensia lets us know that it’s time to start and we move to stand in one big circle, all holding hands. For the next two hours we will be silent. “We are silent because words take us back into the head” Niraj explains, “Biodanza gives us the chance to inhabit the body, and it is the body where the emotions reside. Biodanza is about reconnecting with the body, with the emotions, with the sense of self”. Music starts and slowly we begin to step to the right, moving to the rhythm. Being silent we look across the room and meet the eyes of those around us. The music sways and swings and as you look around and greet people eye to eye it is hard not to smile. In fact almost everyone ends up smiling, the joy just starts to spill around. You don’t have to smile though. Another key aspect of Biodanza is that it is built on authenticity. Every interaction with another is negotiated there and then in the moment. From how you feel and how the other responds. It is not about what is expected or what anyone else is doing, but how you actually feel in relation to the person in front of you right now, and how as you start to express that, the other responds to you. It is this negotiating of authentic felt relationships that at once carries much of the power and ensures that Biodanza encounters are safe and respectful.

As we dance in a now winding sinuous circle the music stops and Niraj introduces a walk. A simple one at first, just walking our own walk, to music, greeting others with the eyes as we pass, then in pairs, holding hands, changing often, being with another. There are many kinds of walks, the walk of power, the walk of purpose, the walk of sensuality, the walk of exuberance. I like the walks. This time Niraj demonstrates a walk of exuberance: joyful, energised, dynamic. Then it’s our turn. I am well aware that sitting with a coffee at home or at the office, that this could sound, well, a bit naff. It is different there though. The light shines in through the big windows, the rhythm of the music is doing something deep inside. My whole body is ready to move and I have the permission and guidance to enter into it. I walk forward, bouncing across the floor, arms raising high, swinging from the shoulders and spine and hips. Really inhabiting my exuberance at being here and living life. Quickly I’m laughing and filled with joy. It feels good. It feels good to share it with my companions in the room, all equally exuberant. This kind of joy is welcome in my life and this opens up a question which people come to again and again over Biodanza. The question is “But is it real?” My answer it that the effect, both immediate and long term, is real. There is an element of play about what happens. There was no particular reason for me to feel exuberant before this exercise and there may be none afterwards, and so I play by choosing to enter in and inhabit my exuberance. But what happens when I do? The immediate effect is that if feels good. Feels really good. But also it shows me the way in, shows me what it is like, how to get there, what relating to others from that place is like. It simply makes my exuberance more accessible. That right there is the real power of Biodanza. To enrich our maps with great new experiences of what is possible, and the more we do this in Biodanza the more comfortable and able we become to negotiate the same kinds of relationships outside.

The vivencia moves on from walk to dance. Sometimes internal, eyes closed, centred around the self, sometimes danced in relationship to others. Each has a special power and connects us in a vivid and fully embodied way to aspects of our humanity and tribal nature that are so underplayed and underdeveloped in our culture, in ordinary life. To reconnect with these missing experiences is like drinking the water of a cool sweet spring after months of thirst. The vivencia ends two hours later, as it began. Moving in a circle hand in hand, passing each other, saying fair well and thank you for what has been shared. A small sweet kiss is the frequent currency of our appreciation.

There are some kinds of profound truths that one can not easily convey through writing. Poets manage with the commitment and collusion of their readers. if I had the craft and blessing to properly render any of the profound shared experiences in poetry, I would still rather not impose that burden on you. My intention is to be as prosaic as possible in my assertion that Biodanza has that which is both necessary and easily accessible for the health of the human spirit in the complex and essential business of being in relationship with those around us.

I often write openly about my passion, vulnerability, tenderness, love and joy. One of the reasons that I do this at all is that I’ve seen the same in every human being that I’ve shared with in Biodanza, seen the same, and been moved to the core by the beauty of it. And when I’ve shared my felt and immediate emotional world, wordlessly, with another, I’ve been met with tenderness and acceptance. Actually, on reflection, and since I promised to be prosaic, it is also true that sometimes people are met with discomfort. The odd thing is that discomfort can’t dominate as is so easily can ‘in the real world’. Simple and universal humanity put before another, shared in the room, prevails, shines through, and discomfort, well, discomfort fails, fades, persists, whatever. Lit by the full light of the presence of another soul, a little discomfort is seen to be a very small thing.

I have said that we are ordinary people. I want to reiterate that. This is not an exclusive gathering of beautiful people. We are, between us, all kinds of wonky. One of the wonders for me is that the judgments that I make about people are always washed away in Biodanza. It so often turns out that the “she looks really unapproachable”, or “he looks bad tempered” are a very thin veil as we connect from the humanity beneath our masks.

There are some odd things to get used to as you walk around the festival. It is quite common to see couples curled up on sofa’s together or walking hand in hand. Not that there’s anything odd about that in itself, but Biodanza couples are not necessarily like other couples. They are, more often than not, the oddest pairings of the old and young, the trim and the crooked, the prim and the chaotic or any combination imaginable. It can seem odd when viewed through filters that expect all touch to be seduction and all intimacy to be a kind of mating. Of course the reality is something different. People respond to beauty and life affirming connection through what they have shared together in the vivencias. When you risk your vulnerability with another and they respond with love and kindness a bond is created. The more deeply one shares the deeper this bond runs. It often seems that the deeper love between a partnership who have shared like this is from the partner who was privileged to tend to the vulnerability of the other, as much as from the other who took the risk, shared their vulnerability and was met. And that is the nature of many of the pairs, basking in a shared love and intimacy that is not based on sex or courtship, but rather comes from a brief touching of souls.

If you’ve ever listened to a song written from the heart and were filled with emotion and wished that you could do that: be the source of that creative and passionate out-flowing, then in Biodanza you can. Really you can. Elizabeth Gilbert tells that the celebratory Spanish shout of “Olay” is a derivative of the Islamic Moorish chant of “Allah” which comes from seeing the work of god in the dances of the dervishes. She says “Olay” to all of those who put their heart into their creative work. For me it is “Olay” to all those with the courage to meet each other in Biodanza. Days after I return from the festival, while sitting quietly, I notice my soul dancing to itself, a light and sinuous dance to a joyous rhythm.


One Response to “Biodanza: The Sisters and Brothers of Mercy”

  1. Virginia said

    This is one of the most interesting programs I’ve read about in a long time. I must find out if it is available in the U.S.

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