Ecstatic Dance is a ‘free form’ dance event based loosely on Gabrielle Roth’s ‘ 5 Rhythms’ guided dance practice. The event differentiates itself by being a ‘talk free space’ and by featuring a live DJ, and electronic dance music (EDM) amongst various musical genres, with little to no direction from Facilitators to what ways attendees should dance. Today, Ecstatic Dance is used to describe ‘intentional’ dance events all over the world. The events are inclusive of all ages and are drug and alcohol free. Not all events called Ecstatic Dance adhere to the and Format and Guidelines.
The term ‘Ecstatic Dance’ was first used to describe this particular dance format in 2001. The original Founder, Max ‘Fathom’, was a Volunteer at the Non-For-Profit Company, Kalani Honua, in Puna on the Big Island of Hawaii. Ecstatic Dance at Kalani Honua was a ‘community created’ event until 2009. Originally, it was spelled ‘Ex-Static Dance’ and eventually was known by either spelling as the same event.
In 2009, management of Kalani Honua, took de facto ownership of the event by terminating the agreement which allowed the Founders to host the event at that location. After diligent effort, due to insufficient alternative locations for the event, the founders of Ecstatic Dance disbanded. Kalani Honua continued to host an event, called ‘Ecstatic Sun Dance’, at the same times and location as the previous Ecstatic Dance events. The event differed from the original Ecstatic Dance as it did not follow the Format or Guidelines. Eventually, management of Kalani Honua dropped the ‘Sun’ in the title ‘Ecstatic Sun Dance’ and co-opted the name ‘Ecstatic Dance’ for those events. Today, by overwhelming volunteer support by Puna community members, Ecstatic Dance at Kalani Honua has much of its original character.
In 2005, Gabrielle Roth’s guided dance practice was released as a video series titled, The Ecstatic Dance.
In 2008, Tyler Blank and Donna Carrol co-founded an Ecstatic Dance in Oakland, California. Largely due to the central location and popularity of the Oakland based Ecstatic Dance, Ecstatic Dance has spread around the world.
Known as the original founder of Ecstatic Dance, Max ‘Fathom’ was previously from Austin, Texas, where he was a member of a 5 Rhythms Group called ‘Sweat Prayers’ now known as ‘Body Choir’. Originally, the event which became Ecstatic Dance, held at the Kalani Honua Retreat Center was composed of 10-12 people. Max shared The 5 Rhythms practice with the dancers and played music from 2 Sony Walkman tape players and a RadioShack 2 Channel DJ mixer. The music which Max played at that time included songs from Peter Gabrielle, Annie Lennox, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and U2, as well as songs in the genres of classic Funk and Motown, amongst others. Every Ecstatic Dance event included original poems, prayers, or songs.
2 particular ‘tipping points’ are attributed to Max’s inspiration for Ecstatic Dance:
- Max began infusing the dance events with Electronic Dance Music (EDM) after having been exposed to it at the Burningman Festival. After EDM was included in the events, popularity for the event grew quickly. EDM became an essential part of the events.
- Max had met and studied with the Mayan Shaman, Martín Prechtel. In his studies, Max became acutely aware of ongoing injustice being inflicted upon indigenous cultures and tribes, as well as unchecked destruction being inflicted upon the planet. It became imperative to him to contribute to his community as best he could, to create a cohesive moment where his community could experience ‘The Sacred’ in a ceremony of dance, and create a sense of tribe within the community.
The original intention for Ecstatic Dance was to, in Max’s words, “…Start a movement that could heal us and allow us to develop into fully realized human beings.”
In 2005, Max partnered with co-founder Elizabeth ‘Betwixt’. Elizabeth took on Ecstatic Dance as a full-time job and life’s work and developed the Format and Guidelines. Elizabeth is known to have coined the term for Ecstatic Dance: Community Ritual Movement Journey.
Ecstatic Dance events inspired by the original have a particular format composed of 5 parts.
- Warmup (Music)
- Opening Circle with Guidelines
- Program (Music)
- Closing Circle and Share-Back
Ecstatic Dance is described as a ‘free form’ dance event, guided by a DJ’ed, crafted musical journey. The music selections and placement within the timeline of the journey should compose a ‘wave’, starting out calm with increasing intensity which comes it to a peak, then returns to calmness.
- The Warmup music is very calm, with at least 15 or 20 minutes of Ambient or Acoustic music without a drum beat. After then, music with a drum beat or motivating rhythm is introduced. The Warmup in itself may be an entire journey, coming to a peak and back to calm. Or, it may only come to a peak without calm near the end, increasing the group energy before the Opening Circle.
- The Opening Circle is created by the attendees when the Warmup is complete. At this time, the Facilitator in the role of the Voice of the Circle will speak, to guide the group. Attendees typically sit, making a circle, in or around the dance space. The Voice of the Circle will welcome the attendees, then explain and encourage attendees to adhere to the Guidelines which create the essence of the event. The Voice of the Circle will either present an Invocation or introduce those who will offer the Invocation.
- The Invocation is an original performance by an attendee or several attendees in cooperation, which may be composed of a poem, a prayer, a song, a combination, or another type of performance art.
- The Program is music similar to the Warmup. However, the Program timeline is often longer than the Warmup and may include music selections of higher intensity for a longer ‘peak’ of the musical ‘wave’ and dance experience.
- The Closing Circle is similar to the Opening Circle. The Facilitator in the role of the Voice of the Circle will speak to guide the group. The Voice of the Circle will gently guide attendees from a meditative state, often experienced near the end of the event, back to awareness of their surroundings. Attendees typically sit in a circle in or around the dance space, as in the Opening Circle.
The Closing Circle is composed of 3 parts:
- Names: Attendees are encouraged to go around the circle, sharing their names.
- ‘Share-Back: Share-Back (explanation below), is a unique and important part of the experience, and happens with random succession in a ‘popcorn-style’ rather than going around the circle.
- Community Announcements: Community announcements allow attendees to announce other events, goods for sale or requests.
Share-Back, occurring in The Closing Circle, is a significant part of the Ecstatic Dance experience.
In the Share-Back section of the Closing Circle, attendees are given space to be witnessed by other attendees in voicing to the group, their thoughts, and feelings which they experienced at the event. Before the Share-Back section of the Closing Circle, the Voice of the Circle will explain the Guidelines of Share-Back. The Voice of the Circle will encourage attendees to view Share-Back as a ‘one way’ speaking opportunity; other attendees are encouraged to listen but to only respond with quiet, affirmative gestures. Share-Back from attendees should be about their experience at that Ecstatic Dance event, omitting stories from earlier or later. Share-Back is voluntary, and encouraged if and only if attendees feel the desire to share.
Ecstatic Dance is collectively created by attendees adhering several ‘Guidelines’. There are no ‘rules’, per se, only ‘guidelines’; Facilitators attempt to be as inclusive as possible, dealing with those who don’t follow the guidelines with patience and respect.
- Sign in and commit to being self-liable
- Make a contribution
- Keep the space ‘talk free’ (and camera free)
- Take care of yourself and each other
- Take care of the space
- Sign in and commit to being self-liable:
A ‘sign in sheet’ is placed at or monitored at the entrance/exit of the space used for Ecstatic Dance, for attendees to sign, agreeing to be self-liable in the case of injury.
- Make a contribution:
Ecstatic Dance was originally ‘by donation’ and may still be at some locations. It is created and supported by the community, founders, and facilitators. Attendees are encouraged to give money or offer to contribute in other ways. No one should be turned away due to lack of funds or ability.
- Keep the space ‘talk free’:
The Guideline to keep the space ‘talk free’ is possibly the most memorable of the guidelines. Keeping the space free of conversation is paramount to the experience of Ecstatic Dance; It allows attendees to move into a meditative state, to ‘be in the moment’, and to leave normal life behind. Along with this guideline, the event prohibits the use of cameras (unless with consensus permission), for the same purpose. It should be clarified that ‘noises’, like hoots, laughter, and other non-talk noises are okay.
- Take care of yourself and each other:
Attendees are encouraged to embrace the ‘journey’ they might encounter while at the event. Being at Ecstatic Dance can evoke strong emotions. The event is meant to be a ‘safe space’ for attendees to embrace parts of themselves they may not normally feel safe to experience. This includes making nonverbal gestures and gaining agreement before initiating partner or interactive dance. This is also is meant to encourage consciousness of one’s own movement in relationship to others, so as to avoid collisions.
- Take care of the space:
Generally, this guideline is intended to encourage attendees to respect the rules of the venue. Depending on the venue, drinks, food, as well as glass bottles and other items, may not be allowed. Certain shoes meant for dancing may or may not be allowed. Sweat is often a normal occurrence, and bringing towels to clean up after one’s self may be strongly encouraged.
Voice of the Circle
The role of the Voice of the Circle is named as so because the event is typically free of talking by all attendees. However, for the purpose of guiding the Opening and Closing Circles, someone must embody the role of the speaker.
The role of the Musical Facilitator is named as so to differentiate the role from a ‘DJ’. Though a Musical Facilitator may also be a DJ, the two are not mutually exclusive. The Musical Facilitator role, amongst all other roles, carries a large responsibility. The role of Musical Facilitator is to provide the music, and most importantly, to create a ‘journey’ for the Ecstatic Dance event. The musical selections typically include Electronic Dance Music (EDM). EDM can be played with sophisticated equipment to create a seamless, unending rhythm, ideal for creating the dance journey.
All persons helping create and guide the event holds the title of Facilitator. Just as the Guidelines should be differentiated from hard and fast ‘rules’, Facilitators are differentiated from ‘managers’, ‘workers’, and ‘staff’. Any attendee may be a Facilitator, at any time, by helping with the event. Facilitators share a singular goal: to help the experience for all attendees be a positive one. In the case of attendees forgetting or not following the Guidelines, Facilitators ‘encourage’ and gently point out the infraction, with respect and kindness.
- Ecstatic Dance (Elizabeth at Opening Circle) Part – 1 of 2 (video)
- Ecstatic Dance (Elizabeth at Opening Circle) Part – 2 of 2 (video)
- Mini Documentary of Ecstatic Dance in Toronto (video)
- Ecstatic Dance Promo (video)
- Community Insight: Ecstatic Dance Defined (video)
- Community Insight: Benefits of Ecstatic Dance (video)
- What to expect at an Ecstatic Dance (video)
- Leave Your Shoes at the Door – A Conscious Dance Documentary