SCOTT THURSTON: Dancing the Five Rhythms, Part 1


I step onto the floor. The cool textured plastic of the mat meets my bare soles and I delight in the sensation, my feet still hot from walking up the hill. Adrian comes by and raises his palm to receive a high-five – our traditional greeting.

The dojo is still fairly quiet – seven of us are scattered around, warming-up in various states and stages. Some lie motionless whilst others rehearse the vocabulary of yoga or pilates to get themselves stretched-out and limbered-up, whilst a gentle pulsing beat oozes from the speakers. I’m trying to get used to the simple contact between my feet and the floor so I set off on a few experimental steps to test how my balance and weight feels. Even this is enough to threaten to totter me over today, so I bend my knees slightly and try to concentrate on visualising my weight’s connection through my legs to the ground. I’m thinking of a dance workshop I did three years ago when I spent a whole weekend just trying to get a sense of connection with the earth, to get grounded, to shift the way in which I carry my weight more firmly down into my knees and feet. I long for that – I wish I could spend the whole session today just trying to stand and walk.

From my position with my knees bent I start to set up a simple swaying motion from side to side, feeling the shift of my weight and starting to get the rest of me involved. I’m distracted by a dancer I don’t recognise talking to Carrie the teacher by the decks. I find myself measuring this new person up immediately – trying to gauge her experience, her background, her mood. The self-conscious pride of my own commitment and standing in this group surges up for a while, but I know this particular tendency in me and I try to let it go into movement. I lift my head and move it from side to side, feeling a few clicks in the vertebrae in my neck. As I start to find a connection between my head and my feet my arms suddenly come into play, helping to extend my swaying motion and inviting the centre of my body into awareness.

I’m opening my attention to the rest of the group as more people arrive. Again I get distracted and a bit irritated by two dancers chatting loudly at the edge of the dance floor. I inwardly entreat Carrie to intervene, but she is rapt in conversation with the new dancer. Again I try to address my disquiet through movement – I start to fling my arms out further and allow them to draw my hips and knees out into the space and to move my feet across the floor. I’m spiralling around myself now and edge over towards the offending couple, not knowing what I’m going to say or do, but as I come within range they resolve their conversation and drift apart. I feel a pang of guilt and reproach for myself for being so touchy today, but there’s a lightness that immediately follows and I put this energy into my dance and shift up a gear.

Something starts happening at this point which takes me deeper into the process I’ve set in motion. I start going back over the day’s events and thinking about a message I received at work that unsettled me; about an unfocused morning trying to settle to revising a document; about the steadily rising feeling of tension that became almost overwhelming. But I notice that the feelings that attach to these recollections – particularly the message – seem to have diminished somewhat. They are at a distance already and holding less sway. A space opens up, new energy rushes in, and I’m moving in expansive curves right across the floor, weaving in and out of the other dancers, as the tempo of the music picks up. My thoughts turn to the writing session I had before the class – the rough draft of the poem which feels broken now – if real – whilst there is a stronger sense of satisfaction from the reading that I undertook. A line of a poem by Gil Ott returns with great clarity and urgency: ‘we / take the form / of our uncertainty’. It seems to speak directly to my dance, trying as I am to tentatively stake out the field of my concerns in movement, patterns for my energy to stir and trace. This thrills me and I dance with the line for a while, a glow of pleasure surging in my belly.

Turning across the room I notice the new dancer spring onto the floor: lithe, confident and adventurous. There’s a precision and control in her movement that reveals her training. She moves beautifully. Before I know it I’ve compared myself to her and found my own movement utterly wanting. This gets complex and thick. I slow down and draw my expansive circles into me, focusing on a spot on the floor in front of my feet. Coming almost to a standstill, I lower my knees to the floor and lie down on my side, finally coming to rest on my back. I am rocked by the oddly bitter and contradictory sense that the earlier pleasure I took in the dance is somehow down to an ego-state I determine as pride, lording it over everyone else. This tendency exposed I’m left wondering what I’ve actually got to contribute here. Do I have to sacrifice that pleasure to really participate, or is it precisely a pleasure of self-expression that I needn’t be ashamed of? What a lot of judgement and self-criticism. But there’s not too much time to dwell on this as Carrie calls the group together to begin the taught part of the class. The first phase of the dance is over.

Standing in a circle we do a round of names and Carrie introduces the theme of this evening’s class with characteristic humour and clarity. We’ll be working on ‘heavy and light’ tonight, which awakens my curiosity. Carrie then invites us to prepare for the ‘body parts’ warm-up, a coinage which always makes me feel faintly uneasy. My sense of the phrase is as something akin to human remains – that body parts are what you find on a battlefield or at the scene of a disaster, and that what we are dealing with here is rather the parts of the body – body as an integrated, living whole. The first task is to walk around the room – a task far from straightforward with today’s unsteady gait, even after half an hour of dancing. I concentrate on breathing into my belly, imagining I’m drawing up the breath from the ground through my feet, legs like hollow straws. I think of a tantric image of the dark reddish brown of earth energy taken up into the body from the ground, whilst drawing down a brilliant bluish-white light from the sky. As we’re walking around Carrie asks us to become aware of the empty spaces in the room and to move into them, whilst being prepared to yield the space to another’s claim. The group’s movement adapts and shifts and gently speeds up. I find keeping my balance easier at a faster pace and start to bob and weave through the group. We are moving quite quickly now, whirling in and out of each other’s paths, sweats breaking, a few gentle collisions, the energy threads starting to bind us together. A few of us start going even faster, taking ridiculous risks as we aim at tiny moving gaps between people, moving backwards, changing direction abruptly. Already the mood and energy of the room has lightened, has lifted. People are smiling, breathless, laughing, our boundaries and defences relaxing as we become a group, a provisional community.

After Carrie calls the time on the crazy whirling phase, she invites us to find a spot in the room and settle our attention in our heads. I close my eyes and bring my concentration to bear on my forehead, temples and the crown of my skull. My movement is simple – letting the weight of my head fall forward slightly, I then roll it round to the left, back and round to the right. I hear a gentle grinding of the bones in my neck and feel the tension there start to ease and release. I tune-in to the relationship between my head and the rest of my body – how its movement creates consequences through the shoulders, spine and torso. Carrie invites us to explore moving the rest of the body starting from the head and tentatively I start to do so, still cautious about my balance, especially with my eyes closed. I recall a proprioceptive exercise I tried once – trying to raise one foot at a time with eyes closed – and how difficult I found it. But it’s a challenge, relearning movement from this more inward perspective.

In her 1998 book Sweat Your Prayers, Gabrielle Roth, the originator of the Five Rhythms practice, asks: ‘do you have the discipline to be a free spirit?’ I love this question and have adopted into my own personal poetics credo of ‘practice – attention – intention – discipline’. The shadow side of this of course is my occasional lack of tolerance for those approaching the practice in a more relaxed way than myself – not difficult!

At Carrie’s direction, I shift my attention into my shoulders and enjoy the movement I find there. It reminds me of having a plaster-cast taken of my back for a sculpture I made at college: the weight of the plaster, laced with threads of hessian scrim, as it went off and the heat – my skin lathered with cooking oil to prevent it from being lifted off. The attention shifts into the elbows, then wrists and fingers. I love the angular shapes my elbows make, and I start to feel the beginnings of an energetic awareness around my hands, unusual for me this early in the dance. It was a workshop on Tantra three years ago that gave me my first conscious experience of my energetic body – electromagnetic field, subtle body, aura, call it what you will – and it has added a whole new dimension to my practice. It’s something I want to explore further through studying T’ai chi or Qigong. Carrie invites us to enter into a movement dialogue with another dancer, starting with a focus on our spine. I look up and meet Patrick’s gaze just a few feet away. Stepping towards each other we begin a kind of mirroring, gently swaying from side to side, exploring the range of the back and front of the torso. After a while we let this go and develop our own expressions, whilst still moving in relation to each other.

Pairwork takes the dance to the next level for me. It acts as a respite from the loneliness of a journey through one’s embodied self but also crucially brings one’s various psychological complexes into play and available for work. Sometimes it’s also a mode of intervening in a passage of emotional stasis and repetition. As I’m moving with Patrick I suddenly notice that I’ve wandered off in my thoughts, and that our dance has lost its focus and urgency. As we regain eye contact, there is a corresponding increase in energy and attention to our conversation. We take more risks in mirroring and repeating our gestures to each other, and in exploring the space between us: coming really close and then separating so that at times we’re on opposite sides of the room. It gets funnier too as it gets more intimate, revealing a kind of trust in disclosing the secrets of our presence to each other. It feels like the dance has really begun.

At Carrie’s behest, we finally let go of each other, making namaste as we do so, and I follow the percolating energy into my hips. I visualise my pelvis as a bowl full of water and I move as if I’m trying not to spill its contents, making gentle circles to the left and right. Closing my eyes I get deeper into the movement and can almost start to see my skeleton in my mind’s eye. The attention shifts again, now into the knees. My knees are a sore point of curiosity and tentativeness. I’ve had problems with my right knee for years – something about the way the joint is formed creates adverse wear and tear, a creakiness, a lack of flexibility. I don’t entirely trust it, and I think this effects my overall balance and stability, implicating the left knee as well. Today however as I settle into their shapes my knees feel pretty good – comfortable and responsive. I move off the spot and feel confident in committing my weight to the floor, starting to appreciate the subtlety of Carrie’s theme. I start to whirl about more confidently, but, as I ground my feet for a moment, my knee hits a particular angle and reflects back a sharp bark of pain. It’s a familiar signal, but chastening, shaming even, and my body contracts as I slow and respond to this communication. I turn about more softly and try to relax my knees. Finally, as I’m still recovering, Carrie directs her attention into our feet. This is useful as a way of getting more settled again, but I’m surprised at the energy available to me here. It’s an opportunity to reorient in the space a bit, so, straightening up, I take in the array of bodies passing me as I pass: different forms and colours, speeds and shapes, patterns of movement full of rich information ripe for reading as we thread through each other, weaving and knitting the space together.


      SCOTT THURSTON has published three full-length poetry collections with Shearsman Books: Internal Rhyme (2010), Momentum (2008) and Hold (2006). His most recent publication is Reverses Heart’s Reassembly (Veer Books, 2011). Scott lectures at the University of Salford where he runs a Masters in Innovative and Experimental Creative Writing. He co-runs The Other Room poetry reading series in Manchester; edits The Radiator – a little magazine of poetics; and co-edits The Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry with Robert Sheppard. He lives in Liverpool. See his pages at:



      • Clare

        Scott, I love this piece, its fascinating to hear your experience in such detail which reflects, I believe, a very real experience of the first part of a class – flitting from present to past to feelings to physical sensations to mind chatter – And throughout it your ‘seeker’ energy is ever present, always looking for the path to awareness, learning and freedom from yourself.
        It feels very familiar and very honest.
        I look forward to the Wave!
        Love Clare

      • Haysha Royko

        Hi Scott, not sure who you are, but I like your honesty and can relate so well to many of your experiences described in this piece. I’m quite a novice dancer,so I learned from it. Sometimes I feel self-conscious when dancing with others. Haysha

      • Corrie

        Hi Scott,

        wow… congratulations on articulating all these (hard to describe) sensations through the dance: Its really interesting to read, to hear familiar feelings on how much goes on around the dance floor. eye opener, thank you.

        I look forward to the next chapter…

        all the best


      From the Junction Box

      Junction Box Categories

      Glasfryn Project

      +44(0)1873 810456 | LYN@GLASFRYNPROJECT.ORG.UK