What is dance meditation? It is a type of meditation in which we use the rhythm, attentiveness, and an intuitive state which are typical qualities of many types of meditation and dancing -- even dancing which is recreational rather than meditational. Any kind of dancing can be meditative, but there is also a classification of "sacred dancing," which is the use of dance to explore and express our identity as soul.
Dancing is a part of virtually all religions. Religious dancing is common in modern-day "primitive" cultures, and it was surely a part of ancient primitive cultures -- guided by shamans who would dance for the purpose of entering a trance. In nature-based societies and religions, the rhythm of dancing was an imitation of the rhythm of nature (including the cycles of seasons); more than mere mimicry, dancing was an attempt to understand and unite oneself with those rhythms. In some cases, religious dancing became secularized and it lost its original sacred meaning, as in the case of the familiar "Maypole" dance, which is now an innocent children's game but which originally symbolized the plunging of a huge phallus into the earth to fertilize the crops.
- Dancing is a means of self-discovery. Particularly in improvised dancing, we delve into our feelings in order to find something to express; in this search, we perceive elements which we did not know previously -- different emotions, attitudes, and thoughts. Thus we learn more about our psychological nature, and we probe more deeply into subtle states which are identified as "spiritual" -- including states of transcendence, rapture, and union. As our body becomes energized through movement, we discern more clearly the energy of the body and its relation to the energy of the surrounding worlds; the body becomes less of a solid mass and more of a sacred focal-point of spiritual power within the physical world. To explore different aspects of ourselves, we can dance with a variety of musical styles, including jazz, rock, classical, and international music (Middle Eastern, African, etc.).
- Dancing is a means of expression. Many mystics have said that words cannot communicate their visions and ecstasies; some of those mystics have used dance to express those inner experiences and their devotion to a deity. A simple hand-gesture can depict a revelation for which there are no words; the gesture might be understood by other people, whereas words might have provoked confusion or disagreement.
- In a group, dancing is a means of ego-transcendence. We re-define the separate ego as we merge into the group's common activity, emotion -- and rhythm (as explained in the section on "entrainment" below).
- The rhythm induces a different state. Even if we are not specifically meditating on the dance's rhythm (in our body or in the accompanying music), rhythm affects us in various ways:
- It influences the cadence of our heartbeat and breathing, which in turn affect our psychological state. (Some yoga practitioners use the breath -- in pranayama" exercises -- to experience other states of consciousness.)
- It affects the functioning of our brain; for example, the repetitiveness and non-rationality of shamanic drumming causes the brain's left hemisphere to diminish its activity due to boredom and lack of meaningful input, thus allowing the right hemisphere to become dominant with its emphasis on emotion and intuition. (We might notice the same shift to the right hemisphere in other repetitive activities as diverse as jogging, or marching, or staring hypnotically at the white lines on a highway, or riding on a horse which establishes a physical rhythm.)
- It affects us through "entrainment." Entrainment is a phenomenon described by physicists as the tendency of two or more moving objects in close proximity to adjust themselves to a common rhythm; in group dancing, we gradually conform to a unity of movement which leads to a commonality of emotion and thought (because our thoughts and emotions are part of the general field which is created). In a religious setting, where our thoughts and emotions are aligned toward spirit, our rhythmic dancing reinforces and develops the group's spiritual orientation. This is a group meditation which uses the robust energy of the physical body to supplement the subtler energies of the mind and emotions in order to create a transcendent state.
- Focus on the dance, not the ego (or any of the ego's archetypal field-elements which might be constellated in dysfunctional traits which we might label vanity, shyness, etc.). We are not distracted by a need to impress people who are watching us, or to dance in accordance with our self-image (as a "talented dancer" or a "klutz"), or to set standards for any qualities such as gracefulness or spirituality. Instead, we become immersed in our moment-to-moment expression of the feelings and revelations which emerge. We might say that we "become the dance," or we lose ourselves in the dancing, or we dance to a deity, or we surrender to the dance, or we let the dance happen through us. We allow ourselves to be whatever emerges: wild or silly or sweaty or strange or primitive or ethereal. In order to achieve this unself-consciousness, we must either dance alone or in a group in which the people are accepting and non-judgmental, so that we can improvise, and put aside the persona, and express the intimate aspects our selves -- our spiritual devotion, our unconscious impulses, and the feelings which seem to be too tender to be expressed in our daily life. Allow yourself this freedom, and allow it in the other dancers, too.
- Find the "dance energy" within yourself. Our body is filled with life, and it is constantly generating energy. While dancing, part of the meditation is to perceive the subtle energies and feelings which emerge from inside of us. We can detect the various places from which the energy radiates most powerfully -- the heart, the digestive organs, the brain, the sexual organs, the hara (about 2" below the navel but in the center of the body), the chakras, and other locations. We can notice the movement of energy throughout our body -- flowing upward from our feet, outward to our hands, etc. These energies propel our body in dance meditation. We sense the energy's uncompromising assertiveness and power; the best that we can do is to administer it respectfully and accurately as the thrust of our own life.
- Express those energies. Our meditation is to find a balanced point at which we are the intermediary between the impulses which arise and the body which expresses those impulses. We are an interpreter (interpreting energy into action) -- but we are not translating via our mind's analytical function, because neither the impulses nor the body can be fully perceived, understood, or expressed if they are viewed from an analytical perspective. Instead, we appreciate the phenomena of impulses and movement on their own terms, and we make a game of being a precise communicator of our feelings into action. We allow the body to improvise its own movements -- and then we are surprised and perhaps thrilled by the mysterious vitality which moves in ways which we never would have imagined. As we gradually diminish our conscious intrusion, our body asserts its own life. The life is somehow coming directly from the soul and filtering through us until the entire body is such a perfect expression of the energy that the body becomes a light, vibrant entity which is virtually indistinguishable from the soul itself.
- Allow ecstasy. When we permit the body to express itself and to move in its own way, we are likely to feel a profoundly sensuous and exciting sensation streaming throughout us. This is the body coming to life. This is the state in which the ego's dysfunctional elements no longer control us; they cannot demand that the body conform to any mental image, nor can they convince us that the body is nothing but a stupid machine which has meaning and direction only if guided by the analytical function of mind. This ecstasy -- wild, beautiful, bold -- is perhaps the body's natural state.