Ecstatic Dance is a movement. It’s where a community of spiritually enlightened individuals come together to express themselves through the art of dance. The therapeutic sounds of Ecstatic Dance have intentions of empowering people from all walks of life to surrender, quiet the mind, and become in tune with their soul connection. All are encouraged to dance without inhibitions and free themselves of fearful stagnation they may be facing in their lives. It’s all about finding what feels good. By experimenting with the various shapes your body makes, you will find yourself in a state of flow. You needn’t have a background in dancing — no one will judge you.
Ecstatic Dance was co-founded by Donna Caroll in Oakland, California in 2015, and has since made its way across the entire world. Its raging successes have allowed me the chance to practice this intentional dancing in Philadelphia. They also have smaller dances in New York and along the East Coast that I have yet to attend.
It holds some unique rules that allow you to lose yourself in bliss and perhaps for the first time in your life, truly dance like nobody’s watching. There is no talking on the dance floor, no photographs or videos to be taken, no shoes to be worn unless protective footwear is required, and especially no substance use. It holds a club-like vibe with beats that vibrate to the rhythm of your heart. The music makes the floor shake. The sounds are sometimes created to have intricately hidden subliminal messages within them to bring you closer to your life’s desires.
You can expect to explore movements that evoke a Tai-chi vibe or even ones that leave you in stillness. Some engage in yoga and inversions, intense breathwork, sensual movements, EDM shuffling, or even walking around. You get to choose. DJ’s are specifically chosen based on their ability to evoke ethereal tingles from your toes to your nose. They have a way of melting worldly sounds, alternative rhythms, echoes of the natural world, and uplifting mantras into their playlist. The best part about it is that you never know what to expect, as each Ecstatic Dance hosts a different DJ. This ensures you will always be surprised through your journey of self-explorative dance.
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In my experiences, the event is typically opened with some yoga or mindful movements, followed by child-like ice breakers. These usually help any newbies gauge the vibe of what they’re about to experience — a place of genuine expression. It is home to unleashing the power within you, and other fun activities depending on the venue. These can range from elixir bars to massage beds, palm readers on-site, ceremonial cacao ceremonies, and small vendors who sell products like handmade jewelry and reiki-infused cosmetic products.
Often, attendees will bring streamers, hula-hoops, drums, maracas, or other props to dance and play with. The dancing portion of the night usually can last up to two hours. You can take breaks whenever you wish and are free to talk on the sidelines. This is a good place to catch your breath, hydrate, and make new friends.
Following hours of vicious sweating and purging of the past, you will enter the sound bath portion of the event. This can be carried out by the use of gongs, singing bowls, live singers and musicians, or various chimes. Usually, incense is lit and everyone makes their way to slower movements before lying down on the floor or ground.
In my first ecstatic dance, right as sound healing was approaching, I was so high on life that I didn’t know what to do with myself. I felt a connection to the heavens I had never known. I felt that I could manifest even the wildest of my dreams.
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Then I spotted a tall muscular man with piercing blue eyes and sweaty curls that bounced on his sun-kissed shoulders. I felt drawn to him, and within a few moments, we were laying on the floor opposite each other. Our arms grazed each other but we remained still. And after what seemed like an eternity, he began to caress me. His touch melted me and his body radiated heat. The side of me that didn’t face him felt cold without his skin on mine. It was not a sensual touch. It was that of pure love, mind you with a stranger who had popped up out of nowhere. His energy permeated my being. And in time I found myself caressing his neck, shoulder, and drenched curls with my free hand. Throughout the entirety of the experience, my eyes had been closed. Incense filled my nose and the breeze of the fans above me dried the sweat from my brow.
Before long though, it became quite sensual, for me at least. His hands grazed the sides of my stomach with a touch so gentle I thought I’d melt into oblivion. He had the touch of a God. And before I knew it, the sound healing was ending. When we sat up, we hugged for a long time. His arms squeezed me tight and sent shivers throughout me. With a guiding hand, I sat beside him in the large closing circle of the night.
He moved me in such a way I had never experienced before. I lost sleep at night thinking about him. His almond-shaped eyes, handsome dimples, and scruffy facial hair were all I’d daydream about for the next two months. We exchanged socials and kept in touch with frequent conversations.
I would not see him again for a few months at the next Ecstatic Dance in Philly. When I did, it felt like heaven on earth. We danced and laughed, and his warm embrace had me up in arms with feelings of lust and thoughts of exploring him intimately. This dance was held outside and during sound healing, we lay on the grass. I surrendered to his chest and he shielded me from the dirt. I just couldn’t bear not taking a chance because perhaps I would never see him again. He was a flight attendant who couldn’t always be at the dances, and I was moving to Massachusetts for the next few months. So I kissed him — a lot.
He was taken aback initially. I reckon perhaps due to the age difference between us. He is eight years older than me. He saw the look in my eyes and knew my intention. So when he pulled back I kindly seized my advancements with an understanding smile. But then he grabbed my face and gave me the sweetest kisses my lips had ever tasted. Following sound healing, I fed him strawberries and he ran his fingers through my hair. I saw his soul through his eyes that night.
We stayed in touch for a few months and spoke regularly despite me living far away. He had even landed in MA before I arrived, and attempted to arrange a meetup. Yet a potential relationship was completely unrealistic since we were in different stages of life. I was also uncertain of the wide age gap, and it definitely crossed his mind, too. And in time the texts lessened. I haven’t seen him in almost a year, besides on Instagram and Facebook. I’m sure I’ll see him again one day in Philly, and it will be wonderful to regain touch.
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That experience set the tone for what was possible with Ecstatic Dance. Since then I have made new friends and regularly attend with my best girlfriends from college. Currently, during social distancing, we host weekly dance breaks via Zoom where we have our own little Ecstatic Dance party. It fills the void and truly makes me feel alive. And lately, I’ve been taking my own dance breaks on my front lawn where I close my eyes and imagine my friends are dancing with me, too.
So yes, Ecstatic Dance has changed my life and helped me to feel more alive in my own body. It helped me dig up the courage that was stifled inside of me. It allowed me to make sweaty connections, and help me to remove the mask I once wore for the world. It helped me find an unfiltered, raw, and vulnerable version of myself I might have never known existed without it.
ED taught me that I’m not alone and I never will be. It has served as a mental rehabilitation center and healed me from my traumas of the past. It has unleashed an intensity so strong within me that it cannot be tamed. It helped me to taste, breathe in, and feel the music. It has been unifying. It provides an authentic balance of living beyond your comfort and growing in love with yourself.
I cannot recommend it enough, and I am forever grateful for finding Ecstatic Dance, thanks to some great ladies in my life. I hope that one day you can find it, too.
Previously published on “Hello, Love”, a Medium publication.
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