By Leo Rutherford
A woman dancer wrote to me of her experience at one of my workshops:
(Saturday) ” I remember nothing of the trance dance and was quite surprised when my friend told me i had danced for a long time (over a hour). i thought it was only two minutes. I now realise i was dancing the abuse out, no wonder my head was burning. No wonder i was excited. I knew the next day was going to be even more amazing!!
(Sunday) ” this day i will never forget for the rest of my life”
” Again in the dance I was gone but i remember coming to and someone had the rain stick near me. I thought if he comes any closer I’ll have his clothes off!! Wow! Then this energy was buzzing through me and around me. I stood there thinking- I’ve got enough sexual energy to make love with every man in this room and start again. It was amazing and exciting. Mine to keep forever …….
Thank you all for making this possible. It was just beautiful, the drumming, the trust, the love and the warmth, the light and the fun. Everything was just as it should be.”
A male dancer writes of his experience ;
” The trance dance is an experience of freedom. It is licence to let rip, burn up, freak out, explode and collapse: then post-orgasmically, to re-integrate in the arms of loving companions. When it happens, it is like plundering a maelstrom of energy….. I collapse after only a few minutes. But I think it could go on dancing me a whole lot longer, and plenty wilder. Given the opportunity, i would certainly like to push it further. I think I’ve only been down the nursery slopes. But what i’ve discovered in these visceral states of only a few minutes has astounded me, altered me.
Underneath my sedate exterior lurks something monstrous, godlike unspeakable. Trance dance safely uncages it from the ‘English reserve’! Society need not feel threatened. It has a thrash and a roar, then goes back inside, becalmed again, I think i need to cease permanently hiding away this inner tiger that feels not heavy or aggressive but light, buoyant, mercurial … Just a taste of it is a revelation”
He has touched the ‘wild man’ inside himself.
I first encountered the trance dance in 1984 when i attended the European Association of of Humanistic Psychology Conference which took place that year in Guildford, Surrey. One of the sessions was trance dancing with Dr Jacques Donnars of Paris and Professor Arnold Keyserling of Vienna. They needed music and i supplied them with my ghetto blaster and a tape of Olatunji’s ‘Drums of Passion’.
What i experienced at the session was extraordinary. In quite a sort time, demure people who one might expect to be shy and inhibited were dancing with wild abandon. Professor Keyserling kept telling me to turn the music up louder and I remember struggling with my player to somehow extract a bit more volume.
In those days I was more inhibited than i am now so I waited before trying the dance myself. Finally I dared to have a go. Jacques told me to keep my eyes closed and then he held my head firmly and turned it around a few times and then spun my whole body. Soon I found myself dancing on a world tilted by about 30 degrees. When I began to fall someone would support me and I spun around in this tilted crazy world dancing wildly until in a moment of panic I blinked my eyes open.
The spell was broken as I saw the concrete floor and people’s legs!
They called it Terpsichore Trance Therapy, or TTT for short. Terpsichore is Greek Goddess of the dance. This experience made me determined to follow up and learn more and this I was able to do when one of Dr Dommar’s trainees came to London and gave a workshop. I then began to experiment with the dance myself and learn more by trial and error.
In the late 80’s I worked a lot with Trance Dance and it helped me find entryways into more passionate living. It also bought about some transformative moments for workshop participants. Yet I felt the need to know more and experienceit at a deeper level.
In 1992 I went to an International Conference on Trance and Healing in Marrakech to which 250 people from 25 countries came. Present was Dr David Akstein, the founder of TTT and representatives from the Afro Brazilian traditions of Umbanda and Candomble, which were his primary source inspirations. The local Gnawas, who come from the melding of West Africa and Middle Eastern Sufi traditions, were there too and I had my first experience of their night~long ceremony, the Derdeba, and of their extraordinary trance inducing music.
The conference kindled my enthusiasm for the whole field of Trance-Dancing and so called ‘spirit possession’ as a path to accessing altered states of consciousness and hidden aspects of Self and the Universe. There were many sessions on TTT with Dr Donnars and his son Alain, at which I took the opportunity to enter the dance as many times as possible. There was also a wonderful ritual with Carlos Buby of the Umbanda tradition from Sao Paulo, many other experimental sessions and numerous intellectual discussions on the meaning and value of these ancient ways.
I have worked with Trance Dance for 27 years since then and found it an amazingly powerful tool. It can move someone from stuckness to release in a remarkably short time, quite naturally and without much of the struggle through ‘resistance’ often encountered when working in therapy mode. It can take someone to amazing places of cosmic light and laughter, it can liberate aspects of a person they didn’t know existed and haven’t encountered before.
Trance-Dancing is almost as old as humanity, nothing could be further from some New Age, new fangled cure-all fad-therapy. Dancing is natural, the beat of the drum is primal, stomping on the earth is basic to human beingness, rhythm brings order to life. There is a wonderful saying, I forget where from – “The lords of chaos hate rhythm”! That’s right – rhythm entrains the brainwaves and helps us into a state of consciousness where the natural laws of the Universe are more assimilable.
African traditions, and many other indigenous cultures, have worked with ‘ spirit possession’ for centuries. It sounds scary but if I reframe it as ‘ego dispossession’, then it is easier to comprehend. It means having the willingness to enter the unknown where the Spirit and not the little ego-mind rules. In our religious history, ego control has got associated with God and an ordered rational ‘Apollonian’ Universe full of repressed people has been labelled ‘godly’, while wild Dyonysian letting go, natural uninhibited dancing and drumming, liberation into the realm of unbridled Spirit, has got confused with evil and ‘devil’. it is no wonder this is a hard culture to live in happily. To be ‘normal’ person we have to bottle up so much of our real self, our Spirit!
In this day and age much is happening to help people to greater freedom from the belief systems which brought about the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual slavery of the past. Trance-Dancing is a way of reaching back to our ancient indigenous roots in order to help us present day people touch the freedom of Spirit, the right to our own life choices, the passion of the life fully lived. Or, in poetic terms, to —
‘Dance Our Dreams Awake’