Untamed Melody: Del Hughes experiences the Rhythm Method
I can’t feel my arse, my extremities are numb and, clearly, I’m not dressed for the occasion. I should have guessed that my Rudolph poncho wouldn’t vibe with the bohemian ‘atmos’. Sigh.
I’m currently sitting in a very rustic wooden structure which has a grassy roof, no walls, and a smouldering fire pit at its centre. It’s located in the middle of an ancient woodland and, despite the stunning surroundings, I’m regretting deciding to come. The fact that it’s also daylight, December, and sodding freezing doesn’t help.
I’m here because you could say that, over the past nine months, I’ve been on a mini voyage of discovery. I’ve pushed myself to try new activities, to explore the esoteric and to inject a little fun into my life. Basically, I’m looking for adventure.
I’ve dabbled with arcane rituals, been ghost-busting and faced several of my biggest fears. I’ve also tried my hand at more conventional hobbies such as painting and potting, which I strangely found almost as terrifying as allowing a large tarantula named Dylan to amble across my arm. (Mind, I still can’t look at the photos of that encounter, except through splayed fingers!)
But it’s, indirectly, because of my pottery class that I’ve come. A few weeks back, some of the girls were ribbing Rosemary (advanced potter, excellent coiling skills) about her ‘naked romping’, and my ears pricked up. I was, understandably, intrigued.
After the bawdy asides and laughter had finally died down, I asked her what they were talking about and she told me all about ‘free-dancing, which instils a feeling of liberty and well-being. And no, we don’t do it naked.’ Interesting. But then she added, ‘And there’s cocoa’, and that sealed the deal.
So I’ve come along to the ‘Winter Dream Ecstatic Dance & Cacao Activation’ event, DJ’ed by Osara, facilitated by Seagypsee (aka Marie) and aided by Gordon – accomplished keeper of the sacred flame, and official photographer.
Myself and thirty-odd ‘like-minded individuals will be going on an ecstatic dance journey, to express our wildness, to release emotions and to revel in community magic.’
We’ll also be creating ‘a powerful portal for creative freedom and untamed expression as we celebrate life together.’ Um. . . okay.
Frankly, it sounded much too advanced for someone like me who has never tried anything this out there. Plus, I can’t remember the last time I felt truly ecstatic. And, in case you were wondering, you should know that I’m no dancer, and that’s not only because of my stupid back.
Even in my pomp, when I’d occasionally venture to a nightclub, I was never a great mover. In fact, you’d often find me sitting in a quiet corner, guarding the coats and handbags, rather than attempting to ‘pump up the jam’ on the dance floor. So you can imagine how WAY out of my comfort zone this was taking me.
But, putting the oddness of the occasion aside for a moment, another concern was how I’d get from Caswell Bay car park up to the venue itself.
Luckily, it was a level third of a mile, and the footpath was, mainly kind underfoot, and under wheel. I’d taken my trusty rollator (Roy) because a walking stick doesn’t cut it over distance, and as well as helping my balance, Roy provides a handy seat when my spine starts screaming at me to stop.
After a leisurely twenty minute roll, I arrived punctually for the 3pm kick-off but was actually one of the first there. I guess the free-spirits who normally attend this kind of thing aren’t quite as anal as me when it comes to time-keeping?
If I’m honest, I was really nervous. I’d have liked to have taken a pal along for moral support, but all my friends were busy – apparently (hard eye-roll). Only Jen was blunt enough to say she didn’t fancy ‘capering about in a freezing forest for four hours.’ And fair play to her for that.
So, approaching the primitive structure, it was more than the sub-zero temperatures that were causing my legs to shake. But I needn’t have worried because Marie (ethereally beautiful, green handkerchief skirt, luxuriant hair) and Gordon (outdoorsy, cool tunic, luxuriant hair) couldn’t have been more welcoming, not even raising an eyebrow at a total newbie who’d rocked up to a wild dance event pushing a mobility aid and wearing a reindeer hoodie with ears – and antlers!
As Gordon worked on getting the fire cracking, Marie explained what I should expect, handed me a pair of wireless headphones – ‘to be respectful to the preserved wildlife around whilst immersing you in the sound’ – then introduced me to a few other early birds. And happily it seemed that I wasn’t the only dance-virgin in attendance.
Lorinda, a bubbly blonde, had driven from Ammanford to be here, explaining that today marked the start of a new life phase, after several very rough years.
‘I thought, what the hell! I’m going to be a hippy for the weekend.’
And George agreed. ‘I’ve never tried anything like this but, what the hell! You only live once, right?’
It was a phrase echoed by others, and there was a palpable sense of anticipation; I think we were all hoping we’d experience some sort of release from the stresses and mundanity of the everyday. Fingers crossed.
Thirty minutes later, we had the full compliment of participants, DJ Osara was setting up his decks and Marie announced it was time to begin. Eek.
We started with ‘grounding’, closing our eyes and imagining ‘roots growing out of our spines and coiling down to the earth below.’
I did my best but I’m not good at visualisation and, despite Marie’s hypnotic chanting, I couldn’t seem to picture it. But the breathing exercises were effective and, for a few minutes I, almost, forgot about my frosty fingers and toes.
And then, it was time for the ‘ceremonial’ cocoa (or cacao, which I assume is pretty much the same thing). Nope. Cacao is a very different animal – or rather, vegetable.
According to Marie, as well as being delicious, cacao can help ‘enhance the dance experience and gently guide us to connect with hidden dimensions within ourselves.’
Wow! This cacao had some serious heavy lifting to do.
As Gordon circulated with steaming cups of ‘natural medicine’, Marie gently intoned the steps she had taken to prepare the cacao, reassuring us that ‘it has been prayed over, been sung to and been honoured.’ Phew.
First, we were instructed just to smell it, ensuring we were ‘present’ as we did. Sigh. I inhaled deeply and tried to keep my wandering mind focused on the contents of the paper cup.
Yes, the rich chocolatey notes were as expected, but when they blended with the damp, peaty odours of the woodland, a heady mix of earthy aromas hit my olfactory nerve and. . . Wow! It was lush.
I couldn’t wait to get stuck in, so I eagerly took my first sip, and it was absolutely, bloody. . .dreadful! Ugh!
I struggled to swallow, others began to cough and it seemed clear that this particular cacao needed a lot more singing, and praying, to make it palatable. (On the upside, I was very glad to wrap my frozen hands around a heat source.)
I took a second, tentative, taste and forced myself to explore the texture and flavour. It was thick and terribly bitter, but since I’d lowered my expectations – I’d originally thought it would be like a Starbucks’ hot chocolate, only better – it didn’t seem quite as unpleasant. I continued sipping.
Now we were all nicely ‘grounded’, it was time for the main event. As Gordon’s fire began flaming warmly enough to bring some feeling back to my feet, DJ Osara stepped up, told us to don the headphones and, just like that, we were cocooned in our own individual dance bubbles.
And then the roundhouse really started to swing – big time! At first, the music (much like me) was chilled and slow.
Osara had talked us through the process, explaining how to ‘reach out into nature and embrace anything that your bodies, voices and souls are drawn to do.’
Okay, that sounded a bit bizarre but, to echo Lorinda and George, ‘What the hell!’ Let’s do this, Del.
As my fellow dancers drifted out into the woods, I sat on Roy and began to sway, albeit somewhat self-consciously, as I allowed the waves of sound to overtake me. But I couldn’t ignore the dog-walkers or the groups of ramblers.
They scuttled past, casting bemused glances in our direction, and weaving warily between the oblivious dancers who were rhumba’ing around the roundhouse.
And when two spaniels and a Weimaraner, literally, crashed the party – leaving their human handlers aghast and calling in vain – the absurdity of it all hit me, hard. LOL! (Though I was, thankfully, able to swallow my hysterics more easily than Marie’s cacao.)
But then Osara’s set began to swell into a global fusion of bass-lines and rhythms, and it filled my body with what, for me, was a wholly unnatural and irrepressible desire to dance.
And once those toe-tapping Indian oboes kicked in – I’m a bugger for a shehnai – I finally felt myself begin to let loose as my shoulders embraced the tempo, and the experience.
Between you and me, I admit that I was a tad envious at first, watching my dance-mates leap around the fire, shake their tail feathers and get well into the groove with every inch of their bodies. But it passed – I’m not big on navel-gazing, and it didn’t take long to get Roy rocking and rolling.
And, suddenly, I didn’t care. I didn’t care if I looked clownish (which I did), arms windmilling madly and feet propelling Roy on a mystery tour through undergrowth, shrubbery and mud.
Because that was the beauty of this event – nobody gave a damn what anyone might think of them, or their dancing, no matter how unconventional, idiosyncratic or downright ludicrous it was.
We weren’t bopping to look good or impress others. We were letting our bodies do exactly what felt right – and it was liberating, and truly marvellous.
For the next three hours I was, basically, away with fairies, throwing some full-on-far-out sedentary shapes, and dancing my elbows off in the best upper body workout I’ve had for years. And when, as I should have expected, I felt one of my shocking stag moments* begin to build, I didn’t even attempt to stifle it.
Instead, I roared my heart out, loud and proud, antlers aquiver, because it felt totally natural to be bellowing in a forested glade on a Saturday night in Swansea. Hmm? (Note to self: Ask Marie if there’s something other than just cacao in the ‘medicine.’)
As the music reached the ‘wild abandon’ stage of proceedings, it seemed to have been perfectly timed to coincide with the appearance of a cold moon, which caused zealous howling from those atop the limestone slopes.
The energy was raw and feral, and when a bare-chested chap in harem pants pulled out his fire stick and started twirling, things hotted up even more.
I was even moved to take an extremely rare selfie (after a certain age, no amount of filtering helps) because I had a massive, cheesy grin plastered across my face – it wasn’t for the camera, but simply due to the pure joy of the moment. I knew I needed to capture it, as a reminder of how wonderful life can feel, if I only let myself go enough to fully enjoy it.
As the pace slowed, people began emerging from the black depths, blinking as if waking from a harmonic hibernation. Their headphones winked a path through the oaks and beech, as they shuffled towards the fire. Paradoxically, it was time to ‘cool down’.
Once more in a circle, we waited for the final chords to fade before removing our headphones and, grudgingly, returning to the here and now. Marie asked if anyone felt like sharing their experience and I was one of many who were buoyed up enough to do so.
I wanted everyone to know that, despite an inability to do standing shimmies, I was proof that even us ‘sitting-downers’ can reach ecstatic, dizzying heights, and I actually felt a tiny bit tearful.
Buzzing and fizzing
I could have stayed longer, for the ‘community dinner’ or evening swim (Brr!) but time was ticking and I had a ghost hunt starting at ten.
So I thanked the guys, said goodbye to the group and rolled back to the car, Lorinda lighting the way with her torch.
We were in complete agreement. Yep, we’d had the weirdest four hours of our lives, but we were buzzing and fizzing with energy. We’d both experienced a, very real, sense of release, and for a time, were completely freed from the conventional. . . and it had been absolutely fabulous!
We’ll definitely be going again because, as it turns out, Gloria Estefan was right. Someday, the rhythm is gonna get’cha. . . and it’ll be freaking fantastic!
*My ‘stag moments’ are ungovernable outbursts that have occurred during several ‘alternative’ activities, most notably during my first time in a flotation tank (‘Tanked Up’) and during a gong bath (‘Good Vibrations’).
If you fancy having a go at ecstatic dance – and I’d really recommend that you try it at least once – you can find Marie (‘Mystic Cocoon’) and Osara (founder of Ecstatic Dance Bristol) on Facebook, where their upcoming events are posted. They’re also on instagram as @seagypsee and @osarasound. And if you’d like to hear some of the music before committing to a session, search for Osara on Mixcloud.
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