We use our eyes so much to take external things in, so the blindfold is essential to veiling that outside world, leaving us only with ourselves and our mind's eye

Trance Dance: The Power of Shamanic Movement

07.07.2000   Class Review by Sunni Brown / Austin FIT Magazine

There was a time when mankind was primitive, a time when the sun was an object of worship and human beings were in sync with the earth. In these ancient days, the indigenous people didn't only use language or drawings to express themselves - they used dance. The old, shamanic ritual of uninhibited movement as a means to heal and energize rears its modern day head at NiaSpace, a fitness studio on South First Street in Austin, Texas.

The class is called Trance Dance and, according to one advocate, it is not to be underestimated. The studio in which the dance takes place has an exotic atmosphere; the smell of incense and gypsy decor mysticizes the room. Plants, candles, lights and mirrors all add to the ambiance, and even the air seems to dance. Clearly, these elements are necessary for inducing a trance-like mindset, which is the basic goal of the class. A trance is an altered state of consciousness, and it is in this state that the potential healing and energizing takes place. One other thing is necessary when putting yourself under the spell - a blindfold. "it's about internalizing", says NIA and Trance Dance guide Holly Curtis. "We use our eyes so much to take external things in", so the blindfold is essential to veiling that outside world, leaving us only with ourselves and our mind's eye, she says. "You may find parts of you lying dormant for years, and they are so happy to be awakened.

Each class, however, doesn't have to be so profound. Benefits range from simple clear-headedness to spiritual rejuvenation to actual healing of the physical body. The results depend on the desire and the intention. "It's a practice that opens a doorway into your own spirituality, whatever that may be", Curtis says.

The class begins with the group in a circle. Curtis then explains the procedure and gives a background of its origins and clarifies the point. "The dance is personal growth oriented. it's about release; you're absorbing nothing from the outside except sound, which is unusual in itself". She is careful not to raise expectations, since each time the experience is different and the feelings aroused can go from pleasurable to panicky. "At times I would hear voices and see the faces that go with them, and there was this eye that kept following me around", says Stephanie Bruce, a first time attendee of the class. Another woman confesses her fears of wearing the blindfold. "I couldn't move my feet. I didn't trust myself, the floor or the people around me. Sometimes I wanted to rip the blindfold off". To address this last concern, two designated spotters prevent people from running into or stepping on each other, because there's no telling where the movements will take you.

On with the class. We were taught to breathe in a particular way - two quick inhales through the nose, and one long exhale through the mouth, appropriately called the breath of fire. Since breathing is one of the most fundamental functions of our bodies, concentrating on this simplicity helps us focus and reminds us of our very animalistic nature.

The music begins. Inspired by Professor Trance (music created within the Natale Institute specifically as Trance Dance soundtracks) and over 40,000 years of shamanic dancing, the music has come a long way. Fittingly titled "Shamans Breath", it is an intense blend of drums and other complex instrumentation and it plays a huge role in achieving the different state of mind. There are no rules to follow other than to let your body guide you along with the sounds that you hear. "Don't be surprised if you have the urge to crawl around on the floor like an animal," laughs Curtis. "At times you'll feel like one".

During the two-hour period, the idea is to forget about time and space, concepts invented by the left-brain, and purely experience:   feel,   hear,  understand,   realize. When the music is nearing the end, you lay on the floor on your stomach or back, both exhausted and exhilarated by the energy you've just spent. "That", grins the instructor, "is probably the most delicious part". The blindfold is at last removed, and the adventures become more real. As Gwendolyn Stallings, one of the spotters, puts it. "You can tell you've gone somewhere suddenly, when you come back.

Reality can be so harsh sometimes.