The rhythms, chants, drumming, and dancing all combined to create a transforming, deeply spiritual state for everyone involved.

Facilitating Spiritual Transformations: TranceDance Pioneer Wilbert Alix

Excerpt from the book “Dream It, Do It”

“Answering the question ‘Why am I’? ‚ is, I think, the reason for living,” says Wilbert Alix, director of The Natale Institute and developer of a healing modality called TranceDance. “Not just who am I, but why am I. “Why am I is generally answered by making some kind of meaningful contribution in our lifetime.” Wilbert has been asking questions and challenging the status quo ever since he can remember. He’s also been exploring the world of music from his earliest days. Born and raised in the Storyville district of New Orleans, Louisiana, he grew up surrounded by very spiritual, very rhythmic music. “It was the place where jazz was born, he says, “and it was the place where I first heard and learned anything about rhythms and music.”

It was also in Storyville that Wilbert and his community took part in an annual ritual passed down from their ancestors. During the time of slavery in the United States, Native Americans living in the region of southern Louisiana offered refuge to black slaves who escaped to freedom. After slavery was finally abolished the New Orleans African-American community started a tradition to honor the American Indians who had helped them. The year through, they would organize community-wide celebration, dressing and dancing as their Native American neighbors, primarily during Mardi Gras. This tradition was passed own through generations. Wilbert, his family, and his neighbors all participated in this festive event. To a young Wilbert, it was great fun. As he grew, he saw that it was more than a big celebration. The effect of an entire community coming together in song and dance to honor a significant chapter in their collective history was healing. The rhythms, chants, drumming, and dancing all combined to create a transforming, deeply spiritual state for everyone involved. These early childhood experiences and the understandings Wilbert gained later in life about his community’s ritual led him to develop TranceDance as a healing technique available to anyone.

Wilbert recalls the strong influence of family during his early years. “When I was a child, the two most powerful people in my life were my parents,” he says. “I learned from my parents and my grandparents to not live within the limits of my mind.” My grandfather was very enterprising. He had a small chain of dry-cleaning stores. He was the one person in my family who demonstrated to me that a 9-to-5 job was not the only way to go. Watching his grandfather motivated young Wilbert to try his hand at business. He remembers mowing backyard lawns and running errands for neighbors in the hot, humid summers of Louisiana. When he was ten, he came up with a very enterprising idea.

“I decided I would take the little money I had made for a couple of weeks mowing the few lawns I could find and have a party,” he recalls. “I invited all the other guys who were also mowing lawns. But I had another agenda, and that was to have a meeting with everybody.” Wilbert posed an idea to his young lawn-mowing competitors. First he spoke about the disadvantages of competing against each other for the few jobs that were available. He talked about the wasted energy and effort it took them to find even one job on any given day. He pointed out that they’d rather be playing in the park or swimming in the pool. Then, he presented his plan. Wilbert proposed to find jobs for them. He would ride his bike through town searching for lawn-mowing jobs while the other boys spent their summer days at their leisure. Whenever he found a neighbor in need of yard work, he would call one of the kids on the network. “The other kids thought it was a cool idea,” he says. “They got to swim all day and cut grass a little bit. I got to ride my bike all day and talk with the people, which is exactly what I wanted to do. In return for this service, collected 20% off the top of the other kids‚ pay.”

Everything was going great until some parents heard what Wilbert was up to. They didn't like it, and they let his mom know. “She felt compelled to come to me, under the pressure of her peers, and tell me that I had to discontinue my little enterprise and return all the money,” he says. Wilbert was angry. He didn’t see why he had to give back his hard-earned money. After all, he had done the work of finding these jobs while his friends were having fun. But, he obeyed his mom. What hurt most was that nobody even acknowledged his creativity.

Just as he was feeling his glummest, Wilbert received much-needed validation. He says, “My grandfather came by, I remember, and said, “You know, I heard about this little gig you had. Look, your mother is your mother and I can't interfere. But I wanted to tell you that I thought this was a brilliant idea. One day your mother is not going to be in a position to tell you that you can’t do these things. ”And I always remember that, because it was the first real indication I got that my creativity had value, and that I was living in a temporary time in which others had influence on whether or not I could act on that creativity.”

“The evolution of one's consciousness,” he continues, “starts off with a stage that we generally categorize as negative, but it really isn’t negative from the standpoint that it’s the impetus that gets us moving, and that is rebellion. I started rebelling obviously when I was ten! I don’t think that I ever really stopped. Now, I didn’t shoot people, or rob stores or anything like that, but I most certainly put my nose right up against the status quo and challenged what I was being taught.”

As he grew, he saw that he enjoyed working directly with people. He found employment with the YMCA, organizing and leading social programs for many years. But his inquisitive mind and his hungry soul propelled him to continuously take new risks in life. When he was 23, he left the familiarity of his community to follow his dreams. His search brought him to Texas, where he began to explore both traditional and alternative approaches to healing and spirituality. He spent eleven years doing extensive medical research at Baylor College of Medicine and the University of Texas Health Science Center. He directed a number of programs, some in social outreach and others in mental health, devoted to elevating people’s spiritual, physical, and emotional well being. Wilbert served as president of one of the largest psychotherapy programs in the United States. At the same time that he facilitated and directed programs that resonated with what he deeply believed in, he was also a willing apprentice.

“Most of my learning has happened through apprenticeships,” he says. “I learned fairly young in life that there are people who exist who are accomplished, and most of them are very willing to share their experience if you are willing to learn from them in the way that they want you to learn. They aren’t interested in you coming in there and telling them what you think about their work. You have to respect that what they are doing is valuable, and therefore you become a student.” One of his greatest mentors has been Frank Natale, whom Wilbert met when he was 26. The student was drawn to the teachings of this renowned instructor of contemporary healing. Wilbert has spent twenty years learning from, working with, and ultimately developing a business partnership with Frank through the Natale Institute International, a global network of programs that teach self-empowerment and spiritual transformation. They worked together for seven years at the Institute in Houston. Then in the mid-1980s, Frank left to direct a newly developed European network. Wilbert stayed in the U.S. to direct the Western Hemisphere network based in Austin, Texas. The work he does there is a dream come true for him.

“Somebody said to me years ago, “If you want to be really happy, find something that you enjoy doing so much that you would devote your life to it, that you would do it completely and totally for free. Then, see if you can figure out a way to make a lot of money doing it. If you can pull it off, you can generate a lifestyle from your passion, and every day is a blessing. I always remember that,” says Wilbert. “And that’s what I do every day. I go through my life asking, “What's not there that I want to be there? ‚ Or I ask, “What sort of sneaked in that really needs to be out?‚ I try to make sure to filter these things on a regular basis.”

As director of the Natale Institute, he merges many interests together including his love of music, his focus on personal transformation, his desire to help others, and his strong skills in teaching, communicating, and mediating. One of the programs offered by the Natale Institute is the Results Course, which Wilbert brings into the community and corporations. Through the course, he shows how to manifest solutions from seemingly unsolvable issues. He has been very instrumental in resolving conflicts on a community-wide scale. One of his most notable achievements was bringing together long-time opponents from Austin’s business, development, and environmental sectors and helping them find common ground from which solutions could spring. Wilbert’s Common Ground Project also teaches the business world conflict management through mutual respect, attention to thought processes, and creative problem solving. In short, he helps people stuck in a pattern of unproductive thinking to unlock the limitless possibilities of their imaginations. He helps businesses and individuals
live more productively.

“The work that I do is not theoretical,” he says. “I did not learn this stuff theoretically. I did the work myself. I have knuckled under and challenged many things inside of myself. After 20 or 30 years of that kind of stuff, you start clicking into certain solutions, and then you do the best you can to put that information into some kind of form to present to other people who are unwilling to accept mediocrity as the norm. Unfortunately most people are willing to accept mediocrity as the norm. Why? Because they’re told it's the norm. But it's not.”

In addition to his marvelous success in bringing opposing factions together through his Results Course, Wilbert has helped people greatly through TranceDance, which he has pioneered. With its roots going back to his community’s annual ritual celebration and even beyond to the practices of indigenous people around the world, its implementation is uncannily simple. But it’s a very powerful tool for personal transformation. “Our communities have pretty effectively eliminated most of the ritual experiences that are necessary in order to transform,” he says. „We're really left barren in our lifetime as to having any kind of guides.” His TranceDance course is an effort to fill what he sees missing in today's society.

Participants dance to long sequences of rhythmic sounds with a bandanna over their eyes, in essence dancing in darkness and isolation until reaching a trance state. If we writhe with discomfort at the thought of entering a trance, it’s probably because we don’t fully understand the true meaning of the word. It's a state of complete inner focus where we've effectively eliminated outside distractions. „It is within this inner journey that we connect with spirit and the truths it reveals,” says Wilbert. “TranceDance's primary focus is on healing and our relationship with spirit. Through TranceDance we "disappear” become more like our spirit, and simultaneously less attached to our difficulties, making it possible at these moments to let these problems go.”

Wilbert remains passionate about integrating timeless wisdom of indigenous cultures with modern-day knowledge of the workings of the human body to develop techniques for people to grow spiritually. To him, many of our individual and societal problems can be solved once we remember how to connect with our spiritual essence. “Western culture is suffering from a very insidious problem,” he says, “and that is that we've had generations and generations of evolution absent of spiritual transformation. So it's not so simple as to say this part of our generation is right, and this part is not right. We're all experiencing problems because we're now living with the absence of spirituality. What I think we need more than anything else is some real perspective on what a healthy culture looks like and the willingness to re-embrace people in our lives for wisdom's sake. I think much of our work here at the Natale Institute is about first going into a place in which we surrender, and then coming out less obsessed. The ego starts to dissolve, enabling us to listen to what our spiritual sides are telling us. What guides me personally is that I stay within certain parameters of things that I think are just integrity-based qualities, and then my spirit just guides me to higher things. I am as surprised about what happens as anybody else is.”

Sharon Cook & Graciela Sholander
January 21, 2003