Try 90 minutes a week outside your comfort zone

I signed up to Biodanza on a whim. I was working too much and moving too little and this class promised all the fun of dancing with none of the tedium of learning steps.

I was immediately sold.

Biodanza, meaning ‘the dance of life,’ has its origins in the 1960’s. It was invented – for want of a better verb – by Chilean psychologist Rolando Torro who, working in a psychiatric ward, began using dance to treat his patients.

Torro was a firm believer in the importance of physicality. He pointed out that the most intense experiences; whether erotic, ecstatic or creative, have a distinctively corporal dimension. Free movement, he felt, was the ultimate form of self-expression. It was also the antidote to what he identified as the “broken gestures and empty and sterile structure of expression” to which our bodies had become confined.

I arrived to my first Biodanza class sweat-drenched and a quarter of an hour late, having taken a wrong turn after I got out of the subway station. Poking my head in the door, I encountered a circle of about 15 people – swaying, writhing and in some cases, sighing.

Unfazed by my arrival and without an apparent leader, I experienced a wave of panic as I wondered how to enter their midst. Eventually, one of them caught my eye. This, it turned out, was the teacher. She gestured for me to join the circle.

Before long I too was jiving to the music which, incidentally, came from a tinny laptop in the corner of the room.

With everyone around me giving it their all, there was no reason to hold back. Soon I was bopping along to the beats with the gusto and enthusiasm usually provided by a few drinks.

It felt good.

Biodanza is the physical equivalent to singing in the shower. A safe space for self expression – the embodiment of the multi-meme-inspiring mantra ‘dance like nobody’s looking.’

A typical class begins with the group sitting in a circle. (I managed to avoid this the first time by being late). It is my least favourite part. The idea is to share something – anything – with the group. I usually just say that I’m happy to be there. I like to keep it vague. After all, I’m here for the non-verbal expression.

That part only lasts a few minutes though. The rest of the class is devoted to improvised dancing – sometimes alone, sometimes with a partner or in a group.

One of the most interesting exercises I’ve done was with a partner. With just the tips of our forefingers touching, we closed our eyes and… danced. Slowly of course, since otherwise our fingertips would have lost contact. It was a remarkably intimate experience, requiring both concentration (to keep our movements in tune with one another) and letting go (so you didn’t feel weird and self-conscious about what you’re doing.) It is a form of meditation, transporting you to another plain while also grounding you in the here and now.

The music always dictates the movement. The selection is broad, ranging  from purely instrumental to sentimental pop. We are encouraged by the teacher to “let go” (it is her favourite phrase, which she utters in a thick German accent.) Sometimes, she lets out loud yawns as she is dancing, encouraging us to do the same to “einfach let go.”

There are occasions where the whole thing takes on a slightly evangelical quality and I wonder whether I may have stumbled into a self-help group. From time to time the ecstatic sighs of another woman (the class is all-female) or an unsolicited hug make me uncomfortable.

But if anything this only exposes my own beliefs about the acceptable boundaries of self-expression. It also gives me an insight into my own temperament. I am most comfortable dancing alone, while feeding off the energy of the group. I only feel at ease  when everyone is taking part.(Once for instance, we were split into two groups, with one watching as the other performed the exercises. The sense of being watched made me uncomfortable and inhibited my natural movement.)

I don’t mind dancing with others but there have been times when the level of physical intimacy has edged outside of my comfort zone. Once, during a dance, the teacher kissed me on the cheek. While I didn’t much like that, I found her impulse rather fascinating.

The best way to describe a session might be to say that it mirrors the experience of getting a little drunk. As your lose your inhibitions, you become increasingly well-disposed to your surroundings and those who inhabit them. You become more playful and flippant, less petty.

For me, it’s been a good way to “lätt go.” Cheaper, healthier and more efficient than a night on the town, it’s an ideal way to unwind after a stressful day. Plus, there’s no need to worry about a hangover. So whatever form it may take for you, why not try 90 minutes per week outside YOUR comfort Zone?

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