A Liberated Space

Ecstatic Dance blossoms in Ajijic

My inner dancer yearned to break free. I had spent years on the sidelines, waiting to get into the game, but it wasn’t the coach who wouldn’t put me in, it was that other guy, me.

Ecstatic Dance changed all that.

“I think trepidation is the word,” says Craig Martin, a strapping Scotsman who has facilitated Ecstatic Dance, known as Dance Your Prayers in the Lake Chapala area for the past five years. “There’s trepidation for people. It’s like, ‘Will I be okay? Will I be good enough?’ All the usual mental nonsense.”

In 2012, I lived for six months in San Miguel de Allende, where I met Joseph, a fellow meditator who had also spent time in the San Francisco Bay area. Joseph, now a regular at Ajijic Dance Your Prayers, told me about the unique dance sessions he was attending in town. I was intrigued, but trepidatious.

One Sunday morning not long thereafter, I sat on a cement wall across from the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in central San Miguel. There a battle ensued, and I wasn’t faring well. I just couldn’t bring my legs to carry me across the street into that dance hall.

“There’s a lot of people I tell about the dance,” says Craig Martin, “and they´re, like, ‘Oh, I’m not ready for that,’ there’s that trepidation. [But] It’s actually a growth [opportunity]. There’s a potential to get over that self-conscious, ‘I need to be a good dancer.’ Not important. It’s not important. Some people hardly dance.”

I glanced up and saw Joseph walking down the sidewalk, which presented a profound dilemma. Ultimately, it was more embarrassing to say, Hey, Joseph, I’m chicken and I’m not going in, than the alternative. I got up and walked into the studio with Joseph.

Ecstatic Dance is a freestyle, do-your-own-thing dance session with room for everyone, from the flamboyant to the sedate and everything in between. You’re even welcome to just sit and watch. Most participants dance solo, but spontaneous partnering is common.

The pace of the music, typically non-lyrical and encompassing a wide range of genres, begins slowly with “the wave” incrementally arriving at a peak, followed by a diminishing wave that leads to a more meditative ambience. The Ajijic sessions begin with opening and closing remarks in a group circle and take place on Saturday mornings, with the daytime hours lending a lighter, more celebratory atmosphere than anything found in a bar or club environment.

There are three important rules in Dance Your Prayers: no alcohol or drugs, no talking and no judgment.

“The no-talking rule encourages a state of mind beyond the normal chatty, habitual talk,” says Craig. “It’s a nice starting point . . . a nice arrival if you want to call it that, both physically and spiritually.”

It dawned on me quickly that fateful day in San Miguel, nobody cared what anyone else looked like. A revelation, to be sure, that helped open the door to a wonderful new adventure, dancing.

“It’s like a lot of things in life,” opines Craig, “in that once we say yes to it, that resistance drops away . . . because we do want to dance. We just have too many judgments.”

Dance uplifts the spirit and unshackles the body and mind. The unique structure of Dance Your Prayers is especially conducive to blissful, even transcendent states.

“Dance is something that has happened for thousands of years,” says Craig, “in all spiritual cultures.”

What began in San Miguel continued, leading to many dance sessions in Oakland and Santa Cruz, California; Valle de Bravo, Mexico, and now Ajijic. Ecstatic Dance has brought me joy, movement, social engagement and continuing insight into myself. It has been a blessing and a true gift.

“[The experience] can range from feeling blissful, as is often the reason people dance,” explains Craig. “But it’s not unusual for things to arise. As in meditation, massage, many things will arise to be healed because you’re not defending when you’re dancing. You’re more flowing. You’re more open. You’re not caught in the usual structures in a sense.”

Craig draws a correlation between facilitation and service, an important facet in the spiritual journey. “I’m providing,” says Craig. “I’m not a teacher. I say almost nothing. That’s how I was brought up in Ecstatic Dance. The facilitator should not overwhelm . . . do anything that’s manipulating the space. I don’t make it happen. I let it happen.”

As the dancers form a closing circle, the peals of “Ave Maria” emanate from the bell tower of St. Andrew’s church, sending a blessing to all, including those who have dared to venture, into a liberated space.

Attendance at Ajijic’s Dance Your Prayers has steadily increased, with a recent uptick bringing in as many as 40 dancers weekly. Visit Dance Your Prayers on Saturday mornings, 10:30 am to 12:00 noon, at Villa de Angel, Emiliano Zapata 3, Ajijic.

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