In 2011 I finished my trance dance facilitator training with Aernoudt Knecht and Els Van Sonhoven of Trance-Dance.net. I already had been DJing at parties, festivals and conscious dance events and practices for many years. After the training, Trance Dance became the basis of most of my dance practices.
In 2014 I started DJing as an Ecstatic Dance DJ and facilitating Ecstatic Dances. This practice brought together all the dance and music elements in my life that had existed separately before.
After the Trance Dance training I already started including ritualistic elements to my party and festival DJing , but that was just a thing that I did as my own personal preparation. This invisible work and inviting magic to the dancefloor did have impact on my DJing, on my sessions and, I like to think, on the dancers.
With Ecstatic Dance everything was put on the surface, visible for all and obvious. No longer a personal, private or quiet ritual. No, it was obvious for everyone and all are invited to participate in the ritual.
Ecstatic Dance and Trance Dance are both ritualistic ways of dancing. It is not easy to say what exactly are the differences. Both practices have a lot in common and are not copy righted practices like 5 Rhythms or Biodanza. Therefore, as a facilitator I am free to shape these practices into something that is fitting for my dancers and me. As long as I follow the basic principles and guidelines.
In my Ecstatic Dance practice I have taken a lot of inspiration from Trance Dance and my way of offering Trance Dance is inspired by my work in Ecstatic Dance.
Ecstatic Dance is a practice of free flow dancing where people do not talk on the dance floor. No alcohol and drugs, no shoes. The focus is on music, meditation and dance. No distractions, no filters, no masks.
It’s a group process. You can dance on your own or with others.
The most obvious difference is the use of blindfolds in Trance Dance. Ecstatic Dance is practiced without. Some people dance with their eyes closed, but the possibility to intentionally connect with theother dancers is present and welcomed. In Trance Dance, while being in the bubble of group energy, you are on your own. Contact with other dancers is not encouraged. You go on your own journey and only see the other dancers at the beginning and at the end. It is very much a solo journey, but you will notice the other dancers. You can hear them and feel them. Especially when you bump into each other. Many dancers can feel the energy field of the group. In my experience, a small group has a different energy than a big group. In a bigger group, the dancers pick up on each other’s energy and they can push each other to higher highs and travel deeper.
In Ecstatic Dance it is even more obvious what a group process can do for the dance and the dancer. It happened many times to me as a dancer, that I started to slow down in my dancing, tired or even bored. Then another dancer bounces past me, all happy and joyful and I feel my body and brain responding to that, activating me, inspiring me to pick up my movement again and often without effort.
Many people are attracted to Ecstatic Dance because of the possibility to dance in contact with others. A safe space to experiment with connection. How much you connect is up to the individual. Some people completely merge into one, whole, dancing organism with multiple arms, legs and heads. I giant mess of limbs and it is unclear where one human starts and the other ends.
Some people dance in contact with some distance and many people dance alone. Dancing alone is completely fine. I always feel the need to point out, that dancing alone is totally fine. For a first time Ecstatic Dance participant, it might seem that dancing in contact is some goal that needs to be reached, but a proper Ecstatic Dance is without goals. We dance with what is there. It’s my wish for you that you move from the impulse of the body and not the mind.
The structure of the sessions in general is different. What is the same: there’s a clear beginning and ending as a group and a facilitator or ceremony leader prepares the group for the dance that is coming. I like to start all my sessions with setting an intention and then a grounding exercise. Only in Trance Dance the grounding or opening meditation is blindfolded and the people stay blindfolded until the very end. Unless they need a pee break. The opening meditation in Trance Dance is much longer and the active part is started with a breathing exercise called fire breath: two strong, sharp inhales through the nose and one long exhale through the mouth, repeat, repeat, keep going…… Often the dancers synchronize their clearly audible breath.
The music starts. Many now synchronize their breath with the beats. Loud, fast, percussive, tribal beats are pushing the dancer into fast, repetitive movement, with the purpose to induce trance. I invite them to do more fire breath, to help them to get out of the head, into the body and to deepen the trance. Stomping, stepping, jumping, bouncing.
After 20 to 40 minutes, depending on how much time I have and also depending on how experienced or sporty the group is, I slow down the music. I like to use this plateau phase to let the dancers “feel around” in themselves. Many other facilitators start strong, keep going strong and slow down after an hour. This plateau phase, I took from Ecstatic Dance. In Ecstatic Dance the journey comes in waves of different intensity.
After the plateau phase I increase the tempo again and after 10 to 20 minutes of intense tribal beats, I slow down. I slow down until there are no more beats, or pulse in the music and it ends with at least 10 minutes of extremely ambient music and then silence for a few minutes. This helps the dancer to land, to feel themselves and to integrate the experience. Then we get into a circle and close the session together.
All in all it takes about 2 to 3 hours to do a full session. Often the session is pre-recorded, because the facilitator has their hands full with all these blind folded dancers moving around.
Ecstatic Dance starts gentle, usually. Though I could not help myself and I had to do experiments with starting off Ecstatic Dance with fire breath and starting with fast and percussive beats to then go into “The Wave”.
“The Wave” one of the magic ingredients of Ecstatic Dance. It takes you through different tempi and intensities and you are invited to move with it all. The live DJ, another key ingredient of Ecstatic Dance, takes you on a magic carpet ride of different genres and styles. Weaving together a seamless journey.
At the beginning a ceremony leader, sometimes the Dj is also the ceremony leader, will prepare the people for the journey. All exercises in the opening ceremony should serve as a preparation for the dance. It starts with grounding and connecting to yourself, then you invite movement and then you let people connect with the space and the other dancers. Again: physical contact is not mandatory.
The ceremony leader wishes everyone a good journey and the DJ starts playing for about 2 hours. First gentle and slow, increasing the tempo and intensity until the whole group is jumping and peaking. Then the music slows down and at the end the music is without beat or pulse and there’s a few minutes of silence. Some DJs offer just one peak, in Europe most DJs offer 2 peaks, this means there’s a slow section in the middle. If I have enough time, I’d like to offer 3 peaks, but what I really like to offer is two phases of slow music in the middle. I feel like we really explore our bodies and soul when we dance slowly.
For some dancers, the slow parts in Ecstatic Dance are difficult and to help them with this, I borrowed some wisdom from Trance Dance. Very early in the journey I offer them 20 minutes of repetitive beats (yes, that’s boring for some), to help the dancers get into a state that resembles trance and this helps them to be more open and receptive for whatever I throw at them.
There’s a difference in music choice. For Trance Dance I dig deep into the tribal feelings: percussion, didgeridoo and a lot of chanting. There’s a few similar percussive tracks. Repetition is key, in Trance.
In Ecstatic Dance diversity in music is very much welcomed. I play from all genres, with emphasis on organic house, melodic house and world music.
Both spaces require safe and sacred space. For both practices this means no shoes (if possible), no intoxication, no talking. The facilitator and team prepare the space, practically and energetically. I like to add a touch of magic.
The practical safety for blindfolded people requires different preparation of the space, obviously. You must make sure that people don’t dance into objects or fall down a ledge.
For Trance Dance you need more square meters per person. In ED people prefer to have some space to move, but you can fit more people in a space.
In both practices we are supported by assistants or space holders. They help prepare the space and do, what I call, energy management. In ED they help remind people of the guidelines, mostly the one about no talking and the one about no telephone, which is not an official guideline but sadly needs to be added as a secondary guideline. Trance Dancers do not get distracted easily, because of the blindfolds. Here the assistants are mostly busy preventing big collisions.
In Ecstatic Dance and Trance Dance, I have had similar experiences. I’d like to speak from my own experiences mostly, because I have observed that different people have different experiences.
In general most people have a deeper and more profound experience in Trance Dance. It holds a deeper potential for healing.
What made me fall in love with trance dance was the silence in my head. I have tried to meditate so much in my life with only mild success from a lot of hard work. With Trance Dance the silence came effortless.
I have had amazing experiences in Trance Dances, worked through big issues and danced entire dreamlike stories.
In one session I danced with the spirit of the dance: a dark red skinned, 4 meter high and 400 kilo heavy female, whose dance made all the worlds tremble. She told me to be gentle in my practice, because, when we dance, the whole universe vibrates with us.
In one session I became a fish. I could actually feel the water on my skin.
In my dance I have talked to animals and loved ones who have died. I even danced with them. This healed so much of the pain of missing them.
These dreamlike states, when the brain is creating Theta waves, the most creative state a brain can be in, are amazing.
In this state, you can open up your capacity to look at things from all the different angles. With the heightened creativity you can untangle the knots in your life that seem stuck.
It holds great potential for release and healing.
Dance in general has helped me heal a lot, but the biggest healing happened in Trance Dance. The biggest changes in life, were because of what happened in well facilitated Trance Dances.
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