Biodanza – liberating mind and body through dance

Biodanza claims almost  miraculous effects – more boosting of creativity, more freedom of expression and yes, better sex too. It also leaves you with boundless energy. Its fans claim it can take away stress and improve your sleep; it can liberate your creative impulses and even help you replace no-hope relationships with ones that nurture you. After a year of Biodanza, its growing band of aficionados swear, your life will be totally different.

Biodanza is tricky to categorize: it’s much more than a dance form but it’s not technically a therapy and its practitioners certainly don’t like to tout it as a cure. Its creator, Chilean psychologist and anthropologist Rolando Toro, came up with the idea for Biodanza back in 1960. He recognised that tribal societies have always used dance as a way to express deep feelings and to connect both to one another and to society as a whole. However Western society has gradually, over the centuries, formalized dance to the point where almost all individual expression has vanished. Look into any night club and you will quickly see that even the most modern forms of dancing have accepted moves, fashions and conventions. Toro felt however that by dancing in a manner true to our essential “inner” self, we could literally dance ourselves back to wholeness, coming to accept our bodies and learning to feel more comfortable with our fellow human beings and society. Working initially with mentally disturbed patients, he found that certain kinds of music would evoke certain kinds of movements which would, in turn, bring about quite pronounced physiological and emotional changes. Some stimulated the sympathetic nervous system; others the parasympathetic nervous system.

After prolonged observation and study he came to believe that each of us has within us five different modes of living: Vitality (feeling energy, facing the world); Affectivity (feelings of love, tenderness and respect; giving and receiving love from other people); Sexuality (deriving pleasure from our sensuality); Creativity (bringing creative aspects into everyday life) and Transcendence (going beyond ego to find something powerful outside ourselves). Our problems arise, he hypothesized, because we learn to stifle or block out some or all of these living experiences and so fall out of our natural balance. The idea behind Biodanza is to try to bring the whole person back into a childlike sense of wholeness by stimulating underdeveloped areas and bringing all five into balance.

Now well-established in the USA, South America, Switzerland, Italy and France, the dance is used, not just for general wellbeing, but as a specific therapeutic tool in the rehabilitation of people with eating disorders, with the mentally handicapped, for children with autism or Down’s Syndrome; for people suffering from asthma, cardio-vascular problems, Parkinson’s Disease, osteoporosis and gastrointestinal disorders. The very young, the very old, pregnant women – everyone can benefit from Biodanza.

There’s absolutely no need to be a “good” dancer. In this dance class, there is no “correct” way of doing exercises, the whole point is to find your own dance – as Rolando Toro puts it, “our proposal is to dance to our own life. To retrieve the condition of being the owners of our body, our emotions, as a whole, a unit.” The workshop I joined in London comprised a completely mixed bag of around thirty people: some obviously fancied themselves as potential Dirty Dancers; others clearly belonged to the shuffle round your handbag brigade.  At the end of three long hot sweaty hours, the funny thing was that I no longer noticed the difference.

It was taught by Patricia Martello, a tiny intense woman with flowing dark hair and incredible energy. Having asked us all to introduce ourselves, Martello invited us to join hands in a large circle. As we lightly tripped round the room, we were instructed to be aware of our movements and aware of other people in the group. Eye contact, she insisted, was very important.
Exercises ranged from the simple, marching round the room feeling confident and full of self-esteem, to the complex, discovering our own individual dance within which to express our creativity. Some dancing is done solo, sometimes you are asked to pair up and sometimes the whole group dances together. Throughout the whole class there is no talking, except by Martello as she explains how to do the exercise.

Personally, I found it a mixed experience. I discovered I had hidden depths of energy and surprising amounts of anger exploded as I did “my” dance. But I did find some of the exercises a bit confrontational – a little too much close body and eye contact for my comfort. However, that, I’m sure, only goes to show how unbalanced and repressed I am. Maybe after a whole course of Biodanza I’d be as relaxed in my body and as peaceful in my mind as the old hands appeared to be. As one woman explained afterwards: “Biodanza has given me the freedom to like who I am, the permission to enjoy being in my body and the ability to interact with people with true friendliness and innocent joy.” Not bad for a dance class.

In Biodanza every exercise and its accompanying music is carefully planned to have a precise physiological effect. However you can try the following exercises to experience a taste of Biodanza in your own home.

1. Walk around the room, or garden, and try to feel connected with your body. Feel your feet connecting firmly with the ground; let your arms swing naturally and keep your head up high. Gradually let the movement become more fluid, more vital, more exuberant.

2. Put on music with a strong but fluid melody. Dance in any way you choose, but keep aware of your chest and heart area and dance “into” that area.

3. Change the music for something with a solid firm rhythm. Dance again, but this time letting your movements be governed by your pelvic region.

4. Keep with rhythmic music and play with finding your “own” dance. Forget notions of what dancing should look like; don’t worry about proper steps or movements. Allow the music to dance you – you might end up jumping in the air, or rolling on the floor: it doesn’t matter.

5. Again, pick some music with a firm beat and practice giving your dance to someone else. If you are trying these exercises with a friend, one of you should sit on the floor and “receive” the dance while you dance for her/him. If you are doing this alone, imagine you are dancing for someone special and pretend they are sitting in front of you. Again, let the music guide you in your movements and concentrate on really giving the other person what they need. Maintain eye contact all the way through the exercise. Then swap over and receive their dance.

This is an extract from my book The Natural Year – click on the cover below for more information or to order.

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