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Andrea Juhan

Consciousness and Shifting Mind-States in Dance Practice

Jul 31, 2019

In the growing field of embodiment education, dance is emerging as one of the all-star vehicles for physical health, emotional resiliency, creative expression, deepening social engagement, and accessing spiritual states. Dance practices are an outgrowth of our performance arts, folk traditions, martial arts, and dance/movement therapies into mainstream forms of physical practice for health and wellbeing. Right behind yoga, Conscious Dance has broken the mold.

As both a teacher and an avid student of all forms of dance practice, I have experienced many structures that use dance and movement as a vehicle for healing. I have been pondering the different approaches, the different expectations, and results. I can see that there are roughly 3 different avenues of Dance/movement practices.

1) There are Conscious Dance practices such as Open Floor, 5Rhythms, Movement Medicine, Soul Motion, Contemplative dance inspired by Barbara Dilly at Naropa Institute, Mindful movement practices from Buddhist and Yogic traditions, and Devotional dance, (think Whirling Dervishes), where prayer is set in motion. There are many others as well.

2) Movement Therapy also has many branches; Expressive Arts from the linage of Anna and Daria Halprin and Natalie Rogers, Movement therapy based on Marian Chase or Laban Bartenieff’s work, and Authentic Movement that uses Carl Jung’s’ practice of Active Imagination as its foundation, just to mention the ones more known to me on the west coast of the USA.

3) Dance church, trance dance, ecstatic dance, and barefoot boogies are popular offerings available in most cities. These are more open dance spaces. They have in part, been birthed thru the sex-drug-rock-&-roll cultures. With these programs, I find dancers looking to freely dance, with no instructions, no alcohol, and no verbal socializing during class.

What I see is that All combinations of the above are engaging and paying attention in some way to the quality of consciousness that is activated through embodied moving.

It seems that our state of consciousness and its fluidity is important, but why?

Consciousness itself is a complete mystery, and yet something we all experience. We know that when we move our bodies, we naturally shift our mind-state. We know that anything that regulates our breathing — going for a walk, chopping wood, doing some gardening — changes the hormonal chemical balance within our bodies, changes our mood, and often expands our perspective on things. These changes are usually for the better, particularly if that was our intention in the first place; say we went for that walk to shift our mood.

When we set a structure in which to move in, whether it is a jog in the park, the deep, methodical flowing movement in Tai Chi, or the various kinds of mindfulness structures used in conscious dance practices, certain aspects of the mind relax or fall back, and other parts of our mind are more easily accessed and on-line. When movement includes our focused awareness, we can become absorbed in a fully present-oriented deep state of embodiment that enhances creativity and facilitates expanded states of consciousness.

In athletics, these mind-states might be referred to as the “Zone” or “being in flow”. Our modern culture has used terms such as being “hooked up”, “centered” or “in-the-pocket” as ways of expressing these mind-states. From a psychological perspective, altering mind-states can bring unconscious material into the light and bring implicit memories to the foreground for us to tend and heal from. In eastern movement practices such as tai chi, qigong or martial arts, the shift in consciousness might be referred to as meditation and provide access to the still-silent-voice-within, the inner voice of one’s Soul. These kinds of altered states of consciousness have also been referred to as peak or, ecstatic experiences.

Artists of all sorts are drawn to dance practices because they know that moving their body can shift their mind-state in a way that dissolves the obstacles to creativity and creative problem-solving. Additionally, I see that people of all professions and walks of life are enjoying the relational benefits of broadening what we are conscious of through dance. Practicing mindfulness thru moving our bodies with a group of movers entrains the body/mind to sense others in a broader context and to feel ourselves as less separate from others. Through dance, we learn how to move in harmony and to find authenticity in our expressions with others. The structure or container of a dance practice establishes the embodied resources that we need to feel our best, with the greatest possible access to our creativity and authenticity in concert with those we live and work with.

We don’t have to have a full-blown mystical or a peak experience (although those are possibilities in dance practices) to begin the process of knowing our full potential as a human being. Through our practices, we begin to experience and trust that we are more than we often allow ourselves to be and that we can expand and shift our consciousness.

In a dance practice, allowing oneself to be guided by body, breath, impulse, momentum, and music in a relational field, teaches us the art of changing channels. We realize that altering our consciousness on purpose enhances our compassion and empathic nature. We begin to notice that engaging the body/mind thru dance turns up the volume on our imaginative, improvisational, and creative capacities. When we consciously shift our mind-states and become accustomed to expanded states of awareness thru our dance practice, we are meeting a deep inner need to transcend our habitual and ordinary selves.

Contemporary dance practices give a space and place to meet our needs for knowing our inner selves, being in connection with others, belonging to a community, and our longing for ecstatic states of consciousness, where one can taste the healing nature of bliss, perfection, timeless now, oneness, and profound interconnection with all beings.

It is a fantastic, yet, organic feeling to move one’s body in rhythm with one’s deepest nature, to feel oneself in resonance with others, the environment, and the creative network of the imaginal world and deep play. The on -going practice of modifying or transforming our mind- state from ordinary thinking to pure presence through the vehicle of embodied moving is the Soul Food we long for and the resource we need for a more harmonious sustainable world.


Open Floor — OpenFloor.org

5Rhythms — 5Rhythms.com

Tamalpa programs Daria + Anna Halprin — Tamalpa.org

Continuum — Continuummovement.com

Movement Medicine — Schoolofmovementmedicine.com

Naropa University — Naropa.edu

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches
Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence

by Michael Pollen

How To get Into The Flow State by Steven Kotler - https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1459&v=XG_hNZ5T4nY

Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art by Stephen Nachmanovitch