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Why use dance for contemporary rites of passage?


For the last few years we have worked with groups of young women in the UK to run a 5 Rhythms based contemporary “rites of passage” to mark their transition into adulthood.


We explore the big questions of coming of age and also asked how dance can get us to be more mindful of what matters most? How can it teach us to step in, in service? How can it help us learn to live our lives deeply centred in our own core -and still allow us to in listen to the wisdom of something larger than us?


Dance is an ideal modality for working with young people in this way.

We create a tribe of mindful movers; ready and willing to witness each other, to see and celebrate what is so for each individual. There is a unity to be found in bodies moving in unison in the beat that meets that human need for connection, collaboration, co creation.

In traditional societies a Rite of Passage marked a state change – acknowledging the movement from one life stage to another; in this case the transition into adulthood. Ideally this is witnessed by the local community who acknowledges and appreciated the growing skills and abilities that the young person has to offer. In these times of (often fragmented) city-separate communities this rarely happens and low levels of confidence and some serious self doubt can occur accordingly.


So what can we do? Can we attempt to give our young people something that we may have never have had ourselves? Is it idiotic to even try and run some form of relevant rite in a basically uninitiated society?


Maybe so, and yet I personally knew that hard hunger for meaning, connection and caring community only too well from my own youth and those questions that had come through me thick and fast:

“What is this adulthood thing? Is this it? Separate solo living and learning to supress our sense of self? Aiming to get ahead in the endless world of work, in order to seek some future based outer security? Harden up and hide your deep feeling-heart way down behind busyness and getting by? Seriously, this is it......? “


Some two decades and a great deal of learning later, I saw that there was something within the 5 Rhythms that might well satisfy and serve the next generation of women coming of age and sow some seeds of living and empowered and inspired adulthood early on.


We can create meaning by putting markers in our own journey.


We can cultivate our own response-ability to move in the direction of our dreams.


When we get clear on our choices then our lives do change, things do get better.


There felt an imperative to attempt it. I set the programme up in 2014, with the help of co-facilitators, mentors and other much-valued support. The UK version was inspired by Melissa Micheal’s dance based youth leadership work in the USA.


In the intensive 3 month closed group we use “ silent disco headsets” to take the young women out to dance the 5 rhythms out in the woods and wilds. We also offer art based coaching to define values and move towards key goals; non denominational ceremony to honour key moments of transitions; plus a variety of communication, leadership and life skills to support the women in setting up their own initiatives within their own communities.


We met for 3 hours a week and for one long weekend a month over a three month period.


We spend a month look at our past; seeing what we can harvest from it.


We take a month on tools to really get present; to be here, now, in our bodies.


Only then, do we take a month move mindfully towards our future.


We have a wide spectrum of young women whom join us from a wide variety of backgrounds and beliefs, we regularly see moving and memorable results of their participation in the programme.


I’ve loved dancing weekly, the life coaching and leadership skills, pushing my comfort zone... There have been enjoyable moments, tricky questions....all so useful in opening myself to the questions I need to ask. Setting the big goals, taking the little steps to get there..”


The dance is a container that can challenge us (let’s face it -it feels mighty good to have our ego beaten into submission by a badass bassline!)The dance also allows a space to “freak freely” in substance free environment, offering safe ways to “shake it off” and question the status quo. The dance floor is place where we can discover what really does matter to them as we move into and through adulthood.


The 5 Rhythms lets individuals to move at their own rate and temp, to honour the needs of their own body whilst still being part of a moving whole. Somatic awareness skills gained through dance are invaluable source of awareness we transition into adulthood. Young people are presented with what can feel a pantheon of choices as the direction that they want to take going forwards. To develop the ability to listen to our internal somatic signals is paramount in making health decisions about intimacy and in cultivating good choices in relation to relationship, substances, life situations and the myriad of other options that emerge as we transition into adulthood.


The dance also teaches us how to manage our physiological arousal, this somatic self awareness is invaluable in developing emotional intelligence and especially valuable whilst working with those undergoing the sometimes turbulent transition through adolescence.


There is something about embodied learning that is imperative here. For a Rites of Passage to really mark a transition the individual undertaking it have to be fully present, there is no better way than being with the beat, breath and bodily sensations to call us back to the present time.

We can look at the map of the 5 Rhythms and see how individuals of any age can learn specific somatic skills for self awareness through the process of mindful movement.


The first rhythm: flow helps us find our feet. It teaches us to check in with ourselves internally, to receive what is really so for ourselves- thus support our growing self awareness and self knowledge as we ripen through adulthood.

The second rhythm: staccato teaches us how to express ourselves in relation to others and the wider world. It’s movement vocabulary is liner, clear, concise. How can we learn to act and interact cleanly, clearly and concisely; stating our needs simply and with self responsibility?

The third Rhythm: chaos we work with what the dance can teach us about ways of being with the unexpected. How we can stay with our sure-footed feet in times of great tempo when the waves of the change arise? How we can return to our breathing as a refuge as we move through whatever life is presenting us with?

In the fourth rhythm: lyrical we look at assimilating what we have learned in the earlier stages. The body is warmed up, responsive, really able to move well through the world. We find repeating patterns on the dance floor, feel at home in our place there. This correlates with the life stage of adulthood- of moving into our work in the world, mindful of what matters most.

In the fifth rhythm: stillness the tempo slow right down and we move with what is left in the body, hearing the authentic impulses to move. Both being mindful in motion and pausing for moments of sweet stillness to see how far we have come- both in the dance and in life....


The work has been kindly supported by 5 Rhythms Reach Out and Arts Council England so that it is accessible to all and any young women who are interested, whatever their income levels and backgrounds are.


“I was left with trust and belief that I am capable of a lot”


Regularly we have adults asking us can we offer something similar for them, so 2019 will see a long weekend version offered for adults both in the UK and in the western USA.

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