Ecstatic dance is awesome. Done well, you tune out your chatter and start a conversation with your body: how do you feel? Where do you need to move, to stretch, to play? The music keeps your brain busy while you keep that conversation going with your body.
I’ve been involved with and interested in ecstatic dance since 2012. It’s been profoundly beneficial for me: first, I can practice spiritual work in a safe, sober, space and second, because it’s a no-talking medium, I don’t have to worry about entangling with any egos while trying to get to my own spiritual center. Since I have a very hard time bringing perfect trust to any circle, this is preferable because I don’t have to.
The problem comes in when newbies come in, and Pantheacon is a mix of newbies and old-schoolers when it comes to dance and movement. Often it’s a place for the spiritually curious to explore even as those of us who are past curiosity and well into development look for techniques to take us deeper into our personal work. The problem of this in ecstatic dance – at least that I discovered – is that because it is relatively non-directive, an important skill got left out: conscious ego loss. Perhaps “ego parking” is a better term.
In order to do any real work in ritual or ecstatic dance, you have to park your ego. Most people experience this as a forgetting of the outer world. That voice mail doesn’t matter for those moments. That bad day at work gets further and further away. Suddenly you aren’t concerned with whether or not you look like a spaz – you just keep moving, and moving, as your body dances you into deep connection with your inner mind.
Most of the people I interacted with already knew how to do this.
But I encountered a couple incidents where that was not the case. One was at the end of a rather fantastic ritual, and the second happened during an ecstatic dance practice.
The ritual, one of catharsis and transformation, deserved a dance. My body and inner mind had something to say to the Goddess invoked. As I danced, a woman I had noticed practicing choreographed steps earlier planted herself in front of me and it was clear that she wanted to dance in that weird, boundary-violating grind that some women think is always OK to do with other women. (Based on the false assumption that all women dance for the attention – I do not.) I bounced away from her, repelled as much by her energy as by her demeanor. Even if she couldn’t achieve trance state, the intention of the ritual was originally quite clear – and so it was equally clear her behavior in that context was inappropriate.
The next night, during an ecstatic dance, another person (possibly the same one?) decided to start somersaulting across the floor, disrupting the trance states as people around her had to scramble out of her way to avoid falling on her. While it’s hard to say what goes on in another person’s head, it seems that whatever this was, it wasn’t about stepping outside the ego. If the body needs to somersault, it still gives you time to go to a safe place to somersault. Doing so in the middle of the floor without consideration to others looked like the behavior of one who fundamentally misunderstands hypnosis and trance states.
It also means that she took her ego with her into the dance.
In ecstatic dance, you are offering your higher self a chance to turn to your ego, always dancing with your subconscious and say, “May I cut in?” Often in a group, even if the trance state brings up difficult feelings and emotional outbursts, a person authentically in tune with that state will have the conscious ability to move to a safe place, and the energy – no matter how vitriolic – will manifest in a way in tune with the dance going on.
Learning to set aside your ego, however, is a skill that does not come easily. Meditation and alpha states offer some of the basics, as we learn to observe thoughts and if exceptionally skilled, silence them. Getting the ego to take a time out, however, is a complex process that takes practice – you must use combined abilities of focus and distraction. You must sometimes hold specific questions in mind, both as a means of giving your ego something to do and as a means of getting away from it. You must learn how ego loss feels on a kinesthetic level.
I’m going to think about this quite a bit before the next Pantheacon. I feel vastly unqualified to teach – I’m not part of some tradition and I’m not sure I have the willingness and time to commit to one right now. But I know what I do, and I see things other people don’t sometimes. Ego parking seems to me like a beneficial skill to have – and not just among magical people.