Sunday 23 August 2015

A couple walks into a dance temple

"Have you ever been to a dance temple?" he asked. We shook our heads in unison. "Would you like to go?"
Would we ever. 
So began a night I will never forget in my life. 

Before we get to it, let me paint you a picture: Successful, single, prosperous engineer in his forties wakes up one day and asks himself if this is it: Career, great house, travel, lots of friends, active dating life. Life is - well, what is it? He should be happy and fulfilled, but he isn't. Something is missing. So he embarks on a journey to find out what that is. 
Twenty years, a complete lifestyle change and many new experiences later, he lives on a small island in a little wood cabin. He drives an old, rusty car, has few belongings, and spends his days participating in a variety of workshops, volunteering in the community, and going to the dance temple on Thursdays. 

Last Thursday we went with him.

We arrived at a modest wood building in the middle of nowhere, nestled into a forest with a small meadow in front of it where kids where running around like little wood fairies. They were barefoot, with long braided hair, wearing bell-bottoms and pretty, flowy tops. We passed a couple of outhouses (there were no other washrooms) before we stepped inside. We were greeted by a sea of shoes on the floor, and our friend indicated for us to take ours off as well - the dancing was to be conducted barefoot. In front of us was a table with a basket overflowing with 10- and 20-dollar bills, and we paid our entry fee of $10. The friendly girl (her name was Naomi) who collected the money had a banner of Tibetan prayer flags draped around her shoulders, and indicated to the woman in front of me to step forward.  

Naomi held a bowl with incense in one hand, lit it and started to wave the smoke all over the woman with an eagle feather. 
I must have looked bewildered, because our friend leaned in and whispered in my ear: "She is being smudged. Have you ever been smudged before?" "Can't say I have" I whispered back. "What is it?"
Before he could respond, it was my turn. I hesitantly took my place in front of the smiling Naomi. 
"Welcome", she said in a musical voice, "is this your first time?" I nodded. "I will purify you" she explained, waving the smoke into my direction. "Now is a good time to think of all the things you want to let go off. Stress, unpleasantness, anything that happened today that you didn't like - let it all go. Turn around." She proceeded to tap me lightly with the feather on the head, moving down my body. 
"You are done. Enjoy!"

Smelling thoroughly of incense now, I moved on into the dance room. And stopped and stared. 
There were about 60 people present, and they were writhing. There is no other word for it. One girl was lying on the floor, short dress hiked up above her panties, waving her arms in the air and moving her body rhythmically back and forth. Other girls were stomping their feet wildly, arms up in the air, hair flying. Several of the guys had their shirts off, sweat glistening on their muscular backs. The music was surprisingly modern, an electronic pop-mix that was fast-paced and quite catchy. I stood with my back towards the wall, taking it all in, waiting for Rich and our friend to join me. "What do you think?" he asked gleefully. Without waiting for an answer, he took me by the arm and pulled me farther in. "Now, we dance!" he announced, and started to boogie.  
Rich and I exchanged a look. A half-naked bearded man with long hair, several pouches slung around his neck and baggy jeans hiked halfway up his impressivly large stomach, noticed our hesitation and approached us, burning stick in hand. He started to wave the stick in front of us, smiling manically and blowing the smoke in our faces. Another smudging? I felt purified enough, so I slowly backed away.

And then I started to dance.

The atmosphere was infectious: People lost in the music, eyes closed, whirling around the room, without any inhibitions. There was a small stage at one end, which seemed to be a make-shift yoga space: One girl was practicing handstand, another was stretching on the wall; a guy tried out some breakdance moves. There were also several little kids there, running around between the dancers and on the yoga stage.

In another corner was a small table piled with Tarot cards, crystals, incense, some books and candles. And above it all, the music kept on playing, and people kept on dancing, faster and faster. By now there were about 80 of us in there, and the room was packed. The smell became decidedly earthy; more clothes were shed. What the...? I didn't trust my eyes for a moment - were those bare breasts bouncing along in tact with the music? Sure enough, the first woman had lost her top and jumped happily around like a little elf, short hair sticking up, breasts freed from their usual confinement, wild and free. Before long, another one joined her, and then another. Soon there were five or six women dancing topless, completely unselfconscious. They were in the company of most of the men being shirtless, just wearing lose-fitting pants or shorts.

The light was dim, the air was hot and ripe, the whole tableau in front of me utterly mesmerizing and bizarre.
Suddenly, as if in response to an unheard signal, the dancers started to make sounds: Unintelligible, swelling in volume, getting louder and louder. Starting out as a clashing mishmash of chaotic noise, their voices united to turn into a harmonious melody of surprising clarity and beauty.

Towards the end Rich and I stepped outside for a while to get some fresh air and catch our breath. Through the open door we watched the crowd slowly calm down, guided by a girl leading a short meditation. The evening ended in a group hug, all 80 sweaty and smelly bodies smooshed together, minus two disinclined mainlanders.

It was an experience unlike anything I have ever been a part of. Strange yet liberating, I felt like I time-travelled to the 70s for a night. The world we live in is full of delightful surprises.

Have you ever been smudged before or danced topless? ;-)



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