A tribute to Ecstatic Dance Oakland: Celebrating 7 years !
18 May 2015

The Author

Profile photo of Ariana Gradow
Call me Air- I breath it in and dance in it. I am made up of billions of tiny vibrating particles and I was born with the wanderlust gene.

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Photo by Darren Miller

As I moved my hand with his, I was in a complete state of flow, ever present and connected to the music. Then, suddenly, he lifted me up and I was free-falling over his shoulder, but somehow I landed gently back on the wooden floor and was able to continue moving freely to the sound of the music playing. I looked around at hundreds of beautiful faces dancing without hindrance, while allowing the music to take them through a movement journey of pure bliss.  We were in the middle of Historic Sweet’s Ballroom in Oakland during a weekly Ecstatic Dance, and this week, DJ Sharu was guiding everyone through their own personal dance meditations.

Ecstatic Dance Oakland is a bi-weekly conscious dance “ritual” every Wednesday and Sunday where people dance ecstatically and completely free of judgment. Creating sacred space for all participants, Ecstatic Dance is an alcohol and drug free space, which helps to weed out the sometimes belligerent  people we conscious clubbers too frequently encounter. The only guidelines at Ecstatic Dance are: move however you wish, no talking on the dance floor and respect yourself and each other.

“Ecstatic dance is an ancient movement practice that has been revered as a way to meditate, evoke visionary experience, and connect with spirit and nature.  It is a powerful tool for healing the body, mind, and heart.  Ecstatic dance helps restore the vital flow of energy in the body and recover lost parts of the soul in the process.” – Movement Arts Hawaii

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Oakland ED Founders, Donna Carroll & Tyler Blank

Ecstatic Dance exists all over the world and has chapters in Barcelona, Amsterdam, Atlanta, Belgium, NYC and Miami and that’s just to name a few.   Kalani Retreat Center, on the Big Island in Hawaii, is the origin of the global Ecstatic Dance movement which began in the year 2000. The Oakland chapter was founded in 2008 by Donna Carroll and Tyler Blank. Inspired by the what they discovered on the Big Island,  they both loved how this form of dance combined conscious dance with DJ culture. Since its humble beginnings, the Oakland chapter has not changed much, except for the sheer number of people that have found it, which has grown from about 30 people to over 300 people per dance.

“Ecstatic Dance allows people to process certain emotions that they might have not even known existed. The space and community allows people a safe space to move, grow and process those emotions and dance with them, however that may look,” says Tyler Blank. “That was our intention behind starting it; to provide people with a safe space to move, grow and heal.”

Before dance, the space is transformed into a sanctuary, (complete with stretch areas, an altar, a tea lounge and a place to receive massages) which in turn allows for individuals to connect with like-minded people and let their creativity go wild. Ecstatic Dance Oakland then provides a Yoga and a dance class to get our bodies ready for their journeys through movement. When the music starts, everyone is encouraged to ditch their tensions, stress and fears through free form body movement either alone or with another, often in the form of contact dance.

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Because it’s held every week, twice a week, it has become a gathering place for people from all sorts of backgrounds that have formed a unique bond through dance. The community has really become one of the central factors behind the growing movement. According to Daniel Loboguino, DJ [Clever Alias] and founder of Ecstatic Dance NYC  “the Oakland Ecstatic Dance Community has been a gold mine of like minded people; fellow dance nerds, music geeks, transformation junkies, wellness warriors, magical creatures, creative conjurers, visionaries, luminaries and conscious communicators. It has been a source of creative inspiration, a lifestyle of yes, and a family of Amazingness. That temple changed my life for the better, adopted me in 2009, and helped me have channels for my creativity, magic and personal growth.”

Dj Sharu

Dj Sharu

I personally found Ecstatic Dance in 2011 and fell in love with the community and support network. So it was such a blessing when I was encouraged to go to DJ Sharu’s Ecstatic Dance session, but it was even more of a blessing when DJ Sharu invited me to catch a ride to the dance with him.  Being as Sharu is a Vedic Astrologer, Yoga teacher and healing practitioner, I couldn’t help but wonder how he incorporated his teachings into his sets at Ecstatic Dance. His response inspired this whole article. “There is a healing modality based on utilizing our transcendent awareness alone which comes from the Kundalini Yoga tradition that is called ‘Sat Nam Rasayan,’  Sharu began,  ‘Sat Nam Rasayan’ in Sanskrit means ‘rejuvenation in the essence of True identity.’  It is like Vipassana Meditation but with the added intention to heal other people. When I guide people into this space during a Sat Nam Rasayan class, I begin with focusing on the ‘meridian point’ of the class. The ‘meridian point’ is a tendency or vibration that everyone in the class shares and I guide the session based on what is needed to ‘heal’ the group as a whole. When I am DJ’ing, I tune into the same central vibration to read what the crowd needs. It becomes an intuitive dance with hundreds of songs to choose from and the ‘meridian point’ of the crowd informing what I play next.”  Sharu continued:

“People just want to dance and let go, moving their bodies in new ways.  If I can play just what they need to get them out of their heads then they truly can let go and be taken over, under, up and down and all around reaching the “Ecstatic” blissful state feeling complete peace and embodiment in the full spectrum of who they truly are.”

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The Ecstatic Dance DJ sets usually last three hours taking the dance expressionists on a journey through sound waves. The music usually begins slow and will increase to a dance peak with a high BPM. In Sharu’s case, the sound waves played are chosen by what he is able to determine as the audience’s own needs. During my recent dance, Sharu’s words pierced my mind, but it wasn’t until I was actually dancing to his set, that they pierced my soul too and I understood.  When I was able to fully let go and allow the music and my body to move anyway I liked without fear of judgement, I felt completely blissed out.

At the end of Ecstatic Dance Oakland, after the BPM has slowed to a soft melody and the whole space is calmed,  participants may find themselves lying on the floor, cuddled with a group, or sitting strong in a meditative seat for the closure of dance. Dance concludes with a special performance from one of the community’s participants; sometimes a hoop dancer, often times sound healers and musicians. Sealing up the meditative dance journey, the closure is heartfelt and in turn,  the energetic bond created amongst the dance floor tightens between participants.

If this blissful experience sounds like something you may enjoy, then I highly encourage you to make your way to Ecstatic Dance for a chance at letting go of your fears through a dance with the wild.  Ecstatic Dance Oakland celebrates their 7th year anniversary this Sunday with an all day gathering at Sweet’s Ballroom on Sunday, May 24 . DJ Sharu (w/ Kyrstyn Pixton!) amongst others will be guiding the dance.

We hope, very much, to see you there!

For more information on Ecstatic Dance and to find a dance near you, please check out Ecstatic Dance’s website!

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