School of Movement Medicine - Mindfulness in Motion

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Issue: July 2009
Interview with Ya'Acov

by Christine Ottery - Freelance journalist

CO: What is ecstatic dance?

YDK: Wow, that’s a deep one to begin with, straight in there. Ecstatic dance is an ancient, ancient human experience that you can find across all nations in every corner of the world, whereby people are able to – through listening to the beat, and through their own sweat and through their own effort – to surrender to a force greater than themselves, which we call the spirit of the dance, or the Great Choreographer.

In that surrendering to something greater than themselves, they see their lives in a much, much wider perspective: and see whatever issues they have going on, see whatever struggles they have going on, see whatever dreams are… in the perspective of what has come before, what has come after and the perspective of belonging to something eternal, something that is just beyond any individual life. At the same time, it’s a state of extreme awakeness and consciousness, where it’s as if you have been driving along in a sports car  all of your life, but realising you’ve been driving this sports car in just first gear, and suddenly you discover you have second, third, fourth and fifth, and you have a lot more energy at your disposal and a lot more potential than you may have been aware of. So, it’s like getting an overview or eagle’s eye view of your life and what’s going on, and your own potential.


CO: And this is all accessible through the dance?


YDK: Absolutely


CO: How is that possible?


YDK: Basically, simply on a physiological level, if you dance, you keep putting your feet down in rhythm, you keep the body moving in rhythm, you’re releasing within the body all kinds of hormones which are feel-good hormones, which change your state. And when you change your state your perception changes: The perception of  both who you are, what’s going on, changes. And through concentration, on rhythm, and sometimes through repetitive rhythm or repetitive movements we are able to access are more right brain kind of awareness, and that awareness, which is accessible to all human beings, is aware of the interconnectedness of all of life and aware of our position and our place within the circle of life.


It happens through trance, and trance is not just some mystical experience which belongs to special people, it belongs to human beings who are prepared and willing to dance themselves into that state, and to open up to a bigger energy. And the bigger energy might just be… in the modern day, it might just be coming through some big speakers, or it might be coming through a whole group of people drumming, or it may be coming through doing the same step as a large group of people – going beyond the illusion of the separate sense of self.


CO: So it makes people linked into a sense of community as well?


YDK: Very much so. Ecstatic dance is a community experience; whether it is happening in a movement medicine workshop or in many of the other forms of ecstatic dance that are available, or whether it is happening on a club on a Saturday night or whether it is happening in Glastonbury this weekend. You recognise in that state of ecstasy, your relationship with – you recognise the life that’s moving through you and feels good. It’s the same life that’s the same as whoever’s standing next to you, whether they’re a complete stranger or your best friend, you recognise that it’s the same life force that’s moving through everything on this planet. So you experience yourself directly as part of the community of life on earth.


Basically, that helps you to become a much more responsible human being, if you are able to ground that experience, it gives you the inspiration to be a far more responsible human being. It’s not just about feeling good, it’s also ecstatic dance may also be about releasing all forms of tensions or emotions – whether they are personal or collective stories, people come together to dance and to acknowledge what is true, and release whatever may have been heavy or difficult or traumatic. And call in a deeper inspiration, which allows us to return to our lives refreshed, renewed, and ready for the next challenge.


CO: On an emotional and mental level  is it like a form of therapy?


YDK: It’s definitely therapeutic. There’s no doubt about it, it’s therapeutic. It can help you… One of the things that’s good about it for people who have been brought up in an industrialized society, like we live in, is that it gets you back into the wisdom of your own body, kinaesthetic wisdom, your body intelligence, it gets you back into your own emotional intelligence – the intelligence of your heart, and it gives your mental intelligence a  place. So what it does, is it brings together your kinaesthetic, emotional and mental intelligence. Most of the time we are just taught to use our intellect, And, it’s like trying to walk up a mountain on one leg. We’ve got far more at our disposal. So when we get into the wisdom of the physical body, we are much more able to listen to and understand what’s going on inside us and have knowledge of who we are, on a much deeper level.


You know, most people in our society, unfortunately, they reach their deathbed without realising or knowing who they are. That awful question: “Was that it? What was that about?” We’re not encouraged to ask the deeper questions about: Who we are and what we’re doing here, and what our purpose is and what our particular contribution is in this life, and we live in times now, where those questions, which may have been considered somewhat alternative questions, actually it’s a matter of our very survival that we ask those questions. It’s a matter of 'there are no alternatives'. We have to ask those questions if we are going to survive. And we need that sense of our own physical intelligence, our own connection to the body, which connects us to the body of the earth, which we all know, as we read in our newspapers every day, is not doing so well with all us humans polluting it. So it brings us into that kind of intelligence.


CO: From a purely fitness, physical point of view, is it something that the practice of doing the dance that’s really healthy and good for your body? What are the benefits?


YDK: What’s that beautiful song “I don’t know but I’ve been told if I keep on dancing I’ll never grow old”? It’s basically like that, yes of course, if you listen. It doesn’t matter what age you are, it doesn’t matter what shape you are, it doesn’t matter how fit you are, it doesn’t matter what background you’re from – if you start to listen and you start to move your body and if you find your own dance, rather than trying to track somebody else’s, find your own dance and your own way of moving and you learn through different practices, and Movement Medicine has a lot of very specific practices designed to help you with that – you learn how to listen to your body, how to move within your limitations, how to encourage the natural circulation of your life energy and that is good for all of your systems – your physical, emotional and mental systems. And, yes, it won’t get you fit in the same way as riding a bicycle will but it will give you a much better relationship with your physical body and it will increase your fitness in a way which I think is more fun than going to the gym, it’s a little bit more creative.


CO: Absolutely. And the more you listen to your body, the more we can be aware of health problems?


YDK: We do live in times, like I said, where we are not listening to the messages of our body, and yes absolutely, if we start to dance with that kind of consciousness it’s much more likely that we’ll be aware of what is going on inside us and will be much more aware if anything is out of balance before they start to shout in a very loud way in terms of disease or the other kind of complications that we face.


CO: Do you think that ecstatic dance is growing in popularity?


YDK: We’ve been teaching for 20 years all around the world, and I was just in Switzerland running a three-day workshop for 150 people. It’s certainly that people are beginning to get that dance is good for you and the fact that we’ve lost… It’s not that long ago that all communities used to dance – I don’t just mean at weddings once you’ve had a few beers, but there were far more carnivals and opportunities for people to dance – and they did. Everybody danced, and there wasn’t this kind of thing that: dance is for professionals, or dance is for a particular shape of body – it was a normal part of life – and we’ve lost that to our detriment, but people are remembering and it’s coming back.

Christine's article for the Guardian Online can be found at

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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the School of Movement Medicine. Roland Wilkinson, Nappers Crossing, Staverton, Devon TQ9 6PD, UK Tel & Fax +44 (0)1803 762255 http://www.