School of Movement Medicine - Mindfulness in Motion

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Issue: June 2010
Lord of the Dance

By Sarah Bullen

Think a night dancing is just about having fun? It can be so much more, says modern shaman Ya’Acov Darling Khan. He is in Cape Town to teach us how to find our groove, and use dance as medicine.

How do you find meaning and soul in this urban cityscape we live in? Days are filled with jostling through traffic and getting the job done. Nights are eating, socializing and, well sometimes, dancing. UK shaman Ya’Acov Darling Khan believes you can find meaning and reconnection in life through dance. But Darling Khan is not a DJ. He is a thoroughly modern 21st Century (sha)man living in Devon (UK).


Now this ‘modern shaman’ is not unique in his views. It bounced off the dance floors in the 90s with Faithless’ chorus “This is my church. This is where I heal my hurt.” But the idea that dance is a medium for healing and self-expression is not confined to sweating in the late hours on a thumping dance floor. This has been the view of indigenous cultures around the world from the beginning of time.  They have a deep-seated belief that is the rhythmic power of dance that can elevate your soul into a deeper understanding of life, and can heal the body and mind. Africa, along with indigenous cultures of South America are increasingly starting to show the world their methods. Khan is out here to share his stories with local traditional healers, and to take a journey to learn from own methods. Khan has made it his life work to study with shamanic healers, nyangas and medicine men from around the world – from the Arctic, South America and Africa. He has taken this and incorporated it into a healing dance he and his wife (who are the co-founders of this work), call Movement Medicine. His work is traveling the world and he is due in Cape Town this weekend for a two-week visit.


“The way we live in Western culture means we have been systematically cut away from our roots.  We have learned that life is about living, buying and consuming,” says Khan.

“What dance does is it allows you to take a little moment to listen to the intelligence we are all born with. There is an intelligence that beats the heart without you controlling it. It’s the same intelligence that moves the body and dances. We have to listen to the library of wisdom inside us.”


But can you find this in Devon? Yes, says Khan.

“Dancing can be a simple act of relieving stress. It can just feel good. Or it can take on a deeper journey. You can release old patterns and habits. You can become more aware of your body and you can start to tap into this innate intelligence we all hold. That intelligence can teach us how to heal.”


Khan and his wife travel the world teaching people how to dance following the dance inside them and take embodied shamanic journeys. They are not doing the samba or the salsa but a style of dance loosely described as ‘soul dance or ecstatic dance’.


“We talk about the spirit of the dance – in African it’s the drums, in a nightclub it could be the bass. That sense of rhythm finds that force that comes through you and moves your body. When we connect to our own bodies, and that silent intelligence then ‘who I am’ has a way of living in this world that is more soulful.”


Khan is the first to confess that he not a dancer in the traditional sense of the word. But he can sure move.

“The first dance group I walked into I found it terribly difficult for about half an hour. I had never danced in public unless I was drunk. There were all these people stretching and warming up and I though oh my god what have I got myself into?

But within half an hour I felt alive. I didn’t care what anyone thought and I never looked back.”


That was 18 years ago. He trained with the original ‘soul dancer’ – New Yorker Gabrielle Roth whose work was condensed into a dance style called 5Rhythms and is practiced in dance groups throughout the world. Unlike Nia, which is instructor-led, these looser forms of dance have no set moves or sequences. The music and your own body dictate your own dance moves. Khan’s dance workshops take the 5Rhythms work further, mixing a shamanic dance style. He strips off the lyrics and reduced the music to its core so you can find your own beat.




The Darling Khan’s book “Movement Medicine: How to Awaken, Embody and Dance Your Dream’ is available in South Africa through Hay House.

His website is





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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.