During my journey as a 5 Rhythms Teacher-in-Training I met Bette Buschow who is the director of Resolana, a community-based nonprofit organization that provides holistic, gender-sensitive, rehabilitative programming for incarcerated women. At the time Resolana had 12 hours per week access to the Dallas County Jail, and I did a few monthly 5Rhythms sessions as part of their dance program. Last fall, a new wing was built in the jail, and were given a dedicated room and 12 hours a day access for programming. We then got a bi-monthly two-hour slot exclusively for 5Rhythms as part of the Mind-Body Wellness team, which includes yoga, Interplay & dance.
I always have two volunteers with me, who come from a pool of approximately twelve 5Rhythms dancers from the community. Resolana also has ongoing classes and facilitators for anger management, financial literacy, parenting, Seeking Safety, AA, expressive arts (art, writing, story telling, music), etc. As facilitators we are in constant communication with each other so that we can know what is happening in the jail and address issues and dynamics in our particular classes. It is really a collaborative and amazing effort.
Email me at [email protected] if you are interested in joining us as a volunteer dancer.
The good news about being incarcerated, I suppose, is that you can say, “Ok, this is just about me. I’m the only one here, and I’m going to take this moment to find out who I am, and who I am not. And I am going to let who I am not, go, and I am going to let who I am through.”
(from an interview with the Prison Trust Video)
I have been a freelancer for almost 20 years. Once, I took a temporary position at a high-end corporation. It was my first office job in a long time and I began to say that I felt like I “had gone to jail,” suffering greatly because I had to wear certain things (high heels!), show up at a set schedule, deal with traffic, engage in forced relationships, deal with other people’s energy and moods. I did not last long, and after a few months I was able to risk the illusion of security for the “freedom” of having my working life back.
A year or so later I began training as a 5Rhythms® teacher and began to volunteer with Resolana, facilitating this Movement Meditation practice to the women inmates at the Dallas County Jail as part of my service commitment to the community.
I will never forget my first impression of the intense physicality of imprisonment: large imposing fortress, metal detectors, being searched, giving up my id, heavy steel doors opening and closing, clanging in our ears. That evening all my notions of “not being free” were challenged and my students gifted me with realizing, once again, that the experience of freedom lives in our perceptions and is never more than a sweaty, authentic dance away.
Jail always feels crowded because personal boundaries dissolve in its public and exposed arena. The room where we danced that night was small and felt even smaller with almost 20 excited women and volunteers who had come for the Resolana program. My first impulse was to try to create space (or at least a sense of spaciousness) by facilitating what my teacher Gabrielle calls the Porpoise walk. This is an exercise in which we walk around the room in all directions, looking for the empty space always available right in front of us. This walk grounds us in our feet, allows thoughts to fall away, breaks the ice, and opens up our body; front, back, sides, reminding us of the delightful sensation of choosing and following our own direction. There is deep medicine in this: within a few minutes the walls in this tiny room had fallen away; the space had become huge and all of us were like dolphins weaving in and around each other, connecting, beginning to experience a slight relaxation and, yes, even some freedom.
The 5Rhythms is a non-choreographed dance journey. It’s an exploration of the self, of how we move or cease to move. Our body is the primary vehicle for expressing all the possible states we can find ourselves in, giving them a creative voice and a chance for transformation. We all have tight spaces where we feel imprisoned: thoughts, feelings, rigid attitudes, in this we are no different from the women inmates. When we put ourselves in motion and start to seek space within our bodies, we can relax, find new and original energy available to us, and connect with our deep, instinctual truth. We can listen to ourselves and know what we really need, what we need to do, what we have to let go, what we can look forward to, and how to just be alive in the moment. This is what we do during our 5Rhythms sessions at Dallas County Jail. I am always grateful that many of our community’s 5Rhythms dancers have also become Resolana volunteers. They come and share their dance and presence during our sessions, knowing that, even though they are giving of their time, they will receive amazing gifts from this experience. Our dances have become truly collaborative and synergetic.
Dancing with the ladies was a celebration for us all. I left realizing that the body provides an inestimable and inexhaustible source of energy which can transcend even the most dismal physical and emotional barriers.
5Rhythms dancer volunteer
My volunteers and I often arrive without knowing what is happening in the jail. There can be joy and sadness at some of the women being let go, there can be changes happening due to Pod assignments, there can be tension from strained relationships, there is always stress and anxiety as the women face themselves and each other in this intense container. To create physical and emotional space around their experience, I encourage them to move with whatever sensations and emotions are happening in them: the jittery-anxious-just-before-court dance; the sad-missing-my-kids dance; the sleepy-lethargic-up-all-night dance; the crowded-can’t-hide dance; the I-just realized-I-am-ok-and-have-hope dance.
I always emphasize that the way they move is completely up to them (and this is a huge life lesson for all of us: that we have choice in how we respond authentically in the face of any experience). In a place where one has to follow instructions and regulations constantly, being able to move shoulder, elbow, hand, hips, or feet, in immediate and spontaneous ways soon reminds them of the simple choices they can make. If self-consciousness and resistance overtakes them, they can become aware about how they themselves limit their own freedom.
Moving together with the women of Resolana and watching them tap into their inner feelings and intuitive knowing, is truly a gift to behold. Their strength and a renewed sense of what is possible in their lives burst forth as they connect with the dignity of who they really are.
5Rhythms dancer volunteer
Limiting our own freedom is something we all do. We all have our own internal guards in charge of keeping order, of keeping things safe and predictable. Just like the inexhaustible guards at Dallas County Jail, our internal guards do a good job, their intention to protect us and to keep our systems working. On the other extreme of limitation live the self-destructive ways with which we push against rules and structures, rebelling in a manner that is destructive or harmful. Our search for freedom often leads to imprisonment of one sort or another. We make our own cages, most often of a mental nature, but also emotional and physical ones such as addiction and violence. The 5Rhythms offer us a way to break free creatively, instead of hurtfully.
5 Rhythms is a dancing meditation that allows me to feel open & free… that allows my body to move without judgment. I used to believe the only way to dance like this was to have a few drinks first. But with this dance I feel safe, open, free and ready to take on anything that comes my way. I can dance myself through anger, sadness, self judgment, etc., and dance myself through to the other side of it feeling an incredible release, moving into peace & joy… When I’m dancing with the ladies at Resolana I see them experiencing this same kind of release and allowing themselves to taste this freedom & joy within, without the use of drugs or alcohol.
5Rhythms dancer volunteer
When it asks us to be free and spontaneous in the moment, the dance reveals the places where we limit ourselves and invites us to gently and gladly open the door, to see the empty space available right where we are and let go. Over and over again, after we dance and sweat and connect together, the inmate women are gleaming and surprised at their own wellbeing. They remember their resilience, their joy, their strength, all connected to breath, gesture, individuality; and always, there is the amazing spaciousness of the present moment, all of us feeling free and vast, all walls falling away briefly.
I feel touched and delighted by all the gifts the women bring to our dance together. I have experienced a naked authenticity that is surprising and inspiring.
5Rhythms dancer volunteer
Body Poems by Women Inmates
My feet travel all day
My feet travel to their own beat
My knees make music
My hips say hello
My hips have their own mind
My spine follows my body and my feet
My shoulders carry love
My shoulders carry my head
My head surrenders to my soul
My elbows open my body
My hands love my rhythm
My feet travel to many directions. They stay on the right path.
My knees make my feet’s directions easier to guide.
My hips say slow down, or speed up.
My spine follows with balance.
My shoulders carry the steady beat of close destination.
My head surrenders because my body feels connected, so balanced and great.
My elbows open to guide me like I was flying.
My hands love how I wave them in all directions.
My feet travel as I dance to the music
My knees make me dance sexy
My hips say you can do it
My spine follows my beat
My shoulders carry my sex appeal
My head surrenders that I’m out of breath
My elbows open me all up
My hands love to move with the rest of my body
My feet travel fast and far
My knees make round circles
My hips say boom boom boom
My spine follows my curvy hips
My shoulders carry light weight
My head surrenders to nothing…Free!
My elbows open like a loving mother!
My hands love to bounce around!
My feet travel in the rhythm of the music and of life
My knees make my feet dance
My hips tell me what rhythms to follow in the music
My spine follows my hips
My shoulders carry the rhythm of my life all with music
My head surrenders to the rhythm of my body
My elbows open my hands to the rhythm of the music
My hands love the rhythm of the music, which is the rhythm of life.
Consuelo* (Translation from Spanish by Mati Vargas)
My feet travel for the wellbeing of my body
My knees do some exercise
My hips say that they need a massage
My spine follows my advice
My shoulders carry clothes
My head surrenders my thoughts
My elbows open and extend themselves
My hands love my work
MT *Translation from Spanish by Mati Vargas
Reflections from one of our 5Rhythms Volunteers
Dancing at the Women’s Jail
I feel an absence of liberation, disquieted by my lack of belongings.
The beige metal detector squeals at random and the rose colored doors shut stiffly, demanding compliance. Trade your driver’s license for a hot pink visitors badge and we are walking toward the freedom of dance.
The women arrive in their thick green stripes; a gathering of rapid fire talk, comfort and support. Some are dazed, sleepy, irritable; most smile a greeting.
Then, then we move. We grin. We laugh. One inmate shuffles shyly; another abandons her head to release. We find our feet together and root to this gracious ground.
Later on, in our circle, one young white woman will confess hotly “I’ve been pissed off since I got here and right now, I feel free.”
Our humble heads bow in stillness at her perfection.
But, right now, in this liquid moment, we sweat our prayers together in a jailhouse fishbowl.
Danna Pyke, 2010