Dancing the 5Rhythms


Do you know how to move through a wave of energy? Do you know how to follow your body into prayer?


The path I follow is through a map called the 5Rhythms. The rhythms are called Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness. Like many of my interests, I discovered 5Rhythms through a book. Ten years ago I was living in Cork and I used to go to the Catholic book shop to buy candles. You can get some great and affordable candles in Catholic stores. A book caught my eye on several visits. That book was ‘Sweat Your Prayers: Movement as Spiritual Practice’ by Gabrielle Roth.  I bought that book and followed the exercises it offered. Sweat Your Prayers is one of those books that I recommend to everyone. It is a sensuous delight to read. I believe I’m on my sixth copy. Whenever I move house, I give my books away but this one I need to buy again and again to gift and own again and again.


To sweat is to pray, to make an offering of your innermost self. Sweat is holy water, prayer beads, pearls of liquid that release your past. Sweat is an ancient and universal form of self healing, whether done in the gym, the sauna, or the sweat lodge. I do it on the dance floor. The more you dance, the more you sweat. The more you sweat, the more you pray. The more you pray, the closer you come to ecstasy. – Gabrielle Roth


For the first year of exploration, 5Rhythms was something I did on my own. There were no classes in the town that I knew of.  Every time I had my shared rented flat to myself, I danced myself into trance states. I danced myself back into my body. I danced to heavy rock and silly pop. When I moved to Edinburgh and then Leeds I tiptoed into classes and found myself at home. The first few times I went to drop-in classes I found it very intimidating at first. Here were wild people, with big dances and loud voices. There was laughter and tears and a sort of emotional freedom that I couldn’t even contemplate. But I moved on the floor. I followed my feet and I fell in love – with the Dance, with dancers and with myself.


The basic practice of the 5Rhythms is the Wave. The Wave is the practice of all five of the rhythms in sequence.   To illustrate the practice, I will describe here what happens in a typical class. On arrival, the teacher is usually already playing warm-up music. The type of music will vary from teacher to teacher.   Dancers will arrive, and change into their dancing clothes. Some dancers wear dance shoes but most will be barefoot. The first fifteen minutes of the class is without instruction.  It’s the warm-up where you find your feet, and do what you need to do for yourself to arrive in the space.  Generally, the warm-up is a mini-Wave.


The first teaching comes with Body Parts. The teacher guides the class through their body, focusing on movement, breath, and focus on individual body parts building up to a full-body in motion.



Flowing is the first rhythm. To flow, follow your body in continuos motion. Focus on the in-breath. Take everything in. Follow the feet. Flowing is soft and round.



With staccato, the music shifts to bring in a beat. Focus on the exhale. Bring your body into shapes with the beat. Follow the movement from the hips. One, two, three, four, one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four. Shape, shape, shape, shape.  Staccato dances can get very big.



The music will shift again to support the peak of the Wave: chaos. In chaos, we surrender. Shift your body weight from foot to foot. Soften and surrender everything. The body part is the spine. Surrender every body part. Energy rises, tears flow, voices cry out.



When there is nothing left to let go of, we let go of letting go and the rhythm of lyrical starts to play. Dance is effortless. Follow what happens. Follow the hands. Follow the space and the magic.



Allow stillness and non-movement into the dance. In stillness, the energy of the dance crystallises. Stillness is breath and silence. Stillness is dancing.


The map of the rhythms has dozens of associations. Each rhythm can be associated with an emotion (Fear, Anger, Sadness, Joy, and Compassion) and with an element (Earth, Fire, Water, Air, and Spirit). The map of the rhythms can be used to explore any number of realities. There are workshops that work with sexuality, gender and the life cycle.


5Rythms has been part of my spiritual practice for the last ten years. My experiences of reality and my self have been hugely informed by the lessons I have uncovered and played with on the dance-floor. I have found gentleness and acceptance. I have found rage and anger. I have found myself far more playful and joyous than ever before. I have discovered just how intense emotions can get. I have been truly ecstatic.  For me, the practice is a devotional one. At the start of every Wave I offer a prayer. With every rhythm, I offer my self to the dance and to the dancer. And when it’s all over I give thanks for the joy of movement and where I’ve landed.


This week I attended two classes in Edinburgh.  It was my absolute joy to return to the space, the practice and the tribe.  Each holds me, loves me and moves me.


If you would like to explore the practice:

  • locate your nearest teacher from Gabrielle’s website
  • read some of her books
  • or buy the CD ‘Endless Wave‘ to dance at home.

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