For years I’ve heard friends around Asheville talk about “Sweat Your Prayers” and how much they loved it. Some were quite devoted to attending these community dances. It sounded fun—I do love to dance—but I’d never made a point to go.
So last week when two separate acquaintances mentioned Asheville Movement Collective’s Sunday morning dance “waves” as an important part of their spiritual practice AND revealed to me that they take place in the River Arts District just a short distance from my house, I decided that this Sunday’s Faith In Asheville visit would be the perfect time to give it try.
Friends, it was a revelation! I’ve danced a million times at clubs, at festivals, at concerts. Though I’d often let the music carry me to a state of trance, I couldn’t call it meditation exactly. I can’t believe I’ve been missing something so enriching, affirming and healing all this time!
The Asheville Movement Collective doesn’t actually mention “Sweat Your Prayers” specifically on their website. A quick search revealed that the term comes from a book of that title by urban shaman, recording artist, author and teacher Gabrielle Roth.
Waves are community dances as moving meditations. According to the AMC home page “We practice the dance wave as a spiritual experience, and acknowledge that this links us to our individual and collective healing and creates community. We gather and dance with authenticity, personal responsibility, and sensitivity to others.”
As I entered the Studio 11 Dance Temple early Sunday morning the music was already playing. I peeled of my coat, kicked off my shoes and read the Guidelines I saw posted prominently at the entrance.
A young woman asked me to sign in at the table where I also saw a jar for collecting the $5 donation to dance. She gave me a friendly welcome and informed me that my first AMC dance was free of charge.
Studio 11 is housed at 11 Richmond Avenue in a former church on hill overlooking a still industrial section of the River. The pews have been removed revealing an expansive dark wooden dance floor, swept clean and dappled with light from the tall windows. At one end of the stage someone had arranged a simple altar with a large mirror and three pillar candles.
Feeling a little self-conscious I made my way onto the floor and began move through a few yoga stretches to warm up and quiet my thoughts. I recognized a couple of friends in attendance and we hugged but didn’t speak much.
After a while someone turned the music down and the facilitator for this Wave, whose name I later learned is Cassie, brought a candle onto the dance floor. Everyone moved into a circle to listen. She reviewed the Guidelines and pointed out the bathrooms for new comers.
Next Cassidy revealed to us the intentions she’d held while creating the music mix for this dance. Since this Sunday was February 13, the day before Valentine’s Day, she told us she’d created this mix while pondering the contracting and expanding energies of Love and the remembrance that ultimately we can only love another when we have deep love for ourselves. With that she rose to start the music and the dancing began.
The mix of music began with slow, flowing rhythms. I continued to breathe, gently swaying my body, allowing my feet to take a few tenuous steps. I watched my fellow dancers and saw that there was no judgment in this space, just people meditating through the movement of their own bodies. My mind quieted a little more, my breath deepened and I began to move more deeply into my own meditation.
As the beat of the music became more dynamic our dance increased in heat and energy as well. I let myself move in ways I never would on a club dance floor or in a crowd at a concert. I witnessed people of all ages moving their bodies according to their own Inner Guidance.
Unintentionally my arms crossed themselves in front of my body and I felt my hands touch my arms in a gesture of embrace. Tears began to stream down my face as my heart filled with a great tenderness. My hands moved down my arms to find each other and for a long time I simply held my own hands as a wept and swayed. I felt how acutely absent this sense of gentle support for myself had been till this moment. Then the image of a family member who is struggling appeared in my mind. He stood before me and a opened my hands, extending this deep tenderness toward him. One by one my closest family and friends appeared all standing in a circle around me. I shared the gentleness with each of them as tears flowed down my face. My heart was broken open acceptance and love for each of them exactly as they are. And as I gave, I received.
After a while the tears slowed along with the music. Some people became still, seated in postures of meditation, while others continued to dance. Finally, the wave ended and we returned to the circle.
Cassidy invited people to share their experience of this dance. After a few other people had spoken I described the experience I’ve just written here. I observed how it seemed that with all my attention taken up with protecting and saving and helping, I’d somehow overlooked the power of simple tenderness toward others and myself. I expressed gratitude to this community for a spiritual awakening that I know will give more power to whatever service I may offer than any amount of striving can ever give. Even now that gentle feeling remains, soothing my spirit as I encounter others and myself each day.
AMC dance waves are held Sunday mornings at Studio 11 and Friday nights at Terpsicorp Studio in the Wedge Building in the River Arts District. (Directions below).
1st/Early Wave: 8:30 am warmup, 9 am circle opens
Doors close at 9am sharp until the end of the dance (latecomers are not allowed at the early wave in order to preserve the intimacy and safety of the dance) Dance ends by 10:30 am
2nd Wave: 10:30 am warmup, 11 am circle opens
At 11 doors close for the opening circle. At this time the dance leader will explain the guidelines, open the circle, and the dance begins. Once the music begins doors open once more. So you can be late, but you are strongly encouraged to make it for the opening circle! Dances are generally finished by 12:30pm. Free childcare is provided during the second wave on Sundays (and attended children are welcome in the dance as well).
7:00 pm warmup, 7:30 dance begins