Tuesday, June 28, 2011


"It's like church for some people here," was the phrase I heard several times to describe Kalani's "Ecstatic Dance."  Every Sunday morning at 10:30, locals ("punatiks") and Kalani community members alike convene at the arts center, an airy space with wood floors and a domed, stadium-style roof, usually used for yoga classes.  Transformed by trance and other instrumental music pumping through the sound system, the room becomes a place of dance... a place of worship for some.  Much like devoted church-goers, dedicated attendees of the Ecstatic Dance, or Sun-Dance as it is sometimes known, will never miss it.  Many come dressed in their island finery, somewhat akin to music festival wear (in other words, whatever seems like a good idea in the moment); tie dye, bright colors, and crop tops run rampant.  In a community where individual spirituality overwhelmingly wins out over organized religion, these Sunday mornings are the closest approximation you'll see to conventional prayer.  The rules? No talking. Only dancing. If you want to have a conversation, you have to take it outside.

After about a half hour of dancing, there is an opening circle in which someone (probably a well-established community member) offers a few words of inspiration, and everyone says their name.  At closing, another circle is formed, and those who are so inclined may speak a few words of appreciation (usually quite a few are so inclined).  Like everything else, participation in the circles in entirely voluntary.  And for the nearly two hours in between?  We dance, of course!  And this is about as far from your typical high school gym dances as you can get.  There is no judgement in this space, and often very little interaction between dancers.  Each participant is involved in the music, their individual expression through dance, and for some the spirituality of the experience.  How to describe the dancing?  Quite possibly impossible, but try to imagine every crazy and absurd dance move you've ever considered attempting but abstained out of embarrassment or fear of judgement.  Now add to that any experience you may have had at a music festival or drunken dance party.  Now take away all of the illicit substances, add in a great deal of grace, acceptance, and the beauty of total freedom, and you will have a vague conception of Sunday mornings at Kalani.

Those who are tired, or who aren't moved to dance may choose to sit against the wall or at a meditation corner at the back of the room, stocked with various icons, incense, and cushions.  Some people sway, some run around the room, some newcomers, unsure of what they have just gotten themselves into, leave.  Me? I've never been to church, but the Ecstatic Dance is undeniably a special place of self-expression, worship for some, and the shared joy of dancing. And that is something I can certainly relate to.

And it doesn't end there!  Sunday afternoons, many of the Sundancers and more locals head a mile down the road to Kehena Beach (black sand and clothing optional) for the weekly drum circle.  They walk, drive, or (mom and dad close your eyes), hitch-hike to get there.  When I went, there were about twenty drummers, plus various other musicians, and another hundred people lounging on the narrow strip of beach, backed by forty foot cliffs that some, in bursts of insanity or adventure, climb by way of the hanging banyan roots and vines.  The waves are unlike any I have seen before, breaking directly at the shore line, which makes for very difficult entry and exit.  When the tide comes in, it covers the bottom half of the beach, soaking those unfortunate beach-goers who choose to sit closer to the water.  The drum circle lasts late into the afternoon, and sitting in the lengthening shadows, engulfed by the rhythms of earth and sea, forms the perfect complement to the morning's ecstatic dancing.

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