Shall We Dance

Shall We Dance? Dance Church

By Amy Brunvand

Sweat your prayers at these bimonthly gatherings.
by Amy Brunvand
When we give ourselves over completely to
the spirit of the dance, it becomes a prayer.
 – Gabrielle Roth

The first thing I noticed when I walked into Dance Church was that I was wearing the wrong thing. The website said wear "whatever you can move freely and sweat in!"So, thinking "church," I put on a floaty skirt printed with big red flowers. Nearly everyone else was dressed for a workout in more subdued colors, and the only other red was a bouquet of silk poppies next to a single candle in front of the darkened room. Gentle, new-age music was playing. A few people sat in cross-legged meditation; others were doing simple yoga poses. Jill and Michael Jeppesen, the married couple who organize Dance Church, were out on the floor doing a flowing, playful dance.

When it was time to start, Jill called everyone to sit in a circle. She laid out a few simple ground rules: Keep the space sacred; It’s OK to use your voice for emotional expression, but no conversation, please; You can dance alone or together, but respect the energy of other dancers; There is no right or wrong way to dance, just let your body respond authentically to the music and see what arises.

Then she added, "If you have a prayer you want to express you might want to hold it in your heart for a moment before we start to dance." I did have such a prayer and in a moment my eyes were overflowing with tears. Then it was time to dance.

The music started out calm and slow, but each new song was a surprise. Michael Jeppesen who acts as DJ for Dance Church had selected a quirky variety of music, and most of it wasn’t "dance music" in the usual sense. When I talked to Jill afterwards she explained that the music is intended to generate a wave of energy beginning and ending in stillness. "Following that wave is the most effective way to get people into their bodies, building up into a chaotic state and then you come down the other side," she says. "It’s kind of like a runner’s high and then that yummy after feeling."

She says the eclectic music can also help people break out of habitual responses: "We bring our histories, our patterning, what we know to the dance, but if we surrender to the rhythm, the rhythm moves us. Throwing in different music so people say, "how do I move to this?" is helpful to break that pattern.

The idea of a musical energy wave comes from the work of Gabrielle Roth who outlined a system of ecstatic dance in her book "Sweat your Prayers." Jill credits Roth as a major influence , but she is quick to point out that she doesn’t consider herself a dance teacher or a spiritual teacher. She describes her role as "holding space" so that people can come together to dance in a safe, sacred place.

To Jill, Dance Church is a church in the sense of "a place where people come to worship, but I’m not defining what people are worshiping." She belonged to a dance tribe when she lived in Seattle, but hadn’t been dancing much since she moved to Salt Lake City in 2002. Then last January, Jill reconnected with ecstatic dance when she convinced Michael to go to a workshop: "During the weekend Michael progressed from ‘this is weird’ to ‘I feel goofy but I’m having fun’ to ‘this is amazing!’ When we got back he said, ‘we have to do this in Salt Lake City!’ so we just made a decision. We were really clear that if it didn’t want to happen, we would let it go."

Out on the dance floor it was apparent that people had different levels of dance background, but nonetheless they all were dancing- nobody seemed rigid or inhibited the way they often do at clubs. Jill attributes this to creating a safe space: "There is the idea of the right way versus the wrong way ingrained in our culture. I think people [here] feel nourished by permission to move the way they want to."

I went home from Dance Church thinking I merely had fun. But when I woke up the next morning my body felt totally refreshed. And there was no longer anything in my heart that needed to cry. 

Dance Church open houses
December 7-Flow Yoga (2065 E. 2100 S.)
Dec 14-Salt Lake Center for Spiritual Living (870 E. 7145 S).
5:45-8p.m.; social hour to follow
Suggested donation $10. All proceeds in Dec. will be donated to the Utah Food Bank.

Blog and schedule:

Amy Brunvand is a librarian and dance enthusiaast.

This article was originally published on December 1, 2008.