If Ecstatic wasn't already tricky to explain, matters are made more complicated by the fact there are slight variations called "5Rhythms", "Open Floor" and others...... and since none of my peers have heard of either these terms, I call it by the affectionate name "hippy dancing". Just pretend all three names are synonymous, because honestly, they all look pretty similar. Personally I related best to this description from the Daily Telegraph:
I love it precisely because it isn't based on learned steps. Instead, the idea is to find your own dance by moving your body in whatever way you fancy.
It's as much meditation as it a dance.
One of many things I love about Open Floor is the music. It sounds impossible, but after a year of going I still don't think I've ever heard a song I didn't enjoy. It's a lot of "world music" but honestly, you'll hear everything from classical, tribal drums, chill-out, trance, jazz, rock and then out of no-where a modern pop song with funny lyrics. You can expect anything from Bach, to Micheal Jackson, Toto, Enya, Adele, The Eagles and a hundred artists you've never heard of but wished you owned all their albums. And yet somehow all these different songs blend seamlessly together.... and they blend in "waves".
DISCLAIMER: There are some videos on the 5Rhythm website, and some of my friends found this youtube clip. In most of these videos the dancing is very "tribal" and there are a lot of shirtless guys - which I think seems a little intimidating in a video! In some eclectic dance places this may occur, but in most spaces people wear shirts and the dancing is far more varied. The pictures above don't do it justice either - I think you need to be a part of the dancing to appreciate the freedom, space and the fact that everyone has their own unique way of dancing. For me I find almost every song brings something different - especially if I find myself suddenly dancing with someone else or a spontaneously formed group.
All over the world! See the links at the bottom.
If you decide to come, arriving at hippy dancing feel a little strange. If you arrive early you might walk into room with just a few other people - all of them stretching and flowing around the room like... well hippies. If you arrive 15 minutes later the room might fill with over 50 people (depending on the venue), and depending on the song they might all be dancing like maniacs - some people might even grunt. Arrive another 15 minutes later and these people might just be lying on the floor and some of them hugging. If you're not used to that then you'll think "what the hell is going on here!". You might be worried you've walked into some free love movement. With time you'll realize physical contact pretty normal here. It's usually not "funny business" you're seeing - the regulars know each other well and hugs are pretty common.
I guess with my personality and love for dance, I wasn't intimidated my first time. Here's a place where you might dance one song by yourself, then you might dance with a girl one song, or a guy for half a song, and then the next song you'll find yourself with a big group. Warming up can take a while for many, but it's when you do start interacting with others that wonderful spontaneous things will happen. Whatever you're comfortable with.
Some instructors give more "instruction" than others. I'm most used to salsa dance, where you have patterns you need to follow, but it was immediately obvious to me that you do whatever you want. The other thing about Salsa is.... well, let's be honest, all the songs sound pretty much the same! Here every song is different and scrumptious in its own way.
At the end of most of these dances, you might either get a "sound healing" session, where someone with face paint plays a weird but beautiful instrument and people lay on the floor and zen out to the relaxing music... and/or you might get what I call the "feelings circle", where people talk about their feelings about the dance, and share announcements at the end. Again, "feeling circles" is an affectionate name I came up with - so I hope it doesn't sound like I'm being mean! Lots of people leave before the circle, but I like to stay because in smaller circles everyone says their name (week after week I usually forget - it's a lot of names to remember!) and has the chance to talk about anything they felt, discovered or have on their minds.
So what type of person attends these kind of events?! I'll like to joke that we are mostly (a) long haired, tie-die wearing hippies or (b) software engineers. There's a smidgen of truth to that, but don't let it scare you! Yes, a couple of dancers wear colorful clothes, and yes, there are lot of people who practice or teach meditation and well being.... but in reality these are people who love dancing, and yes, lots of them have been to burning man or have alternative lifestyles. You don't have to own a bead shop to enjoy the dance though. :)
As you dance you'll notice a few people have had experience with some other form of dance - I like to guess who's done couple's dancing before. I'd say over half have never done any other form of dance. It really doesn't matter if you're good at dancing or terrible. If you want to do some weird yoga pose, spin in circles, or jump... it doesn't matter. You are not being judged... and that is very refreshing. I've been told I'm a good dancer, but at hippy dancing I embrace the freedom to do something weird, like crawl across the floor, or make a funny face at someone. It's the opposite of most other dancing where you're trying to look good and act like you have things figured out. It doesn't matter if you have two left feet, there are no steps to learn. In such an practice it's not about how you look, it's about how you feel and the energy you feed into the room. :)
You will sweat, so I'd recommend a simple t-shirt and loose fitting pants or anything else that breaths. I've worn jeans before, but they can get sweaty. Most girls wear dresses or tights, but I personally wear dresses on weekends only. :-P
If you've been to burning man, you'll already know what people wear dancing. :)
The biggest thing to know here is that we to dance bare foot! Shoes are very discouraged and socks are banned. This "encouraged" rule is more about safety than anything else - to prevent you from slipping over or crushing a foot. Ballet shoes are fine but seriously.... just give barefoot a try.
There's a drinking fountain and good bathroom / changing rooms with towels just outside the main dance area, but I like to bring my own towel and a couple of water-bottles. Almost all of us bring a bag and we leave them around the edge of the room. If you live far away you'll probably want a change of clothes for the drive home.
If you get into contact improv, you'll go down to the ground a bunch... meaning you'll want knee pads! Don't get the velcro ones... get the ones you have to pull up your leg, they are more likely to stay, but even then they might drift. Save your knees!
As liberating as it is to be barefoot, if you dance as vivaciously as me I'd suggest you invest in a pair of "foot thongs" (sometimes called "foot undies") to look cool and protect against blisters. Quite a few of us wear them. Most choose the thong style design, but I prefer to wear dance paws" that you can get from Amazon. These have a hole for each toe, and feel awkward at first, but they don't slide off like some others might. My pair has lasted about 3 months, but I'm pretty heavy on my feet, so hopefully they'll last longer for you.
Depending on how you dance, these events can be an incredibly intense workout! Most of us are sweating pretty heavily come the energetic part of the wave! Hence the towel and water bottles
Let's put it this way: over Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday I used to do yoga (moving slowly through strange poses, ignoring everyone around you and focusing on the mind), couples dancing (moderate music and dancing with other people) and an insanity workout (a hardcore group workout to upbeat pop music). Ecstatic dance is like doing all three at once - yoga, dancing, workout..... and then some. In fact, at times I feel pretty confident these are events are more relaxing/spiritual than yoga, more energetic than "insanity" and was more varied than any type of dancing I've seen. If you have good dance experience you'll probably find yourself embracing a dozen different forms of hybrid dance - messy-ballet, hip hop, contact improv, completely-interpretive, sloppy-drunk-jazz, almost-salsa-but-not-really, some-weird-varient-of-tango and whatever-you-feel-like-trying - over a two hour period. If you have no dance experience this translates roughly to: spinning lots, dancing like a rapper, holding arms and getting personal, lying down cuz you're tired, bopping about, holding hands and being silly, prancing around for a song and jumping up and down on the spot. Actually I'd suggest you don't use these highly technical terms at all. Your dance can and should get influenced heavily by (a) you're own energy, (b) the music's energy and (d) the other dancers, to the point where it you shouldn't be able to put it into any existing category of dance.