Freedom of Movement

Dancing Freedom allows participants to let loose and move to music in a fun, safe and non-judgemental way


  “Dancing Freedom has multiple levels, <a href=check ” says Helen Pattinson. “It’s so deep, valeologist and it’s so fun. One of my favorite moments as a facilitator is when I see people lost in movement and clearly loving it. There’s that moment when I invite everyone to just let it rip. We can be like kids again. And that’s so good for us.” Photo by Boomer Jerritt” src=”×444.jpg” width=”602″ height=”444″ />

“Dancing Freedom has multiple levels, information pills ” says Helen Pattinson. “It’s so deep, and it’s so fun. One of my favorite moments as a facilitator is when I see people lost in movement and clearly loving it. There’s that moment when I invite everyone to just let it rip. We can be like kids again. And that’s so good for us.” Photo by Boomer Jerritt

We’ve got to get out of our heads and into our bodies,” says Helen Pattinson, leaning forward over the table at Courtenay’s Zocalo Cafe. Easy words to say, but not so easy to put into practice in today’s wired world, where every day the average person checks their phone 110 times (up to once every six seconds in peak times!), and spends 11 hours consuming digital media (according to Neilson statistics).

Pattinson, however, is not all talk. She’s got something to offer—an accessible way for people to make that journey from head to body. Pattinson is the Comox Valley’s first and thus far only facilitator of Dancing Freedom, a free-form movement modality that offers a lightly-structured opportunity to let loose and move to music in a fun, safe and non-judgemental context.

It’s a great way to get exercise, work off tension, and stimulate the production of mood-lifting endorphins, says Pattinson. At the same time, there are deeper levels—dancing freely in an environment that is consciously set up to be safe and encouraging can release emotional blocks and re-connect us with a sense of purpose and community.

Not only do we as individuals need this, our world needs it, says Pattinson. “Dancing Freedom provides medicine for the planet. We’re at such a special time right now. We know we’re destroying the earth. We know that communities are breaking down. We know there’s so much loneliness, so much disconnection, so much anxiety and depression. But at the same time, there’s an awakening, a tide of individuals from all walks of life—doctors, office workers, artists, teachers, all kinds of people—waking up. We’re having these magical conversations where we see the light in each others’ eyes. We feel in our hearts that something is changing.”

Dancing Freedom, she says is part of that tide of change. “Dance, like yoga, meditation and art, is a vehicle to awaken higher states of consciousness. Dancing Freedom offers a way to remember, through the experience of being in our body, that we are all intricately connected, and that this illusion of separateness that our society perpetuates is just that—an illusion.”

Pattinson pauses, perhaps realizing she might be making this uncomplicated, physical practice sound esoteric. “Dancing Freedom has multiple levels,” she explains. “It’s so deep, and it’s so fun. One of my favorite moments as a facilitator is when I look around the room and see people lost in movement, and clearly loving it. There’s that moment when I invite everyone to just let it rip. We holler, we laugh. We can be like kids again. And that’s so good for us.”

Pattinson invites me to take part in a Dancing Freedom class at the Native Sons Hall one Tuesday evening. In a spacious, wood-panelled room, about a dozen people gather. Some are warming up with stretches and yoga, others chatting, others just standing and waiting. Pattinson call the group together to sit around a circle for brief introductions. She sets the tone with a warm smile and a poem: “Oh friend, understand./The body is like the ocean, rich with hidden treasures./Open your innermost chamber/And light its lamp…” She asks us to each share three words to explain why we are there that night. The answers are diverse: “exercise,” “stress release,” “fun,” “reconnection,” “wildness,” “community,” and more.

The music starts, loud but not overwhelming, as Pattinson’s amplified voice guides us: “Remember, the only rule is there are no rules,” she begins. During the 90-minute session, she talks periodically. She invites us to be playful, reminds to relax and drop inhibitions, asks us to close our eyes and tune inward, or, later in the class, to open them and look around, and if we want, to connect with others through dance.

The verbal guidance, along with the music—and, in response, our dancing—moves through five phases: water, earth, air, fire and ether. This arc, or wave, forms the structure of all Dancing Freedom classes, and sets this particular approach apart from other free-form and ecstatic dance types. “This practice on one level is a deep inquiry into our connection with the elements through our bodies. So we’re making a connection between the self and the planet. For instance, 70 to 80 per cent of our body is made up of water, and this corresponds to the ratio of water on the earth,” says Pattinson.

It takes me until about halfway through the session to fully relax into this practice. Pattinson invites us repeatedly to let go of any “shoulds” in our heads and to simply follow our bodies, but for me that doesn’t happen instantly. Gradually, though, the music, her voice and the fact that everyone around me is moving freely, each in their own entirely unique way, helps me let go of preconceptions about how I am “supposed to” move. The more I dance, the more free I feel. It’s a bit like being on a really great dance floor at just past midnight, when everything shifts into some kind of magic zone of unity and movement… but it’s both more contained and more free, and there are no drugs or alcohol.

Some people share space dancing, some bounce off each other, form a dancing unit, break apart again. Sometimes people vocalize, whooping, shouting, hooting. The word that keeps coming to mind to describe it is free. That, and alive.

Eventually, Pattinson’s voice invites us to slow down. As the class draws to a close, we again gather in a circle around the candle, to share three words about how we feel. Again, the responses are varied: “cleansed,” “tired,” “renewed,” “sad,” “calm,” “inspired,” “connected.” I look around the circle. I don’t know these people, but I just moved in wild and uninhibited ways in their presence, and I feel comfortable with them in this situation. Not just comfortable—connected.

Participants connect at a recent class.  Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Participants connect at a recent class. Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Than we put on our coats and go home. I sleep well that night, not because I’m physically exhausted by the practice (I’m not, just pleasantly tired out), but because I’m so relaxed. I feel like I sloughed off not just the stresses of the day, but a number of lingering frustrations, disappointments, negative thoughts and resentments. Sweated away. Gone, who knows where?

Dancing Freedom provides a safe space for emotional processing, although it is definitely not therapy, says Pattinson. “Emotions can and will arise when we move freely. This is one of the gifts of Dancing Freedom. There are very few places in our lives where we can authentically express our emotions as they flow through us. The Dancing Freedom practice is a safe place to do this, just to let feelings wash through you and express them as motion,” she says. “Emotions can stagnate and manifest in the body. It’s important not to suppress our emotions. Suppression brings oppression and manifests in disease.”

Pattinson has been facilitating Dancing Freedom for just over a year, offering weekly classes and monthly drop-in sessions called Dance Waves at various venues in the Comox Valley, and also teaching workshops at venues and festivals around BC. This summer she taught in Fernie, Nelson and at the Starbelly Jam Festival in the Kootenays.
Her participants—the word “students” isn’t really accurate since she is not teaching so much as facilitating—span generations and range from military personnel to seasoned dancers to tree planters to office workers who are tense and need to “shake it out,” she says.

“It’s not necessarily people with a dance or movement background. It’s for all kinds of people, but what they mostly have in common is that they are looking for something a little bit outside the box. They tend to be freedom seekers, people who love life, who like to dance and move, and want to do that in connection, in community.”

Quite a few people start out tentatively, she says, worried they’ll get things wrong. But there is no wrong. “It’s not about looking cool and showing off your smoking hot dance moves, although if that’s what’s coming naturally then go for it. It’s about tapping into the flow of life. It’s about gathering the tribe and remembering our connection.”

“Tapping into the flow of life” is a good description of how Pattinson became a Dancing Freedom facilitator. She was always a seeker, and always a mover. As a child growing up in England, she studied classical ballet for 15 years. She loved ballet but drifted away from it during her teens. For a while she had nothing to replace it beyond dancing socially at parties and clubs. That was an outlet, but it wasn’t enough.

“I’ve always felt things very physically in my body. Without ballet I had a feeling of a hole in my body, an emptiness. Then in my 20s I started rock climbing, and I physically felt the hole start to fill. Because rock climbing is a kind of dancing,” says Pattinson.

She first came to BC when she was 21 as part of a student exchange program. She was studying toward her fine arts degree in the UK and spent a few months at Emily Carr School of Art in Vancouver, where she fell in love with BC.

“I couldn’t believe a place like this existed!” she says. “A place with mountains, and rivers, and ocean, and people were into enjoying nature and playing in the outdoors. It was like my dream of a perfect place. I have always been a dreamer, but one who believes in actually manifesting my dreams, and my dream was to live here.”

Pattinson’s family history suggests she was fated to live on BC’s coast. “Before I was born my parents were going to emigrate here. My dad actually bought a house in Vancouver, and I was conceived the night my dad got back home and said to my mom, ‘We’re going to move to Canada.’” In the end circumstances intervened and the move didn’t happen, but Pattinson sometimes feels she is living out the life her parents dreamed of.

It took more than a decade for Pattinson to make her dream come true, but in her 30s she gradually shifted her home to BC, settling in the Comox Valley, and became a permanent resident last year.

Along the journey, she had discovered yoga, and taken training at the Asana Room in Cumberland to become a certified instructor. She currently teaches yoga at the Courtenay Recreation Centre, North Island College, the Aquatic Centre and the Kingfisher Resort.

The decision to train as a Dancing Freedom facilitator was a “total leap of faith,” she says. “I was looking for something. I loved yoga and still do, and at the same time I wanted something more expansive than yoga, something more free-form, more creative, more explosive. So I ended up going to Peru, travelling with the Q’ero Tribe, the last living descendants of the Inca. We were in ceremony every day for a month. It was a time of real awakening for me. One of my fellow travellers told me she had just done this dance training—Dancing Freedom—and I just knew. She said there was a facilitator course opening up soon. I drove all the way up California in my little truck. I had never done Dancing Freedom before, never done any form of ecstatic dance, but on the first day when we sat in a circle and I met the teacher, I knew it was the right thing,” she says.

The three-week training program, under the guidance of Samantha Sweetwater, the founder of Dancing Freedom, included a solo vision quest in the desert. “It was deep soul work,” says Pattinson.

She loved the training, and loves being a facilitator. “I’m passionate about this. Passionate about being able to facilitate a practice that gives us up to a collective sharing of energy, that helps us remember who we are. Passionate about creating space where we can dare to dream, dare to awaken to who we really are. We need each other to do that. We always were connected. We forgot, but our bodies remember.”

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