Groove to the rhythm

Groove to the rhythm

easy flow

Groove to the rhythm

It is 11 am on a Tuesday in south east London and I am an hour into my first 5Rhythms session, dancing my way through “Chaos”. My induction to this freestyle 90-minute movement class has so far been safe, swift and relatively sanguine.

After a 20-minute warm up, we moved on to the main part of the class, which started with the first two rhythms, “Flowing” and “Staccato”. Each section lasted for two tracks and helped those in the class leave behind their everyday concerns, loosen their spines and hips, and tune in to various beats in readiness for the ecstatic rigours of the third rhythm: “Chaos”.

“Move your heads, elbows, shoulders and knees, and let your body dance you, rather than you dancing your body,” says our instructor, Emma Leech. Emma learnt about 5Rhythms in 1990 and practised it for 10 years under its founder, Gabrielle Roth, before training as a teacher. It’s one of several relatively new dance exercise classes, including DDMix created by Darcey Bussell, that have proved to be popular.

The sweat drips from my forehead and my heart rate rises. The class environment is
supportive, with bodies moving to a diverse playlist of hypnotic and atmospheric music. At first I feel self-conscious, but I quickly find myself fully present and
enjoying the dance. My entire body shakes as the tension moves in, out and through every muscle, leaving space for something new and more instinctive to take its place.

So liberating

So different is this from exercise that I don’t really feel I’m trying. You don’t quite need any particular level of fitness for 5Rhythms — just an ability to move your limbs at your own pace for an hour-and-a-half. And you don’t need any dancing experience, either; there are no steps to learn, no right or wrong.

Instead, we are encouraged to work within our limits, be mindful of our bodies and respectful of niggles and injuries, and be aware of inner resistance.

Judgment and post-class self-analysis are not recommended; if you are trying to dance beautifully, then you are missing the point of 5-Rhythms’ commitment to spontaneous movement.

The session feels very different from a focused workout, but it has several health benefits. A dynamic practice that enhances blood flow, improves heart and lung capacity, 5Rhythms, over time, also helps develop muscle tone, flexibility and stamina. The emphasis on inner experience also means that you develop a rarely considered element of fitness: the ability to embrace the unknown. In this way, this meditative dance class has something in common with an obstacle race such as Tough Mudder: participants don’t know which challenges each rhythm (or race) will bring and when they will need to draw on their reserves. Their resilience builds.

As we move from “Chaos” to “Lyrical”, I realise I am twisting and turning freely in all directions. This is unusual for me. My typical exercise session involves walking, running, cycling, squatting or lifting weights. Though my usual exercises build strength and raise my heart rate, it’s multidirectional ones that keep the spine supple and work the small, stabiliser muscles that make for a healthy lower back.

As we move through “Stillness”, our final rhythm, I begin to feel both tired and uplifted. My body feels as relaxed and nourished as if I’d had an hour’s deep tissue massage and my mind feels as if I had just caught up with a friend. On my way out, I chat with one of the class regulars, opera singer Constance Novis, who describes the class as “aerobic exercise with a spiritual dimension”.

“Not only has my cardiovascular fitness and skin tone improved thanks to moving and sweating, but 5Rhythms is also a fantastic stress reliever. It gets me out of my head and into my body — the percussion grabs my hips and the rest of my body goes with it,” she says.

All the way home, I am surprised and excited that somewhere between “Chaos” and “Lyrical” I discovered a freedom I haven’t felt since childhood. Hours later, I sleep like a baby. Medicinal, magical and at times maniacal, 5Rhythms is well worth seeking out.
Other dance exercises worth a try:

Diverse Dance Mix (DDMix)
Sosa Dance Fitness