Dancing Human: Jennifer Brown
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Sunday, February 18, 2018
By The Philly Tribe
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Jennifer Brown

Bucks County, PA

 

In what year was your first class with The Philly Tribe?

I started dancing in The Philly Tribe’s former “satellite” classes in South/Central Jersey and West Philly with teacher Richard Jerram in 2010 and joined the Summit scene in 2012.

 

What was your relationship to dance/movement before taking class with The Philly Tribe?

My parents enrolled me in studio classes at age 3, and I continued dance training in the usual genres—ballet, pointe, tap, jazz—through my teen years. I was a high school musical kid, but had convinced the director to only let me appear in scenes that included dancing—I had no interest in learning lines or song harmonies and melodies. I was such a dance nerd that many Friday evenings, while my friends were out at the movies, I opted to stay home and dance in my parents’ living room to Q102’s Friday night dance party or Yanni’s Live at the Acropolis.

I minored in dance in college, which was my first real introduction to modern dance. I struggled the first few months trying to break free of my balletically trained body, find the floor, get grounded (find my flowing, so to speak). After college, I dabbled in more studio classes, including Hawaiian/Polynesian dance, which is a lot harder than it looks and essentially involves learning both sign language and percussion techniques.

In 2006, after becoming a rather serious yoga student, I went to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts for a month-long yoga teacher training program and became more enamored with their free-form dance offerings than the yoga program I was paying big bucks for. My yoga was always aching to stretch beyond the mat and dance, and the experience there validated my desire for meditative movement. A fellow likeminded yoga student had suggested I read Gabrielle Roth’s Sweat Your Prayers, which quickly become my bible, and I highlighted just about every page in the book. I never realized there was a network of teachers out there, convening classes, until years later, when a South Jersey yoga studio I was attending announced a new class on its schedule, something called 5Rhythms. I was like, “OMG, that’s the thing from Sweat Your Prayers!”

The timing was perfect then, because I had recently injured my hip and had to stop running, which had been my main source of endorphins. I had tried Zumba and some other forms of cardio-dance as a substitute, but I would be in pain after those classes. So I found it perplexing, curious, and miraculous that after two hours of letting my body go in 5Rhythms, my body felt better than when I walked into the studio. I realized something beyond dancing must have been going on, that there was healing medicine in this particular sequence of movement.

 

What keeps you coming back to class regularly?

First and foremost, the people! Many of my most cherished friendships developed on the dance floor, and it’s important to stay connected with my tribe. It’s also an opportunity for my husband and I to stretch our dancing limits with each other, because the group energy fuels our individual energy, which then makes our dances with each other so much more electric and “on.” It’s difficult to create that with just the two of us at home. Finally, dancing with the tribe has buoyed me through so many big life events—injury, divorce, a second marriage, illness. I see it as an integral part to healing, learning, and growing.

 

In what ways does this dance practice influence or inspire your non-dancing life?

I’m interested in how the dance makes me pay attention to my movement patterns and habits, and then exploring how those patterns manifest in my everyday life, things like how I engage and disengage with partners, how I position myself with other people, the shapes my body takes on when encountering certain individuals, or seemingly innocuous repetitions that might actually mean something deeper.

Also, the 5Rhythms practice, specifically, has taught me about the inherent cyclical nature of all things in the world, and that the only way to fully understand the bliss of Lyrical or the solemnness of Stillness is to fully confront, engage in, and experience the powerful preceding three rhythms.

 

Tell us about a specific Philly Tribe class or workshop that you thought was especially powerful.

In November 2016, I attended Lorca Simons’ Live Wire ritual theatre lab workshop, which was unlike any dance workshop I’d ever taken. We used the 5Rhythms movement practice as an entry point into the body’s wisdom and then allowed creativity (in this case, improvisational dramatic, humorous, and playful theatrical work) to emerge at a very visceral level. We used the stage at Summit as an actual stage, standing individually in front of our peers and figuring out on the fly how to project our voice, be confident in our own skin, and speak from the heart and gut.

Lorca served as our director, prodding and pushing us to be grittier, softer, sexier—whatever emotion she detected that could be amplified. She was so deft at tuning into people’s creative capabilities; with the snap of a finger, she could switch us from parading around like a clown to shuffling along the floor in grief. I witnessed friends ascend the stage visibly shaking with performance anxiety and within two minutes of Lorca’s guidance, come alive with a magical boldness. We dressed all in black one day and created a living, breathing work of art with umbrellas. Another day, we tinkered with an array of props and gave life to whatever hat, boa, flashlight, or hula hoop we picked up.

One of the most powerful moments during that workshop was standing in front of my audience of peers and having to act out the words from an anonymous dancer that he or she had written down earlier. The phrase I was given was something along the lines of, “I can let go of wanting to hold onto my beloved.” I had to come up with a repetition to go with that phrase while repeating the words, and then Lorca, in the director role, expanded on the scene. My husband, Phil, happened to be in the small group I was part of at the time, and Lorca quickly directed him to stand next to me and for us to cling desperately to each other’s hands, painfully struggling not to let go. She made us both repeat the now condensed phrase (“I CAN LET GO!”) louder, more desperate, quicker, our knuckles growing white as we squeezed with ferocity. At the very last minute, she motioned for us to drop hands, and it was a goosebumps-down-your-spine kind of moment. I had just screamed “I CAN LET GO!” at the top of my lungs and then—BOOM—silence as our hands dropped. You could hear a pin drop, and probably my pounding heart and heaving lungs.

It was powerful for two reasons—one, because I was doing the exercise with my husband, which was purely by coincidence. I could, in a sense, begin to feel the pain that the anonymous dancer had expressed in his or her writing—acknowledging the need to let go of what is gone but so scared to make that move. Two, Lorca got me to go where I had always been afraid to go before—completely out of my head space and into the intensity of another being’s suffering. As I mentioned earlier, I had always dodged the acting element of my days in musical theater, but that moment with Lorca made me wonder why. What a gift it is to step into the soul of another and bring to life their stories and struggles.

 

Is there anything you’d like your fellow classmates to know about your dance-floor personality, preferences, or quirks?

I usually don’t interact with others during the first 30 to 45 minutes of a class; that’s my time to warm up, get centered, and find my own movement (getting acquainted with my “first body,” as they say in Open Floor). When I do finally interact, it’s usually this indirect energetic acknowledgement rather than a straight up, in-your-face, hey-let’s-dance thing. I tend to make very discreet connections with other dancers whose energy feels compatible with mine, edging on the periphery until I’m swallowed into a duet and fully immersed in the other’s movement.

Oh, and I wear knee pads all the time because I love dancing on the floor yet hate the bruises I get if I do so without protection.

 

Tell us a little about your current life off the dance floor.

My new-ish marriage with my husband, Phil, occupies much of my heart and mind these days. We were a 5Rhythms romance, crossing paths on the dance floor and learning about each other initially through rhythms rather than words. It’s no secret there’s a big age difference between us, but Phil is young at heart and I’m an old soul, so we balance out. But seriously, this type of dancing has shown us that connections are mysterious and magical, and sometimes you just have to surrender to the unknown. We each call the other “our Stillness,” referring to the rhythm that is associated with breath, ether, humble emptiness, true wisdom. It’s hard to put into words what made us fall in love, but it’s really easy to feel it in the language of dance.

Phil and I are always looking out for things to do together—biking, hiking, Frisbee’ing, perusing farmers’ markets, scouting out concerts, indulging in homemade pastries from the new coffeehouse in town. We’ve taken classes together in American Sign Language, ballroom dance, tai chi, and Pilates, and even became certified to teach ZENgevity, a brain, balance, and dance program for older adults, which we piloted at our local senior center.

I’m an editor at a public policy research firm (with former careers in medical publishing and small-town journalism). Obsessions not related to grammar include keeping up with the latest Disney Parks news and rumors (any other Haunted Mansion fans out there?), swimming laps, practicing kundalini yoga, dreaming about the Southwest, convincing myself that one day I will return to blogging about dance and movement, and ensuring that I never have more than 10 messages in my main Gmail inbox.

 

Is there anything else you’d like to share—personal accomplishments, struggles, epiphanies, questions or stand-out life experiences that have helped shaped who you are today?

In the early 2000s, I became fascinated with yoga and it soon became a daily practice of mine. I initially gravitated toward ashtanga (power) yoga—I loved the structure, intensity, and physicality of the primary and secondary series. However, after a few injuries, I soon learned that my body just simply isn’t made for ultra-vigorous exercise. Still wanting to continue with yoga, though, I sought out alternative styles and formed a relationship with the Kripalu style of yoga, which is a unique blend of pranayama, asana, and meditation that is very adaptive to each individual. So enamored I became that I enrolled in the 200-hour yoga teacher training at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts, where I lived for a month among a community of like-minded yogis. This was a huge endeavor for me, taking a month-long unpaid leave of absence from work and living away from my (now former) husband, but I felt so passionate about the practice and its place in my life that it felt worth the risks. I didn’t serve as a teacher too long after my certification (I realized I felt more comfortable being a student), but my experiences at Kripalu were profound and still live in my core to this day. I had mind-blowing meditations, trance-like dances that had me floating down the halls, and overall energetic connections with myself and others that attuned me to the universal “hum” that I believe links all humanity. I came home a changed person, my intuition heightened, my curiosity expanded, and my thirst for connection ignited. I consider my experience with yoga and Kripalu a stone in the pond, setting off a multitude of ripples that shifted my life path over the next decade.



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