Dancing Human: Michelle Mahan
Thursday, August 10, 2017
By The Philly Tribe
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Michelle Mahan

Philadelphia, PA


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

Right at the start of January 2010, I had my first class. I had just returned from New York that December, where I saw the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers share their callings and hold ritual. It was held at Jivamukti Yoga Center and was filled to capacity. In the distance, through the crowded montage of people, a women inched her way across the room. I thought she was trying to get past me, but there she stood in front of me. She said, “I felt I needed to tell you about 5Rhythms. It’s dance movement.” I said, “Oh, I like dance.” She says it’s not just dance but a conscious movement meditation. I tried to tell her I’d Google it, but she quickly asked me where I was from, as she goes through her phone to text me the teacher’s name and number in Philadelphia. Needless to say, I contacted the teacher and was in class at the start of the year. As my first 5Rhythms teacher, Richard Jerram generously guided and modeled the heart of this practice with enough space for me to fall in love with the spirit of conscious movement. So many thanks to you, Richard!


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

Interestingly enough, apart from my adolescent years of the late 60s, 70s, the R&B area, and some Latin flavor, I didn’t really dance. I loved movement but it was reserved for special occasions and the kitchen. I raised two boys and it was them whom I introduced to dance: jazz, modern, hip hop, and African; however, conscious movement was never explored only because I wasn’t aware of it.


What keeps you coming back to class regularly?

Conscious movement has become my sanctuary. It’s my prayer of the heart, expressed through my body and offers me solace and joy and re-connection to unknown places within. Then there’s the community of dancers that creates such an amazing tapestry to explore. Each person is a mirrored reflection of diversity in his or her individual expressive movement and yet sameness in the human dance of life and what we all value most. I see it and feel it with us all, to love and be loved, to be seen and safe, to hide away in the depths of our psyche and still be held in the whole. I come back for the music, the movement, the people, and the open space to be me as I am.


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

This practice has a very direct presence with the whole of my life. I’ve been dancing several hundred hours now, and more and more my body knows this coming and going, shifting and changing of situations and feelings as transient. Attachments to situations and feelings still arise, but this practice reminds me to be where I am. Letting go naturally happens and I explore the next step, movement, or space. Make a move and subsequently the next move happens.

It continues to teach me patience, when things aren’t moving as quickly as I’d like. For instance, if I’m feeling like I just need a big release and I want to really let it rip in the rhythm of Chaos, if I haven’t grounded myself with the first rhythms I could possibly hurt myself in the release because I am not grounded. How often does that happen in life when we jump ahead without a solid foundation? Allowing for the slow down means I might have to feel that edginess for a bit, and eventually the energy changes. I can bring my confusion or question to the dance, exploring those thoughts and feelings through my body, then watch how life answers back through people or situations. And of course, when everything is in utter shambles and it feels like it’ll never end, the shift happens and things do lighten up. In any given moment I’m finding the beat, listening for the shift, then resting in that sweet space between the beat.


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

Of course, there have been many! I feel they each feed into the other and help bring forth what’s needed to make transformations. But for now I will share about September 2016 when I committed to the goal and challenge to become a 5Rhythms SpaceHolder. Exciting, right?! My application was in and I had a financial plan to save every penny to cover the cost—no extra spending at all!

My daughter started a Go Fund Me campaign, which was also helpful and deeply appreciated. However, by the end of the year a few significant road blocks appeared. Water started running down the wall in my dining room. Oh geez! Roof work! That’s a pretty penny. Then my car broke down and needed costly repairs. Now I’m juggling my personal responsibilities with a desire to accomplish this goal. Despite my best efforts, I began to feel this might not be the right time to do this SpaceHolder’s training.

At the start of the New Year 2017, the Philly Tribe offered “The Power of Intention” workshop with Adam Barley. With the deadline in March to have all the cost in for the SpaceHolder’s training, this was the perfect container for me to work with my challenge. What were the actual blocks within me?

Adam Barley is a clear and passionate teacher. It requires some personal courage, but if you are willing to move and be moved, he will take you to your raw edges. He offered several tools for uncovering and excavating the landscape of my heart. Since so much of the work is through the body and feeling center, when it came time for me to speak the truth of what I had uncovered, it came out as a whisper. Then through repetitive movement, together with the words, I was soon able to speak them loud and with conviction. A freeing moment with tears! Often it’s surprising that our blocks, once we see them, appear to be such a simple thing, yet so raw and real that it creates space for change.

Once the workshop was over, I immediately continued three things. Every morning before I started my day, I did an empowering body shape, repeated at least three times with clear presence. I viewed my vision board for a few moments, often finding hidden things in shapes and negative spaces. And I took immediate action on the fear that had blocked me. I contacted two people I trusted. I presented all the funds I had so far saved and then how much I still needed to go. I asked for financial help! The fear to ask for help! The fear that I choke on, that comes out in a whisper, I took action on. They graciously supported me with what I needed and offered more without a second thought.

I fulfilled the first leg of my goal! I completed the 5Rhythms SpaceHolder’s training and now I’m on to the next leg—to hold 5Rhythms Sweats for the tribe I love and offering a safe space for them to practice and explore their dance.

At some point during the workshop, Adam said to me, “I can see that this is something you really want. I’m going to say to you, keep going.” Asking for help was my block. Like many people, I have spent the larger part of my life doing things myself. It may have been needed then, but this practice keeps bringing me back to a sense of myself within the supportive collective.


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

I enjoy the light lift of connection with others. Okay, I’ll say it, I fall in love!


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

I’m a grandmother of three girls ages 3, 4, and 10 and a newborn grandson. I have a yellow tabby and silky terrier who share a portion of my life. I love the outdoors and noticing the simple miracles in the natural world. But really, I’m a sky person. Big, open sky—day or night! I have a strong affinity for rituals that call us back to the sacred in the mundane, magic in the mystery, and the beauty in our humanity. I enjoy sewing and dabbling in creative art projects.


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?

  • I am a master baker’s daughter and learned about working and running a business very early in life.
  • I spent 10 years as a Moonie in Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church, which exposed me to a variety of people from around the world in my early 20s. I traveled through the U.S. and lived in most states with the exception of some Midwestern states.
  • I retired as a communication facilitator for non-verbal autistic children. I provided speech and occupational therapy through their IEPs under the supervision of their therapist. I supported them through cyber school education. I took them out into world and supported them in integrating new experiences.
  • My younger sister and I owned and designed a successful hand-painted garment business in the 90s called Life’s Movement. We created a visual of five basic energy shapes and line figures that originated through Angeles Arrien’s “Signs of Life.”
  • I have held movement and meditation programs for women in the Step Away program through the Earth Center and Still Rising at Philadelphia Fight.