Flowing. Staccato. Chaos. Lyrical. Stillness. To the uninitiated, the words describe qualities of music or movement. To followers of dance pioneer Gabrielle Roth, they represent a specific tradition: a meditative, guided improvisational dance known as 5Rhythms.
This weekend, 5Rhythms-certified teacher Amber Ryan returns to Santa Barbara for the third time. She’s here to lead Dance Tribe, the weekly Sunday-morning gathering of movers and seekers. One month later, the former pro dancer and daughter-in-law of the late Roth will offer an in-depth 5 Rhythms workshop at Yoga Soup.
On the phone recently, Ryan spoke about her journey through 5Rhythms as a transformative arc. It was physical injury, she explained, that lead her to the practice.
“I was on contract at a repertory theater, and my left ankle had gotten so aggravated from repetitive abuse as a dancer that it got to the point where I was on crutches during the day to do the show at night,” she explained. “Eventually, I got the message that this was not sustainable.” When a friend handed her Roth’s book Sweat Your Prayers, Ryan knew her life was about to change. “By the time I had finished page one, I had absolute clarity that Gabrielle would be my teacher,” she said.
Ryan went on to study closely with Roth for the next decade. She learned to dance without injury, and she eventually married Roth’s son Jonathan Horan, a master teacher of 5Rhythms. Though Roth died in 2012, Horan, Ryan, and their colleagues continue to spread her teachings around the world.
For Ryan, the beauty of the practice is that it’s appropriate for everyone. “As a former professional dancer, I’m an exception,” she noted. “5Rhythms is for everyone; age, physical type, gender, experience — none of that matters. The invitation is to come as you are: with your injuries, your heartache, your joy. The question is, ‘Who am I today?’ That’s the starting point.”
According to Dance Tribe spokesperson Marcelino Sepulveda, Ryan has a particular talent for drawing people out of themselves and helping them discover the joy of movement.
“She’s a master at getting people to move so they can become more aware of their own body and true inner wisdom,” he noted.
If you were to observe a roomful of people participating in 5Rhythms, you’d see them move slowly and then move vigorously as the energy of the music grew from gentle to beat-driven before winding back down again. Yet according to Ryan, the heart of this practice is mental as much as it is physical.
“It’s a movement meditation,” she explained. “The dance aspect is an amazing lure to get people to meditate.” Ryan described the way Roth developed the five-part process out of her observations of humans in motion, from children on the playground to adults in mental institutions. She noticed patterns in the way human beings move, and she worked to replicate those patterns in a wave-like series. Each participant undergoes his or her own journey through 5Rhythms, which is why Ryan finds her work as a leader — and a practitioner — so gratifying.
“For me, it’s been a lifeline,” she said. “I’ve learned to take care of myself. Gabrielle used to remind us that each of these rhythms is a teaching, whether someone is stepping onto floor for the first time or thousandth time.”
Ryan will lead Santa Barbara Dance Tribe on Sunday, June 29, from 11am-1pm at the Gustafson Dance Studio. On Saturday, July 26, from 1-7 p.m., Ryan will lead a 5Rhythms workshop at Yoga Soup. She will return to Dance Tribe on Sunday, July 27. To learn more, visit sbdancetribe.com or yogasoup.com.