Soul Shake


There is something glorious about Sundays. Though it marks the end of the weekend—and brings with it the looming dread of Monday—I’ve recently declared to myself (and any who may care to listen) that Sundays are my favorite days. The sun just shines a bit differently on Sunday—unless it’s rainy or overcast, I guess. But even then, there is just something more magical about whatever weather we are experiencing.

Though my dedication to that view of Sundays was recent, my deep appreciation actually began several years ago when I discovered Soul Shake, aka Dance Church, aka Ecstatic Dance. All different names; one true groove.

The first time I heard the name it didn’t exactly captivate me. Shake my soul…how? Dance Church? Hmmm, I love to dance, but “church” is not a word readily used in my vocabulary. And ecstatic? That just sounds a bit out there… far out there.

I had heard good things about the heart-thumping music that took place at Dance Church, and I definitely heard those things from reliable sources. However, for all the aforementioned reasons, I stayed away. That, and because my pocketbook had a bit of trouble coming up with the $8-$15 to get in.

The first time I gave it a try was during an adventure to the World Music Festival. Soul Shake was offered as a workshop and my previous concerns were overshadowed by my curiosity. What did I have to lose? I already paid for it with my admission ticket.

I walked into the all-white room; something like ten or so people were there. There was a DJ table set up, and there were large windows through which you could watch the parading festival goers march about. Fortunately, we were on the second floor, so any dancers who may not want to be seen need not worry. I joined the others as they stretched, and tried to appear as though I knew what I was doing.

As the minutes rushed by, more folks poured in. After about 20-or-so minutes the room was reaching full capacity. The DJ, Jacia Kornwise, called the 60 warm bodies in the room to circle up. One of her first questions was how many of us were new to this practice. Watching the rising arms alleviated some of the tension that had grown in me from being in a new place with all new people.

She spoke of the intention of the dance, and how the music would carry us through it like waves through the ocean. I can’t remember what the intention was that day; something about new beginnings, or blossoming into your true self.

The music carried us as Jacia had said it would. I watched (though this is discouraged), and I danced. Joy overtook the 60-plus people. For me, it was like KABOOM!—a mental-emotional-physical connection that I had never experienced before. At times it felt like too much energy, at others the perfect warm comfort of being at home. Folks who could be my grandparents, others the same age as my parents or friends, even children and teenagers; all weaving in and out of each other’s embrace.

And by that, I don’t mean we danced the way two people dance the Waltz, that isn’t the point. The dance is with yourself, the inner you who really wants to come out and get down with it, but within that dance there are times when you match eyes with others—maybe a moment of awkward connection where you realize how much our society is disassociated from looking into one another’s eyes, or maybe a look that spans an entire song, where you are connected in the deep realization that we are all in this together, dancing humorously and joyously.

From the beginning I was carried like that wave Jacia had spoken of through a rhythm of flowing; we grooved to beat-dropping songs that let me forget how odd I felt and just enjoy the experience of dancing, then we were off to a hair-shaking, body-jumping, mind-losing connection where there was only the music and the movement, nothing else.

A bit exhausted and ready to slow down, we were ushered by the tunes to a place of connection; a place that was familiar. Songs I could feel my heart wanting to sing. All of this was simply magical and it all ended back where it had begun: quiet and calm, but this time less tense and more grateful. All in two hours, a radical transformation: out of my head and into my body.

This was what I had been missing out on. I walked away from that experience wondering why in the hell I hadn’t been making use of this opportunity. I was hooked. By the time I got back in town, I was dedicated to going to Dance Church—no matter how silly it may have sounded or the peculiar looks I may have gotten. Back then it was held at Cafe Culture, which was a great fit, but as that’s now defunct, our new home is at the Dorothy Johnson Center on 16th Street in Chapmantown.

Each week they have different DJ’s, all bringing a different flow or intention they have decided to focus on for that week. Each time I feel more, I get down harder, and I feel alive. And as for the $8-$15—yeah it can still feel a bit steep at times, but being the forward thinking people that they are, those Dance Churchers have it figured out: they have volunteer opportunities to get free entry, and an angel fund where folks can gift money to other dancers who may not have the funds to cover the cost.

It is a glorious experience; a magical way to end your week (or begin your week depending on how you choose to look at it). I invite you to stop by; dancing is optional, but highly encouraged, and it’s pretty hard not to get into the groove.


Dance Church

Sundays at 10am

$8-$15 (sliding scale)

Dorothy Johnson Center




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