Gabrielle Roth

Photo credit: Phyllis Lane

Dancing The Soul Back Home

Each of us is a moving center, a space of divine mystery. And though we spend most of our time on the surface in the daily details of ordinary existence, most us hunger to connect to this space within, to break through to bliss, to be swept away into something bigger than us.

As a young dancer, I made the transition from the world of steps and structures to the world of transformation and trance by exposure to live drumming. The beats, the patterns, the rhythms kept calling me deeper and deeper into my dance.

Being young, wild and free, it didn’t dawn on me that in order to go into deep ecstatic places, I would have to be willing to transform absolutely everything that got in my way. That included every form of inertia: the physical inertia of tight and stressed muscles; the emotional baggage of depressed, repressed feelings; the mental baggage of dogmas, attitudes, and philosophies. In other words, I’d have to let it all go — everything.

At the time, I was teaching movement to tens of thousands of people and, in them, I began to witness my own body/spirit split. Between the head and feet of any given person is a billion miles of unexplored wilderness. I yearned to know what was going on in that wilderness, not only in me but in everyone else as well.

And so, movement became both my medicine and my meditation. Having found and healed myself in its wild embrace, I became a mapmaker for others to follow, but not in my footsteps, in their own. Many of us are looking for a beat, something solid and rooted where we can take refuge and begin to explore the fluidity of being alive, to investigate why we often feel stuck, numb, spaced-out, tense, inert, and unable to stand up or sit down or unscramble the screens that reflect our collective insanity.

Dance is the fastest, most direct route to the truth — not some big truth that belongs to everybody, but the get down and personal kind, the what’s-happening-in-me-right-now kind of truth. We dance to reclaim our brilliant ability to disappear in something bigger, something safe, a space without a critic or a judge or an analyst.

We dance to fall in love with the spirit in all things, to wipe out memory or transform it into moves that nobody else can make because they didn’t live it. We dance to hook up to the true genius lurking behind all the bullshit — to seek refuge in our originality and our power to reinvent ourselves; to shed the past, forget the future and fall into the moment feet first. Remember being fifteen, possessed by the beat, by the thrill of music pumping loud enough to drown out everything you’d ever known?

The beat is a lover that never disappoints and, like all lovers, it demands 100% surrender. It has the power to seduce moves we couldn’t dream. It grabs us by the belly, turns us inside out and leaves us abruptly begging for more. We love beats that move faster than we can think, beats that drive us ever deeper inside, that rock our worlds, break down walls and make us sweat our prayers. Prayer is moving. Prayer is offering our bones back to the dance. Prayer is letting go of everything that impedes our inner silence. God is the dance and the dance is the way to freedom and freedom is our holy work.

We dance to survive, and the beat offers a yellow brick road to make it through the chaos that is the tempo of our times. We dance to shed skins, tear off masks, crack molds, and experience the breakdown — the shattering of borders between body, heart, and mind, between genders and generations, between nations and nomads. We are the transitional generation.

This is our dance.


Artist, philosopher and movement innovator, GABRIELLE ROTH (February 4, 1941 – October 22, 2012) was an American dancer and musician in the world music and trance dance genres, with a special interest in shamanism. She devoted her life to honoring and communicating the language of primal movement and experimental theater.

She is the Founder of the 5Rhythms movement system, created in the late 1970s, which focuses on five body rhythms: flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness as “a way to become conscious through dance.” The 5Rhythms have been the subject of at least one Ph.D. thesis, and some academic publications.

As a young dancer in her twenties, she arrived at the Esalen Institute (Big Sur, California) in the mid-Sixties and within a short time was invited by Fritz Perls to teach movement to his Gestalt Therapy groups.  She was a faculty member at The Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health (Stockbridge, Massachusetts) and taught at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies (Rhinebeck, New York). She trained for three years with Oscar Ichazo, founder of the Arica School.

Based in New York City, Gabrielle set up her own experimental theatre company and created a vibrant body of experimental theater work.  Now an international institute, The Moving Center oversees the teaching of her work globally in 87 countries and has certified over 400 teachers around the world.

Gabrielle has been a member of the Actors Studio and directed theatre productions of Savage Love, by Sam Shepard and Joseph Chaikin, at The Culture Project (Mercer Street, New York City).

Along with her husband, Robert Ansell, Gabrielle produced more than 20 percussion-based music albums with her band The Mirrors through Raven Recordings.

Gabrielle and the Mirrors provided music for Michelle Mahrer’s film, Dances of Ecstasy, in which she had an acting credit, appearing as herself. The New York Times review noted that “Whirling Dervishes from Turkey, Orisha Priestesses from Nigeria and Brazil, shaman healers from the Kalahari and dancers in a Gabrielle Roth workshop in New York, pulse to the same beat.”

In 2007 she created the 5Rhythms Reach Out, a non-profit foundation dedicated to bringing her work back to where it started over 50 years ago: to prisoners, inner-city children, the elderly, those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, other dementias, cancer, and other special needs communities.

Over the years, Gabrielle’s unique perspective and passion stretched from the dance floor to the pages of three best-selling books: Maps To Ecstasy: The Healing Power of Movement (1998), Sweat Your Prayers: The Five Rhythms of the Soul — Movement as Spiritual Practice (1998), and Connections (2004).