Edge Life: What is Trance Dance?
Wilbert Alix: Primarily, trance dance is a form of healing. In our contemporary society, dance has been turned into more of a recreational pursuit or form of exercise, so its spiritual significance has been lost over time.
Edge Life: And with the use of the word “trance:’ it implies an altered state of consciousness?
Alix: For some people, the word “trance” is frightening. But trance is really nothing more than another word for meditation. It’s the state of no mind. Meditation is the state of no mind. The question is, how do you get to that state? When you meditate, you sit in silence for extended periods of time until the mind empties out and you become an empty vessel. Then your spirit can move in. Trance is the same way except the doorway is different. It’s done through catharsis. It’s done through rhythm, sound and movement of the body. And what occurs either in that movement or at the end of that movement is trance, a very deep meditation. Trance and meditation are the same except the path is different. In shamanic cultures, they used trance and in the East they used contemplation and meditation.
Edge Life: What music is used during Trance Dance?
Alix: Historically, there were some types of drum rhythm. And the reason for the drum is because we know that sound instinctively. It is the beating of our heart. So that constant beating sound is a meditative sound. When we’re quiet, we hear it in our bodies. So the beat of the drum moves us into a trance state when the rhythm is unbroken, when it’s in a constant pattern. At some point, the brain stops listening to it and trusts that it’s there. And what you find yourself doing, if you listen to the rhythm, along with particular breathing patterns we suggest, along with the use of a bandana to shield the eyes, along with movement, is experience a gradual dissociation with your ego. Now, this dissociation with your ego is not permanent. It’s a temporary place that you go to, but what happens is, when you come back out of trance, less of your ego is there and more of your higher self is intact — more of your intelligent self, more wisdom. Which is why people who dance over extended periods of time notice a marked increase in the frequency of insights and revelations.
Edge Life: What do you recall from your first introduction to Trance Dance?
Alix: My first introduction to dance, rhythm, movement and the bandana actually were part of moving meditations that were primarily through Rajneesh. Rajneesh was quite gifted in understanding that the Western mind has a difficult time going empty, being still. So to ask a Westerner to sit in meditation is to subject him to years of doing nothing. He understood that if you moved, and removed your dominant sense, vision, that it’s easier for the mind to quiet down. So we see these principles in trance dance. When you wear the bandana, you remove 90 percent-plus of your perception of reality. Most of our perception of reality comes from our visual sense, because our eyes come right out of our brain. You can remove your sense of hearing, your sense of smell, and things change but not as dramatically. Take away your visual sense and everything changes. When you take it away, you become quiet. When we were first getting into what we would call trance dancing, which at that time was much more like moving meditation, it was about 1988 or ’89. The first time I trance danced was quite remarkable, because I went in with an intention of healing an aspect of my body, something that had been chronic for a long period of time. I had tried everything but I could not find anything to heal me. In trance dance, one of the things we talk about is that you must be willing to have a clear intention when you go into the dance. This is really what invites spirit into you and it directs the course of your dance. So I went in with the intention of healing an aspect of my body – my lower back. So I’m in this dance and I began to have an experience of deep memories connected with my parents in relation to money. It was fascinating because it was not expected, and at a point in the dance, it became emotional, because I saw the struggle of my family in relation to money issues. Interestingly, I began moving my body in a way that I’d never moved my body before, especially my lower back. And from that point on, I have not had any difficulty with this part of my body.
Edge Life: So it was healed?
Alix: I like to say it was healed, but I’m careful about making those kinds of definitive statements. However, I have noticed overwhelmingly those types of experiences. Recently a guy came in and did trance dance and his intention was to heal an aspect of himself that had been very much removed from his life because his father died when he was 12. He went into the trance dance with the intention of reclaiming a piece of himself that he felt he had lost when his father died. He said that during the dance, he had very vivid connections and images of his father, which was great but, he said, what happened afterward was remarkable. He went home that night and for the first time in his life, he had a lucid dream, and his father came to him in the dream. He said his experience was so real, and that he and his father talked about everything they would have talked about since he was 12 up to where he was in his life at that point. Then, he said, his father began to talk to him about what happens after you die. He wrote me a letter and said that it had been 72 hours and he had not gone to sleep yet after that experience. He said the energy in his body was so overwhelming. He wrote, “Obviously what was disconnected from me when my father died came back to me in this dance, and the energy that I have is what I realize I have not had all these years. It’s so overwhelming I’m having a difficult time closing my eyes and going to sleep.”
Edge Life: So in the healing process, the dance works with the thoughts that originally created the lack of balance.
Alix: Yes. The origin of that pattern of thinking or belief system is sometimes so embedded in our consciousness that we can’t reach it through contemporary methods. Trance dance is pure energy. You are in a place in which you are pure energy. At the level of spirit, anything is possible. Trance dance is the vehicle by which you become that energy – with intention, and that’s what makes it remarkable.
Edge Life: When did Trance Dance begin to become more widespread?
Alix: You have to make a distinction. There are a lot of people doing what we call trance dance. The rave movement involves young people getting together and doing what they call trance dancing. What we call trance dance started around 1989, and we make the distinction that our purpose for trance dancing is healing. Therefore, we have certain induction techniques that are unique, and we don’t see anybody else doing it. One in particular is the use of the bandana to shield the eyes. It is something people pay attention to that indicates the power of that technique. It does remove the ego’s participation. The bandana also removes anxiety. Most people when they dance don’t really dance, because they’re concerned about how they look. If everyone in the room is blindfolded, it doesn’t make any difference. At some point, the brain relaxes and allows you to get into the experience, so you find that you are capable of doing things in this dance that you have had difficulty with in your life. A remarkable thing I’ve discovered about trance dancing over the years is that if you can do it in the dance, you can do it in your life. Trance dance is a great vehicle for working through things, literally, whether it is at the level of your mind or your body; because the body holds memories. You go into the dance with intention and find you will be moving through your intention physically in your body. So trance dance is a great metaphor for life. That’s why we call it “Trance Dance: The Dance of Life” You really are dancing your life.
Edge Life: Tell me about the growth of the movement.
Alix: Trance dance has been prolific in Europe for eight or nine years. The music came after the work on trance dancing. We started work on trance dancing by researching cultures that use dance for healing purposes, for rites of passage purposes, and then we started looking at the types of music to use. We used a lot of indigenous, organic, tribal music. As often as we can, we try to provide live music, and then we started to look at creating music ourselves. The first CD was The Breath of Fire, then we did Spirit Animal, and then a CD called Energize. That was the one Island Records heard playing in a disco in Europe, and then they contacted us. Initially, they were interested in the music, and then they began to learn about the story behind the music. They became captivated by the story and wanted to turn this into something to attract the general public to trance dancing, and that was Shaman’s Breath. A second CD will be out in a few months.
Edge Life: Are there different intentions within the different recordings?
Alix: Yes, the Spirit Animal recording was done based on dancing your spirit animal. In shamanic cultures, a technique they used for healing was what we would now call soul retrieval. In the Natale Institute, we like to call it soul hunting. The concept is that every time you experience a traumatic event in life, it actually is a close encounter with power, whether it was power yielded upon you by your parents or by nature — any kind of power in which you were hurt or damaged. And in every circumstance like that, you lose a piece of your soul. At times in our lives we find ourselves being less optimistic, less energetic, less alive, unwilling to solve a problem, unwilling to forgive, trying to control a relationship, and it’s because we are lacking a piece of our energetic self – our soul. There needs to be a legitimate, spiritual way in which the soul part can be retrieved. Unfortunately, a lot of those spiritual tools have been removed from our society. We turned everything into a psychological problem, a mental problem, a physical problem only. We divorced ourselves from the idea that this damage and disease that we are experiencing is happening at the level of the soul. Collectively, we are even dealing with it at the level of the planet. When we rob the planet of her natural resources, it is an issue of the soul. So humanity, collectively, is like a soul. You can look at this at the level of the individual, and you can look at this at the level of countries that battle with each other for possession of the soul. The question is, how do you get these soul parts back? In soul hunting, trance dancing is one of the ways to do that. Soul hunting has the belief that to get a soul part back you need to have an ally, a strength, to help you retrieve it, because when you lost a part of your soul, you lost some of your vitality. The spirit animal is your ally that you need when you go on this journey. We believe that in order to hold onto your connection to your spirit animal, you must be willing to dance the animal. So the Spirit Animal music was created as a track of music to use when we do spirit animal journeys, soul hunting work and also trance dance when we are going to make a connection with the spirit animal. This is why indigenous cultures for thousands of years had dances like animals. You see it in Native American and other aboriginal cultures. They all danced the animal.
Edge Life: Tell me about the institute that sponsors Trance Dance.
Alix: The Natale Institute is in 12 different countries. It was founded in 1979 as a supplement to traditional forms of education and therapy. In the beginning, the work we did was life-skills oriented, and it still is. We offer many courses and workshops that are not in the shamanic vein, such as work on relationships, self-esteem, communication, honorable sexuality and manifesting – a lot of very important and spiritually based skills that we need to know. The life skills curriculum moves you from a “show me and I’II believe it” mentality to a “believe it and it will show” consciousness. A natural progression for the institute was toward more and more spiritual connections. For us, shamanism and an earth-based spirituality made sense. From a shamanic point of view, the perception of God is the intelligence in nature, and that nature is the greatest representation of truth on the planet. We have a very close relationship with nature, and it doesn’t take a genius to tell you who’s in charge. We could all disappear and nature would continue to thrive. If it goes, we’re gone. So we looked at shamanic cultures and found very powerful rituals that can help us heal ourselves at the level of spirit. Our spiritual curriculum is based on the work of Marija Gimbutas, author of The Age of the Great Goddess. Trance dance became a vehicle to really reach out to the entire population, but specifically to some of the younger people who were instinctively dancing anyway, but not really understanding what they were doing in the rave movement. To this day, we continue to make connections with some of the rave people to introduce a spiritual element into the rave. I think rave is a good idea, but it is missing the spiritual component. Some rave organizers understand the spiritual purpose, such as Matthew Fox in California.
Edge Life: I don’t believe he is using the bandana in his dances.
Alix: No, I don’t know anyone other than us who is doing this, and because we use the bandana, we take the responsibility to make sure the environment in which the dancing occurs is safe. This is an obvious consideration when someone is dancing, sometimes quite energetically, yet they can’t see. Our training focuses on how to set up the environment so people are physically safe.