I stood up and made my way to the middle of the circle, never feeling more petrified in my entire life. Part of me was on autopilot, not quite believing that I was actually there, about to dance in front of a group of people (with absolutely no idea of what would come next). Welcome to the witness dance.
My good friend Josie Keys is a Sacred Dance teacher and leads Tantric belly dancing and Sacred Union workshops around the world. These are no ordinary belly dancing classes. In fact, it’s quite different from the traditional notion of belly dancing where you learn choreographed steps that are performed as a complete dance. With the tantric witness dance, you learn the basics of hip movement, circles and figure eights, along with a special breathing technique that connects you to your body and to the rhythms of mother earth. You also get to improvise.
Oh, and the other thing? The witness dance is a solo dance that you do in the middle of a circle of women who are literally there to . . . you’ve guessed it “witness you”. Sound like heaven? Probably not to the modern woman and certainly not to me the first time I attended.
I remember when I was about to go into my first gathering. The car was turned off, I was parked and yet I wasn’t opening the door. I was sitting there, as the rain came down that Sunday afternoon in Venice (California), feeling so nauseous, so nervous, and wondering why I had volunteered, nay chosen, to do something that clearly made me feel so wretched.
But fascinatingly, I knew why I was there – because I felt the calling, because there was a part of me that was ready to explore this and because I trusted Josie implicitly; I knew intuitively and from experiencing her as a person, that Josie had a beautiful gift to share.
As they say, the magic happens right outside your comfort zone. And for all my woo-woo, for all my Sacredness, for all my Ceremonies and Magic-Making, there was something utterly terrifying about exposing myself in this way and dancing solo in front of a group of people; like literally one of the most terrifying things I could imagine.
And so, like most experiences where we are pushed or push ourselves outside of our comfort zones, all my defenses (in the form of profound judgments) came up. I was antsy. I was pissy. I was aware of how many times people were going to the bathroom. I was aware of how many times I wanted to go to the bathroom.
I judged myself, I judged others, and I even judged Josie. “What?!,” I remember thinking after an hour of the basic movements when we were informed that we were ready to start the witness dance. “Already? She hasn’t taught us enough. We don’t know enough. We can’t just go and dance in front of these women. This is irresponsible.” I literally had that thought come into my mind. This is irresponsible. What I really was thinking is: this is agony. This is humiliating. I don’t know what I’m doing. I just want to run and run and run.
But I didn’t run. I sat with a churning stomach, with shortness of breath and the deepest feeling of angst I’d had in a long time. I promised myself that I would never EVER make myself do this again. But, even through the angst, in my heart of hearts I knew that my Soul was ready and yearning to cross this precipice even if in my mind I just wanted to go to Sweet Rose Creamery and eat mint chocolate chip ice cream.
And so I stayed. And I watched the dances, the beautiful, powerful and utterly free dances of these brave and gloriously beautiful women (some of whom were as petrified as I was). I witnessed them transform into majestic powerhouses of vulnerability and raw beauty as they danced and they danced and they danced.
And then it was my turn. I closed my eyes. I literally had no idea what was going to happen. Josie started the music. She reminded me to start with my feet hip width apart, to invite in the special breath she had taught us, and finally to start moving my hips from the inside, to just feel the music. She asked me to not fake it in anyway, even if that meant just standing for the entire song feeling the swaying in my hips.
And suddenly there it was. The freedom. I forgot that anyone was watching. I forgot about the notion of performing. I just felt the connection to the music and I felt the sounds and the beat and the rhythm cascade through my body.
I could feel my body moving in ways that were unfamiliar to me. I could feel when I started to consciously “dance” or do a movement that felt like was “performing” in some way and I pulled back; I could literally feel when the resonance of a move was not coming from an authentic place inside, and I would bring myself back to the music, and the telling of a story that my body seemed fully versed in. It became imminently clear that all I had to do was allow it to do its’ thing; to flow and to move and to express itself.
There wasn’t a single moment of self-consciousness while the dance was happening. Just freedom. And a sense of real feminine power from the inside out; like I was being connected (or reconnected) to a beautiful, unknown part of myself.
And when it ended and I opened my eyes and looked at the women who had just witnessed my dance, there were no words. Just a knowing of “Oh yes, this is who you are. This is the beauty and the vulnerability of who you are. And we see it. And we honor it.”
And as soon as I was finished, like a kid who just got off the log flume at the amusement park, all I wanted to do was do it again. And again, and again.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that from that moment on, I walked through the world with a different sense of poise and a deeper remembrance of the feminine energy that lives inside me and flows through me when I allow it. I held myself differently. I looked at people differently. I allowed them to look at me differently. There weren’t as many defenses. And you want to know the most fascinating part? My boobs grew. I kid you not.
According to Josie, this isn’t uncommon – there is an energy that radiates out of our bosom area, an energetic arcline that is well documented in the Kundalini Yoga tradition – and when it is activated in this way, our boobs get more powerful, more pert, more vibrant. And sometimes that means get bigger! Who knew? Certainly not I.
And while I promised myself that was the only time I would put myself through such a nerve-wracking ordeal, I did it again. And again and again.
And each time, with the surrender, the connection, the spontaneous movement from within, both my own and the witnessing of other women in the circle – each as beautiful as the next in their own distinctive ways – it became clear that as women walking this earth, we are powerful conduits for a sacred form of energy that empowers and delights, connects and inspires, and is a gift both to ourselves, and to all those we come into contact with.
This is the energy of healing, of beauty, of wisdom, of remembrance. This is the energy of the Divine Feminine that every woman has access to, if we will (even for one afternoon) allow ourselves to experience the gift of being witnessed as our true, authentic, beautiful selves.
So, if you want to bring more deliciousness into your life, see the world more vibrantly, feel more sexy in your skin and enjoy a deeper connection to your feminine self, look for a witness dance circle or something similar near you. It’s a truly life-affirming experience.
And because Josie is such a goddess, she’s given us all a gift of introduction to the experience. Below, is a self-witnessing practice that you can do in the safety and the comfort of your own home in about 20 minutes. It’s a great first step towards being fully witnessed in a group setting and can be a profoundly beautiful experience, making your eyes shine and your skin glow in a way that money just can’t buy. And that, my friends, as they say, is priceless.
THE SELF-WITNESSING PRACTICE
by Josie Keys
- Find a time you can be alone and private for 20 minutes (use a timer if you’d like)
- Adorn yourself in beautiful clothing or scarves. Or if you’re alone and feel like it, take off your clothing (I do this practice naked, with only a hip scarf on)
- Put on some rousing music that helps you to feel emotional (I like Ludovico Einaudi, but it can be anything that moves you)
- Lie down on your bed or couch
- Run your fingertips lightly over your face, neck and hair, noticing the tension and noticing how the love in your own touch melts it away. Keep moving your fingers down your arms to the your breasts, belly, legs.
- Listen to the music and start dancing your hands as they move across your skin, keeping contact with your own body at all times.
- Once you have done this for 5 or 10 mins (use your intuition about when you are ready), get up and dance to the music WHILE you keep running your hands over your skin. Get into it. Mess up your hair, jump around, cry, whatever comes. Keep going until your piece of music is done or the timer goes off.
This is a quick an effective way to feel who you really are as a feminine person. Graceful, emotional, sad, angry, or massively self conscious, whatever it is, its OK. This process activates your Shakti energy (feminine energy). Even if you feel very vulnerable, trust me, its perfect. People will notice your beauty all day!
Photo by Dar’ya Sip