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Power and Love in Biodanza

This writing is a section of my monograph entitled Coming Home which was submitted as part of my journey to becoming a Biodanza facilitator.


In Biodanza, the Yin and Yang Dances are seen to be complementary and are proposed successively in the same class before moving on to integrate the two impulses. First comes the Yang dance which stimulates the sympathetic-adrenergic system and then the Yin Dance, which stimulates the parasympathetic-colinergic system. After this in the integration phase, the dance passes from one form of expression to the other without interruption. Yang and Ying forces are present in all human beings independent of gender and sexual identity.                                   (Rolando Toro)

Biodanza provides a beautiful space for experimenting with these forces by pushing them to their extremes and then holding the tension of the opposites in real life. This is no easy matter.  Adam Kahane[1] writing on the theme of Leadership, speaks of the need to prevent ourselves from going so far with our power that we lose touch with our love or so far with our love that we lose touch with our power. He says that the path to doing this requires us to build up our awareness of and openness to feedback about how we are exercising our power and our love and with what results. He also writes of the fear that holds us back from achieving this integration. We hold back on our purposefulness and our power because we are afraid of offending, or hurting others. We hold back our openness and our love because we are afraid of being embarrassed or hurt.

The danger of allowing one of these to dominate has been eloquently expressed by Martin Luther King Junior.

Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anaemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love… It is precisely this collision of immoral, power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our time.

1. The Healing Power of Biodanza.

As I have tried to show in the first two parts of this section of my monograph, I have experienced the enormous healing benefits of Biodanza in giving me the space to re-design and re-experience my engagement with both yin and yang dimensions. I have also been blessed by a close biodanza friend on two different occasions over the past three years where she has sought me out to hold the boundaried space for her while she courageously looked her fear straight in the face. On the first occasion she went beyond the edge of previous limits as a sexual being and on the second she entered fully into her power. It was an amazing gift to be asked to witness and hold these opposing, yet complementary dimensions of her essence.

So this is an important and meaningful gift that Biodanza brings to participants and to the world. It creates the possibility for men and women to explore their boundaries together in a safe emotional and embodied way. Yang and harmonic opposition dances provide an opportunity for men and women to discover and stand in their own power and to work on knowing and expressing their own boundaries without fear. Many men (myself included) have learnt at an early age to be scared of a woman’s power. Harmonic opposition dances give each person to experience this strength and to maintain one’s own boundaries.

Harmonic opposition dances between men could be encouraged as boundary setting is usually avoided until conflict is inevitable. As an example of this man to man experience, after a powerful men only yang dance at the 2011 Encounter, we were invited to embrace another man. My partner started breathing deeply and I decided to match him and we breathed deeper and deeper until we shouted out loudly together – an enormous release for both of us. He came to me afterwards and said how meaningful that had been and so different from any similar experience he had had with a woman.

Similarly I have been given the gift of unknowingly being witnessed as I did a solo dance of integration of yin and yang. At the start of the last day of the 2009 Encounter I was feeling very emotional after a wonderful connection with several people against the background of two dysfunctional knees. I got up early and went to the hall and put on my own choice of a powerful piece of slow tango music. I entered the music fully and danced my sadness and elation and love and joy and by the time I had finished I was totally spent but triumphantly tearful with my eyes closed. I felt a presence in front of me and was then held by a fellow-dancer who had observed me and who told me that it had been the most amazing dance of power and love that he had ever witnessed! It was such an amazing gift that I was able to welcome with open arms.

2. Taking Up the Challenge: Acknowledging the Shadow.

So it should be clear that I believe that Biodanza has a very strong role to play in bringing men and women together to experience the full scope of their Power and Love in themselves and in relationship to each other. I believe that Biodanza is uniquely placed to make a significant contribution to increasing the understanding between men and women and decreasing the current levels of emotional and physical violence. By the nature of its engagement with the biology of change, Biodanza allows dancers to reconstitute their structures and to have powerful experiences that can re-write their histories in service of more harmonic meetings between men and women; men and men; and women and women.

However, I want to tug at several threads of concern that I have about what may be shadow aspects of Biodanza that remain unresolved and which I think will detract from this possible contribution to society. In raising these concerns, I am fully aware that what I will write is subjectively based on my own lived experience. I have attempted to make some of this ‘biased structure’ clear to the reader through the inclusion of parts of my biography, but I am aware that this cannot ever be thorough. I am also aware that the data and examples that I give in this monograph are few (I have had to be selective); that I am an active observer and participant in each event and therefore influence the event (a la Heisenberg’s Principle); and that, although I have danced to date on three continents, the examples I have used mainly come from a South African setting. Nevertheless I believe the topic is sufficiently important and has a global validity and my learning from James Hillman included an appreciation that fault-lines lie in the system rather than the individual, so I will continue and hope the reader is rewarded with some food for thought. Finally, in looking at the system itself I want to open up possibilities and caveats for my own future actions in this area.

2.1 Feedback. I believe that the practice of giving and receiving feedback is one of the most fundamental and crucial contributions Biodanza offers participants. I think the need for continual stressing and practice of this is essential. I have written earlier about my car ride to the first Encounter and the unwelcome attention one passenger was getting from a fellow dancer. I am a member of weekly international Biodanza Skype support group of teachers or teachers-in-supervision and one of the group was explaining how this is still very much a problem for her. She said that she knows she is not constant in her boundaries – these depend on her mood. On some days she is open to more contact and on others less. And she has experienced that people seem to expect her to remain constant in her boundaries each day and are not willing to adapt to the new situation. One of the consequences of our rule-bound Complicated world is that we look for regularity and order. If the topic of feedback could be raised and discussed more often and more openly in class – particularly with reference to its inevitable fluctuations in desired closeness and boundaries, Biodanza could make a huge contribution to teaching us how to live with Complexity. In particular, one of Charles Handy’s Lubricants for Change[2] is ‘negative capability’[3] which requires one to be able to stay in uncertainty without rushing for certainty or fixed rules.

2.2 Yang Energy. I want to start my thoughts on this topic by recounting two vignettes that occurred at the 2011 African Encounter where the theme specifically focused on the masculine and feminine.

The first concerns us being taken to the edge in a Yang dance. At different stages the facilitators (Sergio and Myrthes) worked separately with the men and women. A highlight for me came when both men and women were asked to perform separate Yang dances. When it was the women’s turn, Myrthes stepped fully into her power and demonstrated her interpretation of the yang dance for women with primal energy. She invited the women to dance their boundaries – especially to prevent abuse. The women picked up on this and with vocal and physical power really went to the edge and raised the roof.

I experienced the effect that this dance had on the women when we moved on to the dance of harmonic opposition in pairs. The room was split into three groups so as to give more space for the dance. Not by chance I had the first dance with my friend who had sought me out in the personal development course and we really got into the opposition work. When the music stopped and we hugged and I started moving to sit down. I was stopped and asked to dance again by a woman who wanted to stay with her power and knew that I could handle it. So I danced again, only to find the same thing happening when I tried to sit out for the third dance. So I ended up dancing all three dances!

In contrast, in the introduction to the men’s yang dance at the same Encounter a softer version of the masculinity was introduced that, to me, seemed to speak more to an integration of yin and yang. Now one of the wonderful understandings of a biodanza vivencia is that yin and yang are two sides of the coin and once a teacher introduces yang energy, s/he should make sure that integration takes place through the offering of a yin dance. However, I do not believe that this should mean that the yang dance gets diluted – especially when done by men given the context described in the previous section. This watering down of the essence of the male yang dance had echoes of the feedback I had received in the facilitation course about the scary look that was on my face when I did yang dances which made some people fearful. I was told that it would be good if I could soften my face in yang dances to show more of my vulnerability. The story I have shared in this section of the monograph about my journey into yang and boundary work should help the reader understand how showing such vulnerability would be a personally retrogressive step that would undermine my intentional signal of an integrated serious setting of boundaries.

This request to show a vulnerable face when doing a yang dance of boundaries would be akin to asking a Maori warrior who sets a firm boundary for strangers with war paint and actions to offer the opposition a soft and vulnerable face. Such vulnerability would transform the New Zealand rugby team’s famous haka! On a visit to New Zealand I discovered this photograph of my look-a-like Maori chieftain, Chief Te Pui, and this is the photograph that I use on my current CV that is posted on Campus notice boards!

After this 2011 Encounter had ended, the opinion was expressed that Myrthes had been out of order in her demonstration of the yang dance as she had been far too forceful and her demonstration had encouraged an enormous power in the women that had totally scared the men present. The yang of womanhood is in fact a joyful expression in the dance of how far women have come and are not only victims in relationships.

I accept the point being made here that there are many aspects to the yang of both men and women and that there is great value in working with the joyful integration with yin energy. The point I want to make here is one that looks forward to the possible contribution that Biodanza can make in the war against the abuse of women. I believe that it was good for the men to feel and experience the strength and pain of women at a visceral level and that this could be done more intentionally. I believe that one of the many aspects of the gender war is the need for women to express their anger at their diminishment by the male-dominated society. So I weep for the many women who are married to men who cannot accept and hold their power without feeling threatened. I think it is this fear that contributes to the leaked violence on women and I salute Myrthes for having had the courage to invite the women to take that step up.

Courage means to have the capacity to challenge our own shadow – to enter into the mystery of our own pain and frustrations, to search in the shadows and to emerge towards the light… We need the courage to challenge fear, external oppression and to confront suffering.

I believe that Biodanza provides an excellent environment for participants to find this courage in a safe environment and to relive and re-experience past hurts in a healing manner and I believe that this is an area where Biodanza could make an enormous contribution.

  • Boundaries

I think Biodanza’s shadow and the dilemma it finds itself in rests in the challenge of fully integrating the yin and the yang. The very nature and conception of biodanza and its foregrounding of Life and Love at the Centre of the Universe as well as its moves towards the numinous unconscious mean that there is a strong emphasis on the Yin that permeates the essence and structure of biodanza. So in the name of Love, less attention is paid to what is happening in the shadows so inevitably power relationships develop. But, because they are in the shadows, there is no easy way or language available to address unease or issues as they arise – and then they get mistakenly seen as personality differences between the various role players!

In order to balance Yin and Yang energies there is a strong need to pay particular attention when the Yang is missing or when there is discomfort around the presence of Yang energy. If this careful attention is not paid to the Yang, Biodanza runs the risk of falling prey to Martin Luther King’s accusation of Love without Power being anaemic and sentimental.

The Sword of Discernment is an essential tool of Biodanza and the Biodanza facilitator. If the presence of Love is foregrounded at the expense of Power we get the situation where loose boundaries dominate. This can lead to certain people graduating as facilitators around the world without having paid attention to their lack of understanding of feedback and others who have not learnt that it is crucial for the facilitator to hold strict boundaries as far as relationships are concerned with his/her students. Rules and expectations for facilitator training and graduation can lie in the unmediated hands of a single inevitably (as has been argued earlier) subjective person with no external course for redress. We also inevitably get situations where, for example, in pursuit of equal numbers of men and women, an unsuitable male with minimal biodanza experience was allowed to participate in a marathon encounter and soon showed that he had no concept of feedback and behaved inappropriately towards the women present. If we were serious about boundaries this would probably not have happened in the first place and, if it had, it would immediately have been picked up through careful procedures of communal rather than individual feedback.

This dilemma and the paradox that a strongly coded system such as Biodanza that foregrounds Love also needs an equally strong emphasis on Power in my opinion is crucial. I believe that there were several examples of this paradox in some of the behavior that I observed in Rolando himself. For example, at the first workshop I attended in Sao Paulo, I can remember Rolando laying the foundations of Biodanza and its theory, explaining how the historical roots of biodanza also owed a great deal to a move against the oppression and violence in Chile at the time and how it was important to resist bad leaders. Rolando spoke passionately on this topic and then went on to single out George Bush as an evil leader. Henco pointed out this contradicted with a Love at the Centre philosophy and asked what criteria could be used to decide who should be loved and who should be hated and who was in a position to make this decision. Rolando responded by assuming that Henco was a George Bush fan and was trying to defend him – a clear example to me of the shadowy challenge of the need for Power to be included upfront in a system of Love.

  • The Way Ahead.

The most subversive of all the disciplines is the one that is based on the respect for life, the enjoyment of life and the right to love and contact.               (Rolando Toro)

At the time of the Million Rising campaign, a dear Biodanza colleague sent out a powerful email contribution in which she argued that it was time for us all look deep into our consciousness and see how our own inner Masculine drives belittle and disrespect our inner Feminine drives. In a similar fashion our inner Feminine often disrespects our inner Masculine. She believes we need to heal our personal inner chauvinism through paying attention to our inner wounded masculine and feminine aspects. I can fully support this plea for each of us to do this important inner work.

In addition I think the world is in crisis and needs drastic intervention and renewed awareness.  Margaret Wheatley[4] thinks we have gone beyond the tipping point of civilization and that it is now time for what she calls the ‘Shambala warriors’ to arise and do the work that needs to be done without hope for the future or fear!

I believe that I am being called upon to use the experiences and understandings of Power and Love that I have described in this chapter in an attempt to make a significant contribution to addressing and integrating the masculine/feminine divide at individual, inter-personal and intra-personal levels. It is for this reason I have chosen to look the topic straight in the eye from both a personal and systemic perspective.

In deciding to hear this call to make a contribution to this field, I need to understand and embrace the many challenges and shadows that I have enunciated in this chapter. In particular, I need to understand that it will take more than just Love to address the deep divisions. Power must also be present so that I set strict boundaries in order to open the space for all parties to give and receive the essence of themselves – in safety and security with full trust in the presence of the other. In order to promote healing, Yang dances also need to be strongly entered by both men and women without dilution. When Sanclair intervened in my dance and told me to let go more I listened and moved to a new place, when he forced a colleague to experience a grounded dance he was taking action in the direction of his beliefs and purpose. The Sword of Discernment brings purposefulness – I think I need to sharpen my facilitation sword – ‘the darkness around us is deep’[5]!

In this regard, it was wonderful to see the international connectivity of biodanza when my excellent translator at the Cezar Wagner workshop, Marlies de Hoogh, used both poems and pictures from the Untamed section to underline the importance of her workshop, Awakening the Inner Warrior. One of the crucial forward steps will be for me to seek out appropriate co-facilitators for this work such as Marlies. Tackling these topics through a collaboration between a male and female facilitator provides an opportunity for the necessary integration of Power and Love and masculine and feminine to be modeled for students. I look forward to embracing these future challenges as a Biodanza facilitator.

Eve Ensler wrote the following poem called Man Prayer[6] for the One Billion Rising campaign:

May I be a man:
Whose confidence comes from the depth of my giving.
Who understands that vulnerability is my greatest strength.
Who creates space rather than dominates it.
Who appreciates listening more than knowing.
Who seeks kindness over control.
Who cries when the grief is too much.
Who refuses the slap, the gun, the choke, the insult, the punch.
May I not be afraid to get lost.
May I cherish touch more than performance.
And the experience more than getting there.
May I move slowly not abruptly.
May I be brave enough to share my fear and shame.
And gather the other men to do the same.
May I stop pretending and open the parts of me that have long been numb.
May I cherish, respect and love my mother.
May the resonance of that love translate into loving all women and living things.

This poem provides a powerful blueprint for me to aspire to as I interact with others and attempt to serve society.

[1] Adam is the author of Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of Talking, Listening, and Creating New Realities, about which Nelson Mandela said: “This breakthrough book addresses the central challenge of our time: finding a way to work together to solve the problems we have created.” He is also the author of Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change.

[2] See his book Beyond Certainty

[3] A phrase coined by the English poet, John Keats, in a letter to his brother.

[4] See her new book So Far From Home: Lost and Found in Our Brave New World

[5] From William Stafford’s poem, A Ritual to Read to Each Other.

[6] Film by Tony Stroebel available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nj7Zw4P8LPo