Dancing into the New Year / The Soul-Healing Medicine of Dance

“We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.”
-Japanese proverb


Solstice Tidings friends!

For all of us in the northern hemisphere, tomorrow is the Winter Solstice.

For the last six months following the Summer Solstice in June, the days have slowly been getting shorter and the nights getting longer.

The change is imperceptible at first, until we reach this darkest time of the year, marked by the darkest day – Dec 21st this year – with the shortest period of sunlight and the longest period of darkness.

But not only is the Winter Solstice the darkest day of the year – it is also the herald of light.

Following the solstice, the days will once again slowly begin to lengthen all the way until the Summer Solstice, when we experience the longest, lightest day of the year in mid-June.

Since the beginning of time, the Winter Solstice has been celebrated across cultures.

Fires, feasts, candles, rituals, dancing – have been seen as a way to keep spirits high during a cold and dark time, to ward off illness and evil spirits, and to bolster people with feelings of hope and resilience as they celebrate the return of the sun and the light.

As new religions sprung up over time, including Christianity, many old and new traditions started to fuse with one another as this was already seen as a sacred and festive time.

In the days of yore, the ancient Romans celebrated Saturnalia, a week-long festival for the god of agriculture – Saturn – leading up to the Winter Solstice. It was a time of feasting, drinking, festivities – and a unique tradition that turned the social hierarchy upside down where masters would wait on their servants and enslaved people were temporarily granted freedom and treated as equals.

The Iranian festival of Yalda is still celebrated today with its roots in ancient times celebrating the birth of the Persian Sun God, Mithra.  Family gatherings, feasts, candles and fires lit all night would celebrate the victory of light over dark.

Now often synonymous with Christmas, Yule is one of the oldest solstice celebrations around. Ancient Nordic peoples celebrated Yule, beginning on the Winter Solstice, when a large log – the yule log – would burn for twelve days while the people feasted, drank, sang carols, and danced.

Dong Zhi is an important festival in China celebrated thousands of years ago as well as today with families gathering to make rice wine, dumplings, and celebrate the balancing forces of yin and yang with the coming arrival of the light to soon balance out the abundance of dark.

For the Native American Hopi tribe of northern Arizona, Soyal is the Winter Solstice celebration that includes rituals for purification, gift-giving, and dancing. It is a time to ceremonially welcome the sun back from its long slumber and invite in protective spirits from the mountains.

The Zuni people of western New Mexico see the Winter Solstice as the beginning of the new year. For them it is marked with a ceremonial dance called Shalako. After several days of dancing, ceremony, and prayers, new dancers are chosen for the coming year, and the cycle of the new year then begins again.

Stoking our inner fire 🌟

And as a child in Minnesota I remember celebrating the Winter Solstice by decorating myself with plastic Hawaiian leis and dancing to festive music in the living room.

Just last week I celebrated the coming Winter Solstice with another kind of dancing ritual.

I attended a three-hour Qoya class, a style of dance that is rooted in authentic freestyle movement, yoga, and shamanic practices. The main goal of a Qoya class is to remind ourselves that our true essence is wise, wild, and free – and to express this through our movement.

It was the exact medicine that I needed at this time of year.

Both the hubs and I had just had the flu a few weeks prior, and even though the main symptoms had resolved, the post-viral syndrome – fatigue, weakness, depression – continued to hang on to both of us.

Similar to the post-covid effects we had experienced earlier in the year, I was again wondering what person had enthusiastically planned all the new projects for next year that I was now looking at with very little energy, interest, or motivation.

I suspected that a person with much more energy and excitement had once lived inside of me, but I couldn’t locate her at that moment.

Had I not already invested $44 on the upcoming Qoya workshop, I knew that I would have found many an excuse to avoid dragging myself out of the house in the cold and dark for three hours of dancing.

Like trying to convince ourselves to meditate when our lives are the most chaotic, it’s funny how it can be such a challenge to give to ourselves what we need the most.

Thankfully my monetary investment got my butt out the door and I arrived at a class perfectly entitled, “Ignite the Light Within” where I set my intention for the day’s class as “today I’m dancing to: return to life.”

Long enjoyed as part of Winter Solstice traditions across time and culture, I found on that day that dancing can truly be the medicine we need to shift our energy at this low-energy time of year.

I left that class feeling renewed, alive.

Whether or not we choose to celebrate the solstice with lit candles and fires burning all night long, we can use dancing as a way to keep our own inner fire stoked and our inner light alive throughout this darkest time of the year.

What does dancing mean to you? 🌟

My own relationship to dancing is long and varied. I officially remember it beginning in kindergarten when I signed up for community dance classes with my best friend, Nicole.

I still remember some of the moves from our recital dance to that 1960s song that laments, “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.”

I continued on with various styles of choreographed dance – ballet, tap, jazz, modern, hip-hop – all the way through college.

Outside of choreographed dance, I always loved going to dance clubs as a twenty-something. You have a couple drinks, lose that pesky self-consciousness and happily dance with all the other uninhibited young folks.

Interestingly, choreographed dancing and alcohol-induced dancing have something in common – both of them are ways to move our body, yet we can easily do either without really being present to the experience, or present to ourselves.

In choreography, someone tells you to move your body this way and so you do.

But it’s not the same as allowing the movement to emerge from within you. It’s an outside-in decision, rather than an inside-out inspiration.

At a club or party, you might drink to lose the self-consciousness that keeps you from dancing freely, but along with your inhibition leaving, so does a part of the real you.

I do think that mind-altering substances can play a role in exposing us to a version of ourselves that exists without all the heavy layers of fear and expectations, the woundedness, the self-consciousness. Used in the right context, psychoactive substances can be ceremonial, they can be fun, they can be healing.

But it can also become a way to keep running away from all of those heavy layers of false-self without doing the work to heal it.

There might be a free-er, wilder, more joyful version of ourselves that lives underneath all those heavy layers, but how free are we really if we have to rely on a substance outside of ourselves as the only reliable way to get us there?

A few years back, standing in a nightclub at a concert of The Midnight, I wanted to dance – but I looked around at all the other stoic Midwesterners standing completely still bopping only their heads to the music, and I felt that familiar rush of self-consciousness and fear.

Instead of dancing because I wanted to, I was frozen in socially-conforming behavior I didn’t want to be frozen in.

I looked over at the hubs, who was blissfully dancing away because he wanted to – and it was in that moment that I thought, I’m so tired of this self-consciousness. Who’s really in control here, me or the fear?

And I thought, I want to heal that. I want to be truly free.

From ‘fun experience’ to healing medicine 🌟

It wasn’t until two experiences that I had earlier this year that I fully realized the magic and power of dance to truly connect us with our soul and spirit.

At a Celtic shaman training in March of this year, one of the very last things we did was dance.

Before dancing, we laid on the ground and the teacher, Amantha, guided us on a shamanic journey to meet our animal helpers and allies. Then we got up, put a blindfold over our eyes, and while Amantha drummed out a beat, we danced as our animal companions.

With all of us blindfolded and doing our own thing, I felt the freedom in that saying: dance like no one is watching.

I slithered like a snake, crept low like a jaguar, reached up to the sky like a bear on its hind legs, soared like an eagle with my arms out wide and narrowly escaped taking out a few people.

During all of this, I could have sworn I was still in the same general corner of the room where I had started dancing.

Which is why I was so bewildered and amazed when we finally sat down and took off our blindfolds…to find that I was halfway across the big room, kitty corner from where I had begun.

Without the ability to over-focus on the experience happening outside of myself – where my attention often is, tied up in thinking about other people, and their experience, and their experience of experiencing me – I had been able to completely focus on the internal experience happening inside myself.

And I felt – ecstatic! The definition of which is: overwhelming happiness or joyful excitement.

I now understood why this particular method of freestyle movement is often referred to as “ecstatic dance.”

Leaving the training that day, completely sweaty and joyful, I drove the four hours back home and mulled over the experience, determined to find it again.

Which I did, about a month later, with my friend Lauren in Boulder, Colorado.

After finishing an extremely intense week of working on and completing a huge work project together, we treated ourselves to an evening of ecstatic dance with a local group.

This time our eyes weren’t blindfolded; they were wide open. The only rules at such an event are: no substances, and no talking on the dance floor.

It’s even discouraged to dance with anyone else. Instead, the intention is an opportunity to dance with your own self – to see what arises within you emotionally and to express that inside-out through your movement.

Anything goes and there’s a feeling of no judgement, as everyone is there for the same experience. To dance freely with yourself. To be fully present to the experience and present to whatever arises, however uncomfortable – or joyous! – that might be.

For me, the experience of leaving an ecstatic dance is completely different from the experience of leaving a choreographed dance class or dance club.

While it is possible, and even encouraged, to incorporate your emotions into a choreographed dance class, it’s also possible to stay completely up in your head, trying to get the steps just right, focusing on how it looks in the mirror instead of how it feels in your body, and possibly even criticizing yourself for not doing it right.

I know I’ve been there often.

I’ve even seen people leave in the middle of dance or aerobics classes because they didn’t feel like they were ‘doing it right.’

And leaving a dance club, we might feel joyous and free, but we might also be half in the bag – not exactly present to the experience, present to ourselves, present to our emotions.

I’ve been there, too.

Don’t get me wrong, I think any experience of dance can be a good thing. And your experience with dancing might be completely different from mine.

But for me, some of these experiences started to feel like more of a shiny façade that in the end, was a bit…empty.

When we take these experiences and fill them instead with our soul and our spirit – it becomes something else entirely!

It then transforms dance from a ‘fun experience,’ to a healing medicine.

Dancing has existed almost as long as human civilization itself.

Across time and culture it has served as a way to bring people together for socializing and bonding, to celebrate and entertain, and as part of cultural ceremony and religious ritual.

It has provided a tool for people to express themselves and explore their emotions, and – it has been used for purposes of healing the body, heart, mind, soul, and spirit.

Gabrielle Roth, the pioneering founder of the 5Rhythms movement-meditation-dance practice created in the 1970s has said of the ancient healing role of dance:

“In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited or depressed, they would ask one of four questions: When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?”

Remembering what we intrinsically know 🌟

But I think our relationship with dance starts way before we make our way into our first dance club, and even before we step foot into our first dance class.

Have you ever turned on music around a toddler? They just naturally start bopping around, completely free, tuned in to the experience, and giving exactly zero fucks about what anyone thinks of them.

We come into this world intrinsically knowing how to dance.

So what happens? Where does that natural inclination go? Why do so many adults answer when asked if they like to dance: “well, yes…but only if there’s some alcohol involved.”

And why is it so much more comfortable to step foot into a dance class than to dance without any choreographed steps, expressing solely from the heart and soul?

Because it feels super vulnerable, right?

Especially if we didn’t grow up in a culture where dancing was just an inherent part of the social fabric.

Without that framework, we grow up and start to feel self-conscious, silly, vulnerable when it comes to dancing from our hearts, just because we feel like it.

Because we watched our elders act this way. And our own children watch us, and learn that this is what it means to be a respectable adult – it means we stop dancing for the pure joy of it.

And it starts to feel too vulnerable to share ourselves in this way, because some part of us knows that dancing is a direct expression of our heart and soul and spirit.

As legendary dancer and choreographer Martha Graham has said, “Dance is the hidden language of the soul.”

And how many of us walk around freely sharing our soul – that truest, most authentic expression of ourselves – with our loved ones, let alone with strangers?

How many of us even expose that truest part of ourselves – to ourself?

Dancing, singing, laughing, weeping – these are spiritual practices🌟

What feelings or fears does dancing bring up for you?

Did you grow up in a culture where it was encouraged and woven into the fabric of life?

Or was it something foreign, lost as you grew up, now connected to self-consciousness and feeling silly and vulnerable?

When you do dance, do you feel yourself fully in your body, expressing from your heart, or do find yourself purely in your head – analyzing, criticizing, comparing?

When dancing, have you ever felt yourself connected to something greater than your physicality, like your soul or your spirit?

Or perhaps even connected to something greater than your soul or your spirit, like a profound feeling of being connected to everyone and a part of everything?

Have you felt through dancing a connection to the Universe, the Divine, the Great Mystery, God?

From a scientific perspective, one of the reasons we feel so good when we dance is that it releases chemicals in the body that make us happy. Feel-good dopamine, mood-stabilizing serotonin, and pain-relieving, euphoria-inducing endorphins are all released when we dance.

But it’s also so much deeper than this.

Dance has the power to be a healing balm, a powerful tool to help move us through challenging emotions.

Of this experience, 13th-century Persian poet Rumi has said: “Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.”

Likewise, 21st-century guru Taylor Swift has famously said: “Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake. Shake it off, I shake it off.”

It is our God-given right to move; it connects us to our spirit, our soul, our divinity.

Dancing, singing, laughing, weeping – these are spiritual practices, they connect us to our sense of being alive.

When we don’t engage in these practices, we cut ourselves off from the deepest experience of ourself: our heart, our soul, and our spirit.

Dancing also reconnects us to the Divine Feminine energy that lives inside all of us regardless of gender, but all too often becomes overrun by our abundant masculine/yang energy.

While our Sacred Masculine energy plays a vital role in our lives, when out of balance it can cause us to overwork our bodies, overwhelm our minds, and override our emotions. Unbalanced, it pushes us to continuously strive, and to live solely from our rational mind, disconnected from our emotions, our intuition, our creativity and self-expression.

Dancing reconnects us to the WildWise woman archetype, the Queen archetype, our inner Goddess energy.

The WildWise woman dances to reclaim her free, empowered essence, and she intuitively knows when she dances that she is engaging in powerfully healing soul medicine.

Dance is healing, it is playful; it is also a path of self-discovery – pushing us to move through deeper and deeper layers of not-self in order to unleash our true essence into the world.

As influential dancer and choreographer Agnes de Mille, has said: “To dance is to be out of yourself. Larger, more beautiful, more powerful.”

How can you start dancing again right now? 🌟

If it feels intuitive to you, you have full permission to get up and move your body!

If you’re not quite sure where to start, let the suggestions below serve as inspiration.

And if you’re feeling self-conscious, silly, or vulnerable – remember this Japanese proverb:

“We’re fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance.”

1. Give yourself permission. At that recent Qoya dance class I attended, I talked to another participant about how interesting it is that everyone appears to feel completely comfortable in this kind of un-choreographed, move-from-your-heart kind of space. She said for her, there’s always someone else there dancing wildly and freely enough that it gives her permission to do the same. And I thought, that’s so true. It’s that Marianne Williamson quote, “as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” And I thought, thank god there are others here to give me that permission.

But then I realized that instead of having to rely on permission from someone else, I wanted to BE one of those people that gives permission to others – to encourage others to express their true, unedited, uninhibited selves. But that kind of self-empowerment begins with first giving permission to yourself to express your true, unedited, uninhibited self.

So, give yourself permission.

2. Go solo. Find somewhere where you can be alone, shut the blinds, close the door. You can dance like no one is watching, or you can create the space where that’s true until you start to feel more comfortable.

3. Create a sacred space. You can do this in a lot of ways – light a candle, burn a little sage or incense, say a prayer, ring a bell, pull an oracle card. Whatever feels special and right to you to help set the stage for this to be a healing experience.

You could also choose to start by meditatively sipping a cup of heart-opening cacao or calming tea. The theobromine found in chocolate and the L-theanine in tea (green/black/white/oolong/puerh tea) can have soothing, mood-enhancing effects on the body and mind that help put you in the right state of mind – or, heart – to dance. But skip any other substances to make this a truly healing experience.

4. Choose music that you love. Any genre, any mood, upbeat or slow, whatever inspires you in that moment. These playlists can get you started..!

Move Your Feet (dance-y grooves to make you move!)
A Ray of Sunshine (explore a more diverse array of feels)
(perfect for your next full moon dance sesh)

5. Drop awareness into the heart. Close your eyes, breathe deeply in and out ten times; then place a hand or both hands on your heart and begin to visualize, imagine or feel your awareness dropping down from your head into your heart.

6. Set an intention for your experience. It could be for healing, for self-expression, for freedom, for growth, for fun or play, etc – the intention can be anything that feels right to you in that particular moment – and visualize placing this intention into your heart.

7. Trust what comes up intuitively. How do you *want* to move?

8. Notice what stops you. Notice if fear stops you or self-consciousness or anything else that overrides you feeling completely free to move in the way you want.

Fritz Perls, MD, psychiatrist and founder of Gestalt therapy has said, “Fear is excitement without the breath.”

In the book The Big Leap, author Gay Hendricks explains what this means: “the very same mechanisms that produce excitement also produce fear, and any fear can be transformed into excitement by breathing fully with it.”

So, notice the fear and breathe deeply into it. If it starts to feel more like excitement, go with that.

9. Get curious. Let it be a practice of inquiry – just notice what emotions come up and let them be there. Thank your emotions for providing you with information from your soul that you can use to grow and heal.
10. Resist the urge to edit or critique. It’s not about choreographing the moves from your head, and it doesn’t matter what it looks like. Resist the urge to observe yourself with a critical eye or a critical voice that wants to edit what you’re doing. When you find this happening, gently shift your attention from your outside awareness back to your inner awareness, paying attention to how does this feel instead of how does this look?

11. Imagine that there’s no way you could do it wrong. Imagine that every single movement you make, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, is divine perfection in motion. Like stringing words together to pray, you’re stringing each movement together in a sacred healing sentence.

Or, as Shel Silverstein, beloved author of A Light in the Attic puts it simply:

“Do a loony-goony dance
‘Cross the kitchen floor,
Put something silly in the world
That ain’t been there before.”


Forgotten HOW to move?? 🌟

Try this…

  • Jump up and down
  • Shake each body part separately, then shake everything all at once
  • Twirl
  • Bounce from foot to foot
  • Reach your arms overhead, sway your body and arms like the branches of a tree
  • Open your heart/chest to the front by opening your arms wide, then open the back of your heart by giving yourself a big hug with both arms
  • Bounce your heart/chest to the rhythm of the beat
  • Shimmy your shoulders back and forth, drop them up and down
  • Bend your knees and bounce your hips, shake your hips side to side
  • Clap your hands, snap your fingers
  • Stop and marinate in a moment of stillness, breathe in and out deeply
  • Lay on the ground and let your body become heavy, feel any heavy feelings inside of you and give them to Mother Earth beneath you as you audibly exhale or sigh
  • Slowly return to standing

Repeat these movements or start to move in any way that feels good to you!

Imagine that you’re three years old again and you don’t even have to think about it, and you don’t give a damn as to what it looks like, or what anyone else thinks about you.

The music comes on and you just bounce, move, DANCE.

Dance to feel.

Dance to laugh and to play.

Dance to remember who you are, to remember your inherent freedom.

Dance to be in connection to everyone and everything.

Dance to heal yourself, and your world.



Solstice Blessings to you, my friend!

However you choose to celebrate between now and the end of the year, may it serve as a way to warm your body, open your heart, and infuse your spirit with hope!

And may it be a reminder of the connection we all share – there is no person or being on this Earth not touched by the sun or affected by its light.

Let our rituals, ceremonies, celebrations – and dancing! – at this time of year remind us of the connection we share with everyone and everything on this planet.

Sending love and healing as you dance your way into the new year!


What’s in a name..?!

Moondance Wellness Coaching: Heal the Soul and the Body will Follow; Support the Body so the Spirit has room to Dance.

Fun Fact: Despite the name and the tagline (above), the business name Moondance wasn’t actually chosen because of any literal association with dancing.

It was always meant to refer more to the figurative dance of life, the metaphorical dance of the spirit – and married to the feminine, intuitive, yin essence of the moon.

I wrote this poem when I was first inspired to name my business Moondance:

It’s funny that once again, I did not mean dancing in any literal sense. I’m a very metaphorical thinker..!

But over the last year, dancing in the *literal* sense has been coming up a lot through the shamanic training that I underwent.

And it’s interesting that the name Moondance was actually inspired by my very first encounter with a shaman, years before I would ever consider that as a path of study for myself. About six years ago I met a shaman in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She told me that I had a lot of ‘moon energy’ and she also told me that my legs were energetically bound and I needed to dance.

But I told her I was trying to let that go as a hobby and looking for a new adult hobby. She advised me, that would be a very bad idea.

So I vowed then that I wouldn’t let dancing go completely as a hobby and continued to seek out classes and opportunities to dance.

And even when I named my business Moondance, I still didn’t really think of dancing as being a tool for healing in the literal sense.

But more and more throughout the shamanic training – via shamanic journeying and the ecstatic dance experiences mentioned earlier – I kept feeling the pull towards dancing, and finally came to see it as a necessary tool of healing.

Something necessary for my own personal path of healing – as that shaman six years prior had once advised –  as well as something to bring to others to support their healing.

Next year I’m hoping to bring the literal ‘dance’ to Moondance as more and more people seem to be feeling this same call back to our primal wild roots and the longing to embody that through the magic of dance!

Perhaps I’ll see you on the dance floor. 🌟

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