Community Through Motion

Flail and writhe like nobody’s watching at coalessence ecstatic dance

Across the wood floorboards at WOW Hall, there’s a frenzy of writhing limbs, bare feet and butts. In fact, someone farted square in my face while stretching. The crowd is intimate, exchanging kisses on the cheek, sharing bear hugs, grinning widely. Clearly, this is a special gathering.

This is Coalessence Dance, a bi-weekly “ecstatic” dance gathering centered on building community through motion.

I stopped by WOW Hall as a newbie and non-dancer, understanding that Coalessence is ecstatic dance (free-form motion to a variety of music) where talking is not allowed. That day, Coalessence hosted guest DJ Dragonfly.

The event began slowly — the setting sunlight and a few early birds filled the large room. I assumed that I would watch 10 or 15 folks twirl around for two hours; I didn’t expect to see a crowd of 98 people flood the room within the first 30 minutes.

An hour passed and the dance floor was taken over by a cohesive, rhythmic mass; despite the music playing over the sound system, each of the dancers seemed to be tuned into a private radio station only they could hear.

“Just tap me on the shoulder if you need me,” says group facilitator Paul Deering to the crowd during a lull in the music, “if you can tell which part of me is my shoulder in that moment.” Deering, who has been involved with Coalessence since the early 2000s, has seen the event undergo dramatic changes over the past decade.

When the group regularly met at the now-closed downtown Tango Center in 2006, Deering and other facilitators (Grace Llewellyn, Zan Akerson and Oblio Stroyman) got pumped when just four people showed up. Since then, the group has been working to cultivate an all-age event for people who want to connect through dance. They post dozens of flyers around town, recruit volunteers for venue set-up and they’re extremely welcoming — and eager, to say the very least — towards newcomers.

Eugeneans dig Coalessence’s new enthusiasm as the group now meets at two locations: the Vet’s Club (Tuesdays at 6 pm) and the WOW Hall (Sundays at 10 am), and typically host 40 to 80 people. There’s a sliding scale fee ($8-$12), but it’s free for first-timers. The crowd is a mix of everyone: toddlers, college kids, professionals, beatniks, town elders. Each person brings a different dance style and skill level to the floor; some people hover on the sidelines, while others go all out.

Among the mass is Llewellyn, a Coalessence facilitator since 2008. Llewellyn started coming to Coalessence to reclaim herself in the midst of single motherhood. She likes to create a space in the center of the floor and mostly dances with closed eyes. “A lot of people come here to dance intimately with other people,” she says, “but there’s also complete freedom to just dance by yourself — that’s what I need. It’s liberating.”

People come to dance at Coalessence for whatever reason; some just come to get loose and flail around. The core values, however, apply to everyone who shares the space: Be vulnerable, don’t judge others and have fun.

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