Early Sunday afternoon, a tight-knit group of 20 or so cluster inside the WOW Hall in downtown Eugene, stretching, chatting in small circles, trickling into the center of the hall.
Then they come together for an opening circle, where they hold hands as a coordinator, Mike Meyer, shares a few words. Participants raise their hands, separate and find their own spaces on the floor, to the sound of recorded, mostly acoustic music that ebbs and flows.
Additional people filter in noiselessly, each one finding their own place on the floor as they stretch, perform handstands, twirl and move effortlessly through the hall - joining together as a sort of deeply emotional, whimsical whirl.
Welcome to Eugene Community Ecstatic Dance, a free-form dance session intended to be without boundaries and without judgment.
"I believe coming inward to our bodies is healing," Meyer said. "Mindfulness is an essential part of the spiritual experience."
Eugene Community Ecstatic Dance is an offshoot of a larger dance organization in Eugene, the Eugene Coalescence Dance group. Paul Deering, one of Sunday's attendees, helped found the Coalescence group in 2006, and brings many of the same members who turn out for Ecstatic Dance.
Both the coalescence and ecstatic dances have guidelines of silence, acceptance and mindfulness, meant to "inspire an ecstatic journey."
"What we do here is really informed by practice," Deering said.
The dances work off a "5Rhythms" approach coined by Gabrielle Roth in the late 1970s, which uses flow, staccato, chaos, lyrics and stillness as a way of drawing together indigenous and world traditions from different branches of philosophy, therapy and psychology.
"The dance has a very natural trajectory," Deering said. "It's kind of like a bell curve."
Community Ecstatic Dance has no admission fee, although there is a suggested donation of $5 to $10 to benefit a variety of "nonbureaucratic" community organizations. The beneficiary this month is KRVM, the radio station affiliated with the Eugene School District.
A sprinkling of ages is represented in the weekly afternoon dances, which on Sunday included couple Benjamin Crandall and Christine Ratchinsky, and Ratchinsky's niece, 4-year-old Abigail.
Abigail, bedecked in face paint imitating a cat, wiggled around joyfully, sometimes joining her aunt and uncle in a group of three, as they swung her round in a circle.
Crandall said Abigail has grown up to the weekly ecstatic dance.
"It's our ritual with her, since she was a baby," Crandall said.
Ratchinsky and Crandall have been participating in the Sunday events for the past five years, but Ratchinsky, a physical therapist, said she's been doing some form of ecstatic dance for about 15 years, ever since she lived in Canada.
"I'm very interested in the movement side of the dance," Ratchinsky said. "The music brings all these different states. And movement is life."
During the process of the dances on Sunday, attendees seemed to find expression in the movement, although the response fluctuated to the music, which at times rotated between world music, electronic beats and a kind of haunting swing.
Some of the participants' reactions to the music seemed painful and slow, some sad, some reminiscent, others joyful. At times, people clasped hands and danced together, silently, shaking back and forth.
According to Meyer, the dance is a process of healing for individual trauma or life experiences, facilitated by its free-form nature.
"Sometimes it's uncomfortable," Meyer said. "People in pain, and in worry, come here."
At the end of the dance, the participants gathered together in a circle, and some shared slivers of their individual life journeys.
"The personal experiences are often very different," Meyer said.
Healing from grief isn't always the focal point of the free-form dance, he said. Sometimes loneliness, alienation, depression or sadness bring people to the doors of WOW Hall every Sunday.
"It's kind of ironic that people are drawing together the most without dialogue," Meyer said. EUGENE COMMUNITY ECSTATIC DANCE When: Sundays, 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. Where: WOW Hall, 291 W. Eighth Ave. Cost: Free, with voluntary donations of $5 to $10 to support multiple community groups More information: firstname.lastname@example.org
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