The Book of Gabrielle Roth

Gabrielle Roth

(1941 – 2012)

Gabrielle Roth is the creator of the 5Rhythms dance practice, which is also universally known as Sweat Your Prayers. I first heard the latter name in a dance studio in Ottawa. And when I mentioned that name when I first arrived here in Victoria all those years ago, I was directed to the local Ukrainian church where Joanne Winstanley, www.danceherenow, then in teacher training, was holding space for the dance.  The 5Rhythms, which make a Wave, are usually described this way:

The first is Flow, a feminine energy, which is all about spirals and circles, originating with the In-breath. This moves into Staccato which is a masculine energy, all about edges, which originates with the Out-breath. These two are then combined in Chaos, where the basic movement is constantly moving from one foot to the other, with the body completely released like a rag-doll. This intense part of the dance then moves into Lyrical which is a very expansive and joyful movement which culminates in Stillness where a person may move from holding one shape to another. Many of us finish up on the floor in complete Stillness or, occasionally, in the embrace of another dancer.

After a preliminary warm up, or what we might call “arriving”, It takes about an hour and a half to dance a Wave which everybody does in their own way i.e. there in no “right” way to do this practice.

From Victoria, it is only a couple of hours by ferry and car to Olympia, Washington, where Amara and Sarah Pagano were in the process of creating the largest 5R dance tribe in the Pacific Northwest. So I then also spent many happy years with them there; and now, whenever I happen to be in Maui, to which they then moved, leaving their studio in the loving hands of Liz, who in 2015 moved to Portland, and Ronnie Temple who is keeping the practice going, I have danced with them there

It is a little more challenging to get to Seattle where Christine Havens, www.who worked with Gabrielle for twenty-three years, and has been certified as a teacher for fourteen, holds space for us. I have had many good experiences with her and it was at one of her workshops that I first met my Beach Dance friend Lisa.

But the simple fact of the matter is that I have never, anywhere else, ever in my life, encountered so many loving and trusting human beings as I do on 5Rhythms dance floors. And if you come in from out-of town, as I often do, someone will always provide a place for you to stay.

So, for example, whenever I want to go to Vancouver for one of Bettina Roth’s workshops,, Lori and Fergus Denhamer will billet me.

Another experience happened in 2013,  in Asheville, North Carolina, when my long-time Olympia dance friend Visudha, www.moveandbemoved ,who used to billet me all the time in Olympia, came there from Taos, New Mexico, where she now lives, to give a weekend workshop. In this case I found myself in the heart of the Smoky Mountains in a snowstorm ~ and I hate snow!! ~ with a wonderful man named Trey who is an organic farmer ~ who  provided a home for me.

I danced with her again a few days later in near-by Charlotte where my son lives.

Lastly, it never ceases to amaze me, because there can be a lot of physical contact towards the end of some of the workshops ~ puppy-piles ~ that hands never seem to get in the wrong places. But, sadly, and given the nature of the practice, there will always be some ~ usually older and lonely single males but occasionally some “macho” ones who clearly believe that they are God’s gift to women~ who come not to sweat their prayers, but to have as much physical contact as they can with the attractive young women who usually dance so magnificently.

In that connection, I find it such a joy to witness someone like Liz Temple totally lost in the Chaos dance with their hair flying.

Gabrielle Roth


And the fact that I am no longer as able to do that as I was when I began ~ not that I ever had enough hair to let fly! ~is something that I am coming to accept as being okay.

Anyway … time now to let Gabrielle speak for herself with an awareness, as Wikipedia reveals, that her early life was not easy. But, first, someone once asked her during a workshop where she would position 5Rhythms compared to other dance practices. She turned around, laughed and replied: “Do you really think that this practice is about dancing!!” because her challenge to the dancers is “Do you have the discipline to be a true spirit.” So, in that sense 5Rhythms, like Buddhism is all about the practice.

So here she is in all her glory:

The 5Rhythms community is a 21st Century Tribe unbound by history, culture, race or religion, gender or politics. We are bound by the beat, following our feet on a dancing path to freedom. We are beat-driven, service oriented, heart based individuals who come together to embrace our tribal longings.

The measure of a community is its respect for the wisdom of the elders, the innocence of its children, the passion of its artists and the hope of its healers.

Love is not a mood but a dynamic way of being.

There is only One of us here.


God is the dance.

There is no dogma in the dance.

Our soul, our true self, is the most mysterious, essential and magical dimension of our being. In fact it is not a separate reality as traditional Western thought views it, but the cohesive force that unites our body, heart and mind. It is not a ghost trapped somewhere in the machinery of our body but the very essence of our body.

Between the head and the feet of any given person  are a billion miles of unexplored wilderness. The question I ask myself, and everyone else, is, “Do you have the discipline to be a free spirit?” Can we be free of all that binds and bends us into a consciousness that has nothing to do with who we are from moment to moment, from breath to breath?

Dance is the fastest most direct route to the truth ~ not some big truth that belongs to everybody, but the get down and personal kind ~ the what’s-happening-to-me right-now kind of truth

The dance is where soul is released and spirit ignited …. and so we move, fueled by the ecstatic language of 5Rhythms; that is movement as spiritual practice, a dancing, kinetic prayer of concentration to the unpredictable mystery of it all.

Dancing, singing, storytelling and silence are the four universal salves. 

Disease is inertia. Healing is movement. If you just set people in motion, they will heal themselves….. Movement is the medicine.

Each of us is a moving centre, a space of divine mystery ….

In your deepest centre, you are the still point. You are the rhythm beyond stillness, the feeling beyond compassion, the sexual energy beyond celibacy, the life force beyond death, the vibration beyond inspiration. The moving centre is within you.

If you want to still the mind, move the body.

Energy moves in waves, waves move in patterns. Patterns move in rhythms. A human being is just that, energy, waves, patterns, rhythms. Nothing more, nothing less. A dance.

Movement is my medium and my metaphor. I know that if a wave of energy is allowed to complete itself, it yields a whole new wave, and in fact that is all that I really know. Riding the waves means joining the cosmic dance that as Dante says: “moves the sun and the other stars.”

Why do we dance? We dance to fall in love with the spirit of things, to wipe out memory, or transform it into moves that nobody else can make because they didn’t live it. We dance to hook up to the true genius lurking behind all that bullshit – to seek refuge in our originality; to shed the past, forget the future, and fall into the present moment feet first.

We all share the wounds of fragmentation. And we can all share in the cure of unification. Healing is the unification of all our forces ~ the process of being, feeling, knowing and seeing…. [so] … what we need to do is let go many of our attachments that we carry, whether they be physical, emotional or mental, so that we can celebrate our existence here.

Life is not about understanding or being understood. It is about seeing and being seen. You are not in the body, the body is in you.

To sweat is to pray, to make an offering of your innermost self. Sweat is holy water, prayer beads, pearls of liquid that release your past. Sweat is an ancient and universal form of self-healing, whether done in the gym, the sauna or the sweat-lodge. I do it on the dance floor. The more you dance the more you sweat. The more you sweat, the more you pray. The more you pray, the closer you come to ecstasy.

Dance ‘til you sweat.
Then dance some more.
Do it alone.
Do it with others.
Do it often.
Do it with attitude.
Do it with an attitude of prayer.

Oh, yes!

But here is a powerful prayer that Gabrielle had for herself which I didn’t know existed until Bettina posted it on Facebook:

May I have the courage to live through all the things that my dance reveals to me. All the things I’ve pushed down inside that need to come up and out through me, so I can be an empty vessel of perfection, of love.

May I have the courage to get out of my way, to become all that I am, and to hook myself up with my deepest yearnings. To stand up for my truth. To break through my own walls of resistance.

May I have the courage to embrace my body while it is still here. To express my heart. To allow it to be part of my body, part of my spontaneity, part of my expression.

May I have the courage to let my head go and trust that there is something guiding me. That there is some enormous amazing purpose to my existence. That I wasn’t thrown in here by some mean cowboy.

May I have the courage to stand with my own story, whatever it is or was. To know that I, and only I, have the power to erase it and to move beyond its confines, however good, or bad, or weird, or twisted, or wondrous they may have been. They were and I am.

May I have the courage to witness another, to encourage, to celebrate, to support, to catalyze their growth, to be committed to the poetry of their existence.

May I have the courage to be myself. To be real. And may I please have the courage to stand up for those who who can not stand up for themselves.

And when you read those words you will understand why she was such a great inspiration to so many people during her life-time. And I am sure that there is not one of us who would not wish to have her kind of courage.

Later, in Asheville, I shall dance with an awesome teacher named Lucia Horan, and really discover why Gabrielle said this practice was not about dancing. First, in terms of emotions, Heartbeats, for example: 

Flow is about Fear the antidote of which is Courage which then protects us.

Staccato is about Anger, the antidote of which is Acceptance leading to Forgiveness.

Chaos is about Sadness, the antidote of which is Surrender leading to Release. And does that ever happen as we move into Lyrical, which is Joy, becoming

Generousity resulting in our feeling Uplifted. 

Stillness is about Compassion leading to Service that Connects us all.

In terms of Cycles:

Flow represents Birth
Staccato is Adolescence
Chaos is Adulthood
Lyrical is Maturity
Stillness is Death

Lastly, from a shamanic perspective, 

Flow is The Victim
Staccato is The Survivor
Chaos is The Healer
Lyrical is The Transformer
Stillness is The Server

Funny footnote: From a Numerological perspective, I am a Five!

Lastly, this mural was created by  a Victoria dancer and artist as a temporary memorial to Gabrielle. The individual pieces were later sold with the proceeds going to the 5Rhythms Outreach program. I had two of them one of which has now been gifted to a dancer at the 2014 tribal gathering in Olympia.