Why Are People Afraid of Ecstatic Dance?

As Ecstatic Dance Reno moves into a new and larger space, this is a good time to talk about a fascinating but largely unexplored topic.

Why is Ecstatic Dance so terrifying?

I consider myself an expert on this topic because two summers ago I did something pretty crazy. With virtually no experience, I jumped on an Ecstatic Dance Bus with 25 other questionably sane people and traveled around the United States for an entire month. We danced every day of the tour… at our campsites…. on the streets of Las Vegas… at the rim of the Grand Canyon… and with other Ecstatic Dance communities in Santa Fe, Austin, New Orleans, Washington DC, New York, Kansas City and many others around the country.

Our last stop on the nationwide tour before returning to California? You guessed it. Reno.

The bus tour was the brainchild of a Santa Cruz DJ who wanted to spread the good work about Ecstatic Dance as a practice for healing and liberation… not to mention good clean fun. (And by “clean” he meant it. No drugs and no alcohol for 30 days.)

Once long ago, yoga was considered a fringe practice that only a few weird people practiced. They wore beads and funny clothes and hummed odd phrases like “Ommmm.” Now look at yoga. It’s as mainstream as apple pie.

That was the goal of the bus tour. Help bring Ecstatic Dance to the masses, and inch it upward towards the popularity of yoga.

In some cities, Ecstatic Dance flourishes without a need to explain it to newcomers. In the teeming Oakland scene, Sweets Ballroom is packed with hundreds of revelers each Wednesday night. In Santa Cruz, some variety of Ecstatic Dance is offered nearly every day of the week.

Yet… for every dancer there are many others who are terrified of stepping foot on the floor. Why?

The truth is that the words “ecstatic dance” can strike terror in the hearts of non-dancers. “Dance” is uncomfortable for those who fear they either can’t dance or can’t do it right. “Ecstatic” because deep down we’re terrified of ecstasy, of losing control, of allowing our unabashedly playful or joyous or erotic selves to gush all over the dance floor. Put the two together – “ecstatic” and “dance” – and some of us come face to face with our two greatest fears – looking stupid and celebrating our highest selves!

I know. It’s confusing. Here are some examples of our inner dialogue.

“I’ll look stupid. I’ll do it wrong. I’ll lose control. I don’t have the right clothes. I’ll see my boss out there and he’ll laugh at me. I’ll see a friend who dances better and I will suck by comparison. I’ll have ecstatic thoughts and won’t be able to contain myself. I’ll feel incredible and then what will I do?”

Yes! These are all completely natural.

The truth is this. The beauty of Ecstatic Dance is that you can’t do it wrong. Move in any way you want. The dance floor is also a judgment-free and shame-free zone. It’s a great place to step outside your comfort zone, practice your vulnerability, and know that everything that happens is ok. Dance like a Tazmanian Devil or sit quietly in a corner. Or both. Laugh. Cry. Meditate. Dance.

You’re always “at choice” and can participate any way you’d like in each moment.

Be yourself and be welcomed by others who share the exact same hopes and fears as you. Be accepted unconditionally no matter what you do or how you look.


Written by Matt Perry