“Group Dance Group” embraces the unstructured

Dancing frees the body and the mind at "Group Dance Group" each Thursday night. — Photo by Jennifer Coito, Stella

The room is dimly lit — almost completely dark but for some ambient brightness from the streetlights outside. The music is pulsating, but not heavy or jarring. A small group of sock-footed women are moving to the music — each seemingly in her own world but also picking up on the energy of the room. Each dancer has her own style, but all are energetic, not merely swaying back and forth, but really exerting themselves. It’s Thursday evening and the group has gathered to participate in “Group Dance Group,” a new event hosted by Rebecca Brown and Noavakay Knight.

The weekly event, which was launched in January, is focused on freestyle dance that is as much about having fun and letting loose as it is about enjoying a meditative and aerobic experience. “It’s focused on health,” said Ms. Brown, who was leading the group on this particular Thursday. “It’s morphed into meditation as well.”

As Ms. Brown describes it, dancing in its purest form — distanced from the attitude, distractions, and self-consciousness of a club experience — lends itself to freeing the body and the mind. “I have a couple of friends who would say they can’t dance when they’re not drunk,” she said. “Why can’t music be a bridge into having that meditative silence that happens when you’re not thinking? I just find that dancing is a really natural, easy way to ‘cheat’ at meditation without drugs or alcohol.”

The evening starts out with group warmup time and a short reading from a spiritually related source. Shifting colorful images are projected on the walls to add to the pulsing, hypnotic atmosphere. There’s no instruction or even suggestions from the hosts to focus on a mind/body type experience. The group’s only rules: no shoes, no talking, no structure, set the stage.

“We try not to talk at all so as not to break concentration,” said Ms. Knight. “It’s all about meditation dance. You’re going into yourself, creating whatever it is you’re creating. Either you’re standing still and creating, or you’re moving and creating.”

The beauty of the experience is that there’s really no one paying attention to what the others are doing, and no jockeying for personal space. This non-judgmental atmosphere lends itself to letting go of inhibitions and allowing oneself to experiment with different movements while attaining a trance-like state.

The digital projections are provided by Ms. Knight. She also recently purchased a more powerful speaker and is hoping to bring a disco ball into the mix. Of the visuals, she said: “it really helps to create the kind of vibe to relax and go with it and enjoy yourself.”

The playlist is put together by Ms. Brown, who is a fan of electronic dance club music. “It’s not trendy,” she said. “It’s mostly dubstep with a heavy emphasis on trap (a form of electronic hiphop/rap music) that  really helps to feel the music because there’s so much bass in it.” The playlist switches around from heavy, pulsing beats to tunes with more of an ’80s electronica feel. “The music fills the quietness inside,” said Ms. Brown. “The undertone of the whole experience is to be at one with yourself.”

After the freestyle dance, there might be some structured exercise or something a little more experimental. “Then we do something totally different,” said Ms. Knight. “We do some abs or dance to Youtube videos that have choreography attached to them. It makes it a little more grounded. It’s nice to be able to do free dance, but it helps build connections to learn movements that you wouldn’t necessarily do on your own.”

Ms. Knight is responsible for launching the group. She wanted to find something to replace the hiphop class she had attended the previous winter but was no longer available. (Since then, another hiphop class has begun at Rise). She also wanted to fill a void on the Vineyard.  “I just really love to dance,” Ms. Knight said. “You don’t get much opportunity, especially here in the winter. You don’t have to stay out late at night drinking to have this wonderful experience of just dancing.”

Ms. Knight created a “Group Dance Group” Facebook page just to see who else might be interested. Through that listing, she met Ms. Brown, and they proved to be perfect partners for the experiment. “She found a space; I had the contact list,” said Ms. Knight.

The first event took place at the Anchors in Edgartown. Then, the group moved to the studio at Yoga Haven before settling in the dojo space at Decca. It’s a large room with a lot more space than either of the group’s previous venues. “It has really great energy,” said Ms. Knight. “It reminds me of being in high school and all the bands used to play there.”

The group is evolving as things progress. There are a few regulars, but new people show up each time. They are mostly women, but according to Ms. Knight, there’s always at least one guy. The age range has been from 20s to 40s, but the co-founders hope to attract some older people as well as high schoolers.

The dynamics of the group will most likely influence future additions and adjustments to the program. “We’ve just been fine-tuning it,” said Ms. Knight. “We’ve never done this before. People really enjoy that part of it. We don’t know what we’re doing, so it’s okay for them to not know what they’re doing.”

This open-minded attitude really adds to the experience. Judging by the crowd on a recent Thursday night, everyone seemed to be completely comfortable and finding their own groove.

With “Group Dance Group,” there’s no wrong or right, no better or fitter or more coordinated. It’s all about moving and getting what you want out of the experience. It’s the perfect way to give yourself a psychic boost on a cold dark winter’s night.

“Group Dance Group” meets every Thursday, 6:30-–8 pm, at Decca on Peacegate Way, Vineyard Haven. $7 admission goes toward renting the space.