Exploring Rasa Sol dance class with Christina Montoya

—Shannon Rynd Ray

This past Tuesday night, I found myself in a room with a handful of women stomping our feet, rolling our hips, and twirling our arms to Prince’s “Erotic City.” Islander Christina Montoya, a dance and yoga instructor who has studied several healing practices, circled the room, providing us with gentle support as we worked up a sweat, stretched, shouted, and allowed our minds to surrender to our bodies.

The class, called Rasa Sol, has developed over the years through Ms. Montoya’s exploration of dance and energy healing, which spans several continents under the guidance of many teachers.

Ms. Montoya was born into a musical household on the Island. Palmas, or Spanish handclapping, was commonplace around the house — her grandfather was a flamenco guitarist. On a family trip to Madrid at the age of 5, Ms. Montoya fell in love with flamenco dance. Although her path would stray from that specific style, a love of movement was found.

Tuesday’s class begins with a lying guided meditation. At age 11 Christina’s mother, an Island healer, introduced her to polarity therapy, an energy-based healthcare system developed by Dr. Randolph Stone and derived from the principles of Ayurveda, quantum physics, and Eastern spiritual practices.

Since then, Christina’s healing credentials have gone on to include programs at the School for New Dance Development in Amsterdam, Kripalu bodywork, yoga teacher training, Polarity studies with Dr. Gary Strauss, and Bioenergetics at Humaniversity in Holland under Rajneesh Osho.

The necessary bridge between healing and movement lies in the active listening that is cultivated through practice. “The balance of active external energy and receptive internal energy reflects our well-being,” Ms. Montoya explained. “The natural flow between these two life energy expressions reflects nature, our cranial sacral rhythm, our life. When that flow is impeded, our internal harmony is challenged.”

Floor work after the meditation involves a core-strengthening, hip-opening series of exercises. Up on our feet, the warmups began, with Ms. Montoya keeping the beat.

After growing up on the Island studying ballet, Ms. Montoya became captivated by the glittery lights of the ’80s: “Flashdance” and “Fame,” Chaka Khan, and Michael Jackson. So she headed to the city for high school.

In New York, jazz and Latin ballroom felt more at home in her body than the rigidity of ballet. At Bennington College, she was introduced to postmodern and improv by residents such as Min Tanaka, the Japanese butoh dancer. She studied West African dance with Sandra Burton, and then traveled to Bali to study Balinese dance. Since then she has danced Cuban popular dance styles and Afro-Cuban at the Escuela Nacional de Arte in Cuba, Afro-Brazilian and samba in Brazil, flamenco and hip-hop in San Francisco, and at 5Rhythms in New York.

As we entered the improv section of Tuesday’s class, I was nervous. I was wondering whether I could dance, and what if my body were too this or too that? The music started. In my peripheral field, Ms. Montoya began to move. Her dancing is alive with the diversity of her travels and studies, as well her willingness to let them all coexist within her without judgment. She leads the class by example, allowing us too to abandon fears.

After, we did vocal work to let loose the suppressed voice, as well as a shaking meditation that left us all feeling like the Energizer bunny. The intention of these alternative meditations is to tune in to the authentic voice of the body, not simply the external one that has been imposed on us by social conditioning.

Sensuality in our culture is sexualized so much it becomes explicit, but not in this class. When asked to explore the topic, Ms. Montoya urges us to write honest definitions about what sensuality means to each of us.

In Ms. Montoya’s own words, “Rasa Sol creates a safe and supportive space to have an intimate conversation with our bodies, mind, emotions, and spirit so that we can support the continuous movement toward health and harmony.”

“Rasa” in Hindu refers to the pure essence of a particular state of being, especially in relation to drama, music, and dance. “Sol” in Spanish translates to sun, representing the energy and vitality that are generated by the practice. The room heats up quickly, and the workout has you feeling like you could flashdance all the way down Old County Road.

Summer has ended, and with it we begin our hibernations for the graying, chilled months ahead, which in turn will leave our bodies rigid and cold right up until next April, when we walk into the sunshine and spend the summer thawing. If what you need is a class that will beat the mothballs from your bones and allow you to let go of stored tensions, whether emotional or physical, this is the class for you. Some of us fear coming out of ourselves, and some find it easy to let loose, but for either type, Rasa Sol offers a safe place to explore.