Review: Gabrielle Roth, Sweat Your Prayers

1997, Newleaf Press Dublin, ISBN 0-

This is the second book by the dancer, singer, teacher and theatre director,
 Gabrielle Roth. It follows on her international best-seller, Maps to Ecstasy, first
 published in 1990. This volume essentially elaborates on the author’s highly 
original thesis of the five basic rhythms that underlie all movement, namely 
flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness. It is a lively pot-pourri of 
impressions of life as viewed from this perspective and Ms Roth’s enthusiasm for 
her subject is highly infectious. Her Manhattan neighbourhood becomes a 
microcosm for these great archetypal dynamics, as she recounts the everyday
 experience of fellow dancers, entertainers, bartenders and workshop participants, 
observing their movements and lifestyles, their relationship to the outer and inner 
rhythms that make them who they are. Besides being a book about dance,
 movement and transformation, it is in many ways a very interesting social
 commentary on late twentieth century New York and the intimate lives of some of
 its inhabitants, many of whom have adopted this rhythmic world view with an 
almost religious fervour. At times one feels oneself recoil in scepticism at what 
seems an overly simplistic model, but the richness of observation, the passionately
 written text, the compassion that underlies the vision, make it quite possible to 
believe that she has indeed got it right.

Perhaps the greatest contribution this book will make is in the imaginative re-
working of the various masculine and feminine archetypes that each individual
 possesses in varying degrees. Roth divides the feminine into three aspects, mother, 
mistress and Madonna, while the masculine comprises the father, son and the holy 
spirit. In addition she introduces the alchemist, the shapeshifter, the artist, lover 
and seeker. Taking examples from her own life, from that of her husband, friends 
and those of workshop participants, she proceeds to use this schema to assist them
 in rounding out their undeveloped potential by using appropriate rhythms,
 interweaving archetype with dynamic archetype within the transformative 
container of ecstatic dance.

Roth recalls an occasion when such a powerful mother archetype seemed to
 manifest on a collective level during a particular workshop:

“I had a brain-storm – all the bullshit must have fallen out the crack in my 
head. I suggested that the dancers dive into the shadows that haunted their
 dreams, into the devouring mother they were trying to repress. I signalled
 to the band for a bigger, badder, harder beat. Something shifted. Suddenly 
the room came alive. The energy kicked in and the whole place vibrated 
with the group’s recognition of the shadow mother. They crossed the 
invisible portal into psychic territory, an underground place that was familiar
 yet rarely explored, the realm of Kali, mother deity of Hindu mythology, 
goddess of death, destruction and eternity.

We peeled back this filmy veil that separated us from this other reality and 
found the gateway to the farside of the moon, and we all knew that we knew 
this place all too well.

Masks cracked, smiles hung lopsided, eyes turned inwards, wet hair flew in 
all directions. Winged feet carried bodies to the other side, to the invisible 
side of life where all is spirit and spirit is all there is. I could see right 
through the dancers to 
the soulful self in each of them, and in each soul I saw an alchemist working
 his magic, bringing them to the place of wonder, awe and mystery they were 
all seeking.”

The book ends with a series of contributions from participants to previous
 workshops, for whom the recipe of sweat, surrender and soul seems to have 
answered their deepest prayers. If you have ever considered investigating dance
 and movement, and wanted some encouragement, this is the book.

Those interested in acquiring audio/video recordings of the five rhythms made by
 Gabrielle Roth and her band, the Mirrors, can contact Staccato Moving Music,
 Bridham, Kents Road, Wellswood, Torquay, TQ12 2NN, Tel and Fax: 0044 1803

For information on Dance and Movement Workshops based on the five rhythms, 
contact Catriona Ni Ghillaphadraig on 093 34664.

Tim Hannan