The Power of 'Om'

Gathered in a circle around the Hindu symbol for "Om" that is painted into the dance floor, a group of men and women prepare for a Tuesday night dance session at the OmCulture center in Wallingford.

This night's 18 participants are members of the Euphoria Dance program, a free-style group dance jam that includes people of all ages and backgrounds who want to express themselves through movement. They gather in a circle to help bring the group together, centering and grounding themselves before they begin the two-hour class of dance, fun and meditation.

Co-founder Maryanne Schumaker reads a poem by a spiritual poet. The circle shares three "Oms," before everyone settles into a quiet meditation.

"Let yourself sink into the floor, let the space between your ears expand," says Schumaker in a soothing voice.

The warmly painted room, with its giant beanbag couches along one wall, and a shrine to Buddha along another, creates an inviting space for any kind of movement. The dance program is meant to help expel the troubles of the day, to ground the dancers in the immediate moment, and then use dance to help them stay in that moment.

A cousin of the much more popular Ecstatic Dance sessions that are held in various places around Seattle, Euphoria Dance is moving from the OmCulture center to the United Methodist Church on Queen Anne Hill. While this evening's dance session is the last for Euphoria at OmCulture, the center will still hold meetings on two Thursdays of every month.

"Dancing at the Queen Anne Methodist Church with its lovely stained glass windows and cherry floors is magical," said regular attendee, Marianne Paull.
Franklin Markowitz, co-founder of Euphoria in Seattle, explains that the new location is very desirable for a number of reasons. Of the 500 members of the Ecstatic Dance community that are actively involved in the weekly dances, only a handful are from Queen Anne. A big goal with the move is to make members of the Queen Anne community aware of Euphoria Dance.

Many of the regulars who attend Euphoria Dance also attend Ecstatic Dance or other similar dance sessions that meet around Seattle. The largest gathering is the Ecstatic Dance on Capitol Hill, where 50 to 100 people are regularly in attendance. A complete listing of these sessions, with locations and dates can be found at

The new location will also make it easier for some of the current members of Euphoria or Ecstatic dance to attend the sessions. That includes Ballard resident Jalair Box. A member of the dance group for the last four years, Box has recently been permanently limited to her bicycle for transportation. Biking from Ballard to Queen Anne is more convenient than biking to Capitol Hill where the Ecstatic Dance is held.

"On a physical level, it keeps me flexible and strong, and my energy is much greater when I dance regularly. And there is a spiritual quality to it that's really satisfying," said Box.

The new location will also help ease the overcrowding issue faced by some of the sessions, said Markowitz. Currently there are about 20 to 25 people who attend the dances at the Om center in Wallingford. There are about 10 at the Queen Anne location, but Markowitz believes this number will increase now that they have a regular night.

Euphoria Dance differs from Ecstatic only slightly. Musically it is longer, lasting about two hours, and the content is sometimes mellower dub-trance. Ecstatic Dance is more often world fusion, or world beats such as African drums, said Markowitz. He creates the mixes himself, a new one for every night.
"Some people really love my mixes; some people don't like them at all," said Markowitz. Laid back and soft spoken, Markowitz can be easily distinguished with his long grey ponytail. During the evening he can either be found in front of his computer or circling lightly around the room, weaving in between other dancers.

The Ecstatic and Euphoria dance communities are comprised of people from all walks of life and new initiates are always welcomed, Markowitz said.
"It's a great place to let your soul free and your body sweat," said regular Shawn McDonald.

Markowitz said that trance dancing has been around for thousands of years. However Western culture has made losing oneself in dance something taboo. Only recently have certain communities rekindled that chance for freedom in dance, and finally rock 'n roll broke down those barriers in a mainstream way.

Ecstatic Dance groups can be found across the country. It can be therapy, it can be physical exercise, it can be for social networking, or just a place where an individual can unwind, say attendees.
"I'm glad everyone came together this soft summer night," said Schumaker in the closing circle. "Remember that every time you look into the mirror your looking at god. Sweet dreams every one."

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