Let’s start here: WTF does “conscious dance” even mean?
If conscious dance sounds complicated, sanctimonious, or intimidating, then let’s start this off by putting you at ease about this simple kind of movement practice.
As I say in my third book, From Shitshow To Afterglow:
“Conscious dance” isn’t a style like jazz or hip-hop, but more of a mindset. It just means that you’re using movement as a mindfulness practice. It’s available to anyone, regardless of age, physical ability, income, or access to a class or dance space.
You don’t need to be a “good dancer” — you just need to pay attention to the sensations of the movement in whatever body parts are available to move.
If even the idea of dance is intimidating, rebrand it as mindful movement, free-form wiggling, sacred stretches, or any other name that feels safe to you.
Does that make sense? Conscious dance isn’t about performance — it’s about sensation. It’s not about how it looks — it’s about how it feels. Conscious dance is just using movement to music as a way to focus your attention, increase awareness, and gather some information.
My daily conscious dance practice is mostly focused on intuition and listening — I wake up every morning, put on my headphones, and see what shows up. For someone like me who’s over-planny and prone to overthinking everything, I desperately need more unstructured safe places to just listen and see what happens. Through dance, I’m tryna learn about surrender, intuition, and less striving.
For my brain, less structure is my best practice. For other kinds of minds, however, having some structure with movement is essential — that structure can provide safety. I totally get that!
So, for those of you who are curious about conscious dance (and that’s a lot of you, based on how many questions I get about it!), but need some structural safety to get started, here are three conscious dance exercises you can try.
Wait, first: Set & Setting
Hold on. Before we dive into the exercises, talk about your set and setting.
- When: Any time! For me, I most love early mornings (when I’m the only one up) and late nights (when it feels like I can hide in the darkness), but there’s no wrong time. You’ll notice different things at different times of day! Remember, your goal is just awareness — not reaching some specific desired outcome.
- Where: You don’t need a dedicated room, and you don’t need much space. I live in an 800sq-foot condo, and I started my dance practice in my kitchen. You don’t necessarily need privacy (kids of all ages love it when adults get weird with dance — little kids are delighted by it, bigger kids are amused by it, and teens are delightfully mortified!). That said, if you feel self-conscious, privacy can definitely help.
- For those who are less self-conscious, you can try how it feels to dance outside your home. My local gym (Rain City Fit) recently opened a little upstairs stretching room, and I’ve been experimenting with dancing there just for a change of scenery.
- Equipment: If you live in a home where you can blast music, go for it! I don’t, but I love dancing with my big over-ear wireless headphones. I don’t have to worry about bothering folks if it’s loud, and the headphones make the music feel immersive.
- You can stream music from your phone, but make sure you download your playlist, and put your phone on airplane mode! When you stream music from your phone, you must be diligent not to go down the screentime distraction rabbit hole. (Realtalk: this is very, very difficult for me.)
- Music: Just pick one song that feels right, and don’t think about it too much. If you find yourself tail-spinning on music choice, you’re welcome to check out my playlists, hit shuffle, and treat it like a musical tarot deck. You might hate what comes up, but that’s valuable intel about what you might like better next time!
- Ability: Conscious dance can be super energetic and aerobic if you’ve got the physical ability and desire, or you can literally be laying in a hospital bed, tensing and relaxing different muscles to music (I’ve done it!). The key is to find the edge of whatever your abilities are on that day, and explore that edge.
Ok, feel ready? Let’s dive in.
Exercise 1: TRACERS
Song: Rara Avis “Medicine”
This practice is one of my longtime favorites, as you know, if you’re following my dance videos on Insta Stories.
- Start your song
- Pick a word that captures a sensation you want more of in your life. Some of my favorites are trust, surrender, patience, grace.
- Stand on one foot, and trace your word (Folks with differing abilities: you can do this seated tracing with your arms, or in bed tracing with your fingers. Again, the goal is just to find your edge.)
- Once you’re done, shake it out and feel your way through these questions: why that word? What specific ways would your life be improved if you had more of that quality? What would it feel like, sound like, taste like? How would your body feel? How would you move if your life had more of that in it? Notice the answers and play with them.
- Pick another word.
- Stand on your other foot and trace that word.
- Shake it out again, and move that word through your body. Where have you gotten a taste of that in the past? Who or what in your life now helps you access that sensation? Where in your body does that word live?
- Repeat until the song ends — you can do new words, or toggle back and forth between the two words, and two feet.
Exercise 2: GET BORED
Song: Grimes “Violence” This song has been stuck in my head all week. Or maybe I have been stuck inside the metaverse of this song all week? Unclear.
- Start your song
- Pick a movement that feels good to you.
- Repeat the movement on the other side to keep things symmetrical.
- Repeat again
- No seriously just keep going
- Keep going
- What’s coming up? Are you bored? Keep going.
- You might notice the movement shifting in little ways — that’s interesting! Play with it, but keep the core of the movement the same.
- Keep going
- Did you completely lose the plot and forget what your movement was? (I always do.) WHOOPS, that means you stopped paying attention — but you noticed that you lost the plot, and that’s awesome because you practiced noticing. Now keep going!
- Keep going
- Is this irritating yet? What does irritation feel like in your body? What stories does your brain start telling you? My favorites: This is hard! This is dumb! Why am I even doing this? When else in your life does your brain tell you those same stories?
- Keep fucking going
- When the song finishes, shake it out! And notice, after all that repetition, how THAT feels?!
If you watch that video up there of me doing this exercise, you can see me get bored and keep going, get irritated and keep going, completely lose the plot and keep going.
(What you can’t see are the folks at my gym wandering past this little room and being like, “Uhhhh, I guess I’ll go stretch over in this other area cuz I don’t know wtf that lady is doing but it’s weird.” HA!)
Exercise 3: FLYING BLIND
Song: Grimes “Violence” again.
If you have a lot of shame or embarrassment about dancing, this exercise can be both super terrifying and massively liberating. That is my favorite emotional cocktail, people!
- Start on your song
- Put on a blindfold
- Start moving. Start very small and see what happens
- How does your movement change when you can’t see your surroundings, or yourself? What thoughts show up?
- How does movement FEEL differently in your body when you can’t see? I usually find myself being much more tactile and exploratory about my space (can I put my foot on that ledge? Where even is that ledge?). Sometimes when I can’t see, I feel like I can “listen” to the room with my body.
- What old stories or memories come up for you about how your dancing looks? What new stories are you making in this song right now about how your dancing FEELS? Which is more important to you?
- Keep moving
When you do this exercise (or any conscious dance practice), it’s totally normal to notice stories or old memories popping up. Notice them, and keep moving, and see if you can move the story out of your body. This could just be flapping your arms or jumping up and down, or it could be a whole elaborate re-enactment of the story through dance miming the scene. Dudes: get weird with it! The weirder, the better.
The goal is just to let the stories, memories, and feelings that come up move through your body, because that’s how you get those stories OUT of your body. Especially if the story or memory feels traumatic or intolerable, movement is the best way to get that trauma out of your body.
That’s a big topic for a different day, though. For now, it’s enough to keep noticing and keep moving.
Remember, there’s no wrong way to practice conscious dance! The only rules are:
- Stay aware: pay attention to sensations, thoughts, or emotions that pass through. Just note them, and let them go by like a bus that you don’t get on — beep beep! 🚌
- Keep moving: Even if it’s just swaying or wiggling your fingers, commit to moving through the entire song.
If you want more of this stuff… I’ve got SO MUCH MORE.
These three practices are just the tip of the iceberg. I created a series of 30 daily practices that you can play with to develop your own daily devotional dance practice. It’s all right here.