Feel-good grope of `dance therapy'

Hazel Friedman

`Love sandwiches” are among the sizzling “snacks” being sampled in Biodanza, a series of caress sessions being held at a martial arts centre in Parkhurst and the latest feel-good fad to hit South Africa.

Biodanza’s devotees describe it as “dances with passion and vitality” and a means of getting in touch with the emotional self. But it is questionable whether, beneath the Sixties psycho- babble and New Age nuances, Biodanza is less a form of dance therapy than an excuse for a group grope.

Established 30 years ago by Rolando Toro in Chile, Biodanza was brought to South Africa in May as a series of introductory workshops held by Carolina Churba, a disciple of the school of Biodanza in Britain, one of several centres in South America, the USA and Europe .

A Biodanza workshop session lasts approximately 21/2 hours and costs R40 per Saturday session. Yet even though the workshops are self-contained, Johannesburg’s reborn Biodanziacs have been coming back for more, week after week.

According to Churba, Biodanza techniques are used worldwide for yuppies and youngsters alike, as well as for the aged and the intellectually challenged . She insists that far from being a cult, it is therapy for “the dissolution of boundaries of repression”.

But in the faultline between lip and hip speak, the boundaries between emotion and sexuality become somewhat blurred, and “feeling one’s way” becomes literal.

In short, if you’re looking to unleash your emotions via the lambada, the samba or any other South American dance of vitality, call Arthur Murray. But if you suffer from “closed genitalia” (a term used by Biodanza devotees worldwide), and feelings of confusion, loneliness, inhibition and alienation, Biodanza will stroke those blues away.

The workshops begin with quasi-Freudian/Jungian exercises designed to allow “the child in us” to emerge.

About nine of us stand in a circle in a darkened hall—- mainly women ranging in age from 25 to 65—- staring earnestly and smiling at one another. As Churba demonstrates ways of walking through life, pointing out how body language indicates areas of repression, we straighten our backs, broaden our chests and remove our hands from tell-tale areas of anatomical inhibition like the heart and the groin.

Then its time for walkies with different partners, arm-in-arm, hips swinging to a sensual South American beat, eyes locked in a silent embrace. (The only taboo in Biodanza is talking.)

“Converse with your hands,” instructs Churba soothingly, as the group assumes the rocking rhythm of a cradle, before simulating the movement of the body in fluid—- a return to the womb, I think she calls it.

It’s rather enjoyable at first—- a lot of laughing, hugging and generally letting loose. That is, until we stop the kiddie stuff, and move to the grown-up exercises like the “love sandwich”. As the name implies, this entails sandwiching one person between two and engaging in a mutual caressing, rocking and heavy-breathing ritual. Then its time for the giving and receiving of love ...

In a telephonic interview, Churba assures me that the “giving” part is restricted to the face and hands.“No lip touching, because the lips are erogenous zones, and no lingering or pressure on the body parts.” She adds: “Although sexual feelings can sometimes surface, arousal is not the intention of the exercise.”

But psychologist Elma Maree disagrees: “Although in principle it sounds healthy—- breaking down boundaries and releasing emotions—- it becomes manipulative and even harmful to translate universal emotional desires for love and affirmation into a physical, potentially sexual expression.

“The pressures to participate are subtle but very powerful ... If you refuse to join in, you might feel guilty and hung up. But true intimacy involves a selective breaking down of boundaries. It is not an indiscriminate act. And when it becomes the latter it can leave participants with feelings of extreme guilt and a sense of violation.”

Therein lies the difference between a truly touching experience and a tainting one.

“All parts of the body are deserving of love,” says Churba, before the final exercise. “Those parts that are not touched are dead.”

Anxious not to induce emotional rigor mortis in the other, we all engage in a top-to-toe resuscitation session, leaving no bodily bulge untouched.

As I finally bolt for the exit, relishing the prospect of breathing down my own neck, the others remain behind, hands caressing and eyes locked in a languid embrace.

Client Media Releases

SA moves beyond connectivity
Education student receives prominent awards
VMware is diamond sponsor of ITWeb's Cloud Summit 2019