Come as you are
Ecstatic dance offers safe, judgement-free scene to get your groove on

Come as you are

DJ Drty Hvn spins for a recent ecstatic dance at the American Legion. Drty Hvn, aka Oliver Billint, has been involved in the ecstatic dance scene since its formative days in the early 2000s in Hawaii./ Photo by Ryley Hubbard

Ryley Hubbard - 03/14/2024

Within the crevasses and cracks of Durango’s social scene resides a peculiar presence: one of community, connection and release. It bumps vivacious tunes and dances barefoot on Thursday nights in the back of Durango’s American Legion Hall. It requires respect, yet doesn’t judge; happy to incorporate more color into its kaleidoscopic evenings. The phenomenon, of course, is ecstatic dance.

CodeStar, a local DJ and founder of Ecstatic Dance Durango, detailed its history. “We’ve been dancing since 2013,” he said. “The reason for doing it was by popular demand; people just wanted and needed it.”

According to CodeStar, the scene has been thriving since. “We enjoy as good of an attendance as cities that are three, four times bigger,” he said. “We’ve got great support in the community. A lot of regulars, new people, and people traveling through will come just to enjoy the music and dance.”

Cody “Coyote” Edwards, local DJ and co-founder of the weekly scene, explained the balance of dancing closely while being cognizant of personal space and sobriety. “There’s no alcohol, no shoes, no talking on the dance floor,” he explained. “One of the more important (rules) is, if you’re dancing, and you feel the energy of someone wanting to dance with you, a polite bow is a ‘thank you, I’m good.’ It’s a polite way of saying, ‘I don’t want to dance with you.’”

The non-alcoholic event provides filtered water for dancers. Occasionally, vendors will offer cacao or other plant-based elixirs that provide mildly-altering effects. The choice for dancers to partake in plant medicines beforehand remains up to them, according to CodeStar, though it remains a safe space for those choosing sobriety. He said these guidelines help create a secure space for everyone.

“I think it’s a great little bubble, or magnetic weight, for people to dance around and fall into,” Lauren Hoover, an ecstatic dancegoer of more than two years, said. “The social aspect … is really warming. I hope people can come into the dance and then carry that out and spread it through their social interactions.”

Ecstatic dance can be traced to shamanic cultures that utilized ritual, movement and ceremony to achieve higher states of being, i.e. ecstasy (thus the name.) These ritualistic origins evolved into today’s modern dance phenomenon, which came full circle on Hawaii’s islands in the early 2000s. This is something local ecstatic dance DJ Oliver Billint, aka Drty Hvn, experienced first hand. 

“I started doing the ecstatic dance circuit 20 years ago or so on the Big Island,” he recalled, “which is known for being one of the main ecstatic dance catapults.”

Since then, the movement has spread, reaching New York, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Berlin and, eventually, Durango.

Before a recent dance in Durango, an opening circle featured a singing bowl and collective breathing. Event co-organizer Venus set an intention “to always connect to yourself here in the heart space first,” she said. “Only when you feel fully connected to yourself, do I invite you to explore extending yourself out for connection and dance with another.”

The crowd of 40 or so made its way to the dance floor, where DJ Drty Hvn began his set with a jungle-like vivaciousness. Sounds of birds, rain and lush rainforests painted the dancefloor, accompanied by low, steady reverberations.

The sounds escalated into faster rhythms and hauntingly sweet vocals. Dancers began capturing the beat. The room moved in a steady staccato beneath green-dotted lasers. 

Even though there were no voices, the floor was highly communicative: eye contact, gestures and mirroring others’ motions. Despite the earthy musical opening, the set featured an eclectic mashup – from EDM to modern pop to Motown.

“Ecstatic dance has given me the opportunity to explore multi genres,” Billint later said. “Today I was playing a lot of different genres, I was hopping like crazy.”

The dance continued for roughly two hours. One side of the room was covered in foam floor pads to rest on between dances. In the corner, an altar adorned with mirrors, gems, minerals and candles allowed for self-reflection.

When the music settled into silence, a closing circle emerged. The debrief allowed dancers to put into words what was movement mere moments ago.

“I’d love for us to just really think about for a moment, what it is we appreciate about others in our life,” CodeStar started, “and how teaming up with people is creating something greater.”

A dancer chimed in. “It is not in every waking moment that I can walk with my soul as freely and fully as I can here,” she said.

After the dance was over, the lights came on and dancers bopped around – embracing, connecting and sharing.

“I love the way this dance floor shows me intimate parts of myself in the reflections of the humans I dance with,” Andrea Dela Rainbow, dancegoer and event organizer, said. “It feels like a deeply healing permission slip to let all of me exist.”

Audra McClelland, also a regular, imparted her thoughts as well. “I find that I’m met by the community here,” she said. “There’s an acknowledgment of the full spectrum of human experience; this sense of radical acceptance that you can fully be yourself.”

She reassured those new to the scene. “Don’t be intimidated. Don’t be afraid that you’re gonna get it wrong, or that you’re not a good dancer, because it doesn’t matter,” she said. “It’s not anything like the bar scene or a concert. It’s probably unlike any other dance space you’ve been to. You literally cannot get it wrong.”

Durango Ecstatic Dance takes place Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. at the America Legion Hall on 9th Street and 2nd Avenue.?