Movement-Based Meditation: Shaking Spirit Waves in Harlem

August 6, 2011

By Yolande Brener

When I read about Kierra Foster-Ba’s dance class “without any set choreography and without the self-consciousness of caring what you look like” I was skeptical that many people would be unguarded enough to dance without prescribed movements. But at Kierra’s Shaking Spirit Waves class, her students were practically busting to throw out dance conventions and feel the music. Kierra’s new class at Harlem Yoga Studio is the first ever Five Rhythms class in Harlem.

“People are hungry to be authentic,” said Kierra. “They welcome that opportunity more than we might expect. The idea that some people are good dancers and some are not is really untrue. The truth is that you have a unique dance that only you can do.”

When Kierra turned up a piano piece from the Diva soundtrack and encouraged the students to feel what stretching meant to them one woman swayed expansively in a belly dancer’s outfit. Another did a bunny hop resembling Pee Wee Herman’s Tequila dance, and a third created a type of yoga/ballet fusion. Although there is a section of the class where the dancers pair up, during the solo section, the participants seemed truly engaged in their own rhythm.

Gabrielle Roth, the founder of this practice says that movement is her medicine.

“I believe in it so much,” said Kierra. “It has helped me through so many important things. Dancing is just like your tears, it’s a way of shifting energy.”

The Five Rhythms are flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness.

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“It’s important that all of the rhythms keep moving,” said Kierra, as she threw her body into a wide circle and then swayed into stillness.

“Maybe it’s only your eyelashes that want to move,” she continued. So go with that: that’s your eyelash dance. But the idea is to always keep moving, even in the stillness.”

Kierra has three degrees including an MA in Afro-American studies from Yale and an MS in education from Fordham. She is a self made woman and a mother of an adult son. But she recognizes that—partly because of her working class background—she has used comforting devices that have an edge, such as overeating. Five Rhythms has helped her to overcome this.

“People have lots of stereotypes about what it’s like to be in a body as big as mine,” she said. “So when they see me moving it gives them permission. It’s kind of like well if she’s doing it, I can do it.”

“Don’t worry about what anybody else is doing,” Kierra said to the class. “Just focus on what flowing means to you, just feel how it feels in your body.”

Shaking Spirit Waves Five Rhythms at the Harlem Yoga Studio on Thursdays 5:30 pm to 6:45 pm.

Five Rhythms website:

Kierra’s website:

Photographs of class by Alexis Percival

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