The first thing I noticed when I came up from the Francisco Bilbao metro station was that I was in a different part of Santiago. The houses were bigger, there were more Peugeots and fewer Daewoos and everything was greener; the streets were lined with leafy trees and the nature strips didn’t resemble dirty sandpits. And there wasn’t a single stray dog to be seen. It was the first time I had ventured into such a ‘nice’ part of the city.

The reason for my excursion was to participate in an introductory biodanza class. Created by a Chilean academic in the latter part of last century, biodanza is a therapeutic activity that claims to link body, mind and soul. Based on free expression and music, it draws on psychology, medical science and spiritual disciplines from around the world. The practice is yet to reach Australia but it has a growing number of followers throughout South America and Europe.

I’ll have to admit that I was more than a little sceptical but, being a keen biodanza-er, Leonel had been persuading me for weeks to give it a try.

“The first night’s free,” he said. “And how can it hurt just to give it a try?”

Partly out of curiosity and partly because I didn’t want to be called closed-minded yet again, I accepted the invitation. At the very least, I thought, it could make for an interesting blog post.

So there I was, standing out the front of the teacher’s house on Las Luciernagas St in Providencia at 8.15. The class had started at 8 but once again, I had misjudged Santiago’s public transport. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one who was late. In the street I bumped into a pair of women in their 30s who were heading to the same class and they seemed a little nervous as well.

The brick fence out the front of the house was tall and painted white. There was a buzzer near the gate and one of the women pressed it. She said something in fast Spanish and a few seconds later the gate clicked open. At the front door, we were met by a beautiful young woman who asked us to take off our shoes, before greeting us individually and ushering us inside. She led us down a corridor with polished woollen floorboards to a large rectangular room with clean white walls.

Around the room there were paintings of Buddha and a striking portrait of an anatomically incorrect Indian goddess, gracefully waving her many arms. On the main wall, hung a massive mirror with a vine creeping around the frame. Opposite it was a sliding, glass door that looked out onto a terraced patio.

In the centre of the room there was a burgundy rug with intricate patterns and symbols that looked like they had been derived from eastern religions. About 15 students were sitting on white cushions, placed in a circle around the edge of the rug. Cecilia, the teacher, was sitting with the students giving a general overview of biodanza. Aged in her early 50s, she had long brown hair and a plump body that seemed to be brimming with energy. Everyone listened attentively.

Along with the two other latecomers, I found a spare cushion and joined the circle. Just as I was starting to get comfortable, Cecilia announced that it was time to begin. She asked us to stand up and leave the cushions in neat piles at the side of the room beneath the gigantic mirror.

As the music began to play we did some simple warm-up exercises, rolling our shoulders and swaying from side to side according to Cecilia’s instructions. After we had limbered up, she switched the music to an upbeat African tune and told us to feel the rhythm.

“Walk around the room, expressing the rhythm you feel,” she said. “Don’t worry about how you look to other people – just move to our own rhythm. Express yourselves.”

I swung my arms chaotically and took big, clumsy steps. Despite Cecilia’s instructions, I did think about how I appeared to the others and I kept watching them for hints. We were a mixed bunch. The beautiful young woman who answered the door moved her body with composure and precision and some of the other students were impressive as well. I took some consolation from the other three men in the class and a pair of older women who seemed as self-conscious and awkward as I felt.

We then teamed up with partners and walked around the room together, holding hands and ‘sharing’ each other’s rhythms. Cecilia called out and we swapped partners, continuing with the same activity. Occasionally, she would add some information about the exercises we were doing or share a personal insight.

“This music is not just any music,” she said during one exercise. “It has been scientifically chosen…it’s organic music.”

Another time she casually added: “Since I’ve been doing this discipline, hundreds of angels have started helping me”. Unfortunately, there was nothing to help me and my clumsy movements.

For the next activity, we had to run with our arms outstretched and form groups of three. In these small groups we held hands and formed circles where we swayed together to the music, supposedly sharing each other’s energy. I was with two women in their 60s who moved slowly and carefully. Our movements were far from inspiring and we knew it but we laughed anyway. Then Cecilia instructed us to form new groups of three and despite being particularly enthusiastic I found myself being the odd man out. With a red face, I slunk into another group, bringing the total to four, and continued with the exercise.

“By doing these exercises, we are giving new life to our cells,” Cecilia said. I still wasn’t convinced. “I knew a woman with cancer who learnt to reconnect to her body through biodanza…” I couldn’t understand the rest of what she said and I remained unconvinced.

After a few more of these sorts of exercises, Cecilia dimmed the lights and told us to sit on the floor. Explaining that we were going to perform some self-care, she told us to place our hands on our hearts and focus on the good within ourselves. Still, unconvinced I sat there and prayed.

When we had cared for ourselves enough, it was time to care for the rest of the world. Still sitting on the floor, Cecilia told us to generate positive energy and send it to our brothers and sisters in Japan, who had suffered from the devastating earthquake just weeks before. By now the music had stopped and the room was silent. I desperately wanted to fart and for what felt like a very long time, I tried to hold it in before reaching the conclusion that resistance was futile. Thankfully, it wasn’t noisy.

When the rest of the class had finished sending positive energy to Japan, our time came to an end. For those who were interested, Cecilia explained the pricing structure for further beginner classes. Unfortunately, she would only be able to take the classes until June because she was heading off to Europe to teach biodanza to people with cancer.

About half the students from the class hung around to register their details. I collected my shoes and stepped back out into the nice neighbourhood. Behind a high fence not far away, a dog let out a loud bark. It was good to be back in normal Santiago.

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