Dawn Morgan teaches and arranges workshops in 5 Rhythms dance, both nationally and internationally, and is the director of Shapeshift Dance. She is also trained in Tantra. She can be found organising various retreats and is also available to DJ or choreograph special events. She lives in Stroud with her seven-year-old son Arien.
Q: What’s the best thing about living in the South West?
A: Living in Stroud is fantastic. There are so many creative, earthy people here who are spiritual seekers but are also into positive change and action in the community. It’s a great place to bring up children, there are alternatives to mainstream education, if you want that, and child-friendly places. There are cafes with fun things happening in them, like poetry, story telling and dancing. There is a wonderful farmers market and local farms like the Slad farm near where I live who are providing fresh, local organic food for the area.
Is there anything you would like to see more of in this area?
More eco-housing. I know it is happening but it’d be great to see much more of it in the South West. I’m currently building an ‘eco-straw-bale roundhouse’ in Lancashire as a retreat space. Planning permission and land prices round here are a big hurdle for would be eco-builders, though people are still doing it. There are vast amounts of ‘un-eco-buildings’ going up, I’d like to see this changing. I also want to see more recycling – there is nowhere that I am aware of in Gloucestershire that will take all different kinds of plastic. Please let me know anyone out there if I’m wrong. What I’d also really like to see is some good public transport between Stroud and Bristol, and Stroud and other bigger cities; at the moment it’s terrible!
What is Shapeshift dance?
Ever since there were people, there has been dancing. Dance has always been a way of connecting (to yourself, to others, to the spirit of life itself), a way of raising energy, celebrating, healing, praying and playing. Shapeshift is based on the 5 Rhythms devised by Gabrielle Roth. These five rhythms (Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness) take the dancer through five different ways of moving and the idea is that each movement is a gateway to aspects of yourself. Playing with and embodying these aspects is ‘shapeshifting’. It’s fun, physical and is a spiritual pathway that honours that we are of the earth, that through our bodies we feel and move and dance. I always used to find sitting meditation difficult. I find dancing a meditation in itself, within which I have discovered tremendous stillness. The 5 Rhythms dance is a way of awakening yourself on all levels – body, heart, mind, spirit and soul.
How did you discover your love of dance?
I suppose I’ve always danced – I used to dance at home with my brothers and sisters, and we used to put on shows and my gran used to watch them! My Granny was a groovy jiver and so was my mum. I went to University in Bristol to do a BSc in Psychology and I got into healing and therapy and stuff like that and at times dance was definitely my refuge. I started to see that the dances I was doing, such as rock jive and seroc, which were all partner-oriented, were mirroring things in my life. I was discovering a lot about how I related to others, particularly to men. I decided to explore further and in 1994 I trained to teach the 5 Rhythms with Gabrielle Roth, and have been teaching ever since.
What makes you mad?
The fact that there are so many cars on the road… and I’m one of them!
What gets you into trouble?
Men! Although I don’t know if I should say that! And taking too much on.
What’s your favourite book?
‘Jitterbug Perfume’ by Tom Robbins. I love it because it’s funny and quirky and magical. It kind of goes all over the place but in a good way – it’s a great book. Oh and ‘The Tantric Quest’ by Daniel O’dier – well worth a read.
What’s your greatest fear?
On a global level, that we won’t wake up in time to what we’re doing to the planet. On a personal level, I have the usual worries about harm coming to my son. Also, I want to be fully present in my life all the time, whether it’s telling my son his bedtime story or doing the washing up. Getting to where I am has been a journey, sometimes a hard one. I’ve been through a divorce, am a single parent and run my own business. Bringing ‘personal growth’ into practical action is important to me and like many of us I am learning about that, but I feel very grateful to be where I am right now.
What was the last cultural event you enjoyed?
In Stroud they have an event where different artists open their studios or their homes and you can go round looking at all the different works. It’s brilliant, I love seeing all the creative stuff that’s going on.
What’s been your most memorable holiday?
Going to Crete. I’ve taught dance courses there every year for the last eight years and I love it over there – the land is wild and magical. I’ve actually chosen to stop doing it for the time being because I’m thinking about the aeroplane flight and my carbon footprint. It’s so difficult to get the balance right between not getting so worried that you don’t enjoy your life, and at the same time also really changing things and making a difference. I think it’s a very personal decision.
How do you relax?
I do yoga, I go for walks, receive massage and I lie on my sofa and look out of the window into my garden. I sit in the woods with the trees.
What inspires you?
Seeing people move! I love seeing people dance – when you see people move and they are really in the moment of what they’re doing it’s as though you get to glimpse their soul. The natural world inspires me too.
What can someone expect if they come to a Shapeshift class?
A good dance, fun and a bit of a challenge probably! What’s great about the 5 Rhythms is that there is a lot of freedom and it’s very accessible. It’s not like Salsa or whatever, where you learn set steps. There is a form and a structure to 5 Rhythms, but there’s a lot of freedom within that. You use your body in a way that respects your level of fitness and flexibility.
On another level, we are being faced with ourselves when we dance and with accepting whatever is arising in us as we move. I’ve worked with people in prisons and people in recovery from addiction, people who are disabled, people with depression, and lots of normal neurotics like us! I’m also interested in working with people in the work-place and business world. There was a documentary recently that looked at all the different ways of treating depressions and the conclusion they came to was that the only thing that really helped was movement. Dance makes you feel good!
What has life taught you?
To accept, to trust, to practice stillness as well movement. Also, that whatever else is going on, there’s magic and beauty and love in the world.
Dawn does a yearly Summer School for 5 Rhythms Dance with other healing and creative workshops.
‘Shapeshift Dance’ also organizes events like the Stroud Spirit of Dance Summer School and events for other teachers of similar work.
shapeshift.co.uk, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Interview by Fiona McClymont, photograph by Jo Halladey
First published issue 51 (winter 2007/2008)
Disclaimer – details were correct at time of going to press, but may now have changed. Please make your own checks.
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