Dancing at the Grand Canyon

29 April 2020

On April 18, 2020, I went to the Grand Canyon with my boyfriend Jo. We were sheltered in place in Sedona, Arizona, which is about a two hour drive to the Grand Canyon. I’d never been before, and I wanted to see it. The maps all said it was closed, like all the National Parks in the US. We decided to head up there anyhow on Friday night, camp in the woods, and then see if we could get in the next day.

Saturday morning, we awoke early, alone about five miles from the canyon rim. The road to the park was closed. So we packed our backpacks full of food and water and started hiking. We figured there was about a 5% chance we might get in, and about a 95% chance things would not go as planned. We walked on the empty, wide paved path that was usually full of tourists. We passed two guys jogging with their dogs, but no one else. After two hours of hiking, as we got closer to the rim, there were no cars, no people, no signs telling us to turn back, and no barriers…

…so we crossed the empty road and walked right into the Grand Canyon.

It was spectacular, as I always imagined it would be. We sat on the edge of the rim and meditated and listened to the wind sweep through the vast canyon. We hiked to another spot and ate lunch in the bright sun as we watched the birds glide below us. We hiked 18 miles that day, passing only five people the entire time.

Check out THIS 57 SECOND VIDEO CLIP for a snapshot of what it was like.

Until now, I’ve only told three people about that adventure. Was it even legal? Surely it had to be illegal. But was it? I know it was a once in a lifetime experience, and because we didn’t stay in a hotel, eat at a restaurant, or even pass anyone nearby, we mostly followed the covid guidelines. But the legalities of what we should or should not have done were fuzzy. The veil felt thin. The rules felt loose, kind of like life at Burning Man.

The renegade in me loves the looseness of the rules happening right now. I feel a sense of freedom from what’s already been established. We are truly birthing a new world, and are forming it right now. I fucking love it. I’ve heard people talk about “when we go back to normal.” There is no going back to normal. We will never go back.

It’s our time to move forward and create the world we want to live in, and the thin veil is inviting us and guiding us toward this creation. 

You might be wondering what this has to do with Ecstatic Dance. Everything.

When I started Ecstatic Dance in Oakland in 2008, the rules felt loose. The veil between reality and the ethereal worlds was thin. We were making shit up all the time. It was a new, wild frontier of dance no one had ever experienced before.

Here’s an excerpt from my memoir, The Messy In Between, about one of the early days (note: people’s names have been changed to protect their privacy):

Chapter 20: Doctor D & The Wild Dancers

Growing Ecstatic Dance Oakland became my obsession.

Every week, Richard and I were losing thousands of dollars from each dance. We desperately had to figure out ways to get more people there before our credit cards maxed out, and I wasn’t sure if we would make it. These were the days before social media really took off, in 2008, so we couldn’t rely on online marketing. We had to hit the streets and bust our butts. This was unbelievably uncomfortable for my introverted nature, but the dance needed to survive, so I got out of my comfort zone once more and went out on the streets with Richard anywhere we could think of to go where there might be a big crowd. I pretended I was an extrovert and chatted up anyone who would talk to me about this new dance I was sure they’d love, giving them a free pass and postcard to entice them to come try it.

I remember one Saturday at three o’clock in the morning, Richard and I stood in the cold outside Temple Nightclub in San Francisco as they closed and shoved postcards in drunk people’s hands.

A few weeks after that, before a concert at the Fox Theater in Oakland on a Saturday night, there was a line wrapped around the block of people waiting to get in. We were more prepared this time, and had assembled a small crew of about five outgoing dancers to join our mission. We called ourselves ‘Ecstatic Dance Activators’ and ran around in front of the Fox Theater acting cool, dancing, and talking up Ecstatic Dance. We told the concert goers that Ecstatic Dance was right around the corner from the Fox Theater … the next morning! The people waiting in line had nothing else to do, so some of them engaged with us. “You dance on a Sunday morning?!? Who dances in the morning?!!? You mean, it’s like an afterparty? What kind of music do you play?” We got our elevator pitches down: “It’s like a church where you dance instead of pray…and the music is like stuff you’d hear at a club…with professional electronic music DJs! Around 200 of us gather every Sunday and sweat our asses off (in truth, there were more like 50 at that point).”

The next morning at Ecstatic Dance, I had a dance with one of the ‘Ecstatic Dance Activators’ we called Doctor D that I will never forget. Our chemistry on the dance floor was hot, fueled by copious amounts of deep bass and adrenaline. We were dripping sweat as we writhed on each other. We grinded on one another for a song and then separated for a beat. I watched Doctor D hop around the dance floor, his moves cool and seductive. I danced over to the speakers that were almost as tall as me, closed my eyes, took hold of the top of one and started humping it, letting the electric buzz of whomping bass pulse in my groin. When I opened my eyes, I saw that I was surrounded by men and women surrendering to the moment with the same wild abandon as me, letting the driving beat of the music consume us and take us to another place together. The small group of us that were completely high and out of our minds from the dancing and music infected the entire dance floor until everyone became wild. We were screaming, shaking, sweat flying, our heads thrown around recklessly, slaves to the dance. The music was loud and fast and driving hard. We were fucking alive. I wanted to swallow life whole and keep dancing forever.

As I was gulping water on the edge of the dance floor, Doctor D pulled me into the supply closet. Our mouths immediately found one another, ravenous. Our hands grabbed flesh, our sweat merged and soaked our clothes, salty and wet. I wanted him, and knew he wanted me. We were insatiable with lust, fueled by the utter aliveness from the dance. A new song came on and we paused our groping. I looked at him. He looked back at me. His eyebrow raised slightly. We ran back onto the dance floor, laughing. I knew what we were both thinking, “There was no way we were going to miss dancing to this song.”

I followed my pelvis as my hips moved wildly around in a raunchy circle with too much passion to slow down and meet another in the dance. I had to let this song move through me alone. I was moaning, it felt so good, about to explode with pleasure. I felt the pure essence of life itself moving through me. The next song was a bit slower. As I came out of my rapturous state, I opened my eyes and looked around. I couldn’t believe this kind of craziness could ensue on a Sunday morning. Sober. I couldn’t believe this was my job, and I’d get to do this forever.

Ecstatic Dance was everything to me. Moments like the one with Doctor D and the wild dancers sustained me. I was taken over by passion for the dance. I’d do anything for it.

I was still confused as to who I was and where I fit in to the world, where I fit in with my family, and where I fit in society. The only thing I knew for sure was that I loved dancing. The one time every week I was sure of myself was when I was on the dance floor. Every Sunday at Ecstatic Dance, I found my way to solid ground. To the real me, without masks or pretense. And then the rest of the week, that remembering, that surety, slowly faded and I was lost once again. Unmoored. And then Sunday came around and I danced and remembered. And then forgot. Got lost. During the week, my life was a roller coaster where everything would either go wrong or be EPIC! And then, on that big, beautiful dance floor on Sunday morning, I was home again. I had created an anchor for myself in Ecstatic Dance. No matter what happened all week, I had a place to go every Sunday that could hold me as I was and meet the new parts of me as they emerged. The dance tethered me to solid ground while it allowed me to explore different sides of myself, in the presence of others.

It was the holiest, raunchiest, truest expression of humanity I had ever experienced.

And here we are again—in the early days of this new world. Older and wiser, perhaps, then that time from twelve years ago, but still as holy, raunchy, and true. We have a chance to invent, innovate, and truly create transformation, now on a massive scale as our dance communities grow and explode with newfound energy.

Now more than ever I feel the power of the dance moving through me, and through our increasingly tighter knit dance communities. Now more than ever I am steeped in gratitude for this wonderful world of dance we have created. Now more than ever I feel it is an honor to dance and create with you.

Donna Carroll

Donna Carroll is the founder of Ecstatic Dance International and cofounder of Ecstatic Dance Oakland. She is a social entrepreneur who believes dance and music transform lives.

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