December 11th, 2012 / posted by paularath

Damon Hall at Academy of the Pacific provides the perfect venue for Freestyle Dancing.

There seems to be a deep, primal need for humans to dance, and the more stressed we become, the deeper the need. In its myriad forms, dance crosses all cultures and ages. In Honolulu, dance seems to be the exercise of choice among an increasing number of women and men. Whether it’s hula, salsa, Zumba, tango or belly dancing, it’s definitely catching on.  Whether it replaces or supplements traditional forms of exercise such as biking, swimming, tennis, or running, dance is on the rise in the islands.

Many people choose to dance because it puts them in touch with something primal, releasing their inner diva, bringing out the goddess within, who can often be obscured with daily routines. The romance of dance is also appealing.

Many forms of dance have a competitive edge to them, especially if there is a partner or group involved. When the competitive spirit enters, the free spirit often departs. Some folks simply want to dance for fun, fitness and self-expression with no competitive vibes to interfere with their personal pleasure.

That’s where Freestyle Dance, also called  Ecstatic Dance, comes in. Alexandra Avery of Kailua found her groove in Ecstatic Dance in the ’80s in Oregon and she has been dancing ever since. In Honolulu, she participates in classes offered by Heeraa Sazevich (for details, see below). “It’s a workout and a spiritual practice,” Alexandra said. “This is my weekly therapy and I move out kinesthetically and emotionally. I let go. I bring up, work out and let go.”

Heeraa Sazevich teaches Ecstatic Dance in several locations and classes on Oahu.

Heeraa’s Freestyle (or Ecstatic) dance classes, while a great workout, are very different from traditional aerobic or strictly formatted dance classes. They are all about freedom of movement and losing oneself in the dance. There are no prescribed steps to follow. It’s all about what the individual’s body wants. It’s a little hard to describe Ecstatic Dance because it’s so personal and experiential. However I want to try, because I think it is an ideal form of exercise for many people who might be turned off by the competitive nature of so many other forms of exercise.


Ecstatic Dance is about getting loose and letting go. It enables dancers to “Get out of their heads, and gradually gets them back to a meditative place. We employ the body to let go of the head. It’s an active way to listen to the music and your body and to be present.” Heeraa said.

“Our bodies are much wiser than our brains are. We can trust that the body knows how to heal itself.” Heeraa Savevich

In our crazy busy lives, so many of us have lost touch with the ability to let our bodies unwind; Ecstatic Dance is a healing practice that can help us do that.

Those who seek freedom are drawn to Freestyle Dancing.

When we are children, Heeraa said, we live in an “Innocent, beautiful space, just twirling in circles and rolling on the lawn and being in total love with the magic of our bodies. We all had that and have been socialized out of it to different degrees.” Her dance practice is “About finding the joyful innocence in our bodies and falling in love with ourselves again. It can be a relief and cleansing and you feel ecstatic afterwards because you have cleansed yourself somehow.”

Who does this dance form appeal to? “It’s a vast melting pot,” Heeraa explained. “It’s for anyone who has a longing to be free, to feel free whether in mind, body or spirit. It appeals to someone who longs for greater freedom and has the courage to claim that for themselves.”


As in every form of dance, the choice of music is an important element of Ecstatic Dance. Heeraa said she wants to send dancers “on a  journey within,” so she selects music that is humorous or emotional; it usually is without lyrics so “People won’t grab it and get mental with it.”  The music, she said, “Tends to invoke a state of trance. Hopefully it’s cathartic,  and will keep dancers deep in the moment, preventing them from thinking about what’s for dinner.’ It’s designed as a warm up, then an aerobic workout, followed by cool down and stillness. Heeraa said her musical selections are influenced by the Five Rhythms of Gabrielle Roth, as well as her travels around the world, which include six years in an ashram in India.

Prior to a class held at Academy of the Pacific, a beautiful, serene  campus in Alewa Heights, I asked a male dancer named D.J. what appealed to him about the Sunday evening class. “It’s therapeutic,” he said. “You let go of all the pent-up energies of the week and it goes from your body. It’s the opposite of contained energy such as ballroom dancing. The music helps. It’s so full of potential. It has all the rhythms and cultures. It’s like traveling the world with the music,” he added in his lilting French accent. (Yes, there were quite a few men in the class.)


Heeraa said she became a teacher “by accident.”  She had been a dancer since age 5, when she studied in the school of the San Francisco Ballet. She began practicing Ecstatic Dance in 1998 in Marin County under Gabrielle Roth. (Roth died very recently but her legacy lives on. For more, go to When she arrived in Honolulu “I thought I’d shrivel up and die without any kind of dance practice so I started crafting my own. It’s an incredible tool to let go of the ego and the thinking mind and be delivered unto spirit.”

Intrigued? Here’s a list of classes:

Sundays from 7 – 8:30 p.m., Academy of the Pacific, Damon Hall, 913 Alewa Drive

Wednesdays from 7 – 8:30 p.m., Academy of the Pacific

Recommended donation is $10 but no one is turned away.

Select Fridays at Still & Moving Center

Or to get a sense of the dance, attend a special class on the Winter Solstice, 7 – 9 p.m., Friday, December 21, at the Still & Moving Center, 1024 Queen Street. This class is $12.

For more information:

– Paula Rath


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December 12th, 2012 at 7:12 pm

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