Blog Post

The New Age/Occult Roots of the 5Rhythms

Gabrielle Roth (1941-2012) (YouTube) Gabrielle Roth (1941-2012)

We have received a question from a reader about a form of trance dancing known as the 5Rhythms. Is it New Age? And are there any connections to the occult?

The answer to both of these questions is yes.

The Five Rhythms is a combination of dance and meditation which draws from shamanism, mystical and eastern philosophies, as well as New Age tenets such as Gestalt therapy, the human potential movement and transpersonal psychology.

At the core of the practice is the fundamental New Age belief that everything is an “energy” that moves in waves or patterns.

Developed by Gabrielle Roth, an American dancer and musician who had a special interest in shamanism, the five rhythms are Flow Staccato Chaos Lyrical Stillness® which are described as “states of being” on the website.  When the five rhythms are danced in sequence, they form a “Wave,” which takes about an hour to complete.

“She observed this cycle in nature, in thunderstorms, in the act of giving birth and making love, and translated it to the dance floor, each individual rhythm containing its own teachings, archetypal metaphors and personal life lessons for the person who dives into the dark black waters of the practice from the deep end,” writes Eliezer Sobel in Psychology Today.

Esalen Institute Esalen Institute

Roth believed these rhythms are “a map to everywhere we want to go, on all planes of consciousness – inner and outer, forward and back, physical emotional and psychological. They are the marker on the way back to a real self, a vulnerable, wild passionate, instinctive self.”

For her, the 5 Rhythms practice was more of a soul journey. She believed that moving the body, releasing the heart and freeing the mind could help a person connect to the essence of the soul.

In other words, it’s not just a dance form.

But in order to fully understand the 5Rhythms, it’s important to explore the many threads Roth wove into this practice.

Born in San Francisco in 1941, Roth came of age in the turbulent 1960’s. She knew from an early age that she wanted to be a dancer and trained in traditional dance methods. However, at the age of 26, injuries sustained in a skiing accident in Germany and an African dance class made it impossible for her to continue dancing.

This led to a period of depression and she found herself heading to the New Age hub of Big Sur in California. It was there that she became involved in the Esalen Institute as a masseuse. She also found that her body was healing itself through precisely the activity she was told she could never perform again – dance.

This led to involvement with Gestalt psychiatrist Fritz Perls who asked her to teach dance at Esalen. This was when she developed a structure for a new kind of transforming dance known as the “Wave” of the 5Rhythms.

Along with her husband, Robert Ansell, she began to record trance music under the Raven Recordings label which was used for dancing, meditation and massage.

From there, she decided to expand her studies and spent three years as a student of Oscar Ichazo, the Bolivian occultist who was a pioneer in the Enneagram movement.

According to Catholics and the New Age by Father Mitch Pacwa, SJ, Ichazo began having out-of-body experiences as a child which led him to become disillusioned with the Church. He grew up and became involved in various esoteric groups in Bolivia and Argentina studying Oriental martial arts, Zen, Andes Indian thought, psychedelic drugs, shamanism, yoga, hypnotism and psychology.

He reportedly began receiving instructions from a higher entity named Metatron who he believed was the prince of the archangels. Ichazo went on to found the Arica School for spiritual development.

Roth brought all of these influences into her dance, as well as insights from Bhagwan Shree Rajneeshm, the controversial Indian cult leader who believed that sex was the first step toward “superconsciousness.”

Other influences in her work came from Philippine psychic healers and the shamanic traditions of native Americans.

Although there are some who like to say the 5Rhythms is just a dance form, this is not at all what Roth believed.

As this article recounts, at the end of one of her classes, when one person was sobbing in the corner and another was beaming in elation, she asked, “You didn’t really think this was about dancing, did you?”

Although Roth died of lung cancer in 2012, her methods are being taught out of The Moving Center in New York. As of 2016, 293 teachers were certified.

Trance dancing such is problematic because it can induce an altered state which renders a dancer vulnerable to spiritual entities. The idea that dancing has the power to heal and/or become a gateway to the soul is steeped in traditional New Age thought that the human person is essentially divine and just needs to be enlightened in order to unleash its powers. Known as the "human potential movement," the Pontifical document Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life warned that this movement was the "clearest example of the conviction that humans are divine, or contain a divine spark within themselves.” (Sec. 4)

Needless to say, the 5Rhythms practice is not compatible with Christianity.