Sweat Your Prayers:
Ambient Visions Talks with.... Gabrielle Roth ©2000AmbientVisions
AV: Would you like to tell our readers about Gabriel Roth, who you are and what you do?
have always danced. Dance has been my medium, my metaphor, my message
and my meditation. I was so passionate about dance that it was
inevitable that I would sweep other people with me, and that's
exactly what has happened. I've been teaching since I was sixteen,
which is quite a long time. I have evolved a whole healing path
rooted in movement out of this passion of mine.
So, would you say dance or music is the more important or do they
both play an equal roll in your life?
Movement plays the big roll. Movement is the key for me. It was
always a spiritual pursuit. At an early age, I fell into deep trance
dancing and discovered a very ecstatic zone of consciousness that I
could enter through the gateway of dance. It was such a blissful
experience that in my movement work, in my teachings, I began to map
my way, how I got there and back so that I could take other people to
It all started with the movement. The music came
second. In the early 80's, I needed music that was like the live
drumming I used in the workshops. It didn't exist on the market at
that time, except for African drumming, which was a bit fast for some
of the movements I wanted to do. So we began to record Totem,
to make a piece of music that would bring the drums up. In my
culture, a lot of people have a hard time hearing the beat. So I
would be looking at a room full of dancing bodies and I would see the
disconnection, at how spirit and flesh were completely divided. It
was mirrored in the dance, because the body can't lie. I could see
that the body wasn't necessarily in the beat so I felt it necessary
to bring the drums up so that people could really hear them and not
miss them. To take the lyrics and the top part of the music away.
That's how we started.
was just about putting out a drum record that I could work with and
that people who worked with me could take home and dance to those
types of drums. I began to use music to map the 5Rhythms™ so
that people who were doing the practice would have music to work with
at home. It became much bigger than that. Many people bought the
music that didn't know anything about the five rhythms or the dance
practice or me. Music has its own way of inspiring people.
I first heard your music on a collection from Windham Hill Records
called Path: An Ambient Collection.
I had no idea about your dance until I saw your website. Music was
the entry point for me.
the music is the entry point to the work for many people. For some
people, the dance is the entry point and they find the music. Other
people find the books or the videos. There are lots of entry points
at this time and that is exciting to me. When I walk into a room, I
am never sure how people got there anymore.
One of the interviews I read referred to you as an "Urban
Shaman". What does that mean to you?
shaman is one who transforms cultural and personal neurosis into
creative form and I think that shamanism is indigenous to its
culture. In other words, there is a certain medicine power you have
that comes from the transformation of your own healing crisis into
some creative form. It's universal enough that it speaks to many
other people and it seems to me to be very culturally rooted. For
example, in this culture, we have this amazing spirit/body divide
that happens through our religious history. My work, my path and my
own wounds and suffering mirror many other people in my culture.
So my own healing path has become a self-healing
path for many other people and that is why I am referred to as a
shaman. In the early 60's, I had no idea what it meant. I looked it
up in the dictionary and remember it being something I really hated.
It was so bad. I thought who wants to be that. In the 70's, being a
shaman was either so special no one could be one, especially not a
mere mortal, or it was so weird nobody would want to be one. So this
culture couldn't come to grips with this amazing 75,000-year-old
tradition, which was probably the seed religion, the original
spiritual path. My work does mirror that tradition, the way that I
came to it, the way that it spreads, the energy of it, it is best
understood as a shamanic paradigm. People don't understand shamanism
so I usually don't even bring it up.
Do you view some of your work as being a uniting? You were talking
about the body and the spirit having such chasms between them, do you
look at that as being part of your work, to unite the body with the spirit.
is my work, to embody spirit. On the way that became much more
complicated than I originally thought it was. The path is much more
arduous than that. The first thing that has to happen is we have to
free the body from all its conditioning in a very literal way. We
need to physically free the body, wake it up and get it back into
motion and fluidity. As soon as that happens we start to feel, our
emotional world is enlivened and we begin to deal with our fears, our
angers, our sorrows and our joys. We get a feeling of what compassion
might be about. We learn to express the heart, to get to know the
wilderness of the heart and to learn how to express it in creative
forms, so that we can be spontaneous and authentic in the moment with
The work that I developed about the heart took me
directly to the work about the life cycles. The heart is related to
the mind because we all have different beliefs, theories,
justifications, rationalizations and things that occupy the ego with
all its monstrous masks ruling the mind. So I developed a whole body
of work that is rooted in the life cycles, understanding how we
absorbed our conditioning so we can free ourselves of it. Once we do
that then we can begin to know the difference between who we are and
who we are not; we can see the difference between the soul and the
ego and begin to align ourselves with our soulful self as opposed to
our ego self.
Each step of the way these particular pieces of
work evolve into specific workshops and the evolution of the
workshops became a dancing path. On that path you can peel yourself
like an artichoke and get back down to the core of your essential
being, that amazing, fascinating, mysterious, mystical self. It's all
energy that we are talking about. What we need to do is let go of
many of our attachments that we carry whether they be physical,
emotional or mental so that we can celebrate our existence here. For
me the soul is not an abstraction; it's when body, heart and mind are
unified, when they are one, so that you are feeling, thinking and
doing in one direction, in one breath. That is the manifestation of
soul, which is inspired or held together by spirit.
When you write the music, do you have something in mind?
always have something in mind -- perhaps we are going to do a journey
through the five rhythms or perhaps we are going to focus on one
rhythm, like Luna,
focused on flowing. In the album Waves
I focused on the rhythm of chaos. Bones
has all five rhythms. We always have something specific that I am
attempting to do. Zone Unknown
I wanted to make some really hot dance music and Refuge
is a beautiful Tibetan chant album. There's always a purpose to the music.
We start by laying down the very, very bottom. My
husband Robert mostly does that with Sanga of the Valley, and a crew
musicians that we have worked with for many years some of whom work
with us live as well. Next we start adding those musicians who would
be appropriate here and we create the bottom, a very complex bottom
of, for the most part, real drums as opposed to machines. Then I'll
say "this one needs a bass" or I'll listen and decide what
we need in order to accomplish our mission, which is different for
different albums. We always have a similar cell of musicians who play
on most of our albums. Sometimes it's in the moment, other times its
very well planned
in advance. It changes. Each musician listens to
the music and responds to it relatively spontaneously. So it's more
Sometimes it doesn't work and it doesn't get used. Most of the time
it does. I may speak to them in the musical language. I may tell a
story or depict an image. Like - "You are standing on a corner
at 3 AM, your girlfriend just left the bar in a fabulous red dress
with another guy. Put that into your trumpet."
Rather than saying, I want an eighth note here.
I figure somebody who has been playing their instrument for perhaps
20 or more years, doesn't need me to tell them how to play it. They
just need me to tell them what I want, what feelings I want to evoke
in the dancers. It's all about the dancers for me.
Do you judge a piece of music, when its finished, by the way it makes
Completing a piece of music is as multifaceted as the rest of the
process. Sometimes it's a matter of "that's all the time and
money we have", sometimes you just know its completed. You
couldn't add another thing. Usually that's the way it is. We reach
the point where there is nothing else we want to add. Sometimes there
are things you want to add, but the music says to you "I'm
done!" So you could try to add things, but you end up taking
them away. It's a creative process. I've gone into the studio when we
are actually mixing an album and deconstructed a song completely and
started from scratch at that late date. That's only happened once.
It's all an amazing, magical, creative process where, when you are
making a piece of music, you just have to stay open and respect
what's coming to you from the music.
There was a compilation of your works called Stillpoint.
What does that bring to mind? Why did you use that term?
that was a compilation of all our songs of stillness. Actually at the
time I was thinking of that amazing quote from T. S. Elliot: "In
the stillpoint of the turning world there is the dance and only the
dance". For me, there is a place called the moving center, which
is a stillpoint. It is around that that the whole of life swirls and
within each one of us we can find that stillpoint through meditation.
It is, of course, very paradoxical because in that very still place
you can really feel the depth and profundity of movement. It's this
place where things are so still they're moving or moving so fast
they're still. That is the stillpoint for me. I made Stillpoint
the album to gather all the beautiful stillness music that we had made.
I work with five rhythms: flowing, staccato,
chaos, lyrical and stillness. Each one is a whole world. I wanted an
album that focused on the world of stillness, so that each song
evoked the spirit of stillness, and yet was a drum song as opposed to
a straight synthesizer.
Since you mention it, tell me a little about the five universal rhythms.
five rhythms are a map to everywhere you might want to go, on every
plain of consciousness. They are physically, emotionally,
intellectually inner worlds, outer worlds, future worlds, past
worlds. They are markers on the way back to a very real self, a very
vulnerable, wild, passionate, instinctive self. That is what they are.
Do you think modern people, as opposed to a few hundred years ago,
have lost more connections with different worlds, with the spirit and
their relationship to them?
have lost awe and wonder. In reference to the mystery of life itself,
we've lost respect for movement in our planet, not just the cyclical
movement of life. The entire culture is constantly trying to squeeze
itself into puberty, as if earth, childhood, maturity and the death
cycle aren't part of the life dance. There are just so many ways that
we've put our planet into pain. We don't even understand or we are
starting to, but we don't act like we understand that flowers feel
and trees feel and that the sky and the waters deserves to be pure.
We have been very disrespectful.
AV: How do these rhythms apply to the stages of life?
GR: The birth stage is all about flowing. If you hang out with a two-year-old then you can really understand what flowing in your own field of energy is all about. Because that is all they do. When they are hungry, they are hungry; when they are tired, they are tired. When they are playing, then they are playing and when they are distracted, they are distracted. Whatever they are, they are that totally. They are really in tune with
the flow of their energy, which is going to get conditioned out of them by the time they are four. That's when they start attending to other peoples' schedules and learning to lose touch with the flow of their own personal energy. Flowing is the catalyst for that life cycle.
Childhood is governed by staccato, where we start to see everything in lines and boundaries. We write in lines, we throw in lines, this is mine, that is yours. School is from 8 to 3. Everything becomes very linear and very defined at that point.
Chaos governs puberty which is the wild mind of the psyche. It's when we are dealing with our feminine and masculine energy and just as they collide and create all the chaos that they create, we are learning to think for ourselves, to learn to be lovers. I consider that life cycle to take from approximately 10 years old to about 30.
Then we enter into the maturity cycle, which is governed by lyrical, and is when we should lighten up a bit. Lyrical is a real trance rhythm. It is the rhythm of repetition and that's one of the things we learn about in maturity. The repetition of being with the same person in the bonded, soul mates type relationship. The repetition of responsibility defines the trance, and the emptiness side of that is the teaching of this rhythm.
In stillness is discovered rhythm of the life cycle of death. From 60 on, everything starts to slow down and empty out. It's a beautiful period of stillness.
In life we have our personal rhythms, the rhythms that we were born with and that we embody as a home base. We have the life cycle that we are in and we have the rhythm of place. For example, New York City is very chaotic and Hawaii is very lyrical and still, England is very staccato. So it depends on where you are.
AV: So places can effect rhythms in our life?
GR: Absolutely, everything is rhythm. Everything is in motion. All we are talking about is energy, for me, in a spiritual point of view. God is the dance, and I am a dancer and the point of view for me is to dissolve, disappear in the dance. That is my practice, to every day reach that place of dissolving and disappearing in the dance. As Osho said: "Only the dance remains".
AV: What kind of power does the dance have, if it is used on a regular basis? What could a person accomplish with it?
GR: It changes our lives completely. I would say that first, a person's energy becomes more fluid and second, a person would be able to name the energy. Like I'm feeling very inert, or I'm feeling very edgy. I am in touch with a deep anger or I'm feeling very lightheaded. You get a language with which you can transverse your own inner worlds and name things so you can move through them and let go of them. In the dance, most people
gain access to deeper emotions and how to express them. A lot of beliefs and dogmas drop away, there is no room for dogma in the dance. The dance is too wild for dogma. You see the power of the dance to re-invent yourself constantly.
When you come into my work I like to say, "You have to be like a computer hacker, willing to break through the codes on your own Internet. You have to be a survival guide and hack through the under growth of your own emotional wilderness. You have to be like a rock star and constantly physically reinvent yourself." This is what happens. There is an enormous freedom that comes, a physical freedom and emotional freedom, a mental freedom, a sexual freedom that comes just from
the dance itself, or at least from the dance of the five rhythms because they are such a deep and profound universal map to the entire creative process.
You are aligning yourself to that process. You go through these rhythms when you have a baby, so I figure that they are in the DNA of our consciousness. They are a map of how things are born and die.
AV: How hard was it to express these ideas in your books?
GR: (Laughing) That was very hard in Maps
to Ecstasy. I actually had someone help me with that book. I disciplined myself to really take on that task in Sweat Your Prayers and I am really thankful that I did. I love the process, but there were days that I hated it. I think I found a language that helped the movement and the wildness I am trying to convey. The permission to be wild and to be grounded and rooted at
the same time. The permission to be all that you are, not to be bound in any boxes. I think I found the language in "Sweat Your Prayers.
AV: I imagine it would be very difficult to take such an emotional, spiritual and internal kind of thing like that and put it down on paper and still have it carry the same power and meaning for someone just reading the words and not familiar with the motion.
GR: I don't know, I hope that I communicated that in this book. I really worked at it to be really articulate and yet poetic and grounded in story. This is a spiritual practice that is rooted in the feminine, so it is not an abstract book. I tried to bring all the spiritual teachings that I have learned but grounded them in story, grounded them in the practical world that we actually live in. So I can write about the Halloween Parade
in Manhattan when I write about lyrical or I can write about Michael Jordan playing basketball when I am writing about flowing. It makes it more meaningful for people when they can get physical examples of what it is you are talking about.
AV: You don't promote any kind of spirituality in your dance, it's more of your bringing forth what is in people already.
GR: It's not competitive to any spiritual practice. You can be a Buddhist and do this practice, you can be a Catholic and do this practice, and you can be a Wiccan and do this practice because the practice has no dogma. It's just maps. You make of them what you will. They talk to you on the level that they are going to talk to you. They are a direct experience of the ecstatic tradition The ecstatic tradition was burned at the stake.
I consider that it is rising from the ashes like a Phoenix as more and more of us reach for the experience and want direct personal experiences.
AV: What is on the horizon for you?
GR: I'm working on a theater piece, two videos and a new album.
AV: I read something on your web site about a new album in January.
GR: Maybe sooner. I have a new album called Tribe coming out.
AV: Any particular direction for that music?
GR: This one is definitely a five rhythm experience, a very intense, up-tempo, five rhythm wave dance. That will also be a part of the videos. This is not my first video. I have another called The
Wave which is an introduction to the five rhythms.
AV: Thank you for talking with us and I wish you much success with your upcoming musical release and of course your ongoing work with dance.