Looking for a natural high? Try ecstatic dance

  • Dancers at Polllinate. Photo Courtesy of Roger Ingraham

  • Aaron Brando at Pollinate.

  • Dancers at Polllinate. Photo Courtesy of Roger Ingraham

For the Gazette
Friday, June 08, 2018

Aaron Brando, aka DJ Hip Sockit, is intense and direct, but he has a calm about him — and a penchant for talking about energy fields, connections and vibrations. He’s a free spirit with an interest in freeing the body, which makes sense: He’s an independent holistic body-work practitioner by day. By night, he’s co-founder of Pollinate Ecstatic Dance, which, according to its Facebook page, is “the hub where high vibration dancing, healthy living, thick beats, and community connections all come together.”

Brando, a resident of Northampton, is celebrating Pollinate’s 10-year anniversary this month. When asked about the idea behind ecstatic dance and about Pollinate’s mission in particular, he searched for his words thoughtfully.

“There’s a lot of fracturing in our contemporary culture,” he said one afternoon at the outdoor café at River Valley Co-Op in Northampton. “This is my antidote; this is a way to encourage and promote connection …. It’s about creating an organism: One living, breathing, organism of dance.”

Pollinate meets every first Friday on the fourth floor of the Fitzwilly’s building in downtown Northampton. Brando says it all started when he was deejaying for Dance Spree, a Pioneer Valley-based freestyle-dance organization, which describes itself  as “offering each of us the opportunity to free our bodies and minds from the pressures of civilization.”

“I loved the intention of people coming together and taking their shoes and socks off. I loved the self-expression through ecstatic dance,” Brando said, but he had a bigger vision. “I wanted to create something that was a nexus of inspiration. I wanted to see cross-pollinations, things spilling over and inspiring people in other ways.”

With the help of fellow ecstatic dancers DJ Justin Mannochia and Kay’aleya Hunnybee, he began hosting a separate event once a month at various Hampshire County locations, including First Churches of Northampton. Eventually, they settled in at Studio 4 at the School for Contemporary Dance & Thought (SCDT), and Pollinate Ecstatic Dance was born.

Ecstatic dances can be found all over the world. Generally, the evening starts with warm-up movements through yoga or other body-centric exercises. Then the music begins. Brando describes the music at Pollinate as “cutting-edge contemporary electronic music.” A past invite advertised the vibe as “Globaltronic Soul Boom Boom Circus Fusion Sound Spectacle!!!” Dancers are welcomed and encouraged to dance in any manner that suits them. Some dancers remain standing while others get down on the floor. Participants can either dance alone or dance with others. Whether swaying, leaping or crawling, dancers are encouraged not to judge one another. 

Local health food company KaleYums provides healthy snacks, like sprouted almond chocolate goji maca bars, to keep the body invigorated. Cushions and chairs are provided on the perimeter of the room for those needing to take a rest. At Pollinate, the evening begins at 9 p.m. and ends at 1 a.m.

There are also strict rules at these dances. In some clubs, like Ecstatic Dance NYC in New York, for example, dance-floor rules prohibit phones, photos and speaking. At Pollinate in Northampton, dancers cannot talk to one another on the dance floor, and although they can move however they choose, they must respect themselves and one another.

Ecstatic dances are drug and alcohol free spaces, as well, which is a sharp departure from most club scenes where drugs are readily available.

“Pollinate promotes a belief that the energy of ecstatic dance can create an alternative field of energy that’s intoxicating,” Brando said. “Alcohol is not needed — your inhibitions are already being blown open. There’s a different form of intoxication that’s doing a similar thing.”

Pollinate is also committed to creating a safe space. Someone serves as the safety point person at every Pollinate dance. “We have written guidelines for the way people address one another,” Brando said. “It’s definitely a space where we’re putting this as a real value.”

Currently, Brando runs Pollinate with his  business partner Marek Tresnak, aka DJ Luminus. Boasting a stellar sound system professional lighting, Brando states, “I want people to have a visual experience and an audio experience that’s clean and crisp with music levels that are not damaging like in some clubs.”

Part of the visual experience is looking around and seeing what other people are wearing — there’s a healthy heaping of glitter. “You can get dressed up if you want — it’s definitely got that ‘I’m going out on a Friday night’ feeling,” Brando said. “Some spaces are too New Age. We’re able to ride a nice bridge between mainstream culture and counterculture.” 

Around 80 dancers, from high-school age to the elderly, frequent the first Friday dances. Brando says that over the past decade, some people have met, fallen in love and had children all because of the connections they made at Pollinate.

“There’s something about moving your body, and your unique persona comes through,” he said. “Pollinate has become woven into the fabric of the community. It’s a life practice for people rather than just an event they go to. It’s therapeutic — it has become an essential part of people’s lives.”