Community that Dances Together…

By Steven Libowitz   |   September 13, 2018

The description on Yoga Soup’s website was intriguing: “A movement community experience suitable for everybody… combining guided movement meditations, structured improvisation, simple choreographed exercises, and the exhilarating experience of moving in unison with other bodies.”

But then, that begs the question: In a town that has more ecstatic dancing gatherings and contact improv sessions per capita than probably any other place in the world – including, not coincidentally, a monthly offering at Yoga Soup that combines both – is there really a need for something that seems similar?

Absolutely, according to Melissa Lowenstein, who will co-lead the three-week session with Lamara Heartwell, the co-founder of Santa Barbara Dance Tribe. “I wanted something that was simple enough where I could just dance and move and have it be invigorating moving in unison with other people, a beautiful experience, and not drawn from some tradition that’s not mine,” she explained, alluding to Zoomba, folk dancing, belly dancing, and more. “I didn’t want to do the dance if I wasn’t going to learn the culture. That felt disrespectful to me. Even in contemporary dance, I can’t find a teacher with the earthy, muscular, athletic style that I feel at home in.”

Failing to find what she wanted elsewhere, Lowenstein – who taught yoga for years at the YMCA, gave classes in contemporary dance, and herself performs pieces with Anima and elsewhere – decided to teach it herself.

The Movement Lab will incorporate contemporary dance traditions but also draw on somatic modalities, she said, mentioning the Feldenkrais Method and Alexander Technique, both of which she studied and practiced “ones that look at emotions as part of the body experience.”

That’s also where Heartwell comes in, as, according to Lowenstein, “That’s her sweet spot. That’s her field. She’s more interested in moving from the inside out, from the internal impulses.”

In preparing for the Movement Lab – which takes place 7 to 8:30 pm on Wednesdays, September 19 to October 3, at Yoga Soup – Lowenstein also looked to her job as AHA! where she focuses on social emotional learning for children. “I got interested in what it could be like to create a community in a safe space to practice,” she said. “You don’t just show up and do your thing with your body. We’ll sit in a circle and check in first, find out who is in the room before we start to move. Going real deep real fast right now doesn’t work for me. I want a space for people to feel safe to be vulnerable in their bodies.”

The main thrust after the preliminaries, including easier exercises to get the blood and trust flowing, is to focus on moving in unison with other people, Lowenstein said, unlike what often happens in ecstatic dance or even contact improv. “When it happens in a dance situation, I get a big case of the feels, which I’ve always been curious about. Now it turns out that doing that has really profound neuro-biological impacts. I wanted to create a setting where we’re all doing the same thing, a community moving as one, exploring giving up the cult of individuality for a hot minute and seeing what happens when we do movements together.”

Assuming the three-class series proves popular, there are plans to keep the classes going on a regular basis. If all goes well, and people are willing, the class might also offer a performance opportunity, a la the inCourage Chorus community singing group that just launched a new series at Yoga Soup. However it turns out, Lowenstein said she hopes people leave the series having experienced a “great dance class where they got to use their bodies and move with other people in a big expansive way.”

Meanwhile, no dance experience is necessary for the weekly gatherings, which cost $10 per class with no obligation to attend the whole series. Yoga Soup is located at 28 Parker Way. Call (805) 965-8811 or visit 

Buddhist Mantra-thon

Santa Barbara-based Odiyana Institute is holding its eighth annual Mantra-Thon, a Vajra Guru Mantra accumulation retreat conducted in the context of the Rigdzin Dupa Drupchod, this weekend, September 14-16. Having just received empowerment of Rigdzin Dupa from H.H. Dudjom Yangsi Rinpoche this past June, the practice is considered especially relevant to the community’s Samaya commitment. The Mantra-Thon has the goal of collectively completing 1 million Vajra Guru mantras during the three-day period, including those conducted on-site at Rancho Embarcadero (EMID), 224 Vereda Leyenda, Goleta – where a minimum of three practitioners will remain present in the shrine room between practice sessions, continually reciting mantra – as well as off-locations via members and other participants.

All are welcome to participate in the weekend, which begins at 7 pm Friday with a Teaching on Lojong/Mind training and beginning of Mantra recitation, includes Drupchod Practice of Rigdzin Dupa Sadhana and a Teaching on Transforming Happiness and Suffering into the path of enlightenment before concluding on Sunday afternoon at 3 pm with a dedication ceremony. Email or visit 

Parent-ing with Pooh

Ojai author Joseph Parent’s new book, A Walk in the Wood: Meditations on Mindfulness with a Bear Named Pooh, goes beyond The Tao of Pooh to offer life lessons grounded in the simple act of slowing down, observing what is around us, and being present in our lives moment by moment. Who better to guide readers through this transformative practice than a long-beloved bear who has perfected the art of simply being, the author poses. “Just two things to do to truly be Pooh – just be present and kind.” Plus, Pooh lives in the woods, which is in keeping with the growing acknowledgment of the benefits of deeply experiencing nature. The book is meant to be both inspiring and instructive, with simple stories with clearly stated goals and easy-to-follow exercises providing the tools needed to take the first step – or continue on the journey – toward a quieter and calmer way of living. 

An expert in performance psychology who work with athletes, actors, artists, and executives, Parent has studied, practiced, and taught Mindful Awareness since the 1970s in the lineage of the great Tibetan meditation master Venerable Chögyam Trungpa. He is the best-selling author of Zen Tennis: Playing in the Zone and Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game. Parent, who also teaches in person at the Ojai Valley Inn, will pontificate on Pooh and sign copies of the book at Chaucer’s at 7 pm Monday, September 17.

Santa Barbara Sacred Spaces

Geneviève Antonow – who has lived in and out of Santa Barbara and Montecito for many years – has just published a beautiful and comprehensive book that explores Santa Barbara through her spectacular photographs and descriptions of its sacred spaces. The book takes a fascinating and exhaustive look at the establishment and unfolding of missions, churches, temples, retreat centers, and parks to trace the history of the city from the its original Chumash settlers to the present day.

As Antonow explains on her website – which offers a timelines, videos, and much more material – the project was born from the simple idea of celebrating in words and pictures the intriguing and disarming concept of Santa Barbara as being “good for the soul.” According to Antonow, our community, uniquely intimately framed by the mountains and the sea, has developed a reputation as a pilgrimage site, a place of harmony, diversity, beauty, and tranquility that lifts the hearts, while throughout the centuries people from many cultures and religious persuasions have been drawn to the Central Coast of California.

Antonow will be giving a keynote presentation and a reading from the book at the Santa Barbara History Museum (136 E. De La Guerra St.) at 11 am on Wednesday, September 19. Visit

Forrest by the Beach 

Santa Barbara Consciousness Network founder Forrest Leichtberg decamped our seaside city for the more hustle-and-bustle environs of New York City, where he is already making in-roads toward setting up a similar organization in Manhattan. Less than two months later, he’s heading back to town for the first of a planned series of events: Community Beach Walk & Meditation. Sparked by the open-hearted conversations that took place at his going-away party at Shoreline Park in late July, Leichtberg this time leads an on-the-sand sojourn a mile or so up the coast at Hendry’s Beach (2981 Cliff Drive), where walkers will meet at the steps by the parking lot at 2:30 pm. The 90-minute stroll, which includes a guided meditation, will be followed by a “Conscious Community Celebration” at 4 pm, a potluck-style gathering and meal; bringing something to share is optional but encouraged. Chances are, you can also corner Leichtberg for the latest on what’s happening with his enlightenment-enhancing endeavors Back East. Free, RSVP requested at 

Change Agents

Ragan and Alex Thomson are hosting one final Bring-a-Friend Community Potluck from 6:30 to 9:30 pm this Friday, September 14, in their Montecito East Valley Road home known as the Thomson Sanctuary. The gathering – which includes uplifting ceremony and a celebration through food, mingling, music, connection, and laughter – also serves a final preview of the upcoming seminar with Dale Hathaway, his first public Santa Barbara visit since the early spring. The September 21-23 workshop is a brand new offering from the veteran leader who used to visit town five or more times a year, created to complement the information and processes in his best-selling first book, Being Called To Change, published earlier this year. 

The new seminar – which has the same name as the book – is solely focused on “The act and art of letting go” and guides participants in the process of letting go of that one thing that “you know in your bones” is no longer working for you. Featured are strategies to stop letting fear control your life, how to recognize when you’re being called to change, seven strategies for dealing with your emotions, and, in the process, discover where spiritual enlightenment is often found. For information or to register for either event, call (805) 699-5308 or visit

Eyes of a Horse

New to Sunburst at the end of the month is Equine Guided Self Discovery, an Equine Therapy workshop. Slated for Saturday, September 29, and led by equine guided educator Natalie Riggs of Shakti Ranch, the workshop offers a unique approach to self-discovery and the way we interact with others through the “eyes of a horse.” Guided meditation to experience your body’s connection to the Earth. Activities include a journey toward connection with your soul and the earth via guided meditation to experience your body’s connection to the earth, and group and individual equine exercises to connect with the horses of Sunburst Sanctuary. Lunch and all activities are included in the sliding-scale donation of $150 to $200. Registration by Wednesday, September 19, is advised. Call (805) 736-6528, email, or visit

Bye Bye Brenner

Living in Truth, Peace, and Happiness is having its last meetup this coming Tuesday, September 18. Not because the gathering has been poorly attended or found not to be valuable, but because founder Gail Brenner is moving away from Santa Barbara. However, as always, the meeting is open to newcomers and veterans alike, especially those who, as the invite says, are “tired of suffering and open to the practical reality of peace and happiness.”

The gathering takes place from 6:30 to 8 pm in the safe and supportive space of Brenner’s mid-Santa Barbara home (11 La Cumbre Circle), and starts with a guided meditation that illuminates the deepest truth of our being before the floor is open for questions about discovering your true nature as awareness, getting unstuck, and experiencing awakened, embodied living. The goal is to see through the ways that our conditioning grabs us, how fear can derail us, and instead realize that our true nature is boundless and free. Visit for details.

Sunburst Seminars 

The Sunburst Sanctuary in Lompoc – which encompasses more than 4,000 acres just off Highway 1 between the 101 freeway and the city – goes back to nature this weekend with its Regenerating Earth & Spirit: Preserving the Harvest offering. Geared toward those who may crave a greater sense of connection with the earth, desire to feel less separate from nature, or simply want to better align their lives with natural rhythms, the down-to-earth weekend retreat is an opportunity to reconnect with oneself and with Mother Nature.

Guests will learn food-preservation techniques for canning, dehydrating, and herb drying, and sample the bountiful harvest from Sunburst’s own gardens via nourishing vegetarian meals served in the sanctuary’s log-cabin lodge. Introductory meditation instruction will be offered, along with yoga classes appropriate for all levels including beginners. The fee for the September 14-16 event is by sliding-scale donation of $120 to $170 per adult, $60 to $120 per child, plus lodging/camping. 


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