New Agers Bask in the Glow of a Cosmic Rave

At TranceZenDance, they’re not worried about being cool.

For the Chicago Tribune.

chicago-tribune-logo-2Clubbing has its downside. The hours are late, the rooms are smoky, and the patrons’ studied coolness tends to stifle exuberance–especially if you’re less than fully confident of your dance-floor chops.

So I was tickled to learn about TranceZenDance, a spiritually minded club scene alternative that takes place every month or so at yoga studios and New Age emporiums around town. Like other “holistic raves” popping up nationwide, TranceZenDance is basically a rock-out for the tea-and-tie-dye set.

“Through the visuals, music, live drumming, aromatherapy, healers and the general vibe of the community, [I] felt that it would have quite an enlightening effect on the people who would come,” organizer Travis Robb said of the smoke- and drug-free event. “Enlightening as in `delightful.'”

Even TranceZenDance’s schedule is a rebuff to traditional club-going. When my companion and I showed up at Healing Earth Resources, the site of a recent event, at 10 p.m., we figured we’d be embarrassingly early. Instead, we found that the evening was already winding down. Many attendees had gathered late in the afternoon for workshops and rituals in a spacious activity room. Then near sundown, everyone started dancing to the tribal-house grooves of deejays Kenny Dread, Mark Mattucci and Starla.

And what dancing! As ceiling-high projections flickered on the walls, shadowy figures contorted themselves in weird, wild movements of unfettered exhilaration. Some people flung out their arms and threw back their heads as if beseeching an unseen deity. Others twisted into communal yoga poses with one, two or three friends, transforming themselves into pulsing, vaguely erotic lumps of limbs. A couple performed a variation on salsa dancing, while other people went at it solo, watching their silhouettes intersect with hallucinatory images.

“It moves the soul. It’s good spiritual music that gets into your body, and you just dance the way you want without being judged,” said Tiffany Brownlie, who’d come in from Highland Park with her sister Holly.

Brownlie had heard that tonight’s dance would double as a costume party, so she’d come dressed in a flowing white robe with gold cords, tassels and matching gold sandals. She arrived to find that she was one of few attendees in costume. “I don’t care,” she said. “It’s fun.”

The beat was augmented by drummers pounding in one corner, on doumbek or djembe drums like those available on Healing Earth Resources’ sales floor. But Larry Mattingly, of Hampshire’s Love, Light and Peace Center, hit a 3-by-5-foot behemoth he’d built himself.

“It’s made of what’s called `kip,’ the hide of a young calf,” he explained during a break. “I was inspired to follow the phi ratio of 1.618, which is reflected in nature and myth. It’s the way nature approaches the Golden Mean. This drum is almost exactly 161.8 inches around.”

As it happened, I’d chosen to attend TranceZenDance with a friend whose notion of “cutting loose” involves going around the corner for a cup of coffee. He made it clear that any sort of writhing or flailing–even if performed en route to a higher plane–was out of the question. But that was OK. The room was full of people sitting or reclining to enjoy the groove.

In fact, there were plenty of more laid-back activities on the edges. In one corner, a woman performed Reiki, a New Age healing method in which the healer manipulates a client’s “energy field.” Nearby, a couple of friends flopped down on the floor to trade foot rubs.

TranceZenDance may seem pretty tame, but Robb believes it has revolutionary potential. By bringing people together to dance, meditate and drum, he hopes to have a positive effect on something called the “morphogenetic field.”

“We have an intelligence field that runs through the whole species,” he said.

“That’s why people on the West Coast complete the national crossword puzzles faster than people on the East Coast. People on the East Coast got their morning papers earlier and completed their crossword puzzles, and that was available to the [West Coast].”

Did we manage to send a vibe out to the shared mind that night? I didn’t see any evidence of it. But even if it doesn’t reverberate through global crossword puzzles, TranceZenDance is still a groovy time.

–Etelka Lehoczky, 2004

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