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Dance and meditation; Stonehedge hosts ecstatic dancing retreat

Some people need to resort to alcohol to gain the courage to dance, but there’s an entire movement doing the exact opposite.

Ecstatic dancing is a form of dance that is free from all substance use and expectation to be “a good dancer,” and recently, it was brought to Tamaqua.

Located on Dairy Road, Stonehedge Gardens and Holistic Learning Center offers the public access to 7 acres of perennial gardens, walking trails and other natural views from noon to dusk, as long as there are no events taking place at that time.

Director of Stonehedge Public Benefit Corporation Thomas Moroz held the Labor of Love: Ecstatic Dance Camp-out & Stonehedge Fundraiser to help continue the previous owners’ dreams of what Stonehedge could be for the community.

Moroz says, “The previous owners created 50 years’ worth of history and we would like to work toward creating at least 50 more.”

The two-day event began with group trust exercises to bring everyone closer together before beginning to dance.

Jessica Atuesta of Bellmore, New York, says one of her favorite parts of the weekend were the trust activities. According to her, it’s hard to trust people that we don’t know, but once she was participating in the activities, she said she was able to close her eyes and just be mindless as others got to care for her.

One of the trust activities had each team of two take turns guiding one another while one person’s eyes were closed. The activity was a lot like “steering a car” with one person being the vehicle and the other being the driver.

“They just gave me all of their love, and they didn’t even know me,” Atuesta said about her experience. “It was my first event like that … with just the most authentic, loving people.”

After everyone danced on the grass - the majority of people being barefoot to be more connected to the earth - they joined together at a group campfire that went on past midnight for those who decided to stay.

Ecstatic dance is thought of as family-friendly because of the kind, no-substance environment. Aubrey Howard, volunteer and resident of Tamaqua, brought her kids Adrian, 6, and Hazel Gayle, 8, to the event who said they enjoyed dancing, playing with bubbles, hula-hooping, and collecting berries.

Sam Quinn, who lives near Philadelphia, will lead a future event called New Moon Goddess Retreat and was also in attendance. She described the entire night as magical, feeling held and accepted in an “unconditional love bubble.”

Monica Mooncraft, of Tamaqua, is a volunteer for Stonehedge and participated in the creating of the event and the communal kitchen that the location now offers. Campers and attendees were able to enjoy some provided snacks as well as their own food that they brought and stored in the location’s fridge and pantry.

As an active member of the ecstatic dance community, she believes by dancing and participating in events like Labor of Love, emotional healing can take place.

“It’s good to take those moments of togetherness and silence between (the activities and dancing) to feel seen and heard,” Mooncraft said. “There’s just this unspoken respect.”

Adnan Shamsi of Princeton, New Jersey, was one of the DJ personnel at the event and had previously experienced life without the ability to speak authentically and express himself.

Shamsi says, “(Ecstatic dancing) is a cathartic experience for a lot of people … a common comment that I hear at these events is ‘I don’t feel judged here.’”

He says that the environment allows people to feel safe enough to be their true selves.

On Sept. 5 in the morning, the second day of the event, Shamsi, his co-founder Joy Okoye (also of Princeton) and guest DJ Kerry Bo Berry led an indoors meditation and dance as it was raining outside. While meditating, participants were asked to think of what they would like to manifest for themselves while dancing. People chose manifestations such as trust, peace and healing.

Between meditating, chanting, singing, sharing, dancing and an occasional tear shared among each other, approximately 40 strangers left the event feeling united and just a little freer than when they walked in.

Adnan Shamsi leads an ecstatic dancing session Sept. 5 at Stonehenge. It was held indoors due to rain. MARIA REHRIG/TIMES NEWS
The beginning of the pre-dance meditation indoors on Sunday morning.
A group trust activity on day one of the two-day retreat in Tamaqua.
Warm-ups with music before trust activities and dancing on Saturday.
The first dance of the retreat on Saturday night, right before the group campfire on the property.
Sam Quinn, residing near Philly, on the bongo during Sunday's indoor ecstatic dance. MARIA REHRIG/TIMES NEWS
Kerry Auret
Kerry Auret