‘When the dance dances you’

Local teacher Jahcia Satori talks about AcceptDance, her method of dancing from within

Photo by Tom Angel

Start moving: To experience AcceptDance, Satori offers Tuesday night drop-in dancing at her studio; call for times and upcoming workshops: 891-6524

Think you can’t dance? Local teacher Jahcia Satori knows better. Vital and lithe, Satori lights up the room when she dances. Her body is so expressive you feel you’re watching the essence of true dance—a soul alive.

Yet this talented dancer, who worked for eight years with Bay Area performance groups doing everything from street dancing to national awards ceremonies on TV, never had a formal dance class until after she’d taught herself how to move from within.

Satori likens moving from within to meditation or devotional prayer in such traditions as Native American ritual dance and finds it healing and cathartic. She teaches this trance dance to newcomers and professionals alike in a workshop she calls AcceptDance.

AcceptDance is Satori’s own Western Zen of movement, built from a lifetime of dance and 12 years of work in the healing arts. She has a master’s degree in integral counseling psychology from the California Institute of Integral Studies and is a certified integrative coach with the Ford Institute.

“In San Francisco, I performed in a troupe called Laughing Luna Souls that was all about healing and very radical in terms of allowing people to let loose,” she says. “I draw from this and from my work with teachers like Gabriel Roth.” (Roth has been famous for teaching dancing from the inside out since the ‘60s.)

Coupled with dance is Satori’s long-time desire to help others, which has taken the form of spiritual coaching and consulting, most recently through her study with the Ford Institute (founder Debbie Ford is known for her best-selling books, including Secret of the Shadow, and appearances on Oprah and Good Morning America).

“Ford’s work is all about living the life you want to live and becoming the person you want to be at all levels,” says Satori. “And I bring all of that, all of what I’ve learned, into my dance workshops.”

“If you can walk, you can dance,” Satori promises, adding that a lot of people stop themselves from realizing the freedom that can come through dance “because they go to classes and can’t learn the steps.”

Instead, Satori leads dancers down another path, one where you don’t have to worry about perfection or performance because you’re moving to your own rhythms. In AcceptDance, it doesn’t matter how you look, you’re dancing how you feel. And that can be very healing, says Satori, as it offers a way to both honor and accept your own body.

Not only that, but she’s found that “every rhythm that exists in the world and in any dance form can be found without studying it externally, but by feeling it from inside.”

“Anybody can do this,” says Marie Altman, a poet and art teacher who, despite years of formal ballet training, calls her participation in Satori’s workshop a marker in her life.

“Ballet is so restricting,” explains Altman, “because it’s external. You’re always looking at yourself in the mirror.”

Few dancers get to the place where it feels right, she notes, and looks how it’s supposed to.

“But Jahcia embraces emotions fully when she moves, and that opened the door for me. She really gets you into your body.”

Being in your body reverberates away from the dance floor, she adds. “It affects how you relate to other people, when you’re more comfortable with yourself.

Photo by Tom Angel

“There’s a lot of fear and shame around sexuality, exuberance and playfulness in our society, and it’s not safe for people to be free. Many of us don’t even realize how much we’ve shut down.”

In AcceptDance, Satori fosters a nurturing, non-judgmental atmosphere in which even the most reticent feel comfortable enough to surprise themselves.

“I utilize ecstatic trance and meditative and cathartic movements,” says Satori, who cherishes dance as a way to drop the ego and let everything go. “In dance that’s more like a trance, parts of you can disappear and other parts come out and express themselves.”

She practices in a dynamite studio she calls her “sacred space"—complete with mirrors, hardwood floor and good sound. Her two-month workshops meet in weekly classes each with its own flair—which might include two-hour dance waves that pound and eddy along a river of music, from sweetly flowing to brashly staccato to wildly chaotic.

Dancers also embody collective and personal historical archetypes through guided mediation, visualization and impromptu pantomimes.

“Our families of origin, our beliefs, our shadows,” says Satori, “trying them on through movement and a little bit of experimental theater.”

She’s even been known to play children’s games from around the world. “I want a space for people’s spirits to shine,” says Satori, “a place where we can rejoice in our bodies and nourish our souls.”

Melinda Marshall talks about feeling enamored the moment she stepped into the studio. “The group had already met four times,” explains the English language development teacher, “but the minute I walked in I felt like I was home. A lot of that comes from Jahcia. She made us feel so safe.

“It was a wonderful experience,” adds Marshall, “where I was able to open myself up and do whatever felt natural and good. It changed my dance. After just one class I was putting my own spirit into it.”

And spirit is what surfaces in AcceptDance, even if you can barely kick up your heels. “It is a good workout,” explains Satori, “but you go at your own pace. Your dance can be as small as moving your hips or your two left fingers. It’s more about the surrender to what is.”

Dancing, says Satori, unites people and creates a sense of collective pride and connection. This sense of community permeates her classes, where dancers form a supportive, mini-dance troupe when together. Conversely, the troupe also celebrates each dancer as unique, and allowing for that uniqueness is at the heart of self-expression.

“It’s very confidence building,” says Satori. “It’s good for your self-esteem when you express what you’re really thinking and feeling, not what someone has told you to think and feel. And you can take this back into your life. It’s very heart opening.”

No one embodies an open heart more than Satori herself, whom Altman calls “a deep, exhilarated, ageless woman. She takes you back to this ancient place in yourself. That’s what resonates in me.”

Of her own dance after AcceptDance, Altman says, “Having had this experience, you never go back to being the same again. Now my dance feels joyful and enlivening. It feels good.”

For Satori, helping others feel good is a passion.

“Since I was little, dance is how I’ve prayed,” she says. “So for me, by its very nature dance is healing and devotional. And AcceptDance is how you start getting out of your own way and let go of the mind and body. And when that happens, when the dance dances you, that’s when you’re dancing.”