What is Ecstatic Dance: The Freeform Dance Phenomenon

May 9, 2024
Written by
Buster Bennett
What is Ecstatic Dance: The Freeform Dance Phenomenon

Ecstatic Dance: An Expressive Dance Phenomenon

In the ever-expanding electronic music scene, Ecstatic Dance stands out as a growing phenomenon. In recent years we have seen an increasing number of DJ course students interested in DJing for Ecstatic Dance events within London and beyond. To explore the scene further we've compiled some research and created this blog. In this article, we will delve into what Ecstatic Dance is, its links with sobriety and how DJs are venturing into the Ecstatic Dance scene.

What is Ecstatic Dance?

Popularised in the 1970s and 1980s, Ecstatic Dance is a freeform dance movement that encourages participants to break the conventional boundaries of movement and dance. A principle of step-free uninhibited movement offers participants a chance to shed their inhibitions, live in the moment and explore ways of expressing themselves through dance. Ecstatic Dance is set to a soundtrack of various styles of music that explore different rhythms, tempos and energy levels.

Ecstatic Dance can trace its roots back to ancient tribal rituals and humanities age-old exploration of music and rhythm.

Ecstatic Dance events are immersive group experiences that often have strong communities and their heart. Many dancers will speak of Ecstatic Dance as being a spiritual form of expression that has strong synergies with holistic lifestyle approaches. At its core, Ecstatic Dance is a recreational dance activity that promotes collective harmony and individual exploration within a designated safe space.

Unlike traditional club events, the focus of Ecstatic Dance is less about socialising and consuming alcohol and more about self-expression and movement. Many Ecstatic Dance events are sober events with rules on body contact to help cultivate a creative and unjudgmental environment. A space where people from all walks of life feel free to express themselves.

Key Elements of Ecstatic Dance

Here are some of the characteristics of Ecstatic Dance.


Ecstatic Dances often have rules which participants follow in order to encourage a nonjudgemental and safe environment. Common rules of Ecstatic Dances include: No phones or cameras (to help you live in the moment and protect peoples privacy,) No touching without clear verbal consent and no judgement of others expressions. ED events promote a come-as-you-are mentality and participants are free to dress in what is comfortable for them, as long as they respect the hygiene of the space. We recommend having specific shoes just for the dance. The majority of ED events ban drinks and drugs and encourage sobriety. Many ED events also have a non-verbal rule discouraging talking during the performance.

Self Expression

Ecstatic Dance events seeks to promote a safe space for self and collective expression through dance and emotion. Dancers should feel free to move their bodies spontaneously while respecting the personal space of others. Consent is essential within the Ecstatic Dance community rules. Dancers are also free to express themselves emotionally and it's common to hear people laughing or even crying.

Rhythmic Diversity

Music is the backbone of an Ecstatic Dance set and the ethos is to explore a wide range of rhythms, styles and tempos. Unlike traditional electronic dance music events, Ecstatic Dance breaks the mould and you'll often hear various tempos and rhythms juxtaposed. ED DJs will draw inspiration from a multitude of genres including tribal, folk, live and electronic forms. Everything from meditative soundtracks, classical, ambient, experimental and drone all the way to thumping house, techno, D&B and more. ED DJ sets should reflect the rich tapestry of humanities exploration of music and dance, therefore there are no limits to what music could be played at an ED event.

Emotional Resonance

Participants are encouraged to express their emotions through their bodies so music that has strong emotional resonance is important. Ecstatic Dance selectors will often choose tracks that represent different vibes or energies, like calm or chaotic. Dancers are guided to listen to their bodies' impulses and let the body do the talking.

Flow and Transitions

It's common for Ecstatic Dance events to start with meditative music and participants will often begin in a still position or lying on the ground, akin to Yoga. Various musical transitions will then take place aiming to express different emotions, often speeding up steadily over the event, coming to a climax and then once again ending up still in a meditative state. Track transitions different to traditional DJ transitions and may experiment with more ambient and cinematic sounds to help merge the tracks together.

Live Elements

Ecstatic Dance events often incorporate live instrumentalists. It's common for percussion players and vocalists to be employed to add a live improvised element to the music. These musical accompaniments can add texture and spontaneity to the experience while creating a rich audio-visual experience. These musicians can also follow the lead of the DJ and the dancers and double down on any emotional trends, such as increasing the noise of a crescendo to create a cathartic climax.

Curation of a Journey

An Ecstatic Dance DJ will curate the musical and emotional journey of an event. They will select music from a vast range of genres and styles to create a set list that takes listeners on a trip through various energies. ED sets should represent a kaleidoscope of electronic dance music designed for the immersive experience of freestyle dance. Tracks are often selected based on their atmospheric properties and emotional resonances. Curating all the tracks together into a concise ED DJ set is a challenge.

Ecstatic dancer performing a free-flowing movement

Ecstatic Dance and Wellness

Ecstatic Dance is highly aligned with wellness and holistic therapies and allows dancers to access a natural state of euphoria. It promotes a way for individuals to connect with themselves and others without the influence of substances like drugs and alcohol. Many ED events are sober events and are popular with dancers who seek a safe space where they can indulge in dance and electronic music without stimulants. Sobriety emphasises an unadulterated state of consciousness that helps dancers make deeper and more authentic connections with their bodies. However, some Ecstatic dancers and events will openly experiment with drugs such as magic mushrooms or cacao. As with any music scene, there are sub-groups and communities with their own take on the idea.

Sobriety also plays a crucial role in maintaining safe spaces where consent rules are adhered to.

One of the core principles of Ecstatic Dance is the concept of moving meditation. Dancers will use movement expression as a tool for self-exploration, healing and transformation. Many Ecstatic dancers will speak of cathartic release, stress release and a feeling of belonging within a tribe. It's clear that expressive dance awakens our ancestral forms of celebration and socialising. Overall, the release of these emotions and endorphins gives Ecstatic Dance participants a sense of well-being.

Ecstatic Dance and DJing

As with traditional electronic music events, the DJ will captain the ship and decide on the musical direction of the event. As the conductor of the ceremony, the DJ's job is pivotal to the success of the dance. Their primary responsibility is to curate the sound and take the dancers on an expressive journey, selecting music that communicates different energy levels. It's fundamentally different to traditional club DJing where the DJ aims to attain one specific vibe. Ecstatic Dance DJs aim to transition through a sequence of different rhythms, tempos and energies with the aim to evoke a multitude of emotions. This makes the job of an Ecstatic Dance DJ one of the most highly skilled within DJing.

Skilled Ecstatic Dance DJs should be able to use their DJ software and equipment to create smooth transitions between tracks that are normally considered unmixable by most DJs.

Ecstatic Dance DJs will sometimes mix the music but at other times simply play the tracks one after the next. However nowadays, more and more Ecstatic Dance events host a DJ who can mix the songs together to form better transitions using effects and special DJ transitions. The advanced use of DJ transitions can heighten the musical experience allowing for smoother transitions between styles and tempos allowing the audience to attain a greater flow. Great Ecstatic Dance DJs will be able to create a seamless flow between the various styles of music so that listeners are not disturbed from their meditative states by sudden stops or clumsy changeovers.

The foundation skill of a great Ecstatic Dance DJ is to select the perfect songs. The track selection should be uplifting, inspiring, and conducive to introspection and movement. Unlike conventional DJs, Ecstatic Dance DJs are free to shift the energy at will and focus primarily on the journey of the entire set. They are as free-roaming musically as the dancers are with their body movements.

As the figurehead of the dance, Ecstatic Dance DJs help the dancers explore their inner landscape and experience moments of profound connection on the dancefloor.

Learn How to DJ in the Ecstatic Dance Style

If you would like to learn how to DJ for Ecstatic Dance events join our one-to-one DJ course. We have lots of experience teaching Ecstatic Dance DJs how to correctly curate, prepare and perform Ecstatic Dance DJ sets. We can offer lessons in our studio or online.

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Where to Find Ecstatic Dance Events Near You

The best places to find local Ecstatic Dance events are Eventbrite and Facebook. Facebook is great for Ecstatic Dance community groups which are free to join. There are numerous for big cities like London.

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