Medicine Dance: The Sensation of Sanity

Sage Knight

It’s 8:30 on a Tuesday morning and the valley is already warm. I left the canyon early enough to take Wells Road and enjoy a tree-lined drive to Tarzana, avoiding the speed and congestion of the 101. When I arrive at the Sugerman’s home, Colleen ushers me in with an embrace. I melt in her arms for a few seconds before she gets busy again, preparing the room.

Fred, in shoulder-length grey curls and baggy sweats, looks up from his laptop and welcomes me with another hug. I’m a regular at his Saturday Medicine Dance class, but this is my first time at the mid-week morning group and I am happy to be here.

Lehua and Shoni arrive. Shoni places fresh zucchini and sunflowers, items she’s gathered from the garden she’d planted in the Sugerman’s backyard, by the hearth and we get started.

“As you move about the space, give yourself permission,” Fred begins. “A little more or a little less: frowning or smiling, buoyancy or heaviness, eye contact or none.”

We walk around the room, “arriving,” corralling our attention from the outside to the “here-and-now.” Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train” plays in the background, the music soft enough that I can hear myself think. Fred reads my mind:

“Keep thinking what you’re thinking, and move your body. You are welcome to use any unoccupied space. Allow others to do what others are doing and keep feeling your body.”

Feeling my body. The invitation alone is medicine. I use this practice to stay sane, since the insanity of the “real” world has not felt real to me for many moons. Excess external influences can create illusions of individual invisibility, fears of ineffectiveness, feelings of futility, and finally, resignation. I see this dynamic a lot. But not here. We’re inside the medicine dance. Feelings have a place here.

We have five people in the space today. Henry, the dog, peeks over the arm of a chair in the next room while the humans practice moving from the inside out, using earth as a primary partner. Support… press… pull… play… connect… disengage. At times, I am on the floor; at others, on my bare feet, feeling the support of the hard wood beneath me.

“Your presence is undeniable.”

I am welcome and my presence is undeniable. I matter. We all matter.

About halfway through the session, Fred invites us to pair up, to be aware of “other” without losing self. Eventually, he invites us to make contact, while continuing to focus on our own experience, our own inner body.

“Notice how responsive your body is. Feel inside your body.”

Most of the time, my eyes are closed. I enter a world of breath, sound, sensation and movement. My mercurial mind slows down and, free to explore this inner terrain, I feel my own power. About the time the partnership feels comfy, Fred asks us to switch partners.

“Transition is everything!”

After an hour and a half, we again find our own space on the floor and close our personal movement practice in whatever way we choose, perhaps with a few kind words, a gentle embrace, or a silent prayer of appreciation.

Afterward, we sit in a circle on the floor. Colleen brings out a plate of homemade toast with organic peanut butter and savory jam, also homemade, and we talk. Aware of the power of simple, conscious, authentic movement as individuals and in community, I am curious about the possibility that movement is The Movement.

Fred responds. He speaks of hearing “Mitakuye Oyasin,” Lakota for “all my relations,” back in the ‘70s.

“The work we do induces a visceral and intimate knowing of what that phrase means: all parts of my body, all parts of self. We’ve been in places with minimal or no war, with respect for all our relations. We’re recovering that information, using our physical bodies as a local way of remembering, restructuring, rewiring, clearing, knowing how to be kinder, more respectful and loving. Our bodies are our access to the universe. We are expressing Self through self.”

“And expressing ‘elf’ through self,” Lehua chimes in. “Expressing self without restriction.”

This is a key component of Medicine Dance. Each dancer is fully responsible for their experience. No one is required to participate in anything Fred suggests, yet we all usually do. There is a magic in community that can only come alive with the voluntary contribution of the members. I am reminded of one definition of anarchy which includes “… the cooperative and voluntary association of individuals and groups.” This wholesome, safe, and nurturing space is both liberating and inclusive, welcoming all aspects of ourselves and inviting us to do the same. The combination is powerful. I’ve attending other dance classes with “no rules.” This one is special. In some ways, it’s like a drug.

“Dance alters the brain wave pattern.” Fred says. “It quiets the cognitive, analytical, newer part of the brain and opens up the areas that know consciousness and relate to what people call ‘God.’”

When I am here, I feel a deeper level of connection: spiritual, emotional, physical and communal. It is not always easy; feelings can be dark and messy. The beauty of this practice is that it invites awareness of the physical sensations associated with emotions, so that we can be present to the emotions and not run by them.

Several participants have taken Fred’s teacher training and share the work with others. Lehua brings Medicine Dance to the Cancer support community.

“There’s more to this than meets the eye,” she says. “You can do all the treatment in the world, but being inside your body is amazing.”

Witness the practice in a Medicine Dance Show on August 6. For more information and to learn about classes, sessions, retreats and trainings, visit


Sage Knight is a local author, speaker and ghostwriter. She lives at Top o’ Topanga with her Golden Retriever and welcomes your visits to


Sage Knight

Sage is alive and well, living at Top o’Topanga with Shiloh, the Golden Retriever. Visit her at

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