Transformative Tantric Stripping
This is about that time I did Transformative Tantric Stripping. Okay, I made that up. It’s actually a weekend workshop for women called ‘Shiva Shakti’...but Transformative Tantric Stripping is the best way my brain can process the experience. It was a combination of dancing and sort of doing whatever the fuck you want with your body, because it feels good. Then realising that that’s dancing. Such presence. Much transforming. Very wow.
I’ve spent the best part of 30 years mastering the art of finding queues in clubs, and then remaining in them in order to avoid dancing. I’ve been on a mission this year to shake things up a bit, starting with my limbs (actually, starting with an orgy, but somehow the idea of horizontal dancing was less terrifying than the vertical kind).
I’ve tried a smattering of permission-to-move-awkwardly spaces in Melbourne. No Lights No Lycra, Open Floor, Mojo Dancing...so many hipster body movement options. But I still feel strange in these spaces, like somewhere inside me there’s a resilient two-finger-gun-pointing-foot-shuffling-Uncle-at-a-wedding that needs exorcising.
Part of my day job involves giving talks at conferences. A week before a recent conference, I was deep in my usual pre-presentation cycle of stress, making last minute font changes that weren’t necessary and avoiding the temptation to rewrite the entire thing. It was during this time that I heard about Shiva Shakti. I confided in a friend that I was trying to manage my stress, she suggested that maybe gyrating my anxiety away could be a productivity strategy. She’d said the magic words - productivity...strategy...curse her, she knew that was my crack. But maybe she was right? Maybe those final presentation slides were stuck in my hips and needed to be danced loose? Also, maybe I could claim it as a business expense?
I turned up to Second Story Studios a bit on the very-not-okay-feeling-rather-tense side. Then I noticed there was a toilet; maybe there’d be a queue. I was thrilled. The instructors were welcoming and the other participants were appropriately awkward and small-talky. There were around 15 of us in a large bare room with some sort of altar set up at the front. This set off my woo-woo alarm. Honestly, the title of the workshop did too, but I pushed past the judgmental small voice that doesn’t feel comfortable saying ‘namaste’ at the end of yoga and told myself I could leave at any point.
I didn’t actually know what to expect. I thought this would be a dance workshop, with moves and Beyonce skills. Like a self help class for women who want to enjoy sexy movement, but need an internal GPS saying take a U-Turn now (if you picked up that early 2000s Usher reference, give yourself bonus points).
We started in a circle, wearing knee pads, talking about how we felt. I felt seasick. We did warm ups, more like stretching in a circle getting progressively more cat like. The exercises switched between moving a bit and talking about moving a bit. Nothing went on for too long. I realised we were slowly being boiled down into sexy movement, and at that moment we were at a gentle simmer.
The facilitator, Ashleigh, was quite frankly excellent. She explained the Shiva Shakti philosophy with a bit of a ‘choose your own adventure’ take on how much woo you wanted the framework to give you. At a cut-to-the-chase level (welcome to my level, we have snacks), Shiva is that mode where you’re razor focused; pinpoint energy, maximum presence and confidence. Think Beyonce, walking down the street, fucking shit up with a baseball bat. You know, #goals.
The upper level version, if you want to get into the philosophy of it all, is that Shiva is masculine energy and Shakti is feminine energy. The two energies are reflected through every living creature, through nature and combine to make up the whole universe. You know, if you’re into that kind of thing.
One thing I loved throughout the workshops was experiencing a tantra space talking about feminine and masculine energy without needing to label anything ‘man does this’ or ‘woman does this’. There were no assumptions about sexual preference or identity. Even more delightfully, Ashleigh didn’t specifically call this out like some awkward disclaimer, she simply spoke throughout as if the world existed with many different sexual and gender flavours.
Then it got edgier. We did an exercise called ‘witnessing’. One person danced, as ‘Shakti’ while another person watched from a chair- with calm focus and presence- as ‘Shiva’. I didn’t anticipate how this would feel; being watched, without judgment, but with a whole lot of presence and eye contact. It was a similar jolt to being thanked for my no at the consent-aware orgy. Why isn’t this ‘witnessing’ thing common practice?
The dancing ‘Shakti’ teachings here are not specific moves. You’re not going to walk away with a memorised burlesque routine. They message is ‘dance in ways that feel good to you - yes, that’s dancing’. The closest we got to being taught specific ‘moves’ was the concept of dancing feminine ‘archetypes’. That entailed embodying a sort of feeling and dancing according to the archetype’s character. This is bit more like theatre when you start learning it. We were taught the Maiden, Goddess and Wild Women. Maiden is sort of like ‘approach it like its warm’, Goddess is ‘drop it like it’s hot’, Wild Woman is ‘drop it like it’s hot, realise it’s on fire, put out the flames with your emotions.’
We got music to match each archetype. For Wild Woman I found myself down on the ground, pounding my fists and yelling. Yelling. In a room of strangers… Most of whom were also yelling! And you know what, it felt bloody great. Even better than standing in a queue! You can keep your 300 hours of yoga and give me a communal tantrum on the ground for that sense of ocean breeze. I realised, seriously, when do we actually get a chance to truly get angry, wild feelings and a deep sense of being pissed off out of our systems? It was deeply cathartic.
So this might now be setting off your woo-plus-cray-cray alarms. Did anyone find this all just too much? I think so actually. Some people whittled off through the weekend. Not many, and I can’t say why they did since I didn’t ask. I was busy unleashing my wrath upon the floorboards. But I can imagine if I hadn’t already been to some slightly left of centre dance and sexuality spaces this might have been a bit much first time round. It’s probably a Level 3 on the sexy-dancing-is-confronting scale.
Can we talk about the stripping part now?
Oh yes! The stripping! So after learning archetypes, learning how to be present and watch someone dance, we then did it all with a bit of clothes shedding. I wondered if I wouldn’t do this bit. A pre-music moment shared by everyone. And that’s when I realised ‘Fuck it, I’m in a safe space. Be gone crop top!’ The facilitator Ashleigh made it very clear throughout how much choice we had in each exercise and genuinely created a safe space. Nothing was expected. Strip if you want. Stretch like a cat if you want. Talk about the stripping, or don’t. Basically - you can dance if you want to; you can leave your friends behind…
I go to a lot of workshops…I have a problem. But I’ve realised that if I haven’t implemented any ideas within 48 hours of learning them - those learnings are going to fall straight through my psyche sieve. Luckily, this workshop was different. Months down the line, and I’ve been implementing ‘dancing however the fuck I want’ as a go to stress strategy.
The conference I went to straight after the workshop was made exponentially easier thanks to my intermittent dance sprees in my hotel room. It turns out the effects still transfer when you’re practicing alone, but I couldn’t Wild my Woman as much I would’ve liked, because you know…people calling security.
I’ve also felt the benefit to my work when I apply the framework of Shiva mode (focus and presence) vs Shakti mode (creativity and flow). But let’s be honest, it’s not my productivity at work that any of you really care about. Let’s talk sex!
I’ve definitely noticed a knock on effect to my sexy-sex times. The results do seem to correlate to how much I’ve been shaking my Shakti. I feel that the more we participate in an economy of screens-n-sitting, the more important these kinds of workshops become; reminders to get out of our heads, into our bodies, and then dance the garbage out for better life times.
My mind feels lot clearer after these pleasure-based dance sessions, it’s like when you used to “de-frag” the old Windows PC and everything just ran so much better for a couple of weeks afterwards.
All of this movement ripples out into being more present, feeling flowy and having pleasurable touchings.So, what’s the verdict?
Shiva Shakti needs to be experienced to be truly understood. But in the interests of helping you understand, here are my takeaways.
Female identifying people who want a safe, contained space to dance very sexily (and let out some emotional shit while they’re at it)
People who are really not sure about dancing in public, but have done some other work in this area before
Coming in cold might still be a touch confronting, a few doses of No Lights No Lycra in the lead up helped me a lot
An introduction to the whole feminine - masculine energy concepts of tantra without the unnecessary gendered bullshit
It’s important to lose your shit physically from time to time.
In a permission-to-do-it space where the neighbours expect you to scream, it can be a truly cathartic experience
Dancing sexy is really just moving in a way that feels very good in your body and not really thinking about it all that much
If in doubt go slower
If someone is dancing/performing for you give them 100% of your focus and presence
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