Embodied Dance in the Gower Peninsula

In this feature piece MA Communication, Media Practice and Public Relations student Naomi Evans speaks with members of Gwyr Soul and how embodied dance is integral to our wellbeing and creating a sense of community.

Dancers participating in the Forest Dance event. Credit: Gwyr Soul Archives.

Gwyr Soul are a Movement Medicine Collective in the heart of Gower. The spiritual wellness group, run by Jazmin Ansell, gather every month at full moon, in different locations in the Gower, to create in their own words “a powerful space to connect and release” through movement.

Jazmin created Gwyr Soul in May 2022, after having travelled to Mexico and Portugal and being introduced to Cacao medicine ceremonies and ecstatic dance sessions. She felt that there was a huge opportunity to create a spiritual community within the Gower, in a place of outstanding natural beauty, to engage with their Celtic roots and reconnect with nature.

Watch: An introduction to Gwyr Soul and Embodied Dance.

Since their first full moon event 8 months ago, Gwyr Soul have gained a substantial following amongst locals and visitors. They have created a community of individuals who come together each month to create a safe and judgement free space to acknowledge every sensation and emotion that comes to the surface when participating in the dance.

“We always come together knowing that we’re going to release something, because that is what the full moon is all about.” – Jazmin Ansell

Jazmin Ansell, opening the space. Credit: Gwyr Soul Archives.

Jazmin describes Gwyr Soul as a sober and “safe space for people to come with any emotion they have and to express themselves through dance”. The full moon has become an important time for the community to gather. Jazmin explained “when the moon is full, all of our emotions rise, things come to the surface. We felt like this was an important event to hold, when nature is at its height, and everyone in the community is feeling something”.

The experience begins with Jazmin, the dance facilitator, opening up the space. This is a key part of the ritual, giving the participants the opportunity to sit in a circle and express what they are feeling in that moment. It allows the dancers to feel seen and heard at the very beginning of the session. She added “We open up the sacred space and call in the elements. This is a really beautiful way to open up, because we are invoking all the elements as they all have so much to teach us.”

The elements play a vital role to connect the participants with nature and understand the lessons that can be learnt from them when acknowledging their emotions. The earth teaches grounding, the air teaches to embrace change and new ideas, the water teaches to allow emotions to flow, and fire teaches to embrace passion, whether that is in the form of rage or excitement, all of which are important to release in this dance.

“The affect is amazing. For weeks after, that intention that you’ve set becomes a real focus” – Jack Moyse

Gwyr Soul dancer connecting with nature beneath him. Credit: Gwyr Soul Archives.

Once the space has been opened, a cacao meditation ceremony will begin. Jazmin explains that cacao is ritually considered to be a heart opening medicine sacred in Latin America. She said, “When I was in Mexico, I got really used to this medicine and met loads of people that use it along with ecstatic dance.”

This natural medicine is thousands of years old, and was used in the Mayan culture for “medicinal, spiritual and ceremonial purposes”. The word Cacao, in Mayan tradition, translates to “heart blood”. The drink is a perfect accompaniment to ecstatic dance practices as cacao beans contain theobromine, which is a mildly stimulating ingredient which can boost energy and focus before the dance commences. It allows participants to centre in on what they are feeling and having the energy to dance through their emotions.

Gwyr Soul DJ, Jack Moyse: Credit: Gwyr Soul Archives.

Jack Moyse, DJ for Gwyr Soul, explained that during the cacao meditation ceremony it is important for people to set an intention on something they want to achieve or focus on while dancing. Setting intentions, such as being kinder to yourself, allows the dancers to hold this message in their hearts throughout the ritual. He said “the affect is amazing. For weeks after, that intention that you’ve set becomes a real focus. For me, it’s something that I am really mindful of”.

“Having this dance journey connects you back to what really matters, and that really sticks with people.” – Jazmin Ansell

The music starts slowly to allow participants to connect with what they are feeling, gradually the tempo picks up to create a peak and then it is brought back down again to a stillness. There are no rules on how you dance but there are guidelines that the community follows. Phones are not allowed, no photography, drugs or alcohol and no talking on the dance floor. Why? To ensure everyone can tune into their bodies and go through their own personal experiences. Jazmin explains that different people will be experiencing different emotions throughout the dance and when at that peak “people really let go”. She added, “Sometimes people are screaming, shouting, on the floor rolling around”.

Listen to Gwyr Soul’s Full Moon Forest Dance Playlist Here.

Jazmin says it is important to have the guidance of the facilitator to create a full circle of emotion. She explains “ecstatic dance is all about the cycle in the dance journey, and that can be represented in the cycles of nature. We are born, we grow up, we die and then we are reborn again, and that a really important element of it.”

“I think we’ve lost that Celtic tradition to come back with the nature and our community.” – Jazmin Ansell

Gwyr Soul places emphasis on the importance of going back to their Celtic roots and thinking back to their ancestors who walked on the land of the Gower before them. Jazmin said, it is important to think about “where you come from and connect to the land, come back to our Celtic roots, coming round the fire, and meeting each other as a community.”

“Sometimes when we open up space, Cadi (Gwyr Soul’s Sound Bowl Healing Facilitator) will speak in Welsh, and use the Welsh language to create that sense of belonging and coming back to the land. When I’m dancing, I think of who was in this forest 200 years ago and look at where we are now.” Jazmin added.

Jazmin Ansell (right) and Gwyr Soul dancers taking part in free movement. Credit: Gwyr Soul Archives.

When discussing movement as medicine, Jazmin explains that “by the end of the dance, people are so comfortable with themselves and with each other. When we sit back at the fire, people really look at each other and say “Wow, that was amazing”.”

“That for me is one of my favourite parts, when we close the space… and sit in a circle again. And Jaz will go through the ceremony, and create an opportunity for people to just sit and chat. There is a real sense of community.” Said Jack.

The American Dance Therapy Association, state that “Dance/movement therapy is the psychotherapeutic use of movement to promote emotional, social, cognitive and physical integration of the individual”. This statement aligns with Jazmin’s practise of embodied dance. She explained “This is an internal journey that can take you to lots of different places. It’s a full body experience.” The digital wellness platform Well and Good state that the fast pace and free flowing movement of ecstatic dance allows for high levels of endorphins to be produced. They say that the ‘ecstasy’ felt when practising ecstatic dance is linked to these endorphins which is believed to be the same as ‘a runner’s high’ due to the nature of the movement.

“I don’t think I fully grasped how powerful it would be when I first started doing this.” – Jack Moyse

When discussing the benefits, embodied dance and meditation has on mental health, Jack said that he hadn’t “fully grasped how powerful it would be” to connect with his deepest emotions. He also noted “that there is more openness from people to actually go and try new things” due to there being an emphasis for individuals to prioritise their mental health.

Jazmin cautioned that while mental health and wellbeing has become a focal point in social conversations, she felt the wellness industry has placed too much emphasis on being positive all the time. She said, “we are obsessed with feeling good, when actually that [can be] quite detrimental [to our mental health]”. She added that people attend the dances through really tough times and Gwyr Soul reminds dancers the importance of meeting any emotions that come to the surface. She explains, all feelings are welcome and that the emotions that people are feeling aren’t forever embedded in them. It’s just something they’re experiencing in that moment.

Jazmin Ansell (left) and Gwyr Soul dancer, barefoot in the Gower. Credit: Gwyr Soul Archives.

Jazmin feels passionately that this form of movement can benefit many different people, seeking a range of outcomes from embodied dance. She said for some “it may be a spiritual experience or just a great way to get fit [and] dance in a safe space without judgement, without the influence of drugs and alcohol”. It’s a great way “to meet new people who want to connect with nature and community”.

Jazmin finished our discussion by adding, “Life itself is a bit of a dance, each day is different, each month, each cycle, each year we are always changing. Having this dance journey connects you back to what really matters, and that really sticks with people.”

For more information on Gwyr Soul’s upcoming events, Click Here.