The Body Altar: Denver’s ritual dance party

held the fourth Saturday of each month at the Urban Sanctuary in Five Points

According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, medical errors are estimated to kill over a quarter million Americans per year. That equates to nearly 700 deaths per day, or 9.5 percent yearly. Errors include issues like adverse drug reactions and IV and catheter-related infections. People are dying from the care they receive rather than the diseases they’re seeking care for.

Photo by Jessica Holman

Reliance on corporate private health insurance leaves many without access to primary care physicians. According to data from the National Health Statistics Reports, nearly half of Americans use some form of holistic medicine.With a vast and diverse spectrum of health care options outside the Western paradigm, Denver has opportunities to explore.

Eutimia Cruz Montoya and LadySpeech Sankofa are not your average healers. Their approach to health care is far from conventional allopathy. There are no white coats, stark fluorescent lights, or needles in their healing work – unless we’re talking acupuncture – and it’s a guarantee your prescription won’t include a bottle of pills.

Instead, the treatments include voice, music, movement and an intermingling of transformative elements like smoke and water. The Body Altar, an intergenerational, ceremonial healing dance-party, is one of the many ancient health care options offered to the Denver community.

Montoya believes in the basic tenet of Chinese Medicine, “Where there is illness, there is no flow; where there is flow, there is no illness.”

“When we literally vibrate in dance, music and song medicine, we are creating health. I believe art is the most accessible form of communal healing,” Montoya said.

Montoya is a Denver born and raised Xicana, with roots in New Mexican and Texan mestizo culture. She graduated from Stanford with a degree in anthropology and is now a licensed acupuncturist and a practicing Chinese medicine doctor. As a traditional healer, she incorporates modalities of Curanderismo into her multifaceted practice. Curanderismo is a holistic approach to wellness that has been used traditionally throughout the Americas.

(Photo by Lisa M. Hall)

Montoya works alongside Sankofa, an artist, writer, speaker and poet who uses her performative presence to help heal herself and others.

“The Body Altar allows us a space to collectively heal our pain by utilizing the potent energy of music, affirmation, prayer, smoke and water medicine and to collectively dance in order to shift energy in our lives,” Sankofa said.

Psychology researchers at the University of Oxford published a study in the Evolution and Human Behavior that highlights the beneficial impact collective dance has on human health and how dancing reduces pain, both physical and emotional. The experiment suggests that dance encourages closeness by stimulating the production of endorphins. Essentially, they found that synchronistic movement, like collective dance, led to increased cooperative behavior, social bonding, and feelings of interconnectedness – which can all be deeply healing, especially when it becomes a routine ritual.

Among the many movement-based offerings, sound healing is also a major component at The Body Altar. Ethnomusicologists describe trance-like or altered states of consciousness induced by the power of music across cultures. The Society for Ethnomusicology published a resource list containing publications investigating the intersection of music and medicine. According to many of the studies music has the power to intoxicate, hypnotize, and induce deeply cathartic experiences.

The Body Altar is just one of many ways people can start the self emp

Photo by Jessica Holman

owerment process. What’s unique about The Body Altar is the participatory nature of the healing sessions. According to many participants, The Body Altar honors their biological rhythms by bringing various therapies together to create an immersive experience that helps to balance parts of themselves that are unwell or out of sync.

Ryan Foo is a frequent participant in The Body Altar. “I have always been afraid of dancing. Now I see the deeper reasons to express myself with and around the people I love and respect. It’s what our city needs right now…a safe place to reconnect.”


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