Minister of Sound
Neighbors: Profiles of our community
Sometimes we just happen to be in the right place at the right time. Case in point: Mikaya Swabb, whose brush with serendipity 10 years ago put him on the path to co-create a new dance community on Maui.
In 2007, Swabb returned to his hometown of Salt Lake City after spending a year abroad in England. There, he’d discovered a new passion for electronic music while frequenting London’s vibrant club scene. “I’ve always been into music and dance,” he said, “but that was my first experience with electronic music.”
Swabb was instantly hooked on the genre — so much, in fact, that he wanted to learn how to play it as a DJ. That’s when fate intervened: A well-known club DJ moved in to the apartment across the hall. Swabb took it as a sign and promptly bought some equipment; it wasn’t long before his new neighbor was teaching him the tricks of the trade. “The timing was pretty incredible,” he laughed.
Swabb was a quick study, and in the years that followed, he put his mixing skills on display at music and interactive arts festivals like Element 11 and Burning Man. “I am very influenced by the festival culture,” he explained. So, when he moved to Maui six years ago, Swabb didn’t waste any time getting involved with — and DJ-ing at — the Source Maui Festival, a Burning Man-inspired event in Keanae.
Later that year, two friends, Vishnu Dass and Sitaram Dass, approached Swabb with a proposal: They asked him to help them launch an alternative nightlife event that would regard dance as a sacred art.
“We wanted to create a dance community that would come together outside of the bar and club scene,” Swabb said.
In February 2012, the trio brought its vision to life with the debut of Dance Church Maui, an all-ages, nondenominational, substance-free “conscious clubbing” event held in Makawao Union Church’s community hall. “The response was overwhelming,” Swabb said. “We knew right away that we’d created something dynamic.”
The three-hour-long event, which takes place weekly or monthly, depending on the time of year, provides a sacred space devoid of drugs and alcohol, but full of introspection and unbridled self-expression. “I love seeing people use the dance floor as a form of prayer, exercise and meditation through movement,” Swabb said.
And this isn’t your typical dance party. The evening begins with a guided movement session (ranging from yoga to qigong) and ends with a “cool down” movement session. As for what’s in between — well, it’s all about the music.
“The sound of the music is the main source of focus,” Swabb explained. That’s why there’s very little, if any, conversation on the dance floor. “The dancers are there to be present,” he said. “Conversation pulls them out of that.”
Clearly, it’s an effective format. “What I hear most often from dancers is that they leave feeling blissed out,” Swabb said.
“There’s a lot of cathartic release on the dance floor.”
Apart from contributing to the sacred theme of the event, the venue lends itself well to dancing: There’s plenty of space, soft lighting and a state-of-the-art sound system that produces superior sound everywhere on the dance floor, Swabb said. The music, called sacred bass, encompasses genres like west coast, east coast and island bass — and at a tempo of 75 to 110 beats per minute, it keeps dancers on their feet.
Since its inception in 2012, Dance Church Maui has garnered a devoted following. And with a roster of high-profile performers — including The Human Experience, Kaminanada, David Starfire, Shaman’s Dream, SOOHAN, Dakini, (Clever Alias) and Sasha Rose — it’s easy to see why.
Over the years, the event has drawn established DJs and music producers from as far away as New York City, and has showcased local artists, too (including Swabb). Ancillary performers, like fire spinners and face painters, are featured intermittently, which adds to the multisensory allure of the evening. “We blend a club experience with a festival experience,” Swabb said.
When he’s not coordinating Dance Church Maui, Swabb is using sound as a therapeutic tool as the co-facilitator of weekly gong and singing bowl sound bath sessions at Lumeria Maui in Makawao. He says he’s proud of how far Dance Church Maui has come and looks forward to creating more magical experiences in the years to come.
“Collaborating with other talented artists and dancers is where it’s at,” he said. “So many people contribute to Dance Church Maui and activate it with their presence. It truly is a community-oriented event.”
Dance Church Maui is run and organized by volunteers; all funds raised from ticket sales are reinvested in the event. The next Dance Church Maui is scheduled from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. July 1 at Makawao Union Church. To learn more, visit www.facebook.com/dancechurchmaui.
* Sarah Ruppenthal is a Maui-based writer and instructor at the University of Hawaii Maui College. Do you have an interesting neighbor? Tell us about them at email@example.com. Neighbors and “The State of Aloha,” written by Ben Lowenthal, alternate Fridays.