Ecstatic Dance Guru Tyler Blank Under Fire

The founder of Ecstatic Dance in the Bay Area responds to his recent arrest and upheaval in the dance scene.

Ecstatic Dance Guru Tyler Blank Under Fire

Be Scofield is the author of Hunting Lucifer: One Reporter's Search for Cults and Demons. Her original reporting led to the new HBO series on the Love Has Won cult. Her work is cited by the NY Times, Rolling Stone, People, Netflix, and more. Please donate here or: Venmo: @be-scofield Paypal:


May 2nd, 2024

The San Francisco Bay Area Ecstatic Dance scene is in turmoil after its founder Tyler Blank has been charged with felony domestic violence. On January 9th, 2024 he was arrested and charged with "assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury" and "corporal injury to spouse." He's facing years in prison if found guilty.

Tyler's ex-girlfriend spent two days in the hospital and was then taken to a domestic violence shelter by authorities for one night after Tyler was released on bail. "The ex-partner has been unable to work or drive a car for many months as a result of her injuries and has accrued substantial medical bills," a friend of the victim posted on Facebook. Another person close to the situation said she has "serious physical and emotional trauma" as a result.

The ex-girlfriend is in her 40s and is a licensed psychologist who practices psychotherapy. She's been unable to work for the last 8 months due to the resulting traumatic brain injury.

I interviewed Tyler Blank for several hours about his recent arrest and what's happening in the Ecstatic Dance community. He is a well known figure in the Bay Area and the wider dance scene. Tyler started Ecstatic Dance in Oakland 16 years ago with his girlfriend at the time Donna Carrol. Since then it has morphed into four events in the Bay Area and retreats around the world.

Because of the pending legal case I'm not able to report the details of his side of the story. The alleged victim has also been advised not to speak publicly. He was able to issue a statement through his lawyer. "I am not guilty of the charges against me," it reads. "I am confident that the truth will come to light, and that we will prevail in the court of law."

The charges have had an impact on the dance community in the Bay Area. Many have withdrawn support and boycotted his events. Tyler told me attendance is down as much as 40%. "They see it as financially supporting me and are withdrawing," he said. Tyler described what's happening as a form of cancel culture and a witch hunt. "I'm not a violent person. I'm being set-up," he said. "A grave injustice is happening here."

Many in the community believe it was the right decision for this to be played out publicly. "Tyler is in a position of power and if there is a safety threat people have a right to be informed given that he runs public events," commented one member of the dance community. "I left the dance community because of sexual violence that was completely dismissed," a woman wrote.

Others have defended Tyler online. "Please know that there is much more to this story than this extremely misleading post would suggest," wrote one of his supporters online. One woman went through the court system after being falsely accused of domestic violence only later to be cleared. "The effects on my daughter and I were so vast that I ended up moving," she wrote.

"Those of us close to the matter deliberated and felt this would be best for many reasons," wrote Ford Peck on Facebook. Peck said he has "strong conviction" after knowing the details. He and a few others warned the community. "I don’t want Tyler to suffer loss or be cancelled, but I do want the truth to be known and to take a stand for someone who has been in serious physical and emotional trauma as a result of what occurred."

Tyler told me the turmoil surrounding his arrest has jeopardized the future of ecstatic dances in the Bay Area. With costs for staff, rent and DJs as high as $40,000 per month he said the dances operate on thin margins. Tyler can now no longer afford his high rent and is having to move. Some of the dances are even losing money. As a gesture of goodwill Tyler has pledged to donate 50% of the few profits from the dances to two charities related to domestic violence.

Needless to say Tyler is upset at the attention the story is getting. "I wish you cared enough about Ecstatic Dance to really question your motives right now," Tyler told me in regards to my reporting on him.

The Death of April Morel

In the wake of the felony domestic violence charges against Tyler and his ex-girlfriend being hospitalized people in the dance community are reinvestigating the death of his previous girlfriend.

In March, 2020 Tyler's girlfriend April Morel was found dead at the bottom of a cliff in Diamond Harbor in New Zealand at around 7 p.m. "A woman has fallen down a bank and died while out running with her dog last night," it was reported. "Her death is not thought to be suspicious and will be referred to the coroner."

"Morel’s father, Don Martin, last saw his daughter about 1 p.m. when she told him she was going to the Cliff Track, which she had regularly used," the New Zealand's Stuff reported.

Tyler and April were staying with her parents at their home in Diamond Harbor near Christchurch. Tyler told me the trails are close to the house.

I asked Tyler about his whereabouts when April went missing. People had heard he was at home with her parents at the time but no one really knew. He told me that he was on a Zoom call with his friend Brandon Bosch at the house when April went out for a walk. But then Tyler went out for his own walk sometime after she did. Not to find April though, because she wasn't missing yet.

"The only sensitive thing that puts any of this in doubt," Tyler told me, "is that when she didn't come back in an hour I went out for a walk in a different direction."

"Did you go looking for her?" I asked Tyler. "No," he replied. "You just went out for your own walk?" I asked. "Yeah," he replied.

This meant Tyler was on the same trail system as April when she "slipped" off the cliff. He wasn't at her parents house when she went missing. He told me he was gone for around 30-45 minutes.

April's sister told me she, the family and the police knew Tyler had gone out for a walk while she was also on the trails.

Several hours later around 4 p.m. is when her father got worried. "I think it was her dad who got concerned first," Tyler told me. "And then I got concerned."

April's father found her body by boat later that night. "An autopsy concluded she died from blunt force injuries to her head after falling from a height," Sam Sherwood reported for Stuff in New Zealand. Tyler was never charged with anything related to her death.

April's sister told me the family had never heard of any problems between Tyler and April in the year they had dated. And during the five days they were both at April's parents there was no indication of trouble. Her sister said the police also went through April's diaries, phone, computers and emails to check for any evidence she was suicidal or if there was trouble in the relationship. She said they didn't find anything.

Tyler Blank and April Morel

"You are going to ruin me unnecessarily if you make people doubt April's death," Tyler protested to me. "I loved her more than anyone in the world. Shame on you."

"Your previous girlfriend is dead and you are being criminally charged for attacking and hospitalizing your most recent girlfriend," I responded. "Anyone in this situation would be publicly scrutinized." I further explained that the impact it's having on the Bay Area dance scene makes it newsworthy.

Five days after April died Tyler posted a video on Facebook at the location where April fell. People in the dance community are revisiting it now, claiming his choice of words and lack of emotion is odd. "May this video bring some Peace and Understanding about where and how April took Flight," he wrote in the post. "I prefer to imagine her Running and Dancing, Kicking and Flying! on her way out," he wrote.

Tyler explained to me that in the days after April's death he felt a variety of emotions. Some days he'd be crying, others he was not.

"Her and I had just hiked there the day before," Tyler says in the video as he retraces the steps of the trail. "There's this tree and it looks like she stepped on this, or kicked that or stumbled there," he says as he points to a bulging tree root and rock. He then zooms in to the dirt a few feet away and says, "it looks like there's a mark here where she hit." Tyler pans another foot down. "And then the soil is disturbed here. A part of her looks like it hit there as well."

"Her father Don found her at nightfall," Tyler says in the video. "She had been missing for a few hours so we came looking for her only to be found at the bottom of the rocks. It looks like she had a head wound and that she didn't suffer."

"She was such a bright light," he says as he pans the camera around to his face. "We were prepared to spend the rest of our lives together. Things are different now."

Four years later on the anniversary of her death Tyler posted a tribute recognizing her zest for life. "Perhaps April lived so much in her 35 years, that that’s all she needed."