I have been going to Dances of Universal Peace since April 2009. Before that, I had heard of the phrase, but knew nothing more about the Dances as a spiritual practice. As I’m going to be writing about the Dances a lot on here, I suppose it’d be a good idea to explain a bit about what they are.
Simply put, they are easy, fun, spiritual and joyful circle dances using sacred phrases from around the world. The Dances of Universal Peace are essentially a form of celebration and meditation in sound and movement. There is an old saying that goes: “If you can walk you can dance; if you can talk you can sing”.
In Dances of Universal Peace, the participants stand in a circle. The dances are simple to learn, and the movements, words and melodies are always taught before each dance, as if everyone is learning it for the first time – making it easy for beginners to join in without feeling that they are at a disadvantage in the group.
The phrases sung are all based on the various sacred traditions of the world – such as Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Native American, and so on. The meaning and pronunciation of the phrase is explained each time, along with the relevance of the movements. It isn’t necessary to come with a partner to do Dances of Universal Peace – many of the dances are just done with everyone standing in a circle and making the same movements at the same time. Other dances, however, require people to be in pairs, so during one dance day it is quite usual for one person to get the chance to be ‘paired up’ with several different people for different dances. The dances often work in such a way that people ‘progress’ from one partner to another during a dance, so you’d expect to eventually dance with just about everyone in the room! It’s a great way to make friends.
It’s also a very safe atmosphere, as the emotional/spiritual side of the dances encourages the letting down of barriers in a way that enhances a closeness between the dancers which doesn’t often happen in other social situations. You may start the dance day not knowing anyone at all in the room, but by the end of the day, feel completely comfortable with all of them. It’s a joyous way to spend some time with other people, and the feeling lasts long after the dancing ends.
Even if you feel you cannot dance or sing, it doesn’t matter – everyone is encouraged to just have a go, and after a while you’ll feel completely at ease. With these dances, there is no ‘audience’ – everyone in the room is there to participate in the dancing, not to watch it, so it is easy to become engrossed in what you are doing, and how it may appear to others becomes irrelevant. Although the dancing can be a deeply emotional experience, it’s OK to dance in the wrong direction to everyone else every now and then! No-one is going to tell you off.
The dance leader directs the Dances of Universal Peace by standing in the centre of the circle of dancers, explaining the movements, phrases and melodies, and leading everyone through a practice first. Accompaniment (just the dance leader, or along with other musicians) may be on guitar, drum, violin – or sometimes with no accompaniment at all. However, the music is always ‘live’, not recorded. When the dance starts, the leader calls out any necessary changes, such as ‘just the women’, or ‘to the right’, or ‘change partners’. Each dance lasts perhaps five or ten minutes, with the dance leader building up the tempo whilst everyone dances it in rhythm, as one community. At the end of each dance, the dancers stand for a few moments in silence, eyes closed, experiencing the feelings that have been created. The leader then ‘seals the dance’ by saying a sacred phrase relevant to the tradition for that particular dance – for instance, if the dance had been a Christian-inspired one, then a suitable closing word would ‘Amen’. The dancers repeat this, and then a new dance is introduced.
Some other points to note are:
If, at any time, a dancer needs to take a break and sit out for a dance, that’s fine.
If the dance session is a full day, then a shared meal half way through is an important part of the day, so enough time is given to it so that it is not rushed. The meals are vegetarian, and often consist of items brought by the participants, as this helps the atmosphere of sharing and support.
Some dance leaders incorporate various other spiritual practices into the day, such as guided meditations. Each dance leader has their own ‘style’, to some extent.
At the end of the dance day, it is usual for the participants to give each other a hug of thanks, although if this is emotionally uncomfortable for a dancer, it’s OK to give the hugging a miss and simply say ‘thank you’ instead!
Some of the sacred phrases used in the Dances of Universal Peace
The following list gives an idea of the some of the sacred phrases that the Dances of Universal Peace are based on. This brief list is copied, with thanks, from the Sacred Arts Camp website, which is well worth a look. www.sacredartscamp.org
“While translations of the phrases are given below, many sacred phrases are capable of different meanings and different levels of meaning; and ultimately the meaning for each of us is how they resonate in our own being and what feelings and sensations arise. Really feel the sound in the body. Stay in the heart rather than the head.”
Bismillah Er Rahman Er Rahim (Arabic, Islam) – We begin in the name of Allah who is mercy and compassion. Or, we begin by means of the Entire Unfolding Cosmos from whose womb is born the Sun and Moon of Love.
La illaha el Allah Hu, or La illaha il Allah Hu (Arabic, Islam) – There is no reality except the Oneness. Remembrance of the One Being.
Shem’a Israel Adonai Elohaynu, Adonai Echad (Hebrew, Jewish) Hear O Israel the Lord our God is one Lord.
Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison (Greek, Christian) – Lord send mercy, Christ send mercy.
Abwoon d’Bwashmaya (Aramaic, Christian) – First line of the Lord’s Prayer. O Thou the Breathing Life of All, Creator of the Shimmering Sound that touches us.
Om Sri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram (Sanskrit, Hindu) – O God who is both truth and power, personal and impersonal, victory to thee, victory to thee. Also a call to victory for the spiritual self.
Kwan Zeon Bosai (Korean, Buddhist) – Kwan Yin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion – She who hears the sounds of the world and accords them mercy. Bosai is Bodhisattva.
Om Mani Peme Hung (Tibetan, Buddhist) – Hail to the jewel in the lotus. This mantra embodies the compassion and blessings of all the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
The following quote, by Aramaic scholar Neil Douglas-Klotz, a Sufi teacher, author and creator of over 60 of the Dances, sums it up: