Sacred circle dance
Dancers wear shoes, sandals — or no footwear at all.
(May 29, 2007)
We’re standing shoulder to shoulder, elbows entwined, holding hands. Our entire forearms are locked together. One solid line of humanity faces another.
At this moment I have to admit I’m feeling like we’re playing the kids’ game, Red Rover, Red Rover.
Or maybe like we’re soldiers marching into war.
And then the music starts …
We all begin to move as one, our steps tiny, stately even, as we slowly inch around the room.
Suddenly it feels marvellous, this dancing. It feels like the finest thing to do on an afternoon in spring with the sun streaming in through the windows.
And I realize this is the furthest experience from a soldier marching off to war. Except perhaps for one aspect — the comradeship of what we’re doing. The sense of being in this together.
What we’re doing in this church hall in Dundas is called sacred circle dancing.
Lots more music follows this day, and it seems to take us on a world tour. Tibetan chants, weird yet compelling, are followed by Irish fiddlers and suddenly the fun quotient goes way up.
Then Leonard Cohen croons A Thousand Kisses Deep and we become dancers who are just a little more sensuous in our bodies. Then a bit of Ziggy Marley to really challenge our sense of rhythm.
Next comes something that sounds straight from the Top 40. And finally an Australian didgeridoo, low and haunting ….
We dance through it all. The steps aren’t complex.
Oh sure, a few of us zig when we should zag, but then we discover it doesn’t matter in the least.
We’re having a ball, about 40 women and four brave guys (there’s where the soldier’s valour comes in).
I can see why this dancing is fun. But other than the fact that it’s in St. James Anglican Church, why do they call it sacred?
“I think it’s the intention that makes it so,” says dancer Valerie Nielsen of Stoney Creek. “We stand and continue to hold hands at the end of each dance; we stay connected to each other, to all of us. It’s the reverence we bring to it.”
Nielsen, a member of First Unitarian Church in Hamilton, has been sacred circle dancing for years.
We take a pause and scan the room. There are old and young people here. Gay and straight. Urban and suburban. A few running shoes, a few stout clogs, some bare feet and, yes, a few Birkenstocks. There are flowing dresses and sportswear. Bangles and bright scarves in sensible shoes.
“I like the fact that we feel unity in our diversity,” says Nielsen. “That’s spiritual in itself.
“And so is the fact that it’s not about performing. It’s not about how good a dancer you are. It’s about accepting yourself and others wherever you are. That’s hugely spiritual.”
Bev Hattersley is a busy family doctor, wife and mother.
“I have a stressful job, lots of responsibilities, and this is a way for me to let loose,” says Hattersley who leads the St. James Church sacred circle dancers.
“I don’t have expertise. I just have enthusiasm for it,” she says. For her, it’s a kind of moving meditation or prayer, a celebration of life.
“I was always a klutz as a dancer, and I still am, but I’ve discovered that it doesn’t matter. I was always the last kid picked for baseball, but I’ve found a bit of grace here.”
In fact, there are a few of us who seem to have two left feet.
“Jane says it’s just creative expression when you make a mistake,” Hattersley says. “That’s so encouraging to the rest of us. And that’s a spiritual attitude, too.”
Jane is Jane Buchan who has helped start sacred circle dances all over southern Ontario, including this one at St. James 10 years ago. She’s a graceful, flowing dancer, but indeed makes all the dancers feel glad to be here.
One dance has us raising our arms like tulips, then floating them down. A tall man worries aloud that his tulip petals seem to have a way of bonking the head of the small woman beside him.
“We’ll get you a hard hat, Cindy,” Buchan says and everyone laughs.
Buchan says she found sacred circle dancing in 1993 during one of the hardest times in her life, when she’d been “profoundly betrayed” by someone she’d trusted.
“For the first few weeks I didn’t do anything but follow along as best I could and weep silently. No one troubled me or tried to fix me.”
The music, of course, as music does, kept making her feelings well up. But being forced to concentrate on the dance steps also gave her a brief respite from her thoughts.
Then after about three months, an amazing thing happened.
“Something in me shifted,” says Buchan, “and I was simply there, as a participant and creator of this lovely healing energy. Not everyone comes as needy as I, but everyone speaks of the healing, joyful energy.”
Shoshona Magill has been sacred circle dancing for 18 years and has driven from Elmira to Dundas early in the morning to be here. Others have come from Orillia, Barrie and Guelph.
“I was taken by it the first time I went,” Magill says. “You can have a really stressful day and feel like, ‘I can’t go dance tonight.’ But after one dance, you feel absolutely energized.”
The sacredness for her?
“It’s about community, about being nonjudgmental. When you do this, you can’t be wrong. That’s a nice change.”
And like Valerie Nielsen, she likes the fact that the music comes from all over the world, that it’s a way to appreciate each other’s music and dances — and so lower the barriers between people just a little.
After one dance, we learn that the music we’ve just been moving to is being sent to Iraq and Palestine for people to dance to there. In fact, sacred circle dancing is done by people of all beliefs — Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans and nonbelievers.
Between dances, we’re asked to say our names and to state whom we have compassion for.
“People dying of AIDS,” says one woman.
“Kids caught in war,” says another.
“Mother Earth,” says one.
“Those who need to learn how to dance,” pipes up one of the men.
This may be spiritual work, but there are a few laughs this day, too.
“This next dance is dedicated to humanity,” says Buchan. “It’s the club we all belong to. We just forget that sometimes.” And then the Celtic fiddles strike up and we’re off, all lords of the dance in our own ways.
“When I dance, I feel connected to all that is. I feel an inclusivity that encompasses the world and the worlds beyond the world,” Buchan says.
She looks out to the dancers she’s been leading all day.
“You’re looking at people who believe they can change the world by dancing,” she says.
“If nothing else, we can’t make mischief in the world as long as we keep on dancing.”
Dance has ancient roots
* Sacred circle dancing is new. And it’s absolutely ancient. Think: revival.
* The modern circle began in Findhorn, Scotland, in 1976. Look up Findhorn on the Internet. It’s an amazing collective community dedicated to peace and spirituality.
* Sacred circle dancing has now spread all over the globe. People who’d been to Findhorn went home, and began circles in their own towns and cities. Then those circles begat new ones.
* All the circles are considered to be linked. That’s a spiritual concept, that all of us are part of a greater whole — and that the barriers between us, the ones that lead humans to conflict, are really just a fabrication, a story we tell ourselves to keep us apart.
* But even though the circles celebrate our kinship as people, they’re quite diverse. Each circle dances to different music with different steps. All kinds of music are used, and each circle develops its favourites, then shares them.
* Don’t sweat the small stuff. The dances are really quite simple. The pleasure is in dancing in a circle facing your fellow dancers, all of you holding hands.
* This really is ancient, however. It’s the oldest form of human dance (and you thought that was the Locomotion, right?). Back in the mists of time, tribes danced around a fire after the hard work of the day. They danced to celebrate marriages and to mark deaths. They danced to give thanks for a good harvest. Old and young, men and women, danced together and felt a sense of belonging. And, thanks to Findhorn, they still do.
Where to kick up those heels?
Try one of these local groups: (i.e. near Hamilton)
* St. James Anglican Church, 137 Melville St., Dundas. Dancers meet the second Friday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the hall at the back of the church. There’s no charge, it’s nondenominational and open to whoever shows up.
* Quaker Meeting House, 7 Butty Place, Hamilton, 7:30 a.m. Dancers meet the third Monday of each month. It’s nondenominational and open to whoever shows up. A donation of $5 is requested to meet expenses with the remainder going as a thank-you offering to the church.
* Bev Hattersley of the Dundas group will lead a workshop on sacred circle dancing at Total Recall VI, an annual gathering of women on Pelee Island in Lake Erie around the time of the summer solstice. This year the gathering is June 15 to 17. Check it out at peleeislandretreats.com.