Are you new to circle dance? or getting more involved?
Here is some of what you might want to know about common practices.
Sacred Circle Dance Protocol
While we often say our mantra, “There are no wrong steps, only variations” it’s helpful to know some of the customs when you first come to a circle dance.
What to wear
Be comfortable. Many of us like to wear skirts but people wear anything at all.
Footwear is anything from bare feet to dancing shoes. If you need supportive shoes you are very welcome to wear whatever makes you comfortable.
For some events, the coordinator may suggest particular colours. For instance, sometimes we do a “white night” where everyone dresses in white. Often people bring extra clothing in the suggested colours for people to borrow. Red/pink/purple for Valentine’s day; green for spring, etc.
As there are regulars in any circle, you may feel it awkward that people are greeting each other before the dance. Most facilitators like to start on time and if you are ready to dance, just go into the centre of the room and await others to join in.
Sometimes the first dance is a gathering dance – i.e. the leader starts it and others join in as they’re ready by just watching the steps. Join in at the end of the line, so the leader remains the first person in the line. When everyone has joined, the leader will reach out to hold the hand of the last person so as to form a circle.
The facilitator or another dancer usually sets up a centrepiece on the floor. Often it includes candles and/or objects marking the four directions. As that should be the centre, check in with yourself and those near you at various times: Are you equal distance from the centre? if not, move in a bit or back out a bit as the circle readjusts itself.
Joining in late
All of us can get delayed for many reasons. If you do arrive late, just wait at the edge of the circle until the next dance. If taking off your coat can be done unobtrusively, you could settle yourself. There are usually chairs. Or you could wait till the break between dances to put on your dancing shoes and put things away.
Often at the start or after a dance or two, people are invited to introduce themselves. This is always brief — often the request is for you to simply share your first name and one word or brief comment about how you’re feeling. It’s meant to simply bring everyone into the circle, but is not a time for a “check-in” or extra information or questions. Sometimes cards are passed around and you say your name and read the message on the card. Common cards are Angel cards from Findhorn where sacred circle dance originated but facilitators often bring different cards including the Wild Woman cards. We usually go around the circle clockwise. Sometimes someone is asked to draw a card for the circle. Sometimes if someone has a birthday near the time, they go first. All of this is meant to simply help people connect with each other.
Usually recorded music is played on a computer or electronic device. When live music is available, it’s a special treat and fairly rare. To play the music from a computer, the facilitator or an assistant will need to leave the circle and return to set up the next dance. Especially people new to the dance may find it difficult if the group breaks into conversation during this time, so we ask people to wait for the music and any further prompting by rehearsing in their mind or in place the steps of the dance. This blog has youtube links to a lot of the music we dance to. There’s such a variety from traditional music used for folk dancing for many years to contemporary songs. Usually the music for particular has a theme, often related to the season.
Most but not all dances are done while holding hands in a circle. To make it easier to connect we dance with thumbs to the right; left palm down, right palm up. You may have done Dances of Universal Peace where with the same intention, the thumbs go the opposite way. Please don’t be embarrassed if someone switches the handhold on you. Those of us who dance regularly just get so used to this, it feels odd and you may as well learn. Not meant as criticism.
Holding the silence at the end of a dance
At the end of each dance, we hold hands, usually palm-to-palm, and hold silence until the leader sends a “squeeze” around the circle.
Learning the steps
The steps to each dance are taught before the dance starts. It is OK to ask for one more practice before the music goes on. On the other hand, sometimes once you’ve seen the basics, it’s actually easier to learn it with the music. If the dance has only a few steps, you may find it easy to just get right into it with the rhythm. A good tip is to be right beside some experienced circle dancers. If we’re going to the left, you’ll want your mentor on the left and vice versa. People don’t mind your moving to a different spot and in fact will sometimes suggest it.
Discussion and questions
If you have comments or questions about a particular dance, it’s best to hold those until the break or the end of the gathering and ask the dance facilitator.
Announcements related to events about circle dance or the host organization are often permitted at a particular time. It may be just before the break, so that those who are interested can approach the person making the announcements for more information. These are brief. Other times, there’s a place for people to put out flyers or brochures but no verbal announcements are made.
Self-care: Mobility and physical limitations
These are self-care circles. You are asked to pay attention to your own body and choose to sit out a dance or two if you’re new or have some physical limitation. Sometimes a particular movement is difficult for an individual – spinning for instance. A dance that goes in the same direction repeatedly can also be hard for some people. If you can adapt, please do. If you need to leave the dance, just step back and link the hands of the people on either side of you.
A new or challenging dance
If a dance seems too challenging for you at this stage, one way to learn it is to step outside of the circle and dance the steps on your own following an experienced dancer in front of you. While you can of course sit it out, this is a way to not feel awkward in the circle but be learning the dance for next time. Sometimes dances that are new to the whole group are done a second time to help people get more familiar. There are some circle dance favorites such as Winds on the Tor and Miserlu which are easy once you’ve learned them, but take a bit of practice to get into the swing of them. Many facilitators welcome your suggestions about dances that you’d like to do again.
Fragrance and Cigarette Smoke
Please respect the growing number of people with allergies and asthma by being careful to not be wearing personal products that have scents. Even natural essential oils and clothing that you wore the previous day may have irritants for people. If you usually wear fragrance, don’t put any on the day of the dance and wear fresh clothes. Similarly cigarette smoke that lingers in clothes can set off an asthmatic or allergic reaction in people, even if you are not smoking near other people. Here’s a link explaining this situation: http://www.livestrong.com/article/530290-can-cigarette-smoke-on-clothing-cause-allergy-symptoms/
If you have a reaction to candles, please notify the coordinator and they will likely limit the use of candles or use beeswax in future if you’re OK with that.
Different facilitators do different rituals at the end. Sometimes a grounding of the energy, sometimes meeting in the centre and sending energy out to the world. In some groups the ending includes hugs. If you are not comfortable with any of these, you will want to quietly absent yourself.
Sacred Circle Dance History
People sometimes wonder where it came from. This is a good explanation: http://dancelessons.net/dancehistory/HistoryofCircleDance.html