Thursday, October 6, 2011

Understanding & Embracing The Sacred

I don't think our community (or society) understands the concept of sacred.  I think it's something that even those of us who talk about it a lot, can lose touch with what it means - to ourselves, to others.  Sacred dance is a topic that makes a lot of people squirm in their seats, recalling poorly-done "goddess" performances, or brushes with cult-like activity. Something of "the other", not related to our modern-day society, our daily lives.

When I put togeth
er the concept of Tapestry, I subtitled it "Weaving Together Dance Traditions and the Living Sacred." Thinking back, I did a lot of the organizing and descriptive parts of creating the event practically on autopilot.  When I just went back to look at the website, wondering what I had said that included "sacred", I was rather surprised to see it leaping off the page in that particular way. I don't even remember writing this part from the about section "Our goal is give students an opportunity to expand not only their knowledge and practice of dance traditions, but to explore the sacred and spiritual concepts related to these traditions, and what they mean to us as modern, global citizens. The entire program is designed to give students a full-bodied experience with comparative instruction in dance movement, music, song, history, and ritual - as well as providing an enriching communal environment for the length of the program."
But write it, I did.  And in retrospect, I believe we more than accomplished our goal, we hit it out of the park.  But I digress....back to the sacred.

We worked with a multitude of cultures at Tapestry - all sorts of religious paths, pantheons and belief systems that these dances, practices, rituals emerged from  - but what made it truly sacred is not a connection or dedication to some distant divine being, but the connection we made with ourselves and each other.

Sacred dance is not about being holier-than-thou, or being ungrounded - in fact, it's about getting to the roots of yourself - letting go of ego, and tapping into what makes you, you.  Forget about being a "great" priestess, artist, dancer, shaman, performer, teacher - that all has to go out the window.  In order to accomplish any sort of "great", you have to start from the ground up.  Break down your own misconceptions about yourself, about others, and just let go of it all.

Our ancestors have been doing these dances and rituals for hundreds, if not thousands of years - every culture has them in some form.  The reason they have been done for so long is not just tradition, but because THEY WORK, regardless of who or what you believe in.  We get hung up in all of the trappings of modern society, all of our manufactured cures and medication - we think that just a pill will cure anything, without ever examining the underlying causes of our physical, emotional, and mental maladies.  But humankind has been surviving through these things for thousands of years through the power of dance, music, ritual. 

After this weekend, I am left wondering what impact sacred dance would have on the modern bellydance community, if  more dancers actually tried it - oriental and tribal.   I wonder how many egos would be left in the dance, how many more individuals vs. clones would emerge, how many would dance even better?  How many would abandon the dance all together? How would how dancers treat each other change? 

It's worth thinking about it I believe.


  1. I never got to post my previous comment because LJ died.

    My question to you is - How do you define sacred dance? And how can you (or anyone) know if someone isn't already doing a sacred dance?

    Personally I feel that whenever I reach Tarab - when I'm really connecting with live music especially a taqasim - that's a sacred dance for me. But it's private to me - no one has to know that it's sacred or connected to what some peopel call God. The audience hopefully just feels it as some good and perhaps emotionally powerful dancing.

  2. That's an excellent question Shannon! I think one thing to consider is, is there a difference between sacred dance and spiritual dance? How much does the purpose/intent of the dance impact its context? The key thing about many things that fall under the heading of sacred/ritual dance is, they're NOT done for performance. The Zar, the Guedra, the Tarantella - these rituals/dances are not done for performance's sake, but rather to heal, to bless, to appease the sacred/supernatural/self-divine. You can connect with your own spirit and engage it through a performance, but the context of the performance contains it. If you're engaged fully in a ritual dance, it doesn't matter how it looks/appears to an audience, it's the experience itself for the dancer.

  3. I know what you mean about Zar (done in a sacred context) ... thank you Arab Dance Seminar for that.

    Now that I'm coming 'round to your point, I do think it would be beneficial to have more of such community/connection/ritual dances at events. If we had three less performances, and took that time to dance together in such a way, it would change the entire tenor of a hafli.

  4. Tempest -
    Tapestry was everything you said and more. I don't know that any of us truly knew what we were going to be a part of. We arrived as students and became participants. We arrived to take notes and learn choreography and instead were transformed. For me, this will have a lasting impact on my life and the way I see the world and the Sacred - across cultures and in my own daily life.

    As a dancer, this has had an effect on what dance I would be willing to do in public - there are things that feel too personal and sacred to do publicly, and others that I yearn to share, but the community component was also key to the success of Tapestry - we were lead my master weavers who gave us the courage to start weaving our own tapestry of the spirit.

    The connection of the ancient with the modern, and the fact that, regardless of approach or origin, it "WORKS" speaks to a universal human community, connecting us not only now, but back through the past and into the future.

    Great music? Great Dancing? Great learning? Yes. But oh, so very, very much more.

    I would love to see more sacred dance opportunities in the area, but am also aware of the great responsibility that calls for on a public basis.

    Thank you for making the whole adventure possible.