I love this picture of me from one of my first dance recitals. My first two years of dance, ages 4-5, were at the Temple of the Wings in Berkeley California. We performed in the school’s courtyard surrounded by tall Greek pillars. I can hardly believe that building is real. With Isadora Duncan as our inspiration, we flitted around in our chiffon tunics with flowers in our hair. As I prepare for our mid-summer dance celebration in which we will make flower crowns and dance to Greek music it seems as though I haven’t traveled very far from that first dance recital.
Yet it has been a long journey. I’ve gone through painful years injured and not dancing. I’ve rebelled against the gender stereotypes so often magnified in dance and thrown myself into feminist, peace, and environmental activism. I have a driving hunger to find a way to be at peace in a suffering world. I’ve been on a quest to understand how transformation happens so I can serve it.
I want to share with you a little bit about how I came to decide that meditation, praying for the water, dancing with flowers in my hair, and walking along rivers in prayer could be important things for me to do in the midst of the crises of our times.
I studied ballet from the ages of 6-16 with a passion. I could not have named it as such at the time, but dance was my outlet for expression, for moving and balancing my own energy. I learned how to project the sweep of my arm across an auditorium. My arabesque was ordering the cosmos. I was enchanted with all the magical women in the stories of classical ballets: the nymphs, swans, and willies.
I also struggled with a number of injuries, all of them related to overuse. I was an extremely sensitive child and my body was often in a perpetual state of tension as I braced myself from being overwhelmed by the world. Finally there seemed no way to dance through my Achilles tendonitis; heartbroken I left dance for many years.
When I could no longer dance I quickly became involved in activism at my high school. It took me a long time to recognize the continuity in my activities; I had shifted from physical movement to social movements.
I was now a sensitive heart deeply engaging with the suffering in our community and trying to change it. I went to meetings, met with my legislators, helped write policy, led trainings, and got arrested (once). Relatively quickly, I also began to get frustrated. Writing a better policy does not automatically result in better behavior. Leaders cannot broker peace and justice when there is no community support for it.
I began to spend less energy on policy and more of my focus on what transforms our relationship with each other. I became especially interested in what gives our hearts the capacity to recognize our interconnection. We need something more than facts and figures. How do we arrive at a new understanding?
I also noticed that I was exhausted by acting out of my own fear, grief, and anger about the condition of the world. My activism was a coping mechanism for my deep heart break over the suffering around me. I might temporarily swell with the feeling of solidarity, but my organizing was not really helping me escape the feeling of being constantly chased by despair.
Finally I had my own health crisis. My own transformation was now essential to survival. Applying all the approaches I used for social change – rally! struggle! fight! – was exhausting and still unable to touch my tender wounds. The miracle of my healing arose from of being guided into understanding myself in the universe in a whole other way. (I’ve written more about that story here.)
Awakening the heart to recognize our connection to spiritual and energetic realms bigger than ourselves – this is the gift of Wisdom traditions. It healed me and I believe it can transform the world. Wisdom is at the headwaters of every religion. I dip into a number of it’s streams through qigong meditation, Christian meditation, women’s traditional ritual dances, and water walking.
I’ll be talking more about the history of Wisdom in the West and how it relates to women’s traditional dances at the upcoming workshop An Introduction to Women’s Traditional Ritual Dances on Sunday July 12. I’m looking forward to sharing what I see as a juicy intersection between traditional dances, wisdom practices, anti-racism work, ancestral healing, de-colonization, and collective joy. Please click here to learn more.
Blessings to you, as you find your own way to be at peace and a force for healing – you can do it!
With all my love,
An Introduction to Women’s Traditional Ritual Dances
This is a special opportunity step back and talk about the historical and current context for practicing women’s traditional dances from the Balkans, Greece, and Asia Minor. This is particularly geared to those curious to learn more before stepping their toe into dancing and those who have started dancing recently and want more context.
Mid-Summer Dance Celebration
Let us align with the height of summer to manifest healing for our world. We will make a traditional large hoop of herbs meant as a protection against all illnesses, create flower crowns and more – all while maintaining physical distancing.