Without understanding it, I have always longed for a sense of the Motherland. Sort of like longing for Eden.

Nature is where I go to remember who I am. Yet because my family has moved enough over the last century, I couldn’t be sure where my geographic Motherland is anymore. To be honest, I spent my first few decades not trusting the ground beneath my feet – and this is more than just growing up in earthquake country. It was an existential loneliness. Even as I loved nature, I’ve struggled to really trust the support of the earth. In this relational sense I also had no motherland.

I know if we are going to change how we treat the water and earth we will need to have a whole new sense of place. When land is simply territory, the motherland is a boundary. When the earth is the source and wellspring of our lives, the motherland is underneath our feet.

I’ve been exploring how returning to the motherland is not so much a journey to a particular place but a process of reshaping our relationship to place. Dancing and singing are such powerful tools for this sort of transformation. This is a story of one song guiding me to a new relationship to place (and why I’ll be performing it this weekend at WaterFest).

Dancing into New Relationship with the Earth

A Bulgarian song and dance about the motherland has stirred my imagination about how I could experience a totally different relationship to the earth. I learned Koga Me Mama Rodila from Laura Shannon and through her unique approach learned that the steps were a gateway to a reciprocal relationship to the earth. Through loving attention to the style of the simple walking steps in the dance, Laura taught how to exchange energy with the earth in a new way – both giving and receiving. It was like relearning how to walk.

The song for the dance praises the beautiful landscape in Bulgaria. It sings with love for the motherland. Because I wanted to feel the connection to place expressed by the singer I started learning the song.

Yet the Bulgarian place names didn’t mean anything to me. I realized I needed to sing about where I am living now. So I started writing English words for the tune to describe the Twin Cities area.

At the heart of the Twin Cities, where the Mississippi Rivers and Minnesota Rivers meet is a place the Dakota people call Bdote. This area is at the center of their creation stories. Literally it is the motherland that birthed their people. Learning the stories of this place – St. Anthony Falls, Cold Water Spring, Pilot Knob and Fort Snelling – has both broken my heart (the story of war and displacement still needs healing justice) and given me so much meaning.

A fabric river with Twin Cities place names – painting on fabric by Collette Cumella.

I realized I needed to learn the Dakota language place names for these special places in the Twin Cities. The names themselves contain much more meaning than the English. The song is now in both English and Dakota.

The song and dance are teaching me to walk and listen to the land in a reciprocal way. I am literally re-training my body to receive the outpouring of love and support from the earth. I am learning how to consciously recognize how this place is mothering me.

Walking in a New Way

Every step we take is an expression of our relationship to the earth. The simple act of walking can be an invitation to mindfulness. Just step out your door and go for a walk. Taking off your shoes or walking slowly can help strengthen your connection to the ground and your surroundings.

A movement discipline is also super helpful for retraining yourself to literally move in a different relationship to the earth. Because walking is so familiar, it is also very easy to go on autopilot. This is why my regular practice of qigong and dance are both very important to me.

Get to know your place

Wherever you live, the original people of that place have thousands of years of wisdom about their relationship with that area. I encourage you to learn as much as you can about these cultural histories.

I also encourage you to be curious about the indigenous wisdom from your ancestors. As someone whose ancestors left Europe nearly 250 years ago, that means traveling way back through time, to the edges of Europe where old earth-based traditions could continue under the radar.

My Bulgarian tune with English and Dakota words blends together my connection to my earth based European roots with respect for the land and indigenous people where I live now. The song and dance have merely been the vehicle for this learning journey.

There is a lot of unglamorous and sweaty work to do transform our world. Yet I’m ever more convinced that singing and dancing is an essential piece of the puzzle. In the music and movement we can truly become for that moment something new. Once we ignite that new possibility within ourselves we cannot help but bring it out into the world.

More singing! More dancing! More transformation!


Join us in celebrating our relationship to water and water protectors

A trio from our dancing community will be performing a set of songs and dances at WaterFest at Lake Phalen in Saint Paul, MN on Saturday June 3. We will be performing at 3 PM.

When you transform your relationship to earth & community the world starts to change

Join me in a sacred garden for magical evenings of dance throughout the summer. This group is based in Laura Shannon’s research about dance as a tool for healing and transformation.