Reflections on Sacred Dance
We are very limited in the Dance that is offered to us by the media in Britain today. It may be thought that ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ is bringing Dance back to the people, but this is actually untrue. It is (relatively) cheap TV that shows only one side of Dance and one which puts the performer above Dance itself, in the face of the audience. It is a competitive format. When we play in many instances we are not competing with others.
In this popular TV programme professional dancers work with celebrities to create Saturday night entertainment for the masses. It is basically a question of display. The emphasis is not on connection with the body which brings joy and healing, a different aspect of Dance, but rather on spectacle. The outward appearance of the Dance is what counts for the TV. There are pundits present who, recognising the inner emotions of the dancers, are easily able to describe where they are faltering and why these points have been allocated to their performance, but this does not bring Dance closer to the people. Instead it places them in a position of judging, and, as we recall, a judgemental approach is essentially a mental, not a physical, approach, while Dance is a physical discipline. The inner life of the dance in question is lost and in its place is a show. This element of showiness increases an egotistical approach and awareness in the dancer, and consequently the audience.
Dance is something which belongs to the common people. It is not an elite pastime. Beyond this also, Dance is an expression of Life. It is shared by birds and animals as well as by humans. To say nothing of the dance of bees. Some say that the trees dance, but mostly they are referring to the movement of the branches in the wind, rather than any intended action on the part of the individual tree.
Dance is a celebration of Life. For Dance to become an act of devotion the focus needs to be on something beyond the dancer, not on the dancer themselves. It is in this approach that the Dance becomes truly healing. When we gather in a circle we offer ourselves to the group participation which is about to take place. To be part of the group is not to declare ‘I am here, everybody pay attention to me’, but to adapt a form of anonymity. It is not to dominate the group but to participate with the group. To become fully devotional in Dance it is necessary not only that the individual adopt such a position in themselves but also that the Dance leader holds that focus also. The leader is the centre of focus through which the energy of the Dance enters the group. For them to successfully lead the group in an act of devotion it is not necessary for them to call themselves ‘a high priest’ or ‘priestess’, nor even necessarily to speak in specifically religious terms. What makes the difference is the sense of offering held within the individual Dancer to the Source. To be able to do this the Source must be real for the Dancer or Dance Leader. It is from the Source that the inspiration to Dance comes as an expression of Life.
In the Apollonic tradition this Source of inspiration is envisaged as Mercury to Apollo working through Terpsichore, the Muse of Song and Dance. These are considered as, and accepted as, real living entities capable of bringing their presence to the Dance, or withholding it. The energy which is moving through the Dance is from these intermediaries, the Dancer is the last of these. It is not enough to identify the self with the Divine, as is common among certain cults and traditions. It is essential to recognise that the Self is the product of Source, not the embodiment of it. ‘God is me’, not ‘I Am God’, as often declared.
So how does Ballet – clearly aimed at performance – differ from the stance adopted by many Dance spectaculars? In Ballet, it is suggested, no small part of the discipline is to sublimate the ego, as the dancer considers their own performance and remains critical of it in terms of perfecting a movement or an expression. Notice how these terms are very different from such terms as routines or sequences, dances or even steps. The focus is on the inner emotion contained in the movements performed. It is this inner awareness that brings perfection to the movements, not on the flare with which they are thrust out to the world at large. It is not possible to explore an inner emotion if one is focussed on making an impression, or dwelling on ‘how do I look to others’.
In this way, through inner focus, the Dance becomes a meditation. A meditation in movement. Instead of display I would call this demonstration. The Dancer is demonstrating an expression, an emotional situation, they are not displaying it. In the same way that the gymnast is not focussing on the audience in their leaps and bounds, but on perfecting the movements involved. Any distraction from this causes a faltering in the movement resulting in an imperfect expression. At that point the performer becomes increasingly self-conscious and moves further and further away from his or her discipline. I would suggest that this is not so markedly the case with other sports such as field and track events. Even footballers, who may make a great display after scoring a goal, in the moment that they move to score, are focused entirely on perfecting the goal, not on how they appear to their manager or fans. That comes in the moment after success.
My wish, driven as it is by the belief that we will not heal the rift between ourselves and Nature while that rift remains within us, is to bring people to Dance through introducing them to an honest way of being with others. Not as a display of integrity, speaking big about their promised actions, but by living with integrity, and to do this it is essential that the body is fully integrated with spirit. The body is essentially honest, it is the mind which is duplicitous. When we speak with the language of dance it is through the body, to do this we draw the spirit within us each outwards to share with others. Spirit is not a thing which belongs to one day a week, or a special place, but is lived fully everyday, in every situation. It is indeed the breath, the vehicle of Consciousness. What is Sacred, if Life itself is not?