The dancers hold hands and the circle of people moves inward and then outward in time with the soothing music. Arms are raised and hands clap as the dancers move counterclockwise in a slow walk around the musicians in the center of the circle.
This dance, and others like it, are called Dances of Universal Peace. Area residents and guests are invited to participate in an evening of dancing in celebration of spring at the Methodist Fellowship Hall in Mancos tonight, Saturday, March 26, at 7 p.m. A potluck dinner starts beforehand at 6 p.m.
The Dances of Universal Peace are described as simple, meditative, joyous, multicultural circle dances for all ages that use sacred phrases, chants and movements from the many spiritual traditions of the earth. The purpose is to experience God, the divine, or even oneness with the world, according to Wade Hanson, a four-year dance participant from Cortez.
Theres an idea, especially in Western culture, that whatever that is for somebody is separate from us. Its out there in the clouds or somewhere else and its not really accessible to us and we need an intermediary, such as a priest or head of a church, to bring us into contact with this divinity, Hanson said.
He said he believes that God or other deities are inside us all the time.
Heaven is not a place. Its a state of mind. Hell is not a place. Its a state of mind. So its there all the time. Its accessible to us at any moment if we know how and are able to (access) it, Hanson said.
Samuel L. Lewis a Christian scholar, Zen master, Sufi master and teacher of several other traditions originated the Dances of Universal Peace around 1970, just before he died at the age of 75. It is said that his motto was: Eat, dance and pray together. He believed if everyone could do these things together there would be world peace. Simple, but not easy.
Each dance lasts between eight and 15 minutes with an additional five minutes or so of teaching the dances history and meaning. Dance leader Andrew Zeiler, of Bayfield, said he believes there are at least 700 to 800 dances in the repertoire. Tonights dance in Mancos will feature between six and eight of them, ending after about two hours.
On any given night we may do a dance using a chant from Buddhism, we may use a Christian chant, we may use something from Zoroastrianism, or something from Islam, Muslim, Zeiler said.
Some dances are very simple with two or three word phrases repeated throughout the dance, and some are more complex. Movements are also usually simple to learn. Hanson likens the dance leader to a square dance caller.
A dance leader may give you an idea at the beginning of the dance like what kind of things to expect, but then its your job to tune into the dance leader, Hanson said.
Its not a rote thing that you know how its going to go from beginning to end. You just have a framework.
Some movements are done in silence and there is a short period of silence, relaxation and chatting after each dance.
There are always drummers in the center of the circle keeping the beat, along with other instruments that can include guitar, mandolin, flute, bagpipes or an oboe.
The dance may seem awkward at first, but deep in the midst of it a living organism is formed and it amounts to this breathing thing, Hanson said.
There are camps, retreats and workshops held around the world for the Dances of Universal Peace. Both Hanson and Zeiler spent last weekend in Prescott, Ariz., attending a dance leadership camp. Coming into the festival season, there are dance events every weekend to attend somewhere in the United States, Hanson said. Dances in Mancos are organized by Zeiler and Katie Grace, another dance leader who lives in Mancos. They are usually held three or four times a year. There are also dances held in Durango twice a month.
(The dances) have been a very, very powerful and a good thing in my life, Hanson said.
Its a completely nonjudgmental, nondenominational open thing that honors all the spiritual paths that have existed in the history of the Earth. That is the intent of it.
For more information on tonights Dance of Universal Peace, contact Zeiler at 946-3905 or Grace at 946-3905.
Reach Paula Bostrom at [email protected]