Danc­ing with a Dif­fer­ence

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Stanstead QC, Derby Line VT

Af­ter watch­ing just a few min­utes of the evening news, I take a cer­tain com­fort in know­ing that there are peo­ple in coun­tries around the world tak­ing part in ‘Dances of Uni­ver­sal Peace’. Even lo­cally, on both sides of the bor­der, there

are peo­ple get­ting to­gether for Dances of Uni­ver­sal Peace, a multi-reli­gion prac­tice that be­gan in Cal­i­for­nia in the 1960’s and grad­u­ally spread.

“About ten years ago, a friend of mine or­ga­nized four week­ends of Dances of Uni­ver­sal Peace, one week­end to be held in each of the four sea­sons. So I went and tried learn­ing the dances and I just loved them,” said Heather Web­ster who is now qual­i­fied to lead her own dance groups.

“Dances of Uni­ver­sal Peace orig­i­nated in the United States about fifty years ago. The per­son who started them, Mur­shid Sa­muel Lewis, be­lieved that if we looked at the similarities of the main spir­i­tual tra­di­tions of the world through song and dance, this, in turn, would help us to re­spond to life in a more peace­ful way. They have spread and are danced in many coun­tries around the world,” ex­plained Ms. Web­ster. Orig­i­nally danced only at spe­cial meet­ings, the dances are now done in a wide va­ri­ety of set­tings such as in schools and col­leges, places of wor­ship, hospices and some­times prisons.

Peo­ple who take part in the dances first learn the mean­ing of sa­cred phrases, scrip­tures and po­etry which has been taken from some of the main re­li­gious tra­di­tions of the world (Chris­tian­ity, Na­tive Amer­i­can, Is­lam, Hin­duism, Bud­dhism, and Ju­daism) and how to say them. Dur­ing the dances the phrases are chanted by the dancers as they move. The danc­ing has been de­scribed as “spir­i­tual prac­tice in mo­tion” and “a form of mov­ing med­i­ta­tion”.

“The dances have a Sufi root. The Su­fis be­lieved that all re­li­gious tra­di­tions should be ac­knowl­edged,” com­mented Heather who has led groups in Stanstead and, more of­ten, in Derby Line at the First Parish Univer­sal­ist Church. “At ev­ery event the dances are taught so any­one can show up and take part; the teach- ing is adapted to the group. The chant is taught and ex­plained be­cause many of the phrases are in dif­fer­ent lan­guages. The last time I led a group we chanted in the Ara­maic lan­guage, the lan­guage of Je­sus. The phrases are short and the moves are not com­pli­cated. Those an­cient lan­guages are spe­cial; even when just say­ing the old words, the vi­bra­tions in­side have an im­pact.”

“There is usu­ally live mu­sic, drums or gui­tars, to ac­com­pany the danc­ing. We never use elec­tric­ity for the mu­sic. I even lead some­times with my au­to­harp,” she added.

An el­e­men­tary teacher by pro­fes­sion, Ms. Web­ster has taught Dances of Uni­ver­sal Peace to her Sun­ny­side stu­dents. “The chil­dren seemed to re­ally en­joy it!”

Asked what she en­joys most about the dances, Heather an­swered: “I like ev­ery­thing about them: the mu­sic, the danc­ing, the move­ments, and do­ing them in the com­mu­nity. It seems to shift some­thing within our­selves and then we are more at peace.”

Heather Web­ster will be lead­ing Dances of Uni­ver­sal Peace on April 19th, at 2:00 pm, at the First Parish Univer­sal­ist Church, in Derby Line. Ev­ery­one in­ter­ested in try­ing out the dance is wel­come. No ex­pe­ri­ence or danc­ing abil­ity is nec­es­sary.

photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Photo Vic­to­ria Vanier

Heather Web­ster, seen here at Sun­ny­side El­e­men­tary where she has taught for al­most fif­teen years, leads Dances of Uni­ver­sal Peace in the com­mu­nity.

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