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