Participation, not presentation, is the focus. No special attire is required, although comfortable, loose-fitting clothing is best. Participants join hands forming a circle with the Dance leader and other musicians attire is required, although comfortable, loose-fitting clothing is best. Participants join hands forming a circle with the Dance leader and other musicians in the center. Throughout the evening, the leader teaches the group the words, melody, and movements for the next Dance and often provides some background history about that particular Dance. The teaching is always done from a compassionate heart in a comfortable, quiet, and often sacred setting.
The movements and songs drawn from over 400 Dances include themes of peace (both inner and outer), healing (the Earth, individuals, and the global family), and the celebration of life’s great mystery. Dancers focus on peace and harmony creating a sense of solidarity and community while celebrating the underlying unity of all the spiritual traditions of the Earth. By experiencing these many traditions, a greater understanding and appreciation of other cultures, as well as one’s own heritage, is gained.
When Dance lyrics include sacred phrases in their own native languages, special attention is given to insure that all have ample opportunity to pronounce the foreign words comfortably and correctly. Leaders usually make a point to have the group first speak and then sing the unfamiliar words. Most Dances are only four lines long and repeated many times, so learning is usually quick and easy – within ten minutes people are moving, singing, and sharing together.
The mood of the Dances is infinitely variable, evoking feelings of love, joy, and compassion. Whether invoking the compassion of the Buddhist Qwan Yin, celebrating the playful energy of Krishna, or experiencing the related emotion of any other spiritual figure, dancers take part in a dynamic relationship between the group, individuals, and the self.
A Brief History of the Dances of Universal Peace
The Dances of Universal Peace were brought together in the late 1960’s by Samuel L. Lewis (1896-1971), a Sufi Murshid (teacher) and Rinzai Zen Master, who also studied deeply in the mystical traditions of Hinduism, Judaism, and Christianity. In this creation, Lewis was deeply influenced by his contact and spiritual apprenticeship with two people: Hazrat Inayat Khan, who first brought the message of universal Sufism to the West in 1910, and Ruth St. Denis, a feminist pioneer in the modern dance movement in America and Europe.
From his rich life experiences, Lewis in his early 70’s began to envision and create the Dances as a dynamic method to promote “Peace through the Arts”. From the early days and his original body of about 50 dances, the collection has grown since his passing to more than 500 dances which celebrate the sacred heart of Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and the Aramaic, Native American, Native Middle Eastern, Celtic, Native African, and Goddess traditions.
During the past 25 years, the Dances have spread throughout the world, touching more than a half million people in North and South America, Europe, the former Soviet Union, Japan, India, Pakistan, Australia, and New Zealand. Further networking and citizen diplomacy through the Dances are also beginning in South Africa and the Middle East. New grassroots Dance circles are continually springing up around the globe, with anywhere from 40 to 60 meeting weekly or monthly in the United States alone.
The Dances of Universal Peace have evolved and expanded in practical application to meet the deep felt needs today for rediscovering reverence, creativity, and a body-based connection to the natural world. Teachers share the Dances in schools, therapy groups, prisons, hospice houses, drug rehabilitation centers, homes for the developmentally disabled, retirement villages, holistic health centers, and ecumenical worship celebrations.
They continue to be, as Samuel Lewis envisioned them, a way to make life-energy and the peace that passes understanding a reality for all who come in contact with them.