“Dance is the hidden language of the soul of the body.” ~ Martha Graham
As a movement therapist, living in New York City and working internationally, I have the gift of working with clients from all over the world. One of my favorite movers and shakers to work with is Rabbi Miriyam Glazer. Her dedication to exploring Judaism and dance reveals to her a whole new way of prayer as a rabbi, and connects me with being born in Israel and having an Orthodox Jewish father.
Rabbi Miriyam shares: “Way back in 1964, after living on a poor socialist kibbutz in Israel, I was 19 years old when I sailed back to the States on the Greek ship Olympia — where a radical discovery waited for me on the dance floor. While I had been studying Hebrew and washing floors in the Children’s House, popular culture in America had changed.
The “Lindy” for which Dick Clark’s American Bandstand had been embraced by every teenager; the Lindy of Elvis the Pelvis’s “Blue Suede Shoes;” the Lindy that the baby boom generation had perfected both to their own joy and to the dismay of their parents, was now out. The Twist was in. Instead of dancing wild and intricate swings and dips with a partner, co-coordinating your every move, now you danced all by yourself.
Partner dancing—touch dancing, had overnight become passé. And whether it turned into nutty variations like the “Mashed Potato,” the “Monkey,” or “The Duck,” this Sixties generation change in dance-styles heralded a great deal more than a change in dance styles. It was the dawning of a new age.”
This is where Rabbi Miriyam’s inner dialogue began to weave a new language of her soul:
“What did it mean to dance on my own? To make up my own steps? Do whatever my body called me to do? Would I make a fool of myself? Be laughed at?”
The way societies and individuals dance reveals deep truths about them. Club culture is very popular all over the world. I believe that you can get to know someone really well on the dance floor, just by dancing with them. It is also a really good way to embrace one another without dialogue. It is an invitation and a way to express yourself without needing to speak. There is rhythm shared among a community.
When club culture brings people together, the vibration of unity becomes magnified on the dance floor. This vibration is also present in various rites of passage, say for instance weddings. Weddings happen all over the world, in every culture; demonstrating that dance is indeed a universal practice that is an invitation for celebration.
Dance is also an ancient practice. Since earliest times, Westerners celebrated the awakening of nature in the spring; in northern Europe, the ecstasy of nearly 24 hours of light in midsummer, with a dance we scarcely see today, the joyous Maypole. In a ceremonial context such as this, dance was used to connect to the cycles and rhythms of nature.
On a day most people today think of as unremittingly solemn, Yom Kippur, in ancient Israel young women dressed in white went dancing in the vineyards. The Talmud describes it as a time of the greatest joy, for women picked their future husbands. Dancing is also documented in the Torah:
“As the ark was brought up the hills of Jerusalem, King David and all of Israel danced to the sounds of lyres, timbrels and cymbals, David whirling with all of his might…” [Adapted from II Samuel 6]
One of the most significant of all rites of passage is the sacred Lakota Tribe Sun Dance to Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit, that is sacrificial in nature. For the Sufi followers of Rumi, the 800-hundred-year-old highly ritualized dances of the Whirling Dervishes are designed to bring the dancer into an ecstatic union with the divine and with the entire created world. For, as Dr. Celalettin Celebi explains,“the fundamental condition of our existence is to revolve.” This includes the planets around the sun, the particles within an atom, the circulation of blood in our body. Hence the Dervish, in whirling, fuses with that essential movement of universal life.
So, to return to where Rabbi Miriyam began, what difference did it make back in 1964 that the Lindy was out and the Twist was in? Why did it matter?
To adapt the words of the 1967 musical Hair, it seemed like the “dawning of the Age of Aquarius.” She interprets it as the liberation of the body’s movement from imposed rules. This liberation was inextricable from the radical changes going on in society as a whole. Rather than allow oneself to be restricted to prescribed or rigid rules that demanded social conformity, one was now freed to move to one’s own rhythms. “Do your thing” became the “thing.” The ability to innovate, express, let go. Rules themselves seem to lose their meaning and their function, and—it seemed, at least—the self and its desire for self-expression, reigned supreme.
I had a similar experience at the tender age of six. My mother had enrolled me in ballet classes. My teacher was a Russian ballet instructor in this very strict school. I had to wear a pink ensemble, complete with a little tutu and tights, and follow a carefully choreographed sequence of steps. For the life of me, I just could not learn those steps. This whole experience culminated in me getting on stage for the final performance, after a myriad of rehearsals, and just bursting into my own dance. Freedom of expression took over. Dance calls us to be expressive beings.
Rabbi Miryam thinks by now that most of us over 30 know the downside of the 1960s. But there is also, increasingly, very, very good news. The truth is that it is the upside – the amazing grace of its legacy – that, as we get evermore into the twenty-first century, is being increasingly revealed.
More and more of us are realizing that dancing alone is the beginning, not for mere entertainment, not for fun alone, but rather for the awakening of self-knowledge, self-awareness, profound soul-healing, and ultimately spiritual awakening. The brilliant synthesis of the present age is that between what we might call the “One” and the “Many,” what we have come to comprehend with ever-greater depth is the power of dancing alone while in community. This realization is beautifully encapsulated in the following words from Gabrielle Roth:
“To sweat is to pray, to make an offering of your innermost self. Sweat is holy water, prayer beads, pearls of liquid that release your past. Sweat is an ancient and universal form of self healing, whether done in the gym, the sauna, or the sweat lodge. I do it on the dance floor. The more you dance, the more you sweat. The more you sweat, the more you pray. The more you pray, the closer you come to ecstasy.”
Whereas Western culture long severed dancing “from its healing and esoteric roots,” writes Karen Berggren,
“in the past decade or so, it seems that the ancient understandings of dance as a healing and spiritual modality are impressing themselves upon the modern mind … The idea of dance as a symbolic language of the psyche that can initiate healing, visionary and ecstatic experience through rhythm and movement, is being explored by increasing numbers of people searching for new levels of health, wholeness, and spiritual connection.”
Gabrielle Roth’s Five Rhythms, moves participants from flowing rhythms to percussive beats, to unordered wildness, the rhythms of trance, and ultimately to stillness, has flourished all across the world.
Anna Halprin, doyenne of the Tamalpa Institute, has developed dance as a mode of individual and even planetary healing since the 1970s. My teachings drew me to the ancient and perennial knowledge of shamans. It is through these roots that I birthed and created Dance of Liberation™. DOL is a modality for deep soul work, breath work and vision quest, an internal process of letting go of patterns, habits and behaviors that no longer serve you, just as you are really freeing yourself to connecting deep.
When you are in touch with the depth of your inner prayer on the dance floor you are dancing a part of yourself that perhaps in everyday life you just don’t have a chance to express, the voice of which comes from authentically finding your own rhythm.
Through authentically exploring your own rhythm on the dance floor you can begin a dialogue with yourself about what it is that you want to heal in your body. It is an opportunity for truth to be discovered that is far beyond just the hip-hop-lindy 60’s dancing of having fun. It is an opportunity for opening up to divine Source and connecting to the Earth and to be able to gift that connection from your heart to the world.
Parashakti was born in Jerusalem, Israel, and descended from a long line of spiritual healers. She moved to the United States, where she spent two years studying yoga and living at the ashrams of Integral Yoga. While at the ashram she began her studies of Trance Dance with Wilbert Alix, drawing her to the wisdom circles of Native American ceremonies. These profound teachings led her to develop the powerful process known as Dance of Liberation. The Dance of Liberation integrates shamanic journeying, hands-on healing, drumming, global music, sweat lodges and fasting to dissolve participants’ physical, mental, emotional and spiritual blockages. Parashakti has worked with over 10,000 dancers from around the world and led workshops and retreats at some of the world’s leading holistic centers including The Tree of Life, Esalen Institute, Jivamukti Yoga, the Omega Institute, Alexis Zorbas Retreat Center, Zorba Festival and Hermecillo. Currently, she is co-facilitating One World Spirit Dance at the Tree of Life in Arizona.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta