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Eat, dance and pray together: Dances of Universal Peace | INTERFAITH
BY ELIZABETH DEQUINE
From the beginning of time, sacred movement, song and story have brought people together - at times of ceremony and celebration, as part of everyday life and life passages, in daily renewal and meditation. The Dances of Universal Peace are part of this timeless tradition.
The Dances of Universal Peace were brought into the world in the late 1960’s by Samuel L. Lewis (1896-1971), a Sufi Murshid (teacher) and Rinzai Zen Master, who also studied the mystical traditions of Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity.
Lewis was deeply influenced by 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 modern dance in America and Europe. Murshid Sam believed that when people “eat, dance and pray together,” the world finds peace.
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, Israel, Australia, Africa and New Zealand.
In addition to Dance circles that meet regularly, the Dances are led in schools, spiritual centers, therapy groups, prisons, hospice, retirement villages, holistic health centers, at conventions, weddings, peace gatherings and worship celebrations. They have been presented at the Olympics, the World Parliament of Religions, as part of citizen diplomacy in the Middle East, and at ecumenical gatherings around the world. There are now more than 500 published dances which celebrate the sacred heart of Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, as well as the Aramaic, Native American, Native Middle Eastern, Celtic, Native African, Goddess and Universalist traditions.
Dances of Universal Peace are simple, meditative, joyous, multi-cultural circle dances that use sacred phrases, chants, music and movements from the many spiritual traditions of the earth to touch the spiritual essence within ourselves and recognize it in others. They promote peace and integration within individuals and understanding and connection within groups worldwide. There are no performers, nor audience: New arrivals and old hands form the circle as everyone sings and dances together.
No musical or dance experience of any kind is required and everyone is welcomed to join in. Participation, not presentation, is the focus. No special attire is required and dancers need not bring a partner.
Participants join hands forming a circle with the Dance leader, with live musicians in the center. The leader teaches the sacred phrase, melody and movements for each Dance and perhaps some context about that particular Dance. Most Dances are only four lines long and repeated many times, so learning is usually quick and easy - within 10 minutes dancers are moving, singing, and sharing together.
In Kitsap County, we have two ongoing dance circles, one at the Suquamish United Church of Christ the third Saturday of each month and one at Bremerton Unity Church on the fourth Wednesday of the month. Both circles run from 7 to 8:30 p.m. and everyone is welcome.
In addition, we have led dances at Interfaith Council meetings, conferences, local churches and even in last year’s Fourth of July parade. Our regular dance leaders are Lily Celestino and Elizabeth Dequine, both mentored leaders with Dances of Universal Peace International. We are joined by local musicians and often have guest leaders from around the Northwest.
Come join us! For more information, contact Elizabeth Dequine at 206-842-5181.
Elizabeth Dequine is a dance leader with Dances of Universal Peace International and a mental health counselor. She lives in Winslow Cohousing except for winters, when she leads dances and works at a medical clinic on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.