Can we touch the sacred through dance? Is dance the ultimate spiritual experience?

Touching the Sacred through Dance to Transcend and Heal the Planet

Our bodies are a place of being real and honest.

There is something pure and unadulterated about emotion that engulfs us, when we suddenly burst into tears or feel a simmering rage rise within that makes us stiffen and retract.

In many traditions the eyes are described as the windows of our soul. For example it is difficult to lie and look someone straight in the eye. This is why people who avoid our gaze make us feel uncomfortable, and we consider them shifty and untrustworthy.

We know all too well when people say one thing but their tone of voice, posture, attitude or demeanour may suggest something else. If we are deeply depressed it is difficult for us to feign ecstatic happiness in our face and bodies, no matter how many affirmations we repeat. But we can shift that emotion through our bodies.

Many of us are familiar with the expression ‘fake it till you make it’, and there is something to be said for that. In the last few decades science has revealed to us how ‘emotion is literally smeared throughout the body’, and we can change how we feel by 1) using our mind, 2) improving our nutrition or taking certain drugs that impact our brain chemistry 3) calming our nervous system or 4) moving our bodies in a way that reflect how we want to feel. However the fastest way, and the easiest way to produce long-term changes is using our body. I quote from Dr. David Hamilton, recognised for his research on the power of the mind on the body, who cites from the research of universities including Harvard and Alaska[1].

And sometimes communication through words just does not cut it.

Take for example the word ‘sacred’. What does the word sacred mean for you?

A quick google reveals that all the dictionaries mention a connection to God or deity in some way. Granted the word connotes something precious, something to be respected, but does it have to be religious? Surely the word is much wider in scope and meaning? Or perhaps I was not a good religious studies student at school (though world religions have always fascinated me on my travels – I even went to Pakistan and tried to read the Quran in pursuit of understanding their burka clad women. I think it is safe to say I was not entirely sold over.

‘Spiritual’ and ‘spirituality’ is another word that is often heavily associated with religion. Yet technically it can just mean something that is not worldly or material, is that not true? And then there is the word ‘Soul’ – ok, so how long do we have, to get stuck into a conversation about this one?

Often considered the mother of modern dance, pioneering American dancer Martha Graham (1894 – 1991) is prolifically quoted as saying,

‘Dance is the hidden language of the soul.’

Rather than it just being entertainment or performance, she proposed that dance is more grounded in the rawness of the human experience.

We do not always have the words for our feelings, but dance gives us an external language for expression. When we drop the mind chatter, and start to move and dance, we can get indeed get real, raw and visceral. We can release our pent up anger, inner frustrations and emotions that are normally kept under wraps. Yet what emerges in our bodies and our movement is beyond classification.

And there are no grammatical rules to get wrong, or misunderstandings. This is a language that comes from deep within us, dropping way beyond our overactive brains.

Similarly American contemporary dancer Ruth St Denis (1879 -1968) an even earlier and radical pioneer was highly influenced by the spirituality in the art and philosphy of Egyptian and Asian philosphy. She expressed:

‘I see dance being used as communication between body and soul to express what is too deep to find words.’

St. Denis brought new depth to dance in the modern western world.

However, humans have known for far longer this deep sacred spirituality that is possible through dance, and here I quote the Hopi Indians through Houston University Professor Brene Brown whose TED Talk ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ is one of the most watched in the world.

‘The Hopi Indians have a saying, "To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak."

I know how much courage it takes to let people hear our hearts speak, but life is way too precious to spend it pretending like we're super-cool and totally in control when we could be laughing, singing, and dancing’

Brene Brown [2]

Well it has been put into print by a University Professor. It is official.

Yet so many of us are afraid to move freely. I have held some Authentic Movement workshops at festivals this summer (to be continued on another blog) which for some, have revealed an inner life journey. Authentic Movement is a practice that waits for our bodies to begin to move, without any prompting or external influence. We wait for what wants to emerge, and it has been called sacred or mystical at times, a connection to the soul.

If we have not personally experienced connecting to the sacred or sublime in some way, then the words sacred, spiritual or soul cannot truly evoke the full meaning of how this could feel for us. For those of us who have struggled with sitting meditation and have not quite embraced mindfulness, dance is a worthy meditation tool and contender.

In dance we can enter into the unseen realms of our minds, the ‘other worldly’ and beyond. When I fully enter into a dance; in those blissful moments of moving meditative flow, time stands still and I merge with everything around me. I feel access to the sublime and I venture to say that the doors to a higher consciousness slowly drift open.

Yes we can access deeper states of knowing. After all, from a Quantum Theory point of view, at the level of the Quantum field, everything is energy and information. And if we drop deeply enough into a shamanic state we may be able to enter into different worlds and even galaxies...

And if that feels too ‘far out’ for you, then somatics and ancient wisdom remind us that dance brings us back to our hearts. And this is something surely worth dancing for.

Helene will be holding a Talk:

Touching the Sacred through Dance, to Transcend and Heal the Planet at Anthropos Transformational Gathering 9th September.

Join her FREE 5 Day Dance Challenge : Finding Clarity and Focus below:

1 Hamilton, D; I love Me, the Science of Self-Love, 2015

2 Brown, B; The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, 2010