Movement is life. It is when we are in an active phase, moving, creating, that we feel most alive. Movement allows us to experience through our bodies, rather than through our minds. Dance is a form of movement, one that is creative and one that very much affects us not only on the physical and emotional level but also the spiritual level.
Generally people are passionate about dance; they either love it or hate it. Which end of the scale a person falls on is generally due to their past experiences with dance. In most people’s minds dance is a performance. If a person feels, or has been told they perform well then they love it. If not it becomes something they want to avoid at all costs.
Not only does dance make us feel alive but it has been implicated in our survival though the ages. Research has shown that our ability to dance may have actually helped us survive the ice age. There are two specific genes that are associated with dance. People who have these genes tend to have a better ability to bond and are more communicative. These genes also make us more coordinated and more rhythmic, giving us an advantage in evolution.
Most of us are aware of the physical benefits of dance. It can be used as a form of exercise burning calories, toning the body. But the physical benefits go far beyond those of just burning calories. Recent studies have shown that time spent dancing benefits us more than the same amount of time spent on the tread mill or exercise bike. The reason being that dancing is fun! Dance actually increases production of the hormone serotonin and decrease dopamine production causing us to feel good and be more emotionally balanced.
Dance strengthens bones; releases chemicals that encourage nerve growth, reduces risks of dementia, and helps Alzheimer’s patients recall memories. It is also believed to reduce incidents of cancer and help in the recovery of those who have already suffered from cancer.
On the emotional level dance helps us to feel better by releasing emotions rather than suppressing them. It is also a creative process that brings us joy. People who are intimidated by the creative nature of dance may prefer to do dances with set patterns such as ballroom dancing. Either way participants will still benefit from dance.
As well as the physical and emotional benefits of dance, dance also aids in developing our perfect body type by reconnecting us to our bodies. This is not only due to the physical activity but also because of the balancing and energizing nature of dance.
Movement is vibration. The universe vibrates. Through dance we can connect to that vibration, the spiritual aspect of dance. Dance can be used as a form of spiritual practice. This type of dance is referred to as Sacred Dance. Sacred Dance is when movement or vibration is used with the intention of connecting with God or the universe around us putting us in a state of ‘one-ness’ with the Divine, the universal vibration, the Tao. This type of dance is not danced as a performance but an expression, an external, physical, expression of an internal, sensational, experience. It may be danced alone or in a group.
The dance evolves in many ways. It usually begins as a creative and fun process which moves to deeper and deeper levels as we begin to dance with intention and awareness. It is a meditative experience taking us to a place of ‘no-mind’ in which we are completely detached yet completely present at the same time. In this state of ‘no-mind’ our intuition and awareness are heightened. The state of ‘no-mind’ is one common theme that runs through most spiritual practices. It is the point where we move from a mental, fully conscious state to a sensational or feeling state. We are making a direct connection to everything around us; without having to process it through the mind first. Often the mental aspect is one of an observer rather than that of the instigator. In fact it may be this dipole nature of experience, being present yet universal at the same time that would take something out of the realm of ordinary experience and move it to the realm of spiritual experience, the numinous realm.
The origins of Sacred Dance date back to the beginning of time. Most tribal cultures still maintain some type of Sacred Dance. It may be performed by shamans or tribal members depending on the intention behind the dance. In cultures such as the Native American, Indian and African tribes Sacred Dance is still practiced today as a spiritual practice. Tribal cultures still maintain the connection to the earth and the cosmos, whether it is conscious or unintentional it still exists. Research has been done confirming the healing properties of this type of dance and the importance of this type of connection.
All types of dance are similar to a certain extent. What makes Sacred Dance different is that we are connecting directly to the earth and everything around us. From a healing perspective this makes all the difference in the world. We can channel healing energy and discharge unhealthy energy through this process.
The initial connection to the earth is very grounding and healing on a purely physical level. Connecting to the earth in such a way allows us to bring in energy as well as discharge unhealthy energy, a process well-known to practitioners of yoga and martial arts. This basic process, on its own, can be used as a form of healing for ourselves or on others.
This ability to connect to the vibrations around us is the same process used by musicians in playing or composing music. The musician is merely tapping into the earth rhythm or the cosmic vibration and amplifying that wave on his instrument. In the case of Sacred Dance the instrument is our body. Just as different waves may be played on different instruments, different waves resonate in different parts of our bodies. In time we can play an entire piece of music (or mirror the earth and cosmic rhythm) on our bodies, allowing the different instruments to resonate in different parts of our bodies. This is a beautiful and wonderful experience, one which incorporates the dimension of sound into the experience as well.
We can use the music as the guide on our journey. But the journey can also be traveled in silence. It is not necessary to dance to external music. And like ‘intoning’ (the approaching but not releasing of sound) it may actually intensify the experience. We simply dance to whatever rhythm is emanating around us. To do this takes a great deal of sensitivity, a sensitivity which can be acquired or developed. It is much simpler to just take a piece of music, which is already amplifying the rhythm and dance to that.
Dance is a wonderful activity, whether it is done as a form of exercise or as a spiritual practice, the benefits are numerous. Begin on the physical level, just moving to the music, and then allow yourself to incorporate other aspects. Notice how you feel, how different music, different dances or movements make you feel. Do the ones that make you happy. Then allow yourself to surrender to the music. The more you surrender the more you allow the energy and vibration to move through you. Just by setting the intention to allow the dance to move to a higher level you will begin to feel the change. Be patient and enjoy the process! The journey is the destination.
Leslie Zehr, teaches Sacred Dance, helping women reconnect to the sacred feminine. She is also the host and producer of the Sacred Dance Summit, as well as being an aromatherapist, hypnotherapist, reiki master and astrologer. She has published two books, “The Alchemy of Dance: Sacred Dance as a Path to the Universal Dancer” and “The Al-chemia Remedies: Vibrational Essences from Egyptian Flowers and Sacred Sites”. Her workshops have been attended by hundreds of women of different nationalities and taken her from Cairo and ancient Egyptian temples along the Nile River to studios and centers in New York, Maine, Maryland, Arizona, Washington, Puerto Rico and now to an online platform the Universal Dancer Temple of the Sacred Arts. Through dance, Leslie retells the archetypal stories, taking women back through time to the essence of their being, initiating and unlocking the esoteric wisdom buried deep within their psyche.
©2008 Leslie Zehr
Originally published in the BCA magazine.
Leslie Teaches “Dance as a Spiritual Practice” online as a 30-day Program. For more information go to: https://universaldancer.thinkific.com/courses/dance-as-a-spiritual-practice-30-day-program
Watch a short video where Leslie explains more about the course: