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Ms Laura Shannon / Living Ritual Dance (1992)

 

 

 

Living Ritual Dance (1992)

 

 

A recent discussion of the inherently therapeutic qualities of folk and circle dance led me to dig out these papers; synopses of presentations I gave at the American Dance Therapy Association National Conferences in 1992 and 1993. Although they were intended for a different audience, I thought they might be of some interest to the AGC readership and Andy has agreed to include them as they stand. The dance terminology may be simplistic for circle dancers (and the dance therapy references complex; I don't know).
The actual dances I taught on these workshops included (if memory serves) Pravo Rodopsko Horo, Embrobis, Bablakhan, Sta Dhio, Ketri Ketri (chochek), Pogonisios, Valle, Vrlicko Kolo, Siganos.

I should say that the phrase 'Living Ritual Dance' is what I came up with to try to describe the conscious therapeutic use of inherently therapeutic folk dances. I don't use it any more, partly because it sounds so affected, partly because I'm not working as a 'straight' dance therapist anymore, and partly because I prefer not to label my work at all if I can help it. I'd be interested in feedback from you all, since this was written to be presented to a rather different community!

 

 

 

Living Ritual Dance for Women:

Journey out of Ancient Times

Laura Shannon, Dip. D.M.T. (U.K.)

Note: The following paper was originally published in the American Dance Therapy Association 27th Annual Conference Proceedings, Columbia, Maryland, October 1992.

This experiential workshop is based on simple folk dances, the living descendants of the primitive healing dance which is also the ancestor of dance/movement therapy. Along with creative improvisation and meditation on ancient images of woman, they provide a structure for a 'living ritual'. This helps us journey to the roots of healing dance and to the source of our empowerment as women. We are enabled to find a new context for our present-day questioning, and new hope for the future we imagine.

Living Ritual Dance is a technique developed by Laura Shannon, out of many years of working with folk dance and creative ritual. It is also informed by the European Sacred/Circle Dance network, which for ten years has been a model for the experience of a more focused group consciousness in folk dance, and by dance/movement therapy theory and methods.

The simplest village folk dances are the ones which have survived the longest, and are considered by dance anthropologists to be the living descendants of the primitive therapeutic dance tradition which is also the ancestor of dance/movement therapy. Through them we can touch the source of dance as healing, communal expression, and receive new inspiration for our inner journey as well as our work in the modern world.

Dance therapy is said to have its roots in primitive healing dance as it has been practised throughout history. Many authors in dance therapy literature including Leventhal, Levy, Bartenieff, Bernstein, Schmais, Hanna, Espenak and Blacking, acknowledge the historic use of dance as a therapeutic modality and an antecedent of present-day dance therapy. The early dance forms themselves have, for the most part, disappeared, but their influence is apparent in the ethnic and folk dance traditions descended from them: Lange tells us that "there is a visible connection between the art of the vanished 'primitive' cultures and those still existing" and that "these connections have lasted into contemporary times".

Modern dance pioneers Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Mary Wigman, Martha Graham and Rudolf Laban, with their renewed interest in ancient dance forms, established a more contemporary link between folk dance and dance therapy. They were able to witness, participate in and learn from folk and ethnic dance as it existed in their lifetimes. Rather than seek to imitate what they witnessed, these dancers were inspired to create works with new meaning, while retaining an awareness of dance as inherently expressive and healing. In doing so, they prepared the ground for the development of dance therapy as a profession, which has always valued this awareness. Levy suggests that newer generations of dance therapists may need to develop this awareness further in their own experience of dance. Living Ritual Dance is one method of increasing our understanding of the essence of dance as communal, healing activity.

Living Ritual Dance mainly uses village dances from a range of Eastern European, Near Eastern and Asian nations, as well as Native American, African and newly choreographed dances. Living Ritual Dance does not aim to instruct in folk dance technique, nor to imitate 'traditional' cultures: its primary intention is to facilitate an experiential rediscovery of the ancient healing dance in which dance therapy has its roots, through the creative exploration of extant folk dances. We seek to relate these ancient dance forms to our modern selves, and to keep them alive in a way that has meaning for us today, by experiencing them in a ritual context.

The dances themselves are in line, open and closed circle, labyrinth/ spiral and solo formations, all of which contribute in their own way to the provision of a safe and supportive space in which healing can occur. Sharing rhythm and effort quality creates an atmosphere of mutual holding and support, while simple movements are repeated to evoke the universality of human experience in space and time. The circular dance pattern can be seen as a mandala, where the personal circle is aligned with the circle of the universe, and so the universal symbol of unity and totality becomes a personal symbol as well. The mandala enables each dancer to centre herself and harmonises the different energies of the individual dancers into a balanced whole.

Participants in this women-only workshop will learn several simple dances. The group of women serves to emphasise the source of strength which is available in traditional women's dance movements, often centered in powerful yet gentle movement from the pelvis. Creative improvisation and movement meditation, within the structure provided by the dances themselves, create a 'living ritual' whereby we can experience the timeless energy of communal dance in a new way.

The ritual is created primarily by the forms and structures of the dances themselves, and is given meaning by the attitude and intention that the dancers bring to it. As Beck and Metrick explain in The Art of Ritual, the purpose of creative ritual is to increase "balance and connection within ourselves, with each other, the world, and with the larger rhythms and energies that bring stability and light to our lives". The ritual can serve as a symbolic bridge between the roots of our profession, its present-day questioning, and the future we imagine.

An integral part of the living ritual is the movement meditation inspired by images of ancient sacred statues and figurines from all over the world. Sometimes reflecting gestures that appear in the dances, these strong female images provide a concrete and undeniable historical precedent for the body-oriented empowerment of women. Noble, speaking of these statues, affirms that "The power of images is undebatable. The presence in our time of these ancient images ... is of great benefit to women attuning to our innate power."

These images are increasingly available to us and lend themselves beautifully to movement work. Gadon believes that "The Goddess once again is becoming a symbol of empowerment for women; a catalyst for an emerging spirituality that is earth-centered; a metaphor for the earth as a living organism; an archetype for feminine consciousness; a mentor for healers; the emblem of a new political movement; an inspiration for artists; and a model for resacralizing woman's body and the mystery of human sexuality."

The ancient dance forms, like the ancient female forms, renewed by our creative attention and participation, nourish our understanding of the body as sacred. This occurs on three levels: our individual bodies, the collective body of the dancing group moving as one, and the body of the earth upon whom we dance. Healing and transformation can occur not through attempting to re-create the past, but, as Gadon describes, through "creating new sacred images that embody the old symbols." Ultimately we seek the integration of ancient and modern forms of dance and ritual, in a movement event which holds significance for us, personally and professionally.

Re-experiencing the roots of Dance/Movement Therapy can strengthen theoretical and practical understanding of the history of our profession, and provide support and nurturing among women on the inner journey. This journey retraces our steps back to ancient times: we realise the power and significance of what we experience there, and adapt it as we dance out again into the present and towards the future. This experiential presentation will include time for discussion as well.

 

 

References
Bartenieff, I. (1972) "Dance Therapy: A New Profession or a Rediscovery of an Ancient Role of the Dance?" reprinted in Chaiklin, H., ed. (1975) Marian Chace: Her Papers. American Dance Therapy Association.
Beck, R. and Metrick, S.B. (1990) The Art of Ritual. Berkeley: Celestial Arts.
Bernstein, P.L. (1979) Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance-Movement Therapy. Dubuque: Kendall-Hunt.
Blacking, J. (1989) "Dance and Human Being" in Young People Dancing: an International Perspective. vol 1, pp. 4-15. London: Dance and the Child International, Fourth International Conference.
Duerk, J. (1989) Circle of Stones: Woman's Journey to Herself. San Diego: LuraMedia.
Espenak, L. (1981) Dance Therapy: Theory and Application. Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas.
Gadon, E. (1989) The Once and Future Goddess. San Francisco: HarperCollins.
Hanna, J.L. (1988) Dance and Stress. New York: AMS Press.
Lange, R. (1975) The Nature of Dance. London: MacDonald & Evans.
Leventhal, M.B. (1983) "Dance Therapy: A Fundamental Treatment Process"London: Association for Dance Movement Therapy.
Levy, F.J. (1988) Dance Movement Therapy: A Healing Art. Reston: American Alliance.
Noble, V. (1991) Shakti Woman: The New Female Shamanism. San Francisco: HarperCollins.
Schmais, C. & White, E. (1970) "Introduction to Dance Therapy" reprinted in American Journal of Dance Therapy vol. 9, 1986.

 

 

 

Living Ritual Dance:

Dreaming the Past, Dancing the Future

Laura Shannon, Dip. D.M.T. (U.K.)

Note: The following paper was originally published in the American Dance Therapy Association 28th Annual Conference Proceedings, Atlanta, Georgia, October 1993.

Living Ritual Dance blends creative ritual with folk dances from around the world. It is informed by dance movement therapy theory and methods, and by the European Circle Dance movement. This experiential workshop will use simple folk dances, living descendants of the primitive communal dance which is also the ancestor of dance movement therapy, to explore the roots of healing through movement in our profession.

Dance therapy literature refers repeatedly to the historic use of dance as a therapeutic modality and an antecedent of our present-day profession, as the following examples illustrate.

"Throughout history people have expressed themselves through moving together to a common rhythm... Feelings and emotions were shared through communal participation in movement: this aspect of communal dance is one part of dance therapy." (1)

"Dance therapy has roots that extend back to ancient times". (2)

"The roots of dance-movement therapy extend to the ritual dances of so-called 'primitive' wo/man." (3)

"The roots of dance therapy lie in its relation to dance as it has been practiced throughout history." (4)

"The creative arts therapies are contemporary manifestations of ancient continuities in art, health, and religion." (5)

"The use of body movement, particularly dance, as a cathartic and healing tool is perhaps as old as dance itself." (6)

"The use of dance and body movement in therapy is not a new phenomenon. The healing, integrative properties of dance have been recognized for centuries, and it has been used as a therapeutic and preventive modality in diverse cultures all over the world." (7)

Anyone familiar with dance movement therapy literature will have encountered these and other, similar assertions. What is this primitive communal dance, exactly? And what proof exists to link it with dance movement therapy? Since little research has been done, and conjecture is more readily available than fact when seeking out the distant roots of dance, the idea that dance therapy has its roots in ancient primitive healing dance may begin to take on a mythic dimension, and it may feel as if we are collectively dreaming this vision of the healing dance of the past.

The dream comes true when we recognize the strong links which are present, and which serve to legitimize the ancestry of our profession: its roots in healing communal dance as it existed - and continues to exist - in many cultures throughout the world. Evidence is provided firstly by the fact that the pioneers of modern dance, who paved the way for the development of dance therapy, were influenced by folk and ethnic dance as it existed in their lifetimes; and secondly, in that the dance forms which they witnessed have themselves descended from more ancient forms of healing dance. Finally, the experiential technique of Living Ritual Dance is one method of exploring the living remnants of this tradition, and of understanding in the body both how it gave rise to, and how it can continue to influence, dance movement therapy.

The direct influence of modern dance on the development of dance therapy has been well documented, for example by Espenak and Levy as well as Bartenieff, who wrote, "Modern dance replaced the fading content of Western dance with certain key notions ... [which] lead directly to the essence of dance therapy." (8) Modern dance pioneers Isadora Duncan, Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, Mary Wigman, Martha Graham and Rudolf Laban, with their renewed interest in ancient dance forms, constitute an important part of the connection between folk dance and dance therapy. They were able to witness, participate in and learn from folk and ethnic dance in many of its contemporary forms including the folk dances of Europe, the kachina dance rituals of the American Southwest, and the ethnic dance arts of Asia.

Isadora Duncan, who initiated the quest for the ancient origins of dance, was inspired by ancient Greek arts, and also was deeply impressed by her exposure to Hungarian gypsy folk music and dance. Ruth St Denis sought out and learned from expatriate Indian and Japanese dancers in the USA as well as local experts throughout Asia on the Denishawn company tour in 1925. Ted Shawn studied the dance rituals of the American Southwest, New England contra dances, and the dancing of Spain and North Africa. Martha Graham witnessed Native American dances in the American Southwest, and named them one of the greatest inspirations of her entire life. Rudolf von Laban openly acknowledged the inspiration he received through his experience of village and mystical dance traditions, which he was able to witness as a boy in his native Hungary and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, and which "had a lasting influence on his vision of dance." (9)

Rather than seek to imitate what they witnessed, these dancers were inspired to create works with new meaning, while retaining an awareness of dance as inherently expressive and healing. In doing so, they prepared the ground for the development of dance therapy as a profession. Directly and indirectly, they influenced Bartenieff, Boas, Chace, Espenak, Hawkins, Schoop, Whitehouse and others.

Bernhard Wosien, the founder of Sacred Dance or Circle Dance, and a contemporary of Lisa Ullmann, was inspired in a similar way. He began his research into European village dances before the second World War, and was particularly interested in interpreting the spiritual significance of the dance movements. In 1983 he brought his material to the Findhorn Foundation in Scotland, which he hoped could be a home for his work, and a centre for further expansion. (10) Ten years on, many thousands of people in many countries are involved with circle dance, which brings a more focused group consciousness, and a clearer awareness of the therapeutic potential of communal movement, to folk dance. It also encourages the choreography of new circle dances, to express the emotions and aspirations of contemporary humanity. Circle Dance has been a major influence in the development of Living Ritual Dance, combined with new research into village dance traditions as well as dance movement therapy theory and methods.

Espenak writes: "The important point regarding Laban is that what is formally established as conveying emotional states by formal dance movements is, in fact, the natural expression of untrained individuals making movement in space. It is precisely this universality of movement language that gives dance, as art or as therapy, its enormous powers of communication." (11) A deeper understanding of "the natural expression ofuntrained individuals making movement in space" is vitally important to dance therapy practitioners, and this is precisely what village dances - and Living Ritual Dance - can offer to those who participate.

The earliest dance forms have, for the most part, disappeared, but their influence is apparent in the ethnic and folk dance traditions descended from them. "There is a visible connection between the art of the vanished 'primitive' cultures and those still existing... These connections have lasted into contemporary times." (12) The contemporary dance forms where these connections are most obvious are the simplest village dances, thought by dance anthropologists to have survived the longest, and to be directly descended from the primitive therapeutic dance tradition which is also said to be the ancestor of dance movement therapy. The village dances themselves are immediately accessible in a way which goes beyond technique.

One example, perhaps the simplest dance of all, is what is known as the Faroe Island family of dances. The basic floor pattern is three steps forward, one step back. This pattern is found throughout European and Asian cultures in endless different permutations; its many homes and many forms indicate that it has had a very long time to migrate to different areas and develop into different styles: certainly centuries, perhaps millennia. As well as the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic which give it its common name, the same dance pattern is known in various parts of Greece as Sta Tria, Embrobis, Issos Lindos or Siganos; Pravo Horo in Bulgaria, Valle in Albania, Hejsza in Hungary, Halay in Turkey and Armenia, and Vrlicko Kolo in Croatia. It develops into the Lesnoto in Macedonia and the Chochek and Sa Sa families of gypsy dances throughout the Balkan peninsula and Near East. These are just a few examples.

The open, closed or spiral circle formations of this and other simple village dances all contribute in their own way to the provision of a safe and supportive space in which healing can occur. Sharing rhythm and effort quality creates an atmosphere of mutual holding and support, while simple movements are repeated to evoke the universality of human experience in space and time. The circular dance pattern can be seen as a mandala, where the personal circle is aligned with the circle of the universe, and so the universal symbol of unity and wholeness becomes a personal symbol as well. The mandala enables each dancer to centre herself or himself and integrates the different energies of the individual dancers into a balanced whole.

These circle and spiral dance forms help to contain the movement experience and provide a ritual structure, created primarily by the forms of the dances themselves. The ritual is given meaning by the attitude and intention that the dancers bring to it in the moment, and is not previously informed by specific religious beliefs. The shared purpose of the ritual experience might be to encourage "balance and connection within ourselves, with each other, with the world, and with the larger rhythms and energies that bring stability and light to our lives." (13)

Living Ritual Dance does not aim to instruct in folk dance technique, nor to imitate any culture in particular. The primary intention is to relate ancient dance forms to our modern selves by experiencing them in a ritual context. Through them we can participate in the source of dance as healing, communal expression, affirm our connections to each other, feel ourselves part of the larger human family as it has danced throughout history, and find new motivation for our work in the future.

Levy suggests that newer generations of dance therapists may need to develop their own experience of the essence of dance as communal, healing activity. Living Ritual Dance is one method of increasing this understanding. Practitioners today, searching in their work to create new contexts for healing communal dance movement, may find it deeply nourishing to physically re-experience a historic precedent for this through Living Ritual Dance.

 

 

Footnotes
1. Schmais, C. & White, E. (1970) "Introduction to Dance Therapy" reprinted in American Journal of Dance Therapy vol. 9, 1986, p. 24.
2. Schmais, C. (1974) "Dance Therapy in Perspective" in Focus on Dance VII. Reston, Va.: AAPHERD, p. 7.
3. Bernstein, P.L. (1979) Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance-Movement Therapy. Dubuque: Kendall-Hunt, p. 4.
4. Leventhal, M.B. (1983) "Dance Therapy: A Fundamental Treatment Process" London: Association for Dance Movement Therapy, p. 1.
5. McNiff, S. (1988) "The Shaman Within" in The Arts in Psychotherapy, vol. 15, No. IV, p. 285.
6. Levy, F. (1988) Dance Movement Therapy: A Healing Art. Reston: American Alliance, p. 1.
7. American Dance Therapy Association.
8. Bartenieff, I. (1972) "Dance Therapy: A New Profession or a Rediscovery of an Ancient Role of the Dance?" reprinted in Chaiklin, H., ed. (1975) Marian Chace: Her Papers. American Dance Therapy Association, p. 246.
9. Laban, R. (1935) A Life For Dance. London: MacDonald & Evans.
10. Wosien, M.-G. (1988) Bernhard Wosien: Der Weg des Tanzers. Linz: Veritas.
11. Espenak, L. (1981) Dance Therapy: Theory and Application. Springfield, Ill.: Charles C. Thomas, p. 36.
12. Lange, R. (1975) The Nature of Dance. London: MacDonald & Evans.
13. Beck, R. and Metrick, S.B. (1990) The Art of Ritual. Berkeley: Celestial Arts.

 

 

 

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