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Posts tagged ‘witness dance’

How Beautiful She Must Have Been

“How beautiful she must have been, he thought, reflecting at the same time that this was truly a dreadful thing to say of a woman, as if beauty were necessarily and invariably confined to youth.” — Ruth Rendell, The Monster in the Box

How can a woman first feel her own beauty, know it, live in it, before the witnesses, known and unknown, begin to parade their more or less appropriative gaze across our bodies? Culture designates that the appearance of a woman exceeds all else, and it is our youthful beauty that is most prized. Eyes latch on, grasp, grip, grind. We are invited or rejected. We ‘work’ this or don’t, but it is impossible to avoid. Eyes stealing beauty, steal soul as well. It is a serious though common offense to steal a woman’s beauty, and for a woman to let it be stolen. We go hungry. (Another stealer/spoiler: the average camera. It doesn’t do so well with sags and wrinkles, but neither can it catch starry skies, nightscapes, or wavering seaweed under the water. It misses some very beautiful things. )

In Dancemeditation, we close our eyes and move, feeling what we are doing, and tune our awareness to an eyeless world. Our other four senses resuscitate. We relocate. We root. As we digest self as sensation, motion, texture, scent, the visual and cognitive aspects recede, becoming proportionally smaller in our identification of self. Simultaneously, this non-visual, elongated, un-judged experience magnifies the alterior aspects of self. We are the sensation of ourselves, not only what we think or see that we are. (Or for that matter, what others think or see that we are.)

Most important, as our own beauty becomes associated with a filled-out interior world — our beautiful inner state, a touch that we find beautiful, or scent, taste, sound — beauty belongs to us, and beauty is where we belong. We reclaim stolen beauty. If it was a land we weren’t allowed to inhabit, we are now in perfect residence. Beauty is our home.

A woman’s beauty must always be, first, a subjective discovery and, second, a witnessed corroboration. Discovering her beauty is a journey involving all five senses and a reflective mind. Being witnessed thereafter is a delicate honor.

What is your beauty?

Witnessing Expanded

I lay belly down on the deck of my cabin, rolling my thighs on warming wood, smelling the day. I watched a small brown bird hop from blade to blade in the grass. All of sudden my breath opened deep. I felt my body melt into the wood, and my back absorb the blue sky peeling away the fog cover. All the days spent witness dancing in workshop in recent years, where I learned to watch people without ‘leaving my body’, suddenly clicked in. I’ve worked diligently over time to stay in my body and see, stay connected to my breath and see. This morning it blossomed naturally,  unbidden and un-labored. I was seeing, breathing, feeling my body.

In the past, I’ve so often seen through a haze of my preoccupations. I’ve been afraid of letting time pass, of letting it slow, of letting it stop, sit beside me, and open the tight little packet in my chest.

Today the bees still toddled from dandelion to dandelion, but there were the front edges of autumn — choke cherries veined with burnt red, the sun leaning down at angle, and the first migrating ‘v’ of birds. Time so full. My body filling with it all.

Dunyati Alembic at Kripalu

In its beauty and integrity, the Dunyati Alembic had the deserved honor of being the Wednesday evening event in the Main Hall at Kripalu Center for Yoga in the Berkshires.  The Main Hall is a high vaulted temple, dramatically lit, with soft carpeted floors, and Wednesday evening is usually a community kirtan with many attendees. February 10th, the Alembic conducted the meditation by leading the observing community of 75–80 people into a deepening interior world with our Dancemeditation.

Our program was an hour in length with all nine members remaining in the Witnessed Arena the entire time. The dancers, wearing pale, flowing clothing, sometimes moved in a specific practice and sometimes watched in witness practice. The goal was to stay relaxed and connected to breath during the sequence of practices and transitions while being observed — simple, but difficult.

The tone and stability was set by a long Opening Sequence. The Walking Meditation was particularly arresting in the pale silks, some dancers dragging veils or holding them bunched but quiet. It had a sense of women across many times and generations. The variety of ages and body types contributed to the sculptural beauty and was refreshing in meaning. The final line of dancers standing along the front of the space shimmying for a period of time gazing straight at the audience, then standing still  facing the audience, eyes closed in a minute of silent meditation was exquisite. There was no coercion, only a pure intimacy. Viewers eyes had time to breathe and see. To rest their eyes on each quiet face.

The responses were many and touching. One woman said she felt she was dreaming, and after only had to go to bed to sleep. Several people said after they couldn’t speak they were so moved and in a deep personal space; later they talked at length. Those of us who stayed for the remainder of the week were stopped in hallways with reflections from those who attended. As a life-long performer, I’ve never had such a warm and thoughtful response from an audience, which speaks to both the content of the Alembic’s work and the nature of the audience Kripalu attracts — a perfect location for this marriage of Art and Mysticism.

As choreographer for the evening, I have been wondering if observation of the practices arranged and carefully designed so the dancers could stay inside their focus would actually work within a theatrical context. To see that it does is thrilling for me. It inspires me to once again delve deeply into Art, a realm that had become dry, empty, ego-based, which I found uninteresting.  The Alembic evening was healing and beautiful. The dancers were very human, very spacious, and very sincere. Their beauty came from this and gave these qualities back to the audience.

The ensemble for this evening was:  Dunya McPherson with Elizabeth Abbene, Carleen Bevans, Anastasia Blaisdelle, Nisaa Christie, Ann Galkowski, Annabelle Keil, Gayla Reilly, Kate Russel, and Kate Temple-West.

The Dunyati Alembic is the performance wing of the Dervish Society of America, under the direction of Dunya Dianne McPherson. The performers share Dancemeditation™ as a dominant influence in their self-understanding. Performative presentations are a framing of group and personal practices, with a vision of absorption into Beauty and Mystery.

Its next evening is February 22, 2010, 7pm at the Metropolitan Building in NYC, a continuing working series made possible by Eleanor Ambos’ generous gift of space.

Dunya at Princeton Univ

Several of you have asked about my guest teaching at Princeton.

My task was to present a taste of Sufism within the context of Dance and the Sacred. The professor, the illustrious Ze’eva Cohen, had, as preparation, given the students (but not me) a paper discussing the Whirling Dervishes. The over-arcing inquiry for the course that we most zeroed in on was Art vs. Ritual: is the whirling art or ritual or neither or both and why?  Ze’eva initiated some discussion, then turned the forum over to me; after a period, she played an excerpt of the Mevlana, then we all went into the studio where I taught  beathing and movement and then a 15 minute Whirling period. At then end, I conducted a short concluding discussion during which most everyone was a little zoned out, that being their first whirling.

Lecture segment:
– My first objective was to stress that Sufi is not a museum, that it is a living tradition, one which they would all be part of after being taught the Whirling by a living Sufi. The practices do not define the lineage. Practices are a pitcher holding the water of the lineage. This pitcher is handed person-to-person.
– I was able to help them experientially distinguish between art as a performance, crafted to carry a message (like Charades) and art ‘being witnessed’ (like seeing the Sufis whirl.) These are blunt examples but the ideas are key.
– I was intent on introducing the concept that whirling and other Sufi movement practices (as well as themes in Islamic art) are not so much symbolic/metaphorical in the western sense of ‘this is like that’ or ‘this is that’, but rather provide a ‘nexus of contemplation’, a phrase spoken by Barbara Brend of the British museum. Contemplation can be intellectual or physical, but the idea – ie whirling – forms an anchor for a blossoming of understanding over time. (I discuss this in my book, Skin of Glass.)
– Aside from this I gave context to Rumi within the history of Sufism and as well as a cursory sense of the relationship between Islamic and Sufism. I then read a few excerpts of Niffari and Rumi to demonstrate the pivotal role of translation in reading Sufi poetry.

Regarding my Facebook comment about the pleasure of teaching smart people:
Smart is a loose term, like love. It could mean many things: A smart person has high test scores; a smart person is who you agree with therefor you think they are smart. A smart person is quick to quip, or thinks deeper thoughts. Etc. What I meant by smart with the Princeton students was that they have enough self-confidence to explore their own ideas and experience. Not only did they think about what I was saying and engage in inquiry with me, but when given an experiential exercise (we did a short witness hand dance in the middle of the lecture portion), they were comfortable reflecting on their physical experience, bringing their bodies into the arena of inquiry. In all of this, no energy was wasted on self-consciousness and defensiveness. We moved forward smoothly.