Sacred Dance took root in the Findhorn community in 1976, when visiting dance master Bernhard Wosien shared a collection of traditional circle dances and modern meditative choreographies as tools for group connection and inner work.
Since then, through the dedication of community dancers, musicians, and teachers, this movement practice has travelled all over the world. As long term resident Rosie Turnbull recalls, “Anna Barton taught Findhorn Sacred Dance, both in the Findhorn Foundation and in Europe in the early 1980s, combining what Bernhard had brought along with what was alive in Findhorn at the time – the attunement process, centering and aligning to the Divine, focusing the group energy and raising consciousness. The purpose of the dance was to be inclusive, mutually supportive, to connect with the earth, spirit and each other, and to become more whole. Sacred Dance became a tool to channel healing energy for the dancers themselves and to send out to their families, communities and the world.”
Like many guests, I first experienced Sacred Dance at Findhorn during my Experience Week, in February 1985. Enchanted, I returned to attend Sacred Dance Trainings with Anna and Rosie in 1987 and 1988. Since then I have devoted my life to Sacred Dance, training in Dance/Movement Therapy and Intercultural Studies, and deeply researching the ancient ritual dances which were one half of Bernhard Wosien’s original inspiration.
The Sacred Dance Festival
Armenian candle dance in the Universal Hall.
In Findhorn, Sacred Dance still serves as a beloved spiritual practice in the community and still combines traditional circle dances with modern choreographies. The Midsummer Festival of Sacred Dance, Music and Song, now in its 27th year, brings hundreds of people together every July to dance in the Universal Hall. The Hall, dedicated as a temple of the arts, was constructed at an intersection of ley lines and is considered by contemporary mystics such as Caroline Myss to be an important hub of the planetary network of light. The circles of our Sacred Dance Festival thus create an energetic web connecting thousands of dancers all over the world.
This year’s Sacred Dance Festival (July 14-21, 2018) welcomes special guest teacher Shakeh Major Tchilingirian, who brings traditional Armenian dance to the festival for the first time, accompanied by exhilarating live music by Tigran Aleksanyan and Ara Petrosyan. Shakeh has been a dear friend and close collaborator for over 25 years. She teaches with great awareness of the sacred dimension of the dances and their capacity for personal transformation, as well as the historical context of Armenian dance. This will be her second visit to Findhorn.
Many other teachers and musicians will share their gifts in the Festival, including long-standing community members Barbara Swetina, Peter Vallance, Rory O’Connell and friends, Sheila Pettit holding the choir and Maya Buckley holding the orchestra. I will focus on the meditative power and healing energy of Greek and Roma (Gypsy) dances, accompanied by master musicians Kostantis Kourmadias and Nikolas Angelopoulos.
Armenian Dance, Sacred Dance
In my view, Armenian dances are among the most sacred of all traditional dances. Their motifs and patterns are very ancient, forming a nonverbal language of movements which are deeply symbolic, powerfully evocative and profoundly spiritual. Many of the movements are inspired by animals, birds and elements of nature, revealing roots in shamanistic traditions of Central Asia going back as much as 20,000 years. In their healing capacity and the effect they have on our body, mind and spirit, I see a link between Armenian lyrical dance movements and body-based spiritual practices such as yoga, T’ai Chi and Qi Gong. These practices generate a beneficial life force or vital energy – prana, shakti, väki, mana, chi or qi – which we can also experience as we dance.
Armenian dances embody an early mystical form of Christianity which is profoundly connected to the earth, the body, and the divine feminine – sacred realms which were excluded by later developments of the Christian church. Armenian dances poignantly invite us to rediscover and embody these lost treasures of Christianity within the safe embrace of the dance circle. The dances thus serve as a kind of ark, rescuing surviving remnants of a vanished world and an earlier message of wholeness and peace. In this way, the dances carry new life from ancient times into the present day and towards a more peaceful future.
Armenian Christianity and the living wisdom of the Christ
The Armenian cross, the khachkar (‘cross-stone’), does not depict the crucifixion, but celebrates the living wisdom of the Christ. The khachkar integrates the pre-Christian symbol of the Tree of Life, whose vertical and horizontal dimensions (trunk and branches) represent spiritual and earthly realms respectively. These two axes meet in the heart of the cross and in the heart of the human, beautifully illustrating the harmonious integration of opposing or complementary forces (which was Jung’s definition of psychological wholeness). The healthy self and flourishing community, which can welcome all its parts and hold this wholeness in balance, is illustrated by the flowers, fruits and leaves of the Tree. The Tree of Life was also an ancient symbol for the Goddess, whose names in Armenia include Anat, Anahit, Nar, and Nune. Both the Tree and the Goddess illustrate the cycle of life, death and regeneration, with the emphasis always on life.
Armenian dances also integrate different axes of movement in their arm movements and step patterns. The horizontal movement of the dance pattern often combines with subtle vertical movements in the knees which ‘pump’ life-giving energy up from the earth and into our circle. In the typical Armenian handhold, we join by linking little fingers. Traditional Chinese medicine teaches that this is where the heart meridian runs, so as we dance we experience a gentle stimulation of our heart energy in connection with our neighbours. We hold our hands slightly forward of the body, creating a space in front of the heart chakra like a chalice which we can sense slowly filling with the energy or chi of the dance. As each dancer connects to this earth energy and opens to receive the love it contains, the whole circle becomes a chalice, full to overflowing with the sacred life force the dancers have invoked and brought into the world. When we dance these sacred forms with conscious intention, the dance can be a source of blessing and healing for all present, just as Bernhard Wosien originally taught.
Integrating and healing the tension of the opposites
The khachkar honours not only the light but also the dark: the healing darkness of night, restorative sleep, and winter rest, as well as the dark earth which nourishes the planted seed. Beneath the roots of the Cross/Tree, a solar mandala unites with the earth to represent this miracle. The new life springing from the matrix of nourishment symbolises sacred marriage as well as resurrection.
By integrating the tension of the opposites, the Armenian dances help us hold and heal feelings of grief, loss, and longing. These powerful emotions have a central place in the history of the Armenian people, who suffered a tragic genocide and diaspora in 1915. As we all know from our own experience, it is difficult to hold such strong feelings alone; by dancing, however, we can bring them safely into the support of the circle. Armenian dances strengthen our capacity for resilience, forgiveness, and healing, and help us come home to a new understanding of body, spirit, and community as our true inner homeland.
Communal dance: embodied prayer for planetary healing
Armenian dances provide fertile ground for communal dance as embodied prayer, inviting us to dance with mindfulness and sacred intention. We are blessed to be able to dance them this summer with Shakeh in the Universal Hall. In alignment with the Findhorn community’s commitment to planetary healing , we dedicate the dances to the work of inner and outer peace, harmony, and wholeness, in the hope that these qualities may be of service to the world. You are very welcome to join us.