Dances of Universal Peace uses dance as a means of reconciliation and fostering peace. Dance can express all human emotions and lead to transcendental states. The Dances of Universal Peace are Sacred Dances which do not require any musical or dance experience. The sessions are about taking part and are not a performance. There are no special costumes. Comfortable clothes are the only requirement. The setting for the dances should have a peaceful, sacred feeling.

A session begins by everyone joining hands and forming a circle with the Dance Leader and musicians in the middle. The Leader then teaches the words, music and movements. The background history associated with that particular dance is explained

. There are more than 400 Dances of Universal Peace drawn from many faiths and traditions. They focus on themes such as Peace in all its contexts, healing of the Earth, it's peoples, its flora and fauna and in the deeper mysteries.This inclusion of the beliefs of many peoples and religions creates an opening of the heart and a feeling of the brotherhood and sisterhood of all peoples. Performing the dances help the participants to understand and appreciate both the similarities and differences of various religions and cultures.

On the occasions when the dance lyrics include sacred phrases in languages not spoken by the participants the pronunciation of the words is very carefully taught. The majority of dances are only four lines long and are repeated over and over again. The combination of these factors is that the participants learn the songs quickly and easily. Within ten minutes everyone is singing, dancing and sharing the wonderful power of the dances.

The Dances of Universal Peace were collated in the late 1960's by Samuel L. Lewis (1896-1971) a Sufi teacher and Zen Master. He studied in great depth the mystical traditions of Hinduism, Judaism, and Christianity. Hazrat Inayat Khan and Ruth St. Denis were major influences on his thinking. In the 70's Lewis began to create the dances as a way of promoting "Peace through the Arts".The dances celebrate Hinduism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam as well as the Aramaic, Native American, Native Middle Eastern, Celtic, Native African, and Goddess traditions.

The dances are categorized under headings such as "Dervish Dances." Dervish Cycle and Allah Snake Dance are examples from this group.There are also "Mantric Dances" such as Hare Rama Hare Krishna Dance and Ram Sita Circle Dance, and "Angelic" dances such as Moon Dances and "Tis the Gift to be Simple" which is a well known Shaker tune.

The dances encompass many moods - love, joy and compassion - as exemplified by the Buddha Qwan Yin,or the extrovert energy of Krishna is expressed in the dance. Individuals experience a dynamic relationship between the group, the individuals within the group and themselves.

Penny Xerri gives an account of "Sharing the Dances with Special Needs Students." .She writes "One of the delights of working with Special Needs students is the immediacy of their response; if excited, they may jump up and down; if tired sit down; if pleased with themselves they often want to acknowledge that with a round of applause.Perhaps there is a lesson in Zen here. Another pleasure for me is their willingness to experiment, both with sound and movement, no matter how profound their disabilities. (One of our students has virtually no sight, another has speech that is virtually unintelligible and the majority may exhibit obsessive behaviour patterns, such as repetitive speech and movements, if in any way upset.)

Responding to the students' needs and difficulties in the dances requires that the "able-bodied" offer a variety of support and improvised adaptations. I am fortunate in being supported not only by an accompanist, Ian Salmond, but also by Bill Thompson, a volunteer tutor. Both of these provide a strong male presence and constructive feedback. Additionally, the college in which I work provides "carers" for the students. These carers provide not only student support but exhibit considerable enthusiasm and commitment to the dances.

This level of support makes it feasible to bring the essence of the dances, whilst being very pragmatic with adaptations. These range from simplifying steps, such as substituting a straightforward walk for sidesteps, to including short periods of sitting whilst vocally rehearsing the familiar dances, or learning new ones, as our students tend to tire more quickly than their able-bodied counterparts. On a physical level, we sometimes support the hands of students, whilst adopting gestures or making turns, always being mindful not to "invade". Challenges we are still working with include keeping the momentum of the dance (there is a tendency for the students to come to a halt after each "round") and to hold the silence on completion of each dance beyond a few moments."

In 25 years the Dances of Peace have spread throughout the world. New dance circles are springing up. They help spread feelings of reverence, creativity and a connection to the Earth. The dances are shared in such places as schools, therapy situations, prisons, hospices, rehabilitation centers and by people with physical and mental disabilities. Dance in general is finding a place in the process of Peace and Reconciliation in areas of armed conflict.

Heads of State should be obliged to take part in dances of universal peace before any important conference or meeting !

Author's Bio: 

Dzagbe Cudjoe is a Dance Movement Therapist and ethnologist with wide experience of Dance in Africa and Europe. As an ethnologist her main field of research was into West African traditional religion. As a Dance Movement Therapist her area of specialization is working with children who have challenging behaviour or severe physical and intellectual Special Needs. Dzagbe is now working on helping the parents of such children to appreciate the healing effects of dance. She is the author of the e-manual "Dance to Health - Help Your Special Needs Child Through Inspirational Dance." For more Information visit Dance to Health