Women’s Ritual Dances and My Journey to Healing by Laura Shannon


Laura ShannonSince 1985, I have been researching Balkan folk dances and teaching them in women’s circles all over the world. Common symbols in dance patterns, textile motifs and archaeological artifacts from southeastern Europe have remained the same from ancient times to the present, which leads me to suggest that the dances may be descended from ritual practices dating back to Neolithic times. In my view, these patterns serve as a symbolic language, expressing reverence for the cycle of life. Emphasizing connectedness and continuity, homecoming and support, women’s ritual dances can rekindle ancient values of sustainability, empathy and equality, and provide an antidote to the alienation of self which is epidemic in the western world. In nearly thirty years of teaching, I have found that women all over the world respond to these dances as valuable tools for healing and self-discovery.

Dancing grandmother, Rhodope, Bulgaria. Photo Laura Shannon 1991

Dancing grandmothers, Rhodope, Bulgaria. Photo Laura Shannon 1991

As is so often the case with women’s experience, my own journey to healing first showed me the way. I first came across traditional circle dances in the early 1980s, in international folk dance groups in the USA where I grew up and at the Findhorn ecological community in northern Scotland. Folk dances with symbolic content had been brought to Findhorn in 1976 by German dance master Bernhard Wosien and his daughter Maria-Gabriele Wosien, and from there spread around the world. Under the name of Sacred Dance, Circle Dance or Sacred Circle Dance the folk forms were adapted as a means to encourage group awareness and facilitate a conscious connection with the divine.

As I searched out and studied diverse forms of folk dance and sacred dance, I was led to focus on traditional women’s dances literally by accident. When I was twenty, a serious knee injury threatened to end my career as a dancer. The only circle dances I was able to engage in were the slowest, simplest ones, which turned out to be women’s dances. I did not know much about them at that time and was surprised to find them so compelling. With no complicated variations to distract me from myself, I learned to let the repetition of the steps, like the repetition of a mantra, bring me in touch with my truest self and deepest feelings. Just as in meditation, this simple, yet powerful process created a trancelike atmosphere which invited me to be fully present.

Crete, ca. 1600 BCE - circle of dancing women around musician

Crete, ca. 1600 BCE – circle of dancing women around musician

Women’s ritual dances gently yet firmly invited me back into my body. In their ancient patterns, I felt I could perceive the living, compassionate presence of the grandmothers of the human family who had initiated the dances and passed them on. In the same way that meditation practice is supported by a sangha, or community, I experienced how a circle of women all dancing identically allows each woman to feel deeply held. The kinesthetic unity of the circle transcends difference without denying it; competition and conflict are transmuted into co-creation. The dances strongly connected me with an understanding of life – in all its variety, with all its ups and downs – as sacred. The sensation of energy which flowed through me while dancing in this meditative way, along with intense intuitive flashes and unexpectedly practical insights, eventually wove me back into the web of life.

Although specialists had told me I would never dance again, the deceptively gentle ‘medicine’ of the women’s ritual dances helped my knee to heal without surgery and brought me out of the depression that had come in the wake of the injury. Dancing has remained at the heart of my life. Deeply fascinated with the dances and what I perceived to be their healing potential, I used my training as a dance movement therapist to focus as much as possible on the therapeutic use of circle dance and devoted every spare moment to what has become a lifelong dedication to this quest. As I spent more and more time both researching and teaching these dances, in Europe and all over the world, I found that they fulfilled my deep longing for meaningful connection. They brought me back into rightful balance with myself, with other women, and with an ancient lineage of dancing women going back through time. Looking back, I feel profoundly grateful for the initial healing crisis which led me to discover the hidden power of women’s ritual dances.

Dancing Goddess figures on embroidered apron, Razgrad, Bulgaria, 19th C. Ethnographic Museum, Sofia.

Dancing Goddess figures on embroidered apron, Razgrad, Bulgaria, 19th C. Ethnographic Museum, Sofia.

Over time I saw that they fulfilled similar longings in other women too, even for women whose own background is far removed from the areas of Eastern Europe and the Near East where the dances have their origins. These experiences led me to to focus on working consciously with the dances in women’s groups, as tools to access a source of wisdom greater than ourselves. Just as women’s ritual dances are differentiated from other dances by the context of a ritual occasion, in my circles it is the context we create for our dancing, and the consciousness we bring to it, which facilitates a dance experience we may name as sacred. The dances are not a performance; everyone present participates. We dance for ourselves and not for an audience. In the absence of an external onlookers’ gaze, our attention is directed away from concerns about how we look and what others might think, and toward a more focused awareness of our own inner being.  Paradoxically, this inward focus may also help us connect with something larger than ourselves, a sense of oneness with all of life. This is the most important source of healing for women in the modern age.

Laura Shannon has been researching and teaching traditional women’s ritual dances since 1987. She is considered one of the ‘grandmothers’ of the worldwide Sacred / Circle Dance movement and gives workshops regularly in over twenty countries worldwide. Laura holds an honours degree in Intercultural Studies (1986) and a diploma in Dance Movement Therapy (1990).  She has also dedicated much time to primary research in Balkan and Greek villages, learning songs, dances, rituals and textile patterns which have been passed down for many generations, and which embody an age-old worldview of sustainability, community, and reverence for the earth. Laura’s essay ‘Women’s Ritual Dances: An Ancient Source of Healing in Our Times’,  was published in Dancing on the Earth

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Categories: Art, Foremothers, General, Healing, Identity Construction

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42 replies

  1. I am so thrilled to see you here Laura – what a fantastic article – such fond memories of our time on Crete together. It was the epiphany I had after visiting Maria’s textile shop in Zaros where you translated for us and some of the discussion was about the reading of the language of the feminine on the textiles that opened up a such a well of inspiration for my own work. Thank you for your words…another reminder of the continuity. x

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    • Jassy, how wonderful to arrive here and find you to welcome me! I still have your amazing drawing from the Goddess Pilgrimage we did with Carol, framed and in my room in Greece. In it I can see the extraordinary blossoming and opening which started happening for you after that journey. I am so glad if my ‘translation’ of the secret women’s language in the antique textiles and dances helped with that. I well remember the hours we spent that morning with Maria, the weaver in Crete, and how at the end she showed us her prize possession, the hand-spun, handwoven linen birthing cloth from her great-grandmother… all of us, too, are spinning that thread of continuity, birth and rebirth.
      xx Laura

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  2. Laura, so glad to see your writing here.

    As I said when I met you, when I first saw Greek dancing, I was offended to see that men seemed to get all the acrobatic and individual “star” roles. But when I began dancing myself in Greece, I realized as you did, that the circle dances induce trance and that you don’t have to be the acrobat or the star to commune with the Source of Life in the dance.

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  3. Well put, Carol. I think understanding that philosophy has helped me cherish small miracles more and more – sometimes being too much the ‘acrobat’ or ‘star’ (in daily life, not just in dance) actually closes the doorway to the healing trance and the communion you speak of. The dances emphasise community over individuality for exactly that reason, as you know, which is one of the things that makes them such a potent antidote to the callousness and egocentricity which are the default mode in mainstream modern society.
    Thanks for making me welcome.
    xx, Laura

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  4. A fascinating article which summarises so well the magic of the dances that you lead, Laura. Despite being a state of severe shock as well as having a lot of demands on me at the time when I first danced with you, I was transported into a wonderful state by these simple rituals. Whenever I think or speak of them delicious shivers pass through my body.

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  5. Enjoyed this post, Laura. Your world travel also outlines the circle of your teaching journey beautifully. Your observation — “the repetition of the steps like the repetition of a mantra” —. filters through all activity high and low. That’s why Zen practitioners rake stones. Your post and the pic from Crete also reminded me of an image that I can’t get out of my mind, which was that there was a circle around a well that was danced by women in ancient Greece. When the site was unearthed, marks from the sandals of the dancers were found embedded in the pavement, probably not uncommon, but it’s the combination of the transient and the eternal in that image that holds me entranced.

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    • Thanks, Sarah, I love your image of the Zen garden and the lines of raked stones. Like the dance, it’s a practice which integrates rhythm and repetition, transient and eternal, personal and transpersonal – the qualities which, in balance, show us the way to wholeness. Each little step along the way will slowly, steadily wear the path in the stone for others to find and follow, perhaps after thousands of years. And as Jane shares above, even at the very beginning of the journey each of us can access that source of healing energy and move into that ‘wonderful state’.

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  6. I too am delighted to see you here Laura! Beautifully written. It brings me back to our short time dancing together on the lawn at Zaros (?), the joy of which is always with me. A good reminder that I need to get back to circle dancing! Blessings to you.

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  7. Oh, Laura, how beautiful. I want to bring a group of women together in Goddess practice in my town, and the dance was the missing piece in what I had envisioned. We dance so joyfully, so uninhibited as children, yet, as e.e. cummings said, “down they forgot as up they grew”. More than philosophy or even poetry, it is dance that can bring us together. A circle dance, with simple steps. yes. thank you. I suspect that most simple rhythmic steps would work wonderfully, but is there anywhere that I might better understand the symbolic nature of particular steps, a YouTube perhaps? or a CD?

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    • Great, Mary Ann, I always encourage everyone to dance! I believe the traditional dances need to be learned in person, and there are many dance classes you can join including Greek and Balkan groups such as Nick and Nancy mention. There are also simple choreographies to modern music in the circle dance network, such as Lindajoy describes, and you can easily create a simple choreography to a favourite song which has meaning for you. If you let me know where you are I can see if I can help you find a group nearby. Good luck with the dancing!

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  8. Laura, thank you for this wonderful post. Circle dances continue to be a part of the Greek-American experience especially at weddings and church festivals (glendies). In fact, St. Barbara Greek Orthodox church here in Sarasota, FL is holding it’s Glendi next week and my circle of friends and I always enjoy these communal dances very much. When I dance, I feel the connection to the ancestors and have always believed that these dances are rooted in Neolithic times. Patriarchy has attached it’s dominating hand to many of the dances, yet in modern times they continue to evolve into a more balanced partnership activity. Young and old, male and female, LGBT or straight, one can go to any festival, join in the circle with or without a partner, and feel the ancient rhythms. OPA!

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    • Thank you, Nick, for your reply. I love the way you talk about Greek dances, which are my favourite of the traditional dances I study. In my opinion they do indeed go back to Neolithic times, and I see in my research how in the dances the ancient Partnership values have smuggled themselves successfully all the way through patriarchal times into the present day. Greece is in a unique position because of its geography and history to have kept its dance and music culture alive – also in Greek communities abroad, as you point out. Have a great time at your glendi next weekend! Wish I could be there dancing with you.

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    • I’m delighted to find Laura’s article here.

      Circle dance encompasses such a range, from slow balletic dances to lively races that produce a sweat; from dances that take us inward to those that connect us with others in the group; dances so simple that anyone can join,as we drift into a dream space; dances so complex they take total concentration; music which ranges from traditional folk to classical, modern world or pop.

      My own preference within this moving feast has always been for the simple ancient dances, particularly Greek, which Laura teaches so well. I have always felt the weight of history within these dances, the link back through generations of women. Dancing with Laura and learning about the symbols within the dance and within other elements of women’s traditions has increased the depth of my experience with these beautiful dances. Laura conveys these not only through her word and choice of music but also through her body. Dance is after all physical and beyond words. There’s some irony within writing about dance, but Laura successfully finds the words to convey the gift these dances offer.

      Thank you Laura for your dance and your voice.

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      • Thanks, Lindajoy. It’s great when we can balance both verbal and nonverbal experiences in dancing and writing about the dances… it brings us into the wholeness and balance we were talking about right at the beginning of this thread.

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  9. Laura,

    What a wonderful post! And how true your words ring for me! Until my back injury about 15 years ago, I danced with the International Folk Dance group here in Madison, WI. Our group focussed mostly on the Balkans, so I know some of the dances you’re writing about here. On any given night, after about 15 minutes of dancing, a silly, little smile would come over my face, and I danced ecstatically from then on. I loved the fast, difficult dances, with the syncopated 7/8, 9/8 or 11/8 rhythmic patterns. But even more, I loved the slow, rocking women’s dances. All the dances induced trance for me, but the trance state of the women’s dances was more peaceful and meditative, like the Dances of Universal Peace, which I also love. You describe the dancing well.

    Recently the GoddessScholars list has been discussing just this subject. One member had read Elizabeth Barber’s book _Dancing Goddesses_ and that started the discussion. She suggested watching a YouTube video of a Georgian dance called “Samaya,” associated with Queen Tamar (12th century) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFo_wkaZbjE. And I recalled performing in a Kuker Festival (Bulgarian), in which I portrayed a Mother Goddess, who by straddling a man raised him (pun intended) from the dead, just as spring brought new life to the earth. Thanks for reminding me of all this.

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    • Thanks, Nancy. I was very moved and inspired by Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s new book, which fits right in with my own observations and experiences. The Kuker festival ritual you describe sounds amazing! Do you know whether the Bulgarians themselves identify the role you played as the Mother Goddess? …On the theme of your own healing, I wonder if there is a way for dance to nourish and support your back and bring you back into the circle? You obviously know how the dances bring about trance, so it is just a question of choosing the right dances to support your healing – kind of like choosing the right combination of medicinal herbs. Good luck with that.

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      • And thank you, Nancy, for sharing the link to the Samaya dance, which I had not seen before. I am not an expert in Georgian dance, but there are certainly recognisable Goddess elements familiar to me from other traditions such as Armenian dance. And simply to have a women’s dance tradition like this one, in a culture where women can show themselves in their power, grace and dignity, without shame and without fear, is deeply healing for us to witness too.

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  10. Thank you for this post, Laura. I began folk dancing (mostly Balkan, Greek and Middle Eastern) in the mid-1950s in the summers, outside in back of the Princeton U. graduate school dorm (no, I wasn’t a student there, I was in middle school or high school) and later, indoors at Miss Fine’s. I participated in groups for a short time in other places, and for at least 20 years, beginning in the 1970s in the DC area. It was some time before I realized the connection between the dancing and trancing (because it was some time before I even knew what a trance felt like, so that I could identify the feeling). For me, trance is not experienced in all the dances, but only when the group is used to dancing together and knows the dance well enough so that they are moving together without having to focus on getting the steps right. After I got into Goddess spirituality (mid-1970s) I began to feel (intuit) that some of the dances, including but not limited to the women’s dances, were originally based in ritual or other sacred origin. I am thrilled that some research affirming this is beginning to come to light. Though the research was not available at the time I wrote 2 of my Goddess books, I nevertheless incorporated movements from dances I knew (such as the basket hold, the grapevine step) into dances I choreographed for the rituals in the books–and taught them in women’s spirituality groups I was involved in, and at workshops.

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    • Thank you for sharing your experience, Judith. Balkan & International folk dance groups in this country & others kept many ritual dances alive through recent decades even without the dancers necessarily being aware of their ritual origin or their potential for personal & collective transformation (though many, like yourself, sensed something of their power). I feel now is the time for us to understand them and the Goddess connection within them, and to begin to use them consciously once again.
      How wonderful that you brought traditional elements into your choreographed dance rituals in women’s spirituality circles so early on – this would be a good resource for Mary Ann above.

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  11. Thanks for mentioning getting the steps right, Judith. When I was a child I went to cotillion, where we learned ballroom dancing. Being right left dyslexic and awkward in my body, I could never get the steps right. Not to mention that as the tallest girl, I was usually humiliated by being the last to be asked to dance. Sighhhh. 50s rock and roll was also about steps and you had to have a partner. I was almost never asked. For me the late 60s Beatles/Stones et al rock dancing was a liberation. You didn’t have to have a partner and you felt the music in your body rather than performing steps. I was hesitant to start Greek dancing because steps are not easy for me. In fact I ran out of Greek dance class crying more than once because I just couldn’t “get it” as easily as the others. However, my dance teacher Manolis followed after me insisting that I could learn even if it would take longer. Thanks to him, I did learn, and I also learned that in cultures where folk dances are still a living tradition, it is not about being good enough, everyone is good enough, from the two year-olds to the elders who can no longer move easily. What a liberation that insight was! And being able to join in the dance without having to wait to be asked by a male partner is also a great liberation–as I still don’t have one–he hee.

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    • Yes, learning unfamiliar steps can be a nightmare for many, and a real obstacle to entering the trance state we are talking about. One thing I noticed immediately once I started my own research travelling in the Balkans (beginning in 1987) was that steps are never taught; people do very few dances – maybe 5-10 in one village compared to the 30-50 dances we might have danced in one evening at a folk dance group in the US – and they do those same dances over and over again throughout their lives (compared to the hundreds which dance teachers today might count in their repertoire). It is precisely this simple repetition of known and familiar steps which enables the inner work of entering the trance state and accessing healing or divinatory powers. And when we all know the steps, nobody has to run out in tears… It is such a nice story of Manolis running after you to keep you dancing! And now look at you, leading evenings of dance on every Goddess tour!

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  12. The term ‘carol’ is a circular dance accompanied by song, they can be sacred and/or secular and performed all year round. as far as I’m aware Stonehenge was called ‘Giant’s Carol’.

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  13. Thank you, Laura, Priestess of the Dance. I have missed your gentle guidance and wisdom from our pilgrimage with Carol. You showed me a new way to dance, the trancelike state that requires one to slow down. Good medicine for me. I hope to dance with you again one day. <3

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  14. What a wonderful time to be reading your article that a good friend passed along. I was born in the Miiddle East and dance has always been my connection to a beautiful inner world where I found strength and acceptance in a world that was sometimes not so kind. We kept our dances, line and circle, here in the US mostly in our churches and the Greek and Rmenian Churches…then after I went to College the dances were no longer in my life. After I had my daughter, there was a calling, a craving so deep to teach a devotional type of dance. I became a Kripalu Danskinetics Instructor. Teaching Dance satiated me for some time and the dances transformed to teaching belly dance then merging yoga/ belly dance to stay in tune with a sacred art , connectivity in movement. All along I kept feeling a tug because some people missed the message of just being “danced” and releasing the focus on steps and getting better. Being a right brained dancer, I found it difficult to teach and succumb to the trance that I felt dancing. I stopped teaching because I want to be in that trance and share the Joy od dance with others. I teach once a month at 8 Goddesses homes( they each take a turn) its mostly wonderful but still … That getting better and doing more comes up. One evening, it was a special magical night, we lit candles , formed a circle and just moved our bodies in circles and figure 8’s allowing our arms to follow. It was pure bliss for everyone! My former students keep asking about dance classes again I keep saying that a dance to teach is birthing through me. I know that I want to gather women in a circle of Devotional Dance, Sacred Dance to Heal our Bodies and Spirit.
    Thank You for your article and Thank You Laura Marie for sharing the article.

    Goddess Rema

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  15. Carol et al, I can understand the difficulties of learning the dances. In fact, there are some dances I was never able to learn–usually Bulgarian dances where the feet have to move rapidly. I eventually decided to sit those out and just enjoy the ones I could do. I admire everyone who persists in learning these dances. Carol, I think I too am “right-left dyslexic” (didn’t know there was a term for this). Apparently my parents switched me when I was an infant and started going after things with my left hand. So I’m now right-handed (sorta), but when someone says “right” I feel it on the left side of my body and make all sorts of other mistakes when specifying right and left. When computer mouses came into being, at work I found myself clutching it far too strongly with my right hand and I didn’t want that hand to hurt, so I switched myself to using the mouse with my left hand. I guess you could say I am ambi-moustrous. And I’m even able to do digital art with my left mouse. To get back to folk dance relationship to Goddess and mythology: there is a Greek dance called Tsakonikos which apparently can be traced back to at least Plutarch’s time and said to be related to the Ariadne myth. I’ll give you some links so you can see how it’s done today. The first link what appears to be a professional Greek group,http://youtu.be/rzTZOG5bqDU The second link is to a more village-y Greek Grouphttp://youtu.be/8P4tqbNomOs The third link is to a Findhorn group http://youtu.be/YDdcRA9ABWI You will note the difference in style: The Greek groups face in the line of direction, usually at a slight angle to the center; the Findhorn group faces center, moving slowly sideways; this is how I learned the dance. I also like that the Findhorn leader uses a candle rather than a (traditional) handkerchief in his free hand. I think he must be familiar with the dance’s source. The Findhorn group ends up in a very close curved line (looks like a spiral dance, doesn’t it?). This dance is not as easy as it might look due to the foot syncopation and the change in whether you are leaning in first, or out first. And one last link: I wrote a poem inspired by this dance that I titled “Labyrinth Dance.” I wrote the meter of the poem to match the meter/rhythm of the song usually used for this dance today (and used in all the other links). Some of the history of the dance is at the bottom of the page linked to: http://www.poemeleon.org/labyrinth-dance/
    Brigid Blessings to those who celebrate this holiday and blessings to all.

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    • Thank you, Judith, for sharing these resources and your beautiful poem – I love that you followed the meter of the dance in the meter of your poem.
      I can offer a few observations about the youtube clips you shared: the first group is a dance group from Metsovo, in Epirus in the far north, quite far away from Lakonia where Tsakonikos comes from. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are dancing (especially the men) with the bouncy style appropriate to Metsovo but not to the dance Tsakonikos. The traditional style is much smoother, as we see in the very lovely clip you shared of Tsakonikos danced on Easter Sunday in Leonidio, Lakonia. This is a beautiful example of a living ritual dance tradition. Just these two clips alone show how important it is to be aware of our sources when learning about dances by watching videos!
      I can also recommend you watch the Tsakonikos as performed by the Dora Stratou Greek Folk Dance Theatre group at http://www.nme.com/nme-video/youtube/id/kMxjIMlIkLk/search/
      or

      One of my closest friends in Greece, Niki, now in her seventies, was for many years lead dancer of the Dora Stratou ensemble, in the years when Stratou herself was alive and regularly brought village elders to teach their music and dance as authentically as possible. They continue to close every performance with Tsakonikos. It is notable that again, the style is relatively smooth, as still today in Lakonia, and also, they take quite large steps – a point which I shall return to.
      One thing about the handhold, as well as creating the intimacy you describe so tenderly in your poem, is that the way the hands are clasped enables the spiralling in and out which is otherwise quite rare in Greek dance today and which often has some kind of ritual significance. It also requires a special handhold, either the Tsakonikos hold (where you hold each other’s thumbs, which act as a kind of pivot enabling easier turns through the spiral) or another type of handhold enabling the spiral to go in and out more gracefully than would be possible with an ordinary ‘W’ hold. There are stone reliefs, vase paintings and other archaeological finds depicting handholds such as these, showing that it was pretty likely that they did have spiral dances in antiquity, since they had the handholds which enable the spiral dance.
      In the third clip, from Findhorn in 2009, some changes have been made. The spiral goes in but then rather than going all the way through and out with the large steps which are traditional, the lead dancer remains almost on the spot. This is a practical method of getting the rather large group back into one circle without it all taking too long. But I would suggest that traditionally, the large steps in and out of the spiral create a mood of excitement, even exhilaration, as you flash relatively quickly through the lines of dancers on either side of you going in opposite directions. This is appropriate to the theme of transition and transformation, going suddenly and dramatically over the threshold into something new. This rite of passage is represented by the spiral /labyrinth itself and is also emphasised by the handkerchief-bridge the Dora Stratou dancers demonstrate, and is also suited to the time of year (springtime, the time of new life and resurrection, now marked by Easter, and earlier by many pre-Christian spring festivals of life, death and rebirth and related myths such as those of Persephone and Ariadne).
      Another change in the Findhorn video is that the dancers and the musicians are not in alignment: the dancers alternate the two parts of the dance (ABAB) while the musicians alternate the two parts of the melody (AABB). Traditionally, the two parts should go together: in the first part of the dance, you touch the foot, with the alto melody (in my view, corresponding to earth); in the second part, with the higher soprano melody, you lift the foot (corresponding to sky). I believe the alternating movements and melodies are an invocation of earth and sky, so for me it would be vitally important to keep the dance and the melody patterns in tandem, according to tradition.
      But I do appreciate the meditative atmosphere they are striving to create in Findhorn, respecting the ritual nature of the dance as best they can. The lighted candle is a nice touch.
      BTW, Judith, if you have it, I would love to know the exact reference from Plutarch referring to Tsakonikos.

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      • Laura,
        Thank you for this additional information. Here’s a link with a reference to the Plutarch association (as well as other material, including some relevant to your teacher) http://arcadia.ceid.upatras.gr/arkadia/culture/tsakonia/bekiros.html
        Here’s another link with similar info, but not specifically citing Plutarch, though alluding to the Ariadne-Theseus myth (and Dora Stratou):
        http://users.otenet.gr/~apelon/origin.htm
        I got these by Googling “plutarch+tsakonikos”–there are more.
        Some of these also note that this is apparently the first Greek dance that both women and men did together.
        It’s interesting to me to see the style variations in the dance today. My guess is that all of them vary at least somewhat from the original. As we say, variation and change is “the folk process at work,” and different “villages” do dances in different ways :-)

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  16. Just wanted to add that last night at Paradosiako-Limanaki in Petra, Lesbos, I was blessed to be able to dance the “island Syrto”- which is a very lilting bouncy 3 step circle dance – with 2 different pareas (friend groups from other tables whose circles I joined). The first group left a father and his differently abled pre-teen daughter at the table where they “danced along” from their seats with their arms. The smiles on both of their faces would have moved me to tears if I had not been caught up in the communal joy of the dance with them and the others.

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  17. Wonderful, Carol, wish I’d been there. What a moving and happy ending to your tale of leaving your dance class in tears all those years ago. Look at you now!

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  18. Wonderful article, Laura! I hadn’t realised before that the women’s dances were slower and more meditative, but looking back with my limited experience, I can certainly see that this is so. Which makes me think – after I gave birth, my muscle springiness was completely gone (my body simply does not want to run or jump any more), and my, um, continence was, um, compromised :-), which also meant that I am quite loathe to do anything that’s very bouncy anymore. I wonder if this is an additional component leading to the beautiful meditative quality of women’s dances. Also, when you’ve got small children, what you don’t have is time to yourself – practically ever – so the creation of a meditative space is very, very, very, very desirable because it’s what you don’t have in the day-to-day world at all. The need for space-away-from-childcare would probably have been even greater in earlier societies where women pretty much bred right up to menopause, so there would always be a toddler or two needing attention. Are there young women’s dances that are more lively than married women’s dances, I wonder?

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    • Leslie —

      Your response reminds me of the amazing experiences I had several years ago when I led the Dances of Universal Peace (meditative) with a large group of kids — 50 or so. When we would get ready they were very squirrely. But when the dance was over, I was always dumb-founded by the peace and focus in the room. They were all PRESENT. Of course, this was with 5-to-11-year-olds, not toddlers.

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      • Nancy, one of the things I love about travelling in Greece, the Balkans, Armenia and those places is that when the village dances, the kids are welcome too, usually straggling off the end of the dance line – from babes-in-arms and toddlers to quite small children who can do the steps perfectly. In almost thirty years of this research, I have never seen any Greek adult express any annoyance or irritation with the little ones – rather, the whole village expresses their joy that there ARE little ones, and that they are DANCING – it is a kind of visible continuity of the lineage of the dance through the generations. And yes, the kids are completely calm and focused – and by the time they hit puberty and start dancing with the adults, they already know exactly how to dance all the dances in their village. Never a dance class or dance teacher in sight!

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    • Yes, absolutely, the dances for unmarried young women tended to be much more athletic, and even purposely served as a test of strength stamina so that onlookers (including potential mothers-in-law) could see who had the necessary physical ability to make a good worker in the household. The dance style of married women is much more sedate by comparison, very likely for exactly the reasons you mention. It’s true, as you say, that there were more children in the average house in Balkan villages compared to the average modern Western household, but there were also many more female relatives, neighbours and friends nearby to share in the responsibilities of childcare. Women were often very busy with their work in the home, fields, garden and with the animals, but time was always set aside for dancing – it was seen as a cultural imperative which all women had to join in. Women danced officially on Sunday afternoons and on all the occasions of preparation and celebration of life cycles such as engagements, weddings, baptisms, as well as on abundant church holidays, village feast days and many informal occasions besides. All this dancing gave everyone a regular connection to joy, serenity, peace, as well as self-expression, connection with other women and of course a rest from chores. This would have increased everyone’s mental and physical well-being throughout their lives, not only for the women, but for their whole families, since a happy mother is often the key to a happy family. I see the obligatory dancing as kind of a collective investment in health insurance for everybody in the village, and thus for the village itself.

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  19. Thank you..from the bottom of the feet to my heart center…thank you. I can’t explain how your description of ritual dance describes my experience when I dance…raw and uncensored…not worried about a performance instead about communing with my body and spirit…

    Thank you again Goddess sister! Many blessings to you and yours!

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  20. Dear Laura,

    A newcomer (in this lifetime at least :-)) to sacred circle dancing, I have just completed a first weekend workshop with dancers from all over the world, gathered by Bobbi Bailin on Cape Cod here in the USA. Your name was mentioned many times over the course of the weekend with these experienced dancers, always with great respect.

    I was first introduced to sacred circle dancing by your delighted and delightful student Nada Khodlova late last summer, love at first sight/step/sound/soul sensation for me….

    In the circle with Nada, I found this way of dancing to be a deep and royal road Home. The circle Is the Mother’s embrace, encouraging us to open and spread our wings, kept clipped and close to our bodies in fear for sooo long. How wonderful to lose the self and join the circle, fully fledged as a woman among women once again at home moving within the Body of the Goddess.

    What a privilege to live at a time when this ancient women’s way of wisdom is being restored to its rightful place within our communities, slowly, sweetly, softly….Louder and louder!

    I noticed this weekend how differently I felt one day while wearing a long, lyrical, lovely dress~~just a cotton one from India, not a ritual dress per se~~versus how I felt the next day dancing while wearing a more ordinary, Western dress. I felt and danced differently and others responded to me differently, too, I observed. I have often remarked on how women remember milestones in their lives by what they wearing on those occasions. How we feel about the frame to our figure can make or break the day, even.

    So it makes perfect sense to me that the ritual dress would greatly enhance the experience of the women dancing, allowing them, supporting them to lose themselves that much more completely into the Flow of the dance.

    I can also imagine how sewing and embroidering the dresses in the company of other women could be a divine group meditation, and that a prelude to celebration, and that a prelude to Bliss. To lose the self while celebrating the Self is a special genius that women know how to bring into the circle of Life, leading the way for the whole community.

    Thank you, Laura, for helping us to show us the way again, gathering many others, all circling around, circling the world with great love, restoring joy, hope and peace.

    I really cannot wait to meet you someday soon, dancing!

    With love and gratitude,
    Gwendolyn Atwood
    Concord, Massachusetts, USA

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  21. Aw, this was a very nice post. Taking the time and actual effort to create a great article… but
    what can I say… I put things off a lot and don’t seem to get anything done.

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  22. Thank You dear Laura for all the gifts You’re spredingout all över the World

    Like

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  1. Ritual dance of being in our bodies | Goddess Spiral Health Coaching

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