Dancing for Forgiveness and Reconciliation – Part Two By Laura Shannon

In Part One of this article, I described dancing Jewish, Romani, and Armenian dances for forgiveness and reconciliation with groups in Germany and all over the world. I also offered danced rituals of remembrance at former concentration camps and other places scarred by the atrocities of war.
I went to camps including Dachau and Auschwitz, to genocide memorials and sites of massacre throughout Eastern Europe, in Australia, and the Americas. At first, my prayers were private: I brought flowers, lit candles, danced my grief, and spent time in meditation. I tried to visualise the prisoners in those places, sending them my deep sorrow and regret back through time. I wanted to let them know that they are remembered and mourned by people from their future. My prayers contained a fervent apology as well as a soul commitment to do my part in this lifetime to overcome prejudice and stand for peace.
In time I invited others to dance with me for healing and peace. We danced at former camps in Germany, including Bad Gandersheim, a subcamp of Buchenwald, and on many occasions in Steyerberg, a former prison camp and forced-labour munitions factory which is now the site of an intentional community called Lebensgarten (‘Garden of Life’), a centre for permaculture, non-violent communication, and other ecologically and spiritually oriented ways of living.

We sent our prayers back in time, not only to the victims but also to the guards of the camps and the perpetrators of the atrocities. These individuals were also prisoners, trapped inside a sick and evil way of thinking which caused them to demonise others and commit the worst of crimes. Buddhist teacher Tara Brach describes with great insight how we project our own feelings of unworthiness outward and make others the enemy:
In this ‘us vs. them’ world, the unworthiness, the evil, is ‘out there’. Whether it is a family schism or a generations-long war between ethnic groups, creating an enemy imparts a sense of control – we feel superior, we feel right, we feel we are doing something about the problem. Directing anger at an enemy temporarily reduces our feelings of fear and vulnerability.
This is not to say that real threats don’t exist…. Yet if we lash out with hatred and violence, if we make war on ourselves or each other, we generate more fear, reactivity, and suffering. Freeing ourselves from this trance of fear and alienation becomes possible only as we respond to our vulnerability with a wise heart. (Radical Acceptance (2003), pp 17-18)
It’s not easy to eliminate deeply internalised structures of hatred, whether directed towards ourselves or others. However, the mutual acceptance and support we practice in the dance circle can literally create an experience of a more peaceful community, while also supporting our individual healing.
Circle dance has always been a place where diverse people can come together. We come from different countries, speak different languages, have different faiths, and hold different views – on politics, economics, eating habits, the environment, smoking, and any other issue you can name. Yet, despite these differences, we still hold hands and share steps in the movement synchrony which helps heal trauma. We don’t only hold hands with people who eat the same way, vote the same way, or think the same way as ourselves.
This act of joining hands with others different from us is a radical affirmation of our common humanity. At the same time, the steps we dance and the music we hear connect us with peoples of cultures and religions different from our own. Suddenly we can see those different from us as allies instead of enemies. As we accept one another in the circle, so we too are accepted, exactly as we are. This acceptance helps us release old internalised feelings of self-hatred, as well as the fear and hatred projected onto an ‘enemy’ outside ourselves.
I’ve witnessed this miracle of healing in many, many circles all over the world. Coming together in the circle, accepting ourselves and each other enables us to make a scarred place sacred – healing our wounded hearts along with the wounded landscape. This is what it means to dance for forgiveness and reconciliation.
My own journey of recovery from rape, which I mentioned in Part One, was only possible through the healing power of dance. The dances of peoples who had come through the horrors of exile and genocide with their love for life intact showed me how to do this too. Through dance, I learned to survive and to thrive, with a new joy for life and sense of purpose.
Fear and hatred are increasing again now at a frightening pace. Children are in cagesUighurs are in camps, and everywhere we look, systemic racism is exploding into increasingly overt expression. The politicians in power won’t save us, and replacing them with more humane politicians takes time. So what can we do?
Feminist spirituality asks us to safeguard the rights of all beings, human and non-human, and to acknowledge the sacredness in all things. To stand up against crimes of persecution perpetrated in the name of our faith or with the taxes we pay. To free ourselves from the inward and outward hatred which perpetuates these crimes. To wake up to the harm we can do one another, or which has been done, in our names or while our eyes were closed. To pray for peace. To pray for the ‘enemy’. To find the courage to steer our society away from hatred and violence, and towards compassion and care. These are the original values of the peaceful, egalitarian societies of Old Europe, a core template for feminist spirituality and for traditional circle dance.
We now face a common threat, worse than any war: the rapidly approaching destruction of livable habitat on earth. So let’s quit wasting time and energy blaming ‘the enemy’. Let’s help each other move beyond past trauma, find our power, and share our strengths. Let us join hands, in all of our diversity and wholeness, to change our ways and protect our planet.
Laura Shannon has been researching and teaching traditional women’s ritual dances since 1987, and is considered one of the ‘grandmothers’ of the worldwide Sacred / Circle Dance movement. She trained in Intercultural Studies (1986) and Dance Movement Therapy (1990), and is currently pursuing postgraduate studies in Myth, Cosmology, and the Sacred at Canterbury Christ Church University in England. Her primary research in Balkan and Greek villages seeks out songs, dances, rituals and textile patterns which descend from the Goddess cultures of Neolithic Old Europe, and which embody an ancient worldview of sustainability, community, and reverence for the earth. In 2018 Laura was chosen as an Honorary Lifetime Member of the Sacred Dance Guild in recognition of her ‘significant and lasting contribution to dance as a sacred art’. Her articles and essays on women’s ritual dances have appeared in numerous publications, including Re-Enchanting the AcademyDancing on the Earth: Women’s Stories of Healing Through DanceShe Rises! Vol. 2Inanna’s AscentRevisioning Medusa, and Spiritual Herstories – Call of the Soul in Dance Research. Laura is also Founding Director of the non-profit Athena Institute for Women’s Dance and Culture. She lives in Canterbury, Greece, and the Findhorn community in Scotland.

Author: Laura Shannon

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 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. Also a musician, Laura performs throughout Europe and in the USA with her partner Kostantis Kourmadias.

12 thoughts on “Dancing for Forgiveness and Reconciliation – Part Two By Laura Shannon”

  1. Thank you for both parts of this article – the descriptions of your experiences and your vision of the healing powers women can offer to one another and the wider world at this time.


  2. “This is not to say that real threats don’t exist…. Yet if we lash out with hatred and violence, if we make war on ourselves or each other, we generate more fear, reactivity, and suffering. Freeing ourselves from this trance of fear and alienation becomes possible only as we respond to our vulnerability with a wise heart”

    I like these words…. lately I have been thinking a lot about the ‘enemy’ because of Trump’s current position regarding the worsening of this pandemic – His SILENCE is deafening – he is only interested in voter fraud/himself at a time when the country and its people are fighting for their lives. Trump is a threat to humanity – but we cannot act out with either hatred or violence – we need to go parallel with this threat – while making it clear this behavior is totally unacceptable. I accept this challenge and it’s a big one…after having rape dreams repeatedly over the past couple of weeks I know this man has activated my own rape experiences. It is very dangerous to get too close to human evil – you can easily get pulled into that field as almost 70 million people already have. If there ever was a caveat it’s present now.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Dear Sara, I know you are not alone in having traumatic experiences (the rape dreams you mention and other manifestations of PTSD) activated by Trump – I have heard many women speak of similar experiences when Trump first took power in 2016 (note, I do not say ‘elected’). I also went through a huge crisis when so many people, and so many women, apparently voted for him even after the tapes of his vile ‘pussy-grabbing’ comments were made public. I am sure you know this, but it is worth pointing out again, how terribly painful it can be when these old traumas get reactivated, and how important it is to seek support, for instance through a trusted therapist. I do hope that you (and everyone traumatised by the poison of Trumpism) can get all the support you need to access your own strong, centred, stable self of self, and to be aligned with your true voice and inner power which nobody can take away. we need to help each other heal now, because we need everyone’s gifts and strengths to find a new path ahead. Blessings to you.


  3. You’re right that we live in a divided world, perhaps 2020 was more divided here in the U.S. than ever before. The orange T. Rex is responsible for a lot of that division. Do you think he’d ever consider dancing? Would he do anything at all help help people join hands and dance in a circle of forgiveness? Would he or his racist followers do anything at all to reverse the damage being doing to our blessed mother planet?

    No, he wouldn’t do anything. But people can. We voted. We can dance together, literally and metaphorically, to heal ourselves and our planet.

    Thanks for posting your two beautiful essays about the healing element of dancing. Bright blessings!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, Barbara, I agree, it’s hard to imagine tyrants and dictators being able to dance. I think the basic skill of circle dance requires a capacity to intuitive sense the style of others’ way of moving so we can enter into movement synchrony with our neighbours. This requires empathy, observation, concern for and interest in others – all qualities lacking in the personalities of the sociopath, psychopath and pathological narcissist such as Trump. So I don’t know. But I can say from personal experience, there have been a very few people in my life over the years who have behaved in breathtakingly hurtful ways which ruptured friendships, yet when I have had the chance to dance in a circle with them I have found it extremely helpful for my own process of forgiving and moving on. So never say never… and in the meantime, as you wrote, we do what we can: ‘We voted. We can dance together, literally and metaphorically, to heal ourselves and our planet.’


  4. Thank you, dear Laura, for these beautiful and heartfelt words – and for your deeds and dance that accompany them.
    Let us join hands with all of humanity!!!
    May the Solstice 2020 bring the SHIFT that we so desperately need.
    Much love and so many blessings


  5. I was heartened and inspired, learning about your dances in the former concentration camps. There are so many places on this earth– and in this country — that need healing. I’m always needing to remember that there are wonderful healers out there. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dear Laura, your articles are so touching. I am touched deep inside the cells of my body. Healing words.
    Thank you


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