Fergus kept a steady beat on the drum as Jutta strummed her guitar and a dozen of us sang and whirled around the room. Sometimes we held hands moving in a circle, sometimes we circled around a partner offering blessings, and we chanted in Arabic, Sanskrit, Hebrew and English.
It’s an interspiritual practice called Dances of Universal Peace, introduced in the 1960s in California by Jewish-born Samuel L. Lewis (1896-1971), who was recognized as both a Zen master and a Sufi master teacher. The Dances have since spread around the world.
Last night, the Dances were held in the former-church-now-studio next to Presentation House Theatre in North Vancouver, led by Jutta, Allaudin and Steve. The music, movements and high ceilings elevated our spirits.
Dance has been a thin thread in my life, occasionally woven into some of the decades. As a nerdy teen I danced in a Viennese waltz team at junior high, was part of a square dance team, and was known as “Spider” during the height of the Twist for the crazy way I moved my legs.
At 19 as a reporter for The Vancouver Sun, I sweated through a 27-hour dance marathon, from 9 p.m. on a Friday night until midnight Saturday. We were allowed five-minute bathroom breaks each hour, which I often used to phone in updates to my story to the newsroom.
A year later I met and fell in love with an American named Betsy on a kibbutz in Israel. While she studied contemporary dance at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, I took a few of the classes. Men were scarce but I was no gift to the dance world. This past summer, Betsy and I had a sweet reunion in New York, where she is still a dancer, after not seeing each other for 40 years.
Over the years, I did some spiritual dancing called zhikr with a mystical school, the Arica Institute, and danced at parties and social events. More recently I have performed at sacred dance festivals with Ofira Roll in Vancouver and Courtenay, B.C. I enjoy going to Unity Dances at the Quaker Hall in Vancouver led by Amir O’Loughlin, a local Sufi teacher.
This afternoon, at the end of a Vancouver Cohousing community meeting digesting the latest construction delays, we danced and sang to the classic R&B/soul tune, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” a hit for Marvin Gaye.
Oh baby, there ain’t no mountain high enough,
Ain’t no valley low enough,
Ain’t no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you babe
That’s me, Vancouver Sun reporter Lorne Mallin, a little worse for wear after a 27-hour dance marathon in 1966.
Performing with Ofira Roll at the 2011 Vancouver Interspiritual Dance Festival.