October 27, 2016. 40-50 water protectors huddle behind straw bales on a narrow bridge defending access to the Standing rock community. A few drum. Others sing and dance. some pray. On the other side of the straw bales are 250 state troopers, snipers and armed guards with sound cannons, tear gas and pepper spray, attempting to exert their amassed might against this blockade and span this bridge.
For hours and hours, police advanced and retreated. But the water protectors held the bridge.
“This was an unforgettable moment unfolding. With the dancing going on and the veteran trying to negotiate out front, a young woman stepped up and began moving her body to the beat of the drum. She was power incarnate. Her arms were wide open, her pink fingernail polish glistening. She was crying. Just waiting to be pepper sprayed, she wore a painter’s mask, one which would have done nothing much for protection.” Desiree Kane, Yes! Magazine.
The blockade held. Today the community at Standing Rock still stands, singing, praying, dancing, putting their bodies and souls into protecting their right to clean water against the pressure of corporations and Government (specifically Morton County Sheriff’s office), backing the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Dance does not exist in a vacuum, It is the expression of the heart and soul of a community. When a people come together in a shared consciousness of faith, hope and struggle, dance emerges at the forefront to encapsulate the energy and to give it shape and expression. In so doing the dance intensifies the communal consciousness and moves it to the next stage of transformation.
In the book, Gifts of Unknown Things: A True Story of Nature, Healing, and Initiation from Indonesia's Dancing Island (Lyall Watson, 1976)) a noted South African biologist and anthropologist, writes about his experience on an island in the Indonesian Archipelago, during which he witnessed many occurrences which would be impossible for the western mind to comprehend, including faith healings and the raising of the dead. The most interesting feature of these “miracles” was that they seemed to be directly related to the shamanic dancing of a young woman in the community. Watson’s conclusion was that dance plays a role not only as artistic self-expression or cultural definition but in the transformation of both the individual and global consciousness.
“Dancing is surely the most basic and relevant of all forms of expression. Nothing else can so effectively give outward form to an inner experience. ... only the dance lives at once in both space and time. In it the creator and the thing created, the artist and the expression, are one. Each participates completely in the other. There could be no better metaphor for an understanding of the mechanics of the cosmos….. We begin to realize the our universe is in a sense brought into being by the participation of those involved in it. It is a dance, for participation is its organizing principle. This is the important new concept of quantum mechanics.”
Dance is inseparable from music. Music is vibration. What we have learned in the last century from quantum mechanics is that all of reality is fundamentally vibration. When we make or create music we are engaged in introducing a new vibration into the spheres. Dance intensifies and embodies this vibration, thereby strengthening it and making it transformative.
When we dance we reshape not only our personal reality but society as well. Consider Argentina and Uruguay in the early part of twentieth century when millions of new immigrants struggled to find meaning and beauty in a strange land. Melding the musical traditions from their homelands, they managed to create an entirely new art form out of their disparate backgrounds. This was the birth of the Tango, which not only gave expression to their grieving but has since spread across the world, changing fundamentally the way men and women relate.
These may be seen as dark times and many of us who have dedicated our lives to advancing social causes are at risk of sinking into lethargy and despair. Consider the inspiring words of Leonard Bernstein, the famous Jewish-American composer and conductor, who spoked defiantly in the face of the rising spectre of Nazism: “This will be our reply to violence: to make music (and dance) more intensely, more beautiful, more devotedly than ever before.”
Aydan Dunnigan-Vickruck lives with his wife, Patricia, in Edmonton, Alberta Canada in close proximity to eight children and sixteen grandchildren (and counting!). He is a tangero, an outdoor enthusiastic, a blogger (www.tangotouch.ca) and author (www.traumatotango.com), a Social Worker and former Lutheran minister. His writing reflects his obsessive exploration of embodied spirituality and intimacy.