What is Sacred Dance and why is it important?
By Banafsheh Sayyad

Sacred Dance is about remembering the sacredness of life, and expressing and communicating this sacredness.

Sacred dance is both a spiritual path and a science. It calls for the dancer to become a channel for divine consciousness in the world.

In some spiritual traditions, sacred dance is the part of the path through which the initiates or practitioners integrate and embody the teachings of the tradition.
Through devotion, focus, inquiry and practice, the dancer integrates their body, mind, heart and soul in service to becoming a clear channel for the Divine.

When you approach sacred dance as a science, specific movements take on a greater significance. Certain postures, steps and sequences performed with a specific intention can induce distinct objective states both for both the dancer and the audienceThe movements can influence the environment and serve to heal the land, heal bodies of water, impact climate and even induce rain.

Sacred dance can
heal trauma and
alchemize the
shadow.

The alchemy of sacred dance takes us from duality into oneness where we learn to heal our traumas and suffering by dancing through our pain. It’s not just about feeling blissed out and flying into transcendent light, though it certainly has that dimension. It is about doing the real work of radical embodiment where you experience the marriage of spirit and matter, the marriage of the unknown with the known—your divine self and your shadow. Sacred dance helps us develop our chalice/cup to endure the suffering and pain of living in this world and transform that pain into blessings that can uplift ourselves and all humanity.

Sacred dance shows us there is no separation between body and soul, matter and spirit. Sama (whirling) is an example of a sacred dance that bridges the transcendent and the immanent, the invisible and the visible so that the One can be felt in you and through you. It is a true marriage of opposites between absolute glory and the absolute mundane. As a result, we begin to infuse our so-called “ordinary lives” with a sense of the miraculous.
Sacred space is a safe container where people can be their authentic self and let go of survival or defense mode. We create this sacred space with our focus and intention. For example, whirling is a channeling of light and a transmission of blessing and healing.. Everyone present during a whirling ceremony receives the benefits of this channeled light even if they are not participating in the dance or music. Sacred dance sanctifies the space.

If you enter a place where sacred dance has been conducted over time, you can feel the loving energy supporting your development and evolution.

Since the global pandemic, Dance of Oneness has transitioned from in-person gatherings to online. Creating virtual sacred space is very effective. Each of us is invited to create a sanctuary, a temple in our home and that sense of the sacred extends to our family or anyone who lives with us.

Before the pandemic a big question was how to maintain the openness, the afterglow of a retreat in our daily lives . Now, retreats and our lives are literally intertwined.

Sacred Dance
creates Sacred
Space.

Sacred dance
creates sacred
community.

The key to sacred community is entering the heart space. Our heart energy is unlimited, and we feel the unlimitedness through connection with the Beloved, with one another, and with nature. The more we enter a collective heart space, the more we can create a sacred community based in trust, safety, and a sense of belonging. Everyone shines.

In this time of great awakening and great reckoning we ask ourselves: Who am I? Who are we? Who have I been and who do I want to be? What do I want to dedicate myself to?

When people dance in a group that is focused on this type of inquiry, they construct a collective, invisible architecture. This architecture has a harmonious effect on the self, the group and by extension the whole world. Through the shared intention of serving the Greater, we can influence the environment and the world in a positive way. We are all suffering from the ravages of human ideology and conduct. We are called to come into sacred community, to live and dance as stewards of a new order based in love.
I have always been more interested in taking the audience on a journey than in presenting a spectacle. My focus has been marrying performance — an outward expression — with an inward, meditative state and spiritual practice. For our ancestors in ceremony, the two were one and the same. The commodification of performance as solely entertainment has taken away the sacred dimension. I invite my audiences to participate inwardly during performances. The audience, dancers, musicians, production team all create a sacred community. In this way no one is a lone operator or bystander. We are co-creators of the event.

Sacred Performance

Sacred Dance is an
Extension of Living
Life as Sacred.

Dance is a spiritual path. I’m not just a dancer on stage, I let my life be my art. I dance, therefore I am! A young dance student once asked me, “Why is it that most dancers who perform as bundles of joy and excitement, flying freely like birds onstage, are so miserable offstage?”

My answer: “Because they haven’t learned how to dance their life.”

The skills you need to dance at your fullest potential are the same skills we all need in our daily lives: flexibility, strength, agility, adaptability, resilience, the capacity to change direction with little or no notice, the ability to embrace polarities, and release mental and emotional stagnation. The goal is to integrate the dancer and the person dancing. “The entire universe belongs to the dancer,” said Jesus. Dance is the joy of the soul.

Advice to Sacred Dance Performers and Teachers

Do the inner work and walk your talk. Don’t just perform the movements, live them. Let the sacred emerge from the nitty gritty of living not from an idea of what it means to express the “sacred.”

Be authentic. If you are evolving a tradition, be prepared to fully immerse yourself in that tradition. Learn about the lineage and as you honor that lineage you can begin to unfold your own myth.

Finally, teach by example. In the words of the great Taoist sage Lao Tzu, “Guide without interfering.”