Here is the English-language version of the Foreword I wrote for this amazing book that has opened Sacred Dance to so many women in the world. Here is its original cover you may recognize:
I hope you enjoy this essay on Women's Sacred Dance. It's a topic so close to my heart and I was honoured to be asked to write about what it means to me. The book was only just released last month and there has been so much positive commentary rolling in that felt moved to share with english speakers.
"A Dança do Sagrado Feminino" - the Brazilian Portuguese edition of
"Sacred Woman, Sacred Dance"
by Paola Blanton
Nothing is more magical than a story whose time has come. There is something of Divine Providence in the timing, the moment we pick up a book, or the moment it jumps out at us. A lifetime in the Arts and Mysteries has shown me that the stories our souls seek are also looking for us. They reach to us through the pages of history, the arts, and through the collective stirrings of our group-soul. They call us to the well of sacred memory where our deepest dreams lie in wait for the flash of recognition, that moment of resonance that moves the entire being with an inspiration too sublime for words. We dive in and discover that it’s the right story, at the right moment in history, at the precise right moment in our lives.
To open a book and find that the writer’s journey is our own journey fills us with feelings of kinship, serendipity, and yes – Divine Providence that comes with meeting a fellow traveler. Someone who has wandered the same paths as us, who has rich knowledge to share that can help us along our way. That was how I felt when I first picked up SWSD, and that is how I imagine you will feel now that you have taken the first step into the marvelous world that is waiting for you.
The idea of women’s Sacred Dance Ritual is quite ancient, as Iris Stewart demonstrates in these pages, but only in recent decades has it come into focus, especially in the West. One of its first harbingers, Isadora Duncan, proclaimed her vision of the Dancer of the Future as a dancing priestess who would bring forth a new humanist reality to a world bereft of Beauty and Truth.
Over a century ago, she prophesied the arrival of the Dancer of the Future – not a dancer in the patriarchal, reductive sense of performing entertainer, but a living work of art and channel for the divine force of inspiration:
“The Dancer of the Future will be one whose body and soul have grown so harmoniously together that the natural language of that soul will have become the movement of the body…[She] will belong not to a nation, but to all humanity…[she will dance] in the form of woman in her greatest and purest expression. From all parts of her body shall shine forth radiant intelligence, bringing to the world the message of the thoughts and aspirations of thousands of women. She shall dance the freedom of woman… [She will be] the free spirit who will inhabit the body of New Woman – the highest intelligence in the freest body!” (Duncan, Art of the Dance 62-63)
The seeds sown by this prophetic vision are sprouting all over the planet as women awaken to the call of the Goddess and respond to Her invitation to the sacred dance. As women join the dance, they are finding that it leads to a temple of timeless wisdom in which past, present, and future meld into an eternal now; a fullness of presence that heals body, mind, spirit, and community.
Iris Stewart’s book is more than just an invitation to this dance. It is a glittering timeline of our ancient dances and dancers; a gallery of the cultures and individuals who have kept the dance alive in the secret quarters of the feminine soul for so long. Every page is a treasure trove of inspiration, whether from the customs of other cultures, historical artifacts, or Stewart’s heartfelt prose.
Published at the groundswell of the Information Age in the year 2000, SWSD came as a map into the sacred dance for women all over the world. More than ever, we could follow our hearts, dreams, and longings with the freedom of research that came with the internet. Doors were opening, paradigms crashing, and borders disappearing.
Women anywhere could type the keywords “Sacred”, “Feminine”, and “Dance” and within seconds encounter a wealth of knowledge, wisdom, and inspiration on the topic. With the spiraling increase in Goddess consciousness in the twentieth century, it became possible to widen our quest across continents and cultures and find that women were dancing the Goddess everywhere. When SWSD came out, it showed that we’d been at it for a long, long time, and that its roots were much deeper than we may have thought.
Those same keywords led me to the book in 2003. I had been increasingly ritualizing my own dance practice, and had begun to look beyond choreography and technique in order to listen to my yearning for deeper meaning and transcendent experience through dance. Although I was an established Oriental dancer, I was profoundly moved to search my way through nature, metaphors, myths, and a long personal history with Goddess ritual. I just knew that putting them together could reveal a Divine motive and method for the Dance. When I opened SWSD, it was an illuminating flash of lightning, a synapse jumping from writer to reader. It would become a catalyst for the personal revolution I had initiated by searching for the sacred in the dance.
I began to reflect upon the moments in my life when I had felt transcendent, healing ecstasy; those moments when I dissolved into the All and exchanged my ego for my soul. I saw that the most cathartic and healing rituals had always involved some type of movement, whether it was in the Umbanda rites of my adopted Brazil or the shamanic retreats and Wiccan drum circles I had frequented in the States. Ecstasy – duende – is there to be accessed, and the path to the spirit descends first through the body.
I remembered my turbulent college years with the weight of a full class load and three part-time jobs on my shoulders. I should have gone crazy were it not for the moshpits of industrial and punk rock. I remembered how I would surrender to the chaotic spiraling of bodies as the driving drums and screaming guitars exorcised my angst and left me bathed in cathartic sweat. Time would stop. I would enter a liminal state of being where I was myself and not myself at the same time. All the other kids around me – we were one. Punching the air, banging our heads, and spiraling around each other, we transmuted our youthful anxiety into pure exuberance.
This period of reflection drew me full circle to my Balkan roots and sparked a renaissance of the Balkan dance tradition in my practice and repertory. I remembered how I felt as a young child in the circle dances of my people, my Macedonian tribe. A resonant cellular memory evoked the feeling of unity – feet in rhythmic synchrony, hands joining hearts in a spiraling dance that went way deeper than ethnic identity. When I re-joined that dance as an adult, I realized this was the dance of the Earth – her cycles, her bounty, and her magnetism. To the big, goat-skinned “tapan” drums, reed zurli (mizmars) and sheep-skin bagpipes, I sink into the soul of my people, the land, and generations of racial memory that form the bedrock of my being.
It had all been there all along, like a pile of tinder waiting for the spark that was SWSD. It’s one of the primary strengths of the book – its ability to fire the imagination and to trigger the recognition of hidden likenesses between the dance and the universe. Rhythms and forms “become sacred as the beauty of movement communicates the divine ideal. In sacred dance, one is found and used by the soul of nature, the energies of which are perceived rhythmically as the continuous dance of life and form.” – (Stewart, 5)
She reminds us that rhythm and form were essential to the ancients in their quest for union with the “deity and the cosmic flow”, which magnifies the significance of universal patterns and forms like spirals that characterize so many sacred dances. I had spiraled back through the dances of my youth and childhood and was now ready to spiral forward as the book brought forth two women who would become my greatest teachers: Isadora Duncan and Gabrielle Roth.
Over the decade I’ve spent studying both of these visionaries, I’ve come to identify closely with the timeless revelations that they’ve brought to the world. Both women danced their prayers in the knowledge that the body is the temple of the soul and that the soul is the gateway to the Divine.
Isadora sought to open the pathway between soul and body through a moving dialogue that transcends the stifling paradigms of our times and brings about a new, universal humanism. Inspired as she was by the Greek ideal, she went back in time to unearth the principles inherent to the Greek understanding of universal laws. She was able to translate the laws of harmony, proportion, and perpetual motion into a mytho-poetry of form and movement whose beauty married art, science and philosophy in a totally new way. Through her articulation of her sublime vision, she embodied the inspirational force of her historical moment. Even her untimely death was mytho-poetic. The prophetess had realized her mission, leaving behind a transcendent body of work that would inspire generations to come and light the way to the Dancer of the Future. Nothing like a story whose time had come!
Gabrielle proposed a map to the territory between body and soul, calling that which Isadora called the “Dancer of the Future” by the simple name ‘ecstasy’. “…an egoless, timeless state of being. It’s a state of total alignment and unity. Unity of body, heart, mind, soul, and spirit. It is what we need to heal our psychic dismemberment.” (2) She invited us to “follow the body like a map into a deeper sense of self” (17) guided by the five rhythms of the soul. Five rhythms, five modes of being that ascend, peak and descend like a wave or a story, each dance its own journey, its own alchemical process.
Ultimately that is what the Dance of the Sacred Feminine is all about – a transformative process of overcoming the ego and quieting the rational mind in order to connect to Source energy in a healing state of resonant bliss. With the aid of the visions and maps of great teachers, we enter into our own states of resonance, where we expand our perceptions toward the Infinite and merge with the very dance of the Cosmos. There, the perpetual flow of healing Light fills us and uses us as the instrument of truth and beauty. This is the Elixir that integrates and brings a sacred wholeness not only to individuals, but to their communities. And the chalice that offers the Elixir is Woman.
The nature of feminine energy is to flow, connect, and transmit. We resonate with the great flowing cycles of Earth and Cosmos as the cyclical creatures we are. Isadora Duncan put into words what the ancients had known for millenia – that woman is a “link in the great cosmic chain, and her movement must be one with the great movement which runs through the Universe.” (Duncan 68) It is no surprise, then, that with Goddess consciousness cycling back into focus, that her sacred, healing dance is also embracing us in its spiraling bliss. Many energies are moving around at this moment in history. We need to connect as many bodies, hearts, and souls to the source of Light in order to harmonize to the victory of the good.
In her chapter on transcendent and ecstatic dance, Stewart writes about how energy moves through the participants, uniting them and invoking the presence of something greater, contagious and elevating, that catalyzes the loss of ego and quells the fear of separateness that are our greatest barriers to ecstasy. With these barriers surmounted, hearts begin to open and trust grows, allowing the group energy to elevate in vibration and be directed toward positive goals such as the restoration of balance and peace. To me, this is the most urgent message of the book, and the clarion call to action for the worldwide community of dancing feminine souls.
The process of women’s emancipation in the last century has brought with it an erosion of many traditional platforms for women’s community. In capitalist societies characterized by the division of labor, we no longer bond over the harvest, canning, quilting, childcare, or handicrafts like our grandmothers did. We live increasingly compartmentalized lives of social and psychic dismemberment within the chaotic reality of the rat-race.
Timetables, deadlines, traffic, corruption, and the soul-sucking repetition of tasks and daily chores have strangled our ability to seek or feel ecstasy. Our lives are still largely immersed in patriarchal narratives in which we swim like fish unaware of the waters that contain them. Women everywhere default to the tactics of the patriarchy as they struggle to make ends meet in what is still fundamentally a man’s world. Among our most corrosive inheritances is the shadow of competition.
While in some spheres, competition is a tool of evolution, in others, it is the insistent intrusion of the ego where the ego has no place. SWSD amply demonstrates that the path to the Goddess’ healing bliss must surmount the dense obstacle of ego in order to obtain the Elixir. This is true of intrapersonal healing, where we must get out of our own way and put our illusions of identity aside if we are to gain access to our authentic souls. It is true of interpersonal healing, where we must exercise compassion and empathy in order to foster harmony in our relationships and communities. And it is true of transpersonal healing, where we expand our consciousness and drop our containers and labels in order to surrender to the cosmic flow.
This multi-faceted healing is the gift of the Sacred Feminine Dance. Its mission is to overcome personal and interpersonal barriers in order to unite us with the awe-inspiring spirit that moves the dance – the Goddess. It challenges us to purify our motives for dancing and to raise our vision to a new platform for women’s community – one in which mutual respect and joy form the antidote to the social and psychic dismemberment of our times. Just as our ancestors instinctively danced their healing, we will consciously reclaim our instincts and authenticity in the dance. Within that dance of eternal now, we instinctively know that the dance of the past is the dance of the future, and of all times. And the future has arrived.
What more fertile ground for the dance of the future than the land of the future, Brazil? With its lush natural bounty and syncretistic traditions, it is already firmly rooted in rich archetypal foundations. From the undulating grace and power of Iemanja’s waves to the sensuous ecstasy of Oxum’s rushing waterfalls to the whirling majesty of Oya’s spiraling storms, it is clear that the dance of the Goddess is already here. I have had the honor of dancing the Goddess with my Brazilian sisters in Nature’s bosom many times, and it is always an immensely healing experience.
Brazil’s iconic song, “Garota de Ipanema”, is a lyrical tribute to the living, moving, dancing Goddess at her most sacred place, the beach. The seashore is the birthplace of Venus, the realm of Iemanja, and the hearth of Brazilian life. The poet sings his Muse’s embodiment of nature’s beauty and compares her sensuous gait to the rhythmic swaying of the ocean’s waves. Sensuality is a hallmark of life here in this land of vibrant, open-hearted people.
Yet the sensual and lyrical also cast long shadows. Brazil is not an easy place to be a woman, as we exist in a mainstream culture with deeply rooted machismo. One of the most insidious ways in which this ruling paradigm wounds the soul of women is through the unachievable expectations of the competitive cult of body image that has come to symbolize Brazil in the world’s imagination. It is a force whose toxicity many Brazilian women have begun to resist – this idea that we are never pretty enough, skinny enough, sexual enough, or young enough.
This exacerbates the deep socioeconomic rift between women, as its external signifiers tend to immediately classify and separate people. With the host of social and economic inequalities already plaguing this country, women cannot consciously accept another level of “otherness” that insists on pitting us against each other in spite and envy. We have more serious battles to fight in the cause of our dignity and humanity.
Because the assault starts early. The sinister beat and pornographic lyrics of “carioca funk” music, for example, drill its message of naked misogyny and degradation into our young girls, telling them they are nothing more than “bitches” reduced to their body parts and ability to service lust. This is deep wounding disguised as pop culture, which infects the soul of woman by convincing her that degradation is sexy and desirable so that she is more susceptible to violation.
The common thread in all these examples is the scarring they cause around beauty, the body, sex, and dance culture. They all feed into each other and form barriers to an authentic relationship between women, their bodies, each other, and the dance. People no longer live in their bodies as it is, but women have extra layers of alienation from self due to a toxic zeitgeist. So our work is cut out for us. In order to gather women into the dance, we must transform it into a platform for healing energies that will encourage them to love and respect their dancing bodies and celebrate the beauty of all dancing souls. We must fight against the prevailing stereotypes that alienate body from soul by opening the sacred dance to women of all ages, sizes, races, and walks of life.
I reflect that Brazil’s most iconic natural feature, the mighty Mother Amazon, is named after a mythic race of warrior women, and it resonates deeply with my view of Brazilian women as women of power. They are in a special position to catalyze the multi-level healing that is the purpose of sacred feminine dance. In addition to their special relationships to to nature and rhythm, they are also culturally plugged into spiritual traditions like Umbanda where rhythm and spirit are old friends. In a land where mediumship resonates deeply in the collective psyche, they are particularly ready to receive and transmit the healing message of the Goddess through dance.
Because the time is now. There is lots of work to be done and lots of healing light and love to be danced into existence. We must reclaim our birthright to the sacred dance and we must honor the awesome power and responsibility that comes with it. We must heed the cries of Mother Earth and reunite our rhythms to Hers in an vital exchange of energy. May it elevate our consciousness and deepen our reverence for this planet that sustains and inspires us with its grandeur.
We must support each other during these chaotic, uncertain times and help each other dance our way through them. It is time to open our hearts to our sisters and invite them to a new dynamic where trust, kinship and joy replace competition, separateness and envy. Let the dance be to us what Iris Stewart called “a window to the Universal, satisfying the thirst that is in all of our souls.” (Stewart 217) At this moment in history, with so many paradigms shifting and so much turbulent change surrounding us, let the thirst of our souls lead us to the source of truth and beauty that heals everything it touches.
And to you, dear reader and fellow traveler, I say there are no coincidences. The story you were looking for has found you. In your hands you hold a portal to this well of sacred memory, lovingly prepared by a pioneering, dancing soul who answered the same call as you. Prepare to be inspired, uplifted, and welcomed home to the dance of the Goddess. The dance of the past, future, and eternal now.