by Alice Fateah Saunders
As I sat on Sherborne station this morning waiting for the train to Penzance, my guitar and laptop beside me, I remembered being asked some years ago: “What have the Dances of Universal Peace done for you?” I recalled this with some amusement, because without the Dances I wouldn’t have had either a guitar or laptop, neither would I have been boarding a train for Penzance, nor even would I have been living in Dorset. At the time of asking, the question had been triggered by interest in my improved health and mobility, and I had been reluctant to reply because I felt the real essence of what the Dances had done for me was more at an emotional and spiritual level, than physical. It’s obvious to me now that my whole life, at every level of being, has been profoundly affected by the Dances, and my increasing involvement with them over the past twelve years as a dancer, more recently as a certified teacher, and as a networker first in the Midlands and currently as Regional Networker for the UK, has brought me an abundance of blessings, wonderful friends, and a clarity of purpose.
I first met the Dances in 1986, at a time when I was employed as an advisory teacher in Derbyshire, and also training as a psychotherapist in Transactional Analysis. The first morning’s session surprised and puzzled me, for an atmosphere developed among the group of dancers that I had only previously experienced towards the end of a therapy workshop, or within an ongoing support group that had been meeting for some time – an atmosphere that was open, trusting and caring. I assumed, mistakenly, that the other dancers had been dancing together frequently. During that week-end of Dances of Universal Peace, led by Amida Harvey (who introduced the Dances to this country in the early 1980’s), I felt more totally involved, more connected both with myself and with the rest of the group than had ever occurred for me in the circle dancing I’d done in the past.
For a few years I danced intermittently, needing to travel from my home near Nottingham to Leeds, which was the nearest venue for Dances of Universal Peace at that time. I had no thought of becoming more involved, as my energy and interest were directed towards qualifying as a psychotherapist, beginning to work with clients, and in establishing a network “Transactional Analysis in Education among teachers” throughout the local education authority which employed me.
But change was ahead. In the late 1970’s, I had been confronted by the sudden onset of rheumatoid arthritis, but with the help and support of a natural health clinic in Cheshire, I had reversed the process, via drastic changes to my diet. Now, ten years later, osteo arthritis in my right hip began to demand attention. In November 1989, in severe pain and limping badly, I took three days off work, intending to return after a consultation with a McTimoney chiropractor. But I never went back! Once I’d admitted the problem to myself, and once I’d begun treatment, the excruciating pain and exhaustion that I’d been ignoring, ostrich-like, utterly overwhelmed me, and I spent much of the time in bed asleep, hardly able to stand let alone walk. My further career in education seemed at an end, I was unable to continue my psychotherapy training, and in fact my whole life was in the melting-pot. Yet throughout those long days, weeks, and months I rarely felt low or depressed – somehow, somewhere, there seemed to be a voice inside that kept saying “You’re going to be all right, you’re going to be all right”.
Amazingly, during this period, I was always able to drive, and after about nine months I successfully ventured away from home with a friend for a few days. This gave me the confidence to contact Amida to ask if I could attend one of the beginner’s training programmes he used to run, a residential week at Springhead in Dorset in November 1990. “I can’t dance but I can sing” I remember saying over the phone. My motivation for being there was merely to have a wonderful week in a wonderful environment, renewing my contacts with Amida and with other dancers.
I cannot claim that its been only the Dances of Universal Peace that have facilitated my increasing mobility from that moment until the present time, for I’ve had help and treatment from a variety of body therapists and healers, have helped myself by regular swimming, and have experimented with different diets. However, most of these approaches have had their right moment for maximum effect, and then I’ve dropped them, whereas from 1990 onwards holding hands in a dance circle has helped increase my mobility from simple walking to grape-vines done at speed. By 1993 I was mobile enough to embark on the three-year training programme to become a Dances of Universal Peace teacher myself.
I believe that health and well-being is a feature of our whole selves, and where my Transactional Analysis training and my own psychotherapy left off, as far as my emotional and spiritual health were concerned, the Dances of Universal Peace have continued. Sometimes I’m confronted with one of my hang-ups or unresolved issues while actually dancing. The powerful words of the chant and/or the Dance movements may have facilitated this, and I’ve found the gentle, caring acceptance of myself in tears by the Dance circle has been a significant aspect of my healing. Increasingly I’ve felt more harmonious within myself, and with others, and become more and more appreciative of the Dance Network not only in this country, but world-wide. Most people, within a Dance session, seem to experience the development of a special relationship with others in the circle, which stands the test of time until they meet again. And I’m in the privileged position of knowing that an open door and a warm welcome awaits dancers in each other’s homes, having experienced this many times in this country, and also in other countries in which I’ve been fortunate enough to dance.
So, in recalling once again that question of a few years ago: “What have the Dances of Universal Peace done for you?” I feel able to sum up many gifts and blessings to reply, with a deep sense of gratitude: “Given me inner peace, inner happiness”.