Dancers and Friends

by Rosemary Brown

‘We are widely but thinly spread.’ (Philip Tansen O’Donohoe).
This comment about Sufi mureeds is also largely true of our Dance community. Happily, there are a few places where dancers live quite close together and good-sized groups can meet regularly.

A lot of us, however, are living in relative geographical isolation, with perhaps four or five dancers in a county. In some counties, there are no regular DUP events at all.

Of course, we are essentially linked in the wider Dance community. But many of us are also attached to specific faith groups: Buddhism, Earth traditions, various branches of Christianity, Sufism and so on. This can be seen as a strength: the U at the heart of DUP is Universal. All contributions gratefully received.

One of the faith groups to which a number of dancers belong is the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers. At first, this might seem odd, as Friends do not commonly use music in Meetings for Worship. The Meeting, usually one hour long, will often start
with a ‘ministry’ – a short passage with a spiritual theme – and then continue in silence, occasionally broken by someone who is moved to speak briefly.

Friends have no ordained ministry and no creed as such. Sitting in the ‘gathered stillness’, everyone is free to explore and contemplate their own spirituality. Tolerance of and respect for other faiths is implicit. It is reminiscent of Hazrat Inayat Khan’s words: ‘A Sufi maintains from first to last the freedom of the soul.’ (Vol.6)

We started attending our local Meeting about two and a half years ago. One could not help but be struck by the unpretentious kindness of the people. The four basic principles underlying Quakerism – the Testimonies – are Simplicity, Truth, Equality and Peace. These are not to be seen merely as hopeful words. Just a few of the activities undertaken by Friends at our local Meeting include: lobbying against military drones, hospital and prison-visiting, financing a child at a Palestinian school, helping to run a weekly soup kitchen for rough sleepers and running a healing group.

A few months after we started attending, we were all asked if we could ‘do something’ as part of the celebrations after a communal New Year lunch. With some hesitation, I offered a Dance. This was accepted. When the day came and the tables had been cleared away, thirty or so of us formed a circle to dance ‘The Earth Is Our Mother.’ As we all know, it is a lovely dance and quite accessible. Friends took to it with surprising enthusiasm.

A little later, we were offered the chance to hold a monthly DUP session after the Meeting. This has been a delight to do. What is more, some Friends are coming to our local evening DUP circle.  There are now at least eight people from the Meeting who come when they can. One lady is 86 years old! She is unable to dance, but plays the drum with gusto. So, in various ways, the two communities – DUP and Friends – offer something to each other, and one hopes that the founders, Samuel Lewis and George Fox, would approve.