In a modern Western society communal dance is a rarity, instead it is centered around a performance. The purpose of dance in the West is not to heal or always to find joy, but for the purpose of entertainment. Therefore surrounding dance in the West we have choreography, routine, structure, form, production, costumes, competitions... A practice like ballet for example whilst beautiful, it can be closer to pain than pleasure, working more against the body and the mind with its rigidity and precision than for it.
In many parts of the world, dance still holds its origins as a communal practice for wellbeing. Here in Bali, communal dance became a performance for tourists when the famous artist Walter Speiss collaborated with locals in the 1940s to create the Kecak dance. Fire and chanting were added to help enliven the imagery of a story that might well not be understood by a foreign audience.
Yet even outside of tourist areas of Bali, you can still find real communal dance. In Banyuwedang, North-West Bali, the Dewi Ayu ceremony sees a communal trance dance in which women purify themselves as they spin a Kris sword around in circles whilst pointed at their chest. Set to a backdrop of deafening Gamelan, true heavy metal, the hammering of percussion instruments slowly but surely pulls those who need to be cleansed into a state of complete trance. The ceremony is completed with a visit to the priest at the temple with a water purification. This is one of the many communal dance ceremonies that takes place all over Bali, with or without tourists.
So why do we dance and sing?
Simply put, we have always danced communally, it has been part of human existence since time immemorial. Of the great many changes to our behavior throughout the history of human evolution, dancing and singing are one of few constants. As cave men and women, humming was a primary form of communication and it is not difficult to see why, even to this day music and dance are the only universal language. If you don’t speak English, you’ll have no idea it someone was to say 'heartbreak'. But through dancing the emotion accompanied to a slow, minor key, stringed melody, 'heartbreak' is universally understood. Better yet, dance invites you to interact and move and communicate without verbal language abilities, relationships can be built on this alone.
Through dance, we can share with each other in cathartic exercise, our past, our desires, our trials and tribulations, without a barrier of language, without a pre-requisite of cultural understanding. We can simply trade our raw emotions and we have an opportunity with anyone, friends and strangers, to hear and be heard.
Why don’t we dance and sing more?
Mostly out of fear or becuase we feel inadequate and usually revert to “I don’t know how to dance” or “I can’t sing.”. You can come to hear a lot of justifications for why we don’t dance and sing, but the main reason is always the same: fear of not being good enough.
With the modernization of dance and singing in the West having shifted towards a performance, a 'spectacle', record labels, Broadway shows, become an international-million-dollar-pop-star by competiting in a televised talent show... many people sadly believe music, dance or singing is not for them, they are not 'good enough', they have no reason to sing or dance, so they leave it to the entertainers.
OK, so you might not have Mariah Carey’s entire vocal range or moonwalk quite like Michael Jackson, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have your own voice and your own body to dance! You have something to saym you have a voice inside of you to get out and express, we all do, this is in our nature as human beings. Talent is a fantastic thing, yet there is something less rewarding in accomplishing something from an inherent advantage. Bob Dylan was no singer, but he had a voice that carried a generation (did you know, Bob Dylan actually went to Johnny Cash in the late 50s for singing lessons!). The question is how are you going to find your voice, and how are you going to let it out?
Such huge liberation comes with learning to sing and dance freely. In the right environment, with a group of like minded souls, we can find ourselves free from this fear. We can soon re-program ourselves to understand that when we sing, we are bringing ourselves joy, when we dance, we are bringing ourselves freedom. These gifts we bestow unto ourselves at no cost to anyone. As we fill ourselves with this ability to express ourselves, we are practicing our empowerment and practicing the right to explain why it is we do what we do, what we love to do.
In 2009, SpiritDance founder Ellen Watson met kirtan music idol Daphne Tse. Ellen was enamored by Daphne’s desire to share the gift of singing her SoulSongs. The same gift of empowerment that Ellen had learnt through studying 5Rhythms with Gabrielle Roth and in developing her own practice SpiritDance, which was later amplified with the addition of singing.
Ellen and Daphne combined to form SpiritDance SoulSong where they use dance, music and singing as tools for empowerment, community building, enriching health, building mental and physical well-being and for overall liberation. SpiritDance SoulSong continues to hold retreats, workshops and teacher training programs for 9 years. Students come from all over the world to Teacher Training SpiritDance SoulSong programs in Bali, to learn, express, evolve and to take the gift of music, dance and liberating creativity back to their own communities.
SpiritDance SoulSong retreats
From 13-20th March 2018, SpiritDance SoulSong are holding a 7-day retreat at stunning Taksu Spa in the heart of Ubud, just before the BaliSpirit Festival. Then later in August Ellen and Daphne will be holding a 10-day Teacher Training on Island Brac in Croatia from August 1-10th. Learn more about SpiritDance SoulSong on their website: www.SpiritDanceSoulSong.com.