Dancing with strangers

Sacred Circle Dancing in the St. Joseph's chapel at Washington National Cathedral

Sacred Circle Dancing in the St. Joseph’s chapel at Washington National Cathedral

Recently I danced with 27 strangers in one night. All at the same time.

This was a special Sacred Circle Dance event in the St. Joseph’s Chapel of the Washington National Cathedral, to which I was invited by my dear friend, Jean.

To my pleasure, one of the two dance leaders was Evelyn Torton Beck, or Evi, as we call her. Evi is an accomplished leader in many areas, and is one of the regular leaders in the smaller and more local circle dance group that I have attended for several years.

Sacred Circle Dancing is most often performed with a particular intention. On this night, a few days before Thanksgiving, we gathered to dance for gratitude, performing dances from various cultures, chosen by our leaders. Evi and her co-leader, Judith, took turns leading the dances, each taking time to give a little history and explain the steps so we could rehearse a few times before dancing to the music.

It had been years since I danced in a large group, or with so many strangers, and I found myself taking delight in the special energy of the group as we held hands to dance in unison and with intention. I recalled learning that dancing together like this causes participants’ breath and heartbeat to synchronize with each other, and that helps build a sense of community.

As a seasoned circle dancer, I sensed that some of the participants were regular dancers at the Unitarian Universalist  Church of Silver Spring, while others seemed to be completely new to circle dancing, perhaps even just stumbling upon the activity while walking the cathedral.

These strangers, who had come together from places unknown and for reasons undeclared, spent about an hour in a shared experience, welcoming each other, being kind to each other, and feeling kindred with each other. Through their smiles, gestures, hand holds, and demeanor, the dancers indicated they were giving and receiving these things. This was expressed loudest at the end, when Evi closed the circle, and the group broke into spontaneous and reverent applause. Whether seasoned dancer or new, each person took home with them the warm and peaceful feeling that is generated by an evening spent in the special fellowship created by dancing with strangers.


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