What the Dancer Knows (Grey Heron Nights 14 – the end)

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
W. B. Yeats

At the still point of the turning world, there the dance is. Are you dancing yet?

In Hindu mythology Shiva, as Shiva Nataraja, is Lord of the Dance – of the Tandava, the cosmic dance which both creates and destroys the universe – but in ancient European tradition the dance was the preserve of women. It was women who danced the world into being; women who kept the flow of life moving through dance. Dance could influence the flow of life – and so could encounters with the female spirits who danced life into existence. They inhabited the wild places, controlled the rain and other waters, brought fertility to the land, and healing to the people. Professor of archaeology and linguistics Elizabeth Wayland Barber has suggested that this tradition probably began in the Stone Age, around the Balkans and the Danube. After the rise of Christianity it began to die out in Western Europe, but it held on for longer in the east. As with Shiva, the dance of the dancing goddesses could create life – or destroy it. *

There is only the dance. So are you dancing now? Do you know what the dancer knows?

Here is what this dancer knows, now that the still point of this turning (dancing) world has come and gone. There is only the dance, and so we need only to dance. Forget your wounds, your grief, your longings, your anger, your envy, your pride – forget them: there is only the dance. Step out of your head, and into the dance. Dance with the sea, with a tree; dance with the wind and the rain. Dance yourself into the world; dance yourself into belonging. Because belonging begins at the moment when you give yourself over to the dance. Belonging isn’t a place, or an idea; it’s not a person or a tribe. Belonging isn’t a rulebook, or a set of skills to acquire. Belonging begins when we offer ourselves as partner in the long, slow circle dance of the world. Belonging is our dance with fox and deer, with badger and hare – our dance with crane and crow. Step out of your head, and into the world, and offer yourself up to the dance.

Belonging begins when you take the outstretched hands of the Old Woman, of the Death Mother, of Old Bone Mother. Do you see those old ones dance? Their dance is the dance of life and death, these fine old Ladies of the Dance. There is only the dance, so take their hands, and join them dance. Stumble if you will, fall if you must – but whatever it takes, just dance.

See the sun rising? There’s a fire burning behind the mountains in the east. Go dance yourself into the light.

* For more on this, see The Dancing Goddesses: Folklore, Archaeology, and the Origins of European Dance, by Elizabeth Wayland Barber (Norton, 2013)


14 thoughts on “What the Dancer Knows (Grey Heron Nights 14 – the end)

  1. Ah yes………….thank you for the inspiration! I will dance, even if I’m the only one! Oh, how I miss the dance of the women in community. I will begin! …….as one of the old ones.


  2. Thank you for all of these articles, Sharon. I have looked forward to reading them every day – beautifully written, crafted and woven together with their interlinking and integrated themes. Certainly a lot to think about in how we live with a connection to and grounding in a relevant culture for our times. Culture, folklore and tradition have to keep adapting to stay alive. Once they become stagnant and ossified, they die and are no longer relevant or useful to us. And, oh, the wonder, the magic and the challenge of being both the still point and the dance!


  3. I love the foundation continually voiced in evoking nature … reminds me of Mary Oliver… and this morning I came across this on Mary’s Wikipedia page: ‘Vicki Graham suggests Oliver over-simplifies the affiliation of gender and nature: “Oliver’s celebration of dissolution into the natural world troubles some critics: her poems flirt dangerously with romantic assumptions about the close association of women with nature that many theorists claim put the woman writer at risk.”[10] In her article “The Language of Nature in the Poetry of Mary Oliver”, Diane S. Bond echoes that “few feminists have wholeheartedly appreciated Oliver’s work, and though some critics have read her poems as revolutionary reconstructions of the female subject, others remain skeptical that identification with nature can empower women.”[11] In The Harvard Gay & Lesbian Review, Sue Russell notes that “Mary Oliver will never be a balladeer of contemporary lesbian life in the vein of Marilyn Hacker, or an important political thinker like Adrienne Rich; but the fact that she chooses not to write from a similar political or narrative stance makes her all the more valuable to our collective culture.” ‘ I am particularly taken aback by: ‘ … others remain skeptical that identification with nature can empower women’

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  4. (In conclusion: following on from my post above) … I really love ‘If Women Rose Rooted’ it feels so essential … touching me right to the depths of the raw centre of my heart … To talk about my own empowerment – and for people to talk about what empowers them – I find uplifting and enlightening … but what I’m left wondering is: is it really useful and necessary (or even legitimate) for people to negate what empowers others?


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