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)