Sunday, Sept 3, KYL/D hosted the second Story Circle for Faith Project. There are many ways on which to reflect on the event, but for this entry, I’ll try to focus on relaying some of the moments for you. They remain present in my memory and I’m vibrating from the sharing as I’m sure is echoed in the rehearsal process for Faith Project.
Executive Director Ken welcomed the group and invited us to introduce ourselves. He made clear that the community members are from different walks of life and faith did not represent the whole of that religion or faith because people are complex, just as faith is complex. Each of the community members brought something from their faith experience and spoke about its meaning to them, as an individual, and as they experienced it in their faith practice. We sat in a circle (an important symbol in Buddhism and Native American traditions, we learned), listening and witnessing. Then, in pairs and a trio, KYL/D’s dance artists entered the center of the circle and reflected on the verbal stories and objects shared by the community members. In conjunction with the dancers, Cory responded with sound. Kimerer guided us, as a community, in movement at the beginning and end of our time together, bookending our experiences of individuals with the reminder that we share a common journey.
Pradhan, a member of the Hindu community, spoke first. He started by saying that he’d be sharing his experience and perception of Hinduism, which was different than the Hinduism practiced by his parents. I found it so interesting that again, the experience of dance and faith are mirrors of each other. This time in the way that what we as individuals bring (to the dance performance, to the faith practice) informs our perception of it.
Pradhan told us that there are many branches of Hinduism; three of the commonalities that he distinguished were 1) belief in reincarnation, 2) the practice of self-awareness, and 3) recognition of the presence of god in nature and the world around us. He shared with us a mantra to the Sun God that would be repeated 108 times in practice, but he only repeated the mantra three times for us, due to our limited time together. His translation of the sacred text was “Thank you to the Sun for granting us the privilege of your light. Please help us overcome any obstacles that face us today and might face us in life.”
Dance artists Keila and Frankie move into the center of the circle. Keila moves to her knees, Frankie remains standing. They open their palms and their face to the sky. They move slowly inside the circle. Frankie draws a circle on the floor with his toe. Keila creates a circle in the air, drawing her forearms together in front of her face. Keila traces a circle on the floor with her toe; Frankie draws a circle in the air with one arm. They are aware of each other by their presence, but they do not look at each other.
Nicole is a minister in the Christian community. She brought the chalice she received at her ordination. The embodied act of eating and drinking is an important part of the Christian ritual. She shared that in her congregation, members sit in a circle. She described a worship service and read a part of her liturgy to us. She demonstrated the physical actions and verbal responses that accompanied the practice - people served bread and juice to each other; she showed us how she accepts the bread, the Eucharist, with palms lifted and open in anticipation. Nicole is physically excited as she describes her community’s worship service: her shoulders rise, her hands wave; she smiles and her speech gets faster. She reflected that the Eucharist is “really beautiful and human (in that it’s sometimes messy and sometimes awkward)”.
Dance Artists Grace and Barbara enter the circle. There is an alertness that charges and changes their body as they morph from listening bodies to responding bodies. Grace traces the periphery of the circle, rolling, walking, slicing limbs and taking a moment to look each member in the eye. Barbara remains in the center her movement subtle, gentle, and quiet.
Sue was one of the first women to be ordained in the Jewish faith. She brought a head covering and a ram’s horn which she blew for us. She told us that the ram’s horn was the “sound of war; the sound to wake up; a primal sound; the sound of childhood; a death scream…” She recited a story of one of the patriarchs of Judaism - the binding of Isaac - and shared that his story of trauma and salvation was deeply imbedded in the hearts of those who practiced Judaism.
Dance artist, Frank, lays on the floor with knees and arms bent. A low wail emits from deep within his belly. He moves on this low level around the circle, the wail repeats. I feel sorrow and fear and perseverance. Weiwei, covers the crown of her head with her right palm. My attention is drawn to the articulation of each of her fingers as she rolls them in the air. Cory’s music takes a deeper note, more weighted than his previous improvisations.
Hojin is a member of the Buddhist community. She demonstrated the traditional greeting by bringing her hands together and bowing - the two hands represent the self and the other coming together. She brought a sacred text to share with us and revealed images of circles in its pages. The circle is a primary image to reflect Buddhism, representing there is no beginning and no end; all beings are interconnected. Mindfulness is practiced in daily life and through this practice, practitioners of Buddhism train the body to see, hear, smell things as they are, without clouding of individual preference. She showed us a page of six circles - each circle was representative of one of the six senses: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. One of the main teachings of Buddhism is “Everywhere is a Buddha image. Every act is a Buddha offering.”
Dance artist Ani enters the circle, but remains near the edge, at a low level. She cries and travels around the circle, growing to her full height, and then returning to a low level as she returns to her opening location. Mo stands, bows his head, and draws his hands together. Kyan folds his limbs into multiple angles. The three dancers intertwine in the center of the circle, becoming one.
Ellen is a member of one of the Native American traditions. She tells us that to her, “Faith is an action verb.” She told the story of her participation in the Native Long Dance - a dance that begins at dusk and lasts until dawn. She remembered entering a sweat lodge before the dance to cleanse the body and the mind. The sweat lodge was shaped like a womb and held the energy of the dancers. The dance itself was/is practiced in a circle to the a rhythm of a drum. The pulse is the common heartbeat of the dancers and their connection to a greater power.
Dance artists Wally and Nikolai ask the group to draw tighter together. They sit in the center of this small circle, back to back, rocking. A small rumbling sound grows out of their core. Pressing into each other, they stand side by side. As if with one breath and mind, they move in unison - they extend a leg, press into the floor, with their hands, they gently, meditatively, bounce. They find silence in their movement and in their sound - but the room still vibrates.
After hearing and watching, Kimerer asked the five community members if they saw in the dancers what they felt in their practice. One common response was that “I saw my religion in each of them, even though each group of dancers was specifically reflecting on one faith story.”
Pradhan noted that watching the dancers provided him with “a feeling like when I practice meditation; it’s a sense of relief that you can’t put in words.”
Sue considered, “part of the beauty of the dance is acknowledging the ‘both and’; through movement, the dancers acknowledged the challenges of faith, one of which is ‘how do I both break out of and live in this body?’”
From moving, Keila said “faith, like dance, isn’t a destination. It’s a process… allowing yourself to indulge in the process and experience a devotion to what you’re doing.” Mo suggested that “no matter where I go, I need to gather my center back, in my life and in my dancing.”
Before Kimerer closed the event, she reminded us that “Dance has a role to play” in creating community and understanding. This is the Faith
~ Jessica Warchal-King
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Major support for the Faith project has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts.