Sufism & Dance
No one knows exactly when Sufism began or who the first Sufi was, but tradition holds that Sufism can be traced back to the Egyptian mystery schools. There are many schools of Sufism; some have a universal approach (an honoring of the one Truth found in all religions), while others insist on adherence to the tenets of Islam. Regardless of differences, all Sufi orders share some common practices and beliefs. The belief in mystical unity is held by all, and all Sufis practice Zikr.
Zikr is the sacred phrase "La Ilaha, El Allah Hu" spoken or sung aloud, and means "There is no reality, except God." Zikr, which means "Remembrance," is intended to take the practitioner beyond intellectual belief into spiritual experience.
Many Sufi schools use movement and dance as part of their spiritual endeavors. In fact, it appears that all indigenous cultures have used sacred dance to reverence the Divine and to facilitate ecstatic states. Recent research indicates that Jesus taught the Apostles to dance to the Aramaic phrases of the Lord's Prayer. The movie director Franco Zefferelli depicts this in his film "Jesus of Nazareth."
The Sufi poet Jelaluddin Rumi founded the Mevlevi Order of Sufis in Turkey in the 13th century. Rumi experienced a transmission of Divine Love through his teacher Shams of Tabriz. Spontaneously, he began to turn, and his heart united with the mystical axis of the Universe. The Sufis of the Mevlevi Order now practice the "Turn" as a spiritual discipline, and are popularly known as "Whirling Dervishes."
Hazrat Inayat Khan brought Sufism to the West from his native India in 1910. He was a musician, mystic and saint who presented a Universal Message of Love, Harmony and Beauty among all peoples and religions. Sufi orders descending from Hazrat Inayat Khan are the International Sufi Movement, the Sufi Order International, and the Sufi Islamia Ruhaniat Society founded by Hazrat Inayat Khan's disciple Samuel Lewis. Samuel Lewis was also a student of the late Ruth St. Denis. In the 1920s, Miss Ruth changed the world of dance when she began to portray the divine deities on stage, reuniting dance and spirituality. Ruth St. Denis and Hazrat Inayat Khan profoundly influenced Samuel Lewis, the originator of the Dances of Universal Peace.
During the late 1960s in San Francisco, Samuel Lewis began to receive a series of dances in vision. He called these dances the Dances of Universal Peace -- because they were based on sacred phrases found in all of the world's spiritual traditions. One does not have to be a Sufi to join in the Dances of Universal Peace. A dance leader can be a Buddhist, Christian, or follower of any other spiritual tradition, but each leader is dedicated in service to the heart and intention of these teachings. [Samuel Lewis founded the Sufi order now known as the Sufi Ruhaniat International.]
In 1982, the Center for the Dances of Universal Peace was established "to provide the direct experience of the Dances and Walks to those of whatever belief, who wish to use this work according to its original intention." Currently the International Network for the Dances of Universal Peace supports PeaceWorks events around the globe.
Dance circles have formed from Australia and New Zealand to Russia, Europe and throughout the planet. There are now more than 400 dances officially listed in the Dance Network archives. The creators of these dances have consulted with representatives of each spiritual tradition to coordinate the movements, music and sacred phrases to assure that reverence and respect are given to each tradition.
A Mentor Teachers Guild has been established along with a training program for certifying Dance leaders around the world. For information on Dance circles in your area, world-wide PeaceWorks events, and the training and certification program, please see <www.dancesofuniversalpeace.org>
© Pir Moineddin Jablonski & Sharon Mijares (1999)