When I fleshtalk about my bodyflesh which brings to mindflesh organismic waves of fleshbeingspirit, my tendency, at least years ago, was to assert mental control over all of me in whatever way possible. Knowing, I was taught, occurs through rumination and cogitation, mental activity, the matter of my body – or any body – abstracted into tidy bits of information that can be arranged and ordered into fathomable categories. This way of thinking compartmentalizes us into body, spirit, and mind. Mind is the most reliable, the others fickle and worse. Best that we ignore, even denigrate them. Those guided by body or spirit are undeveloped folks, well-meaning perhaps, but their dabbling into the weeds of superstition and odious carnality have allowed these primitive parts to overtake reason.
Dancers such as myself have been trained to be aware of personal sensation, the tremors and sway of bone and sinew, blood and breath. We experience body, spirit, and mind another way, as interdependent, a continuum, one inextricably overlapping into the other. We are trained in flow, to move with illuvial ease. The focus is inward, a deep listening to all the layers and sediment of one’s personal being, from cell to soul.
Knowing takes place through attentive awareness to movement. Movement opens portals to the sacred. With this focus, the numinous emerges like a snake slinking out of its den. Subtle energy rises and falls, expands and contracts. The frame holding together an understanding of life shifts not once but continually. We discover that the best method of dealing with the changeability of being is to let go of assumptions and fixed ideas and to root our senses in the present. Here. Now. This arm lifting. This breeze brushing the face. This sensation that eludes words yet compels a dance that feels intensely personal yet touches also upon something beyond us.
This something beyond us is the focus of Dance, Somatics and Spiritualities: Contemporary Sacred Narratives, a 489 page tome that investigates definitions of spirituality and its place in dance.
Finally exists a book that offers a range of perspectives that looks academically at the numinous in dance without belittling or aggrandizing the subject. With a preface by Don Hanlon Johnson, editors Amanda Williamson, Glenna Batson, Sarah Whatley, and Rebecca Weber have pulled together an impressive anthology of essays on a topic often overlooked. Questions considered by dancers, somatic therapists, dance scholars, and anthropologists include the following: What is spirituality? How does it manifest in a body atuned to the nuances of movement? How does a dancer reclaim the sacred from a culture that marginalizes it in favor of secularization? Linda Hartley writes about Authentic Movement. Daria Halprin writes on the body as entry to embodied knowing. Sondra Fraleigh looks at the actions of consciousness. Bradford Keeney discusses N/om and Bushman healing dances. Twenty substantive narratives on embodiment, mindfulness, Balinese dance and more make a juicy collection and a significant contribution to a field largely neglected.
With its many prominent contributors, Dance, Somatics and Spiritualities provides a valuable role in intelligently discussing the place of spirituality in dance and somatic movement. “Acts of creation and spiritual journeys,” says authors Kathleen and Pat Debenham, “mirror each other in process and intent; both mine the inner self in reflective ways and grapple with questions about the meaning of life and the dimensions of existence.” This book grapples well with those questions while enriching the understanding of the moving spirited body.