Dance is not a matter of the body - it is primarily a matter of the soul.
Dance and spirituality have for me an essential relationship. I mean by essential that their essence is the same, energy. Spirituality is not religion. It is not about rituals and forms. It is about the spirit, the energy flowing through life. It is about being aware of the flows of energies passing through us and our environment.
Dance for me is very much the same. It is not about steps and forms but about the flow of energy that one can receive and express through the body, as the energy creates movement.
When one looks at classical dance forms, be they eastern or western, one notices that they are all characterised by the use of a strictly defined movement vocabulary, a tendency to narration and an interest for the sacred.
If one were to compare Indian classical styles like Bharatanatyam and Odissi with western classical forms such as ballet, the dance vocabularies, of course look very different. Facial expressions, hand gestures, footwork in one culture;accent on body stretching and jumps to find weightlessness against gravity in the other. But the intent of both techniques is the same: connecting to the divine - in the skies for ballet and through Mother Earth for Indian classical forms.
I need to make a radical distinction here. Connecting to the divine can happen through mere concepts of the sacred or through a real experience of the sacred. To start with, one should remember that in India, the language of hands in classical dance forms can be traced to the mudras used in Vedic rituals to channel divine energies. Some of them are also used in yoga for healing purposes. But do dancers today still feel the flow as they do the form? I mean, I have seen many classical dancers portray devotion, not having dissolved into it: a pure depiction from body and mind, forgetting the flow of the soul, energy. Devotion is not an idea, it is an experience. And when performers go through that experience of allowing the flow of energy, and share it with the audience, then it is magic, like a meditation with open eyes.
But what about contemporary dance? Can't contemporary dance also be connected to the sacred? Contemporary dance is the dance of our times, speaking about our times, through a reflection on Space and Time. I agree that in the west, contemporary has become almost synonymous with the abstract and profane. But in India, a dancing Krishna and his Gopis is not the only way to connect to the sacred. I believe in the strength of a devotional contemporary dance: when the dancer connects to the flow of life passing through the body, in the form of sensations, breath, emotions and when dance becomes an act of gratitude for the mysterious gift that life is. Classical forms and contemporary dance can both be opportunities to make audiences experience "spaces and times of God".
People often think that dance is a matter of the body. I do think it is primarily a matter of the soul. Dance in many cultures and civilisations has acted as a passage from the world of man to the world of divine energies. True dance speaks the language of the soul. In ancient Greece, rites for Dionysus celebrated body and soul through music and dance. They were trances, they were therapies. In the same way, Native Indian ritual dances would be performed to heal souls and connect to the forces of nature. Rumi, too, found dance as a direct medium to connect to God.
Processes of dance meditation have also proved the ability of movement to release fears and emotional blocks and get over inhibitions. Dance workshops taken with this intent in schools, or through NGOs with street or challenged children and in prisons have had great results. Dance has this tremendous potential of connecting; connecting people to their true self;connecting audiences to higher vibrations. The physical body can indeed be a temple for experimentation, a divine laboratory to find the sacred space within.
Image Source: Mona Ibrahim