The Dances of Universal Peace (sometimes called Sufi Dancing)  

I’ve recently discovered a new feast for my soul in The Dances of Universal Peace.  "Sufi Dancing" is one of those things you have to experience to appreciate, but I will attempt to describe my experience of them.  I’ve also consulted with Carol Dawn, Melanie Branch and Yarrow Nelson in gathering this information.  According to the Journal of The Dances of Universal Peace, they can be defined as "simple, meditative, joyous, multi-cultural circle dances that use sacred phrases, chants, music and movements from the many traditions of the earth to touch the spiritual essence within ourselves and others. 
Based on the work begun in the late 60’s by Samuel L. Lewis, (Sufi Ahmed Murad Chishti, 1896-1971) they promote peace and integration within individuals and groups worldwide.  In addition to his Sufi transmission, Murshid S.A.M. was acknowledged as Zen Master in the Rinzai tradition.  He also studied Jewish and Christian mysticism, Hindu mysticism under Swami Papa Ram Das and Mataji Krishnabai as well as many other sacred world traditions.  The Dances reflect this universal heritage as well as Murshid Samuel Lewis’ commitment to "peace through the arts." 

Samuel Lewis drew constant inspiration from his spiritual teachers, who, with him, have become revered with fondness as the ancestors of the Dances.   Foremost among these were Pir-O-Murshid Hazrat Inayat Khan, (1882-1927), the Master who brought Sufism to the Western world in 1910, and Ruth St. Denis, (1880-1968) the American dance pioneer and innovator who devoted her work to the embodiment in dance of sacred figures and themes from many world spiritual traditions."   (We Circle Around, Journal of the International Network for the Dances of Universal Peace), 2000, Number 2, Page 2   
My own definition  and experience of the Dances is one of "moving meditation".  I find them to be sweet, holy, rich expressions of the deepest honor,  respect, and dignity for the human soul and our individual and collective connection to All that is.
The part I most enjoy about the dances is the attention to honoring all of the traditions, while affirming the divine in each individual.  The eyes are windows to the soul, and as we participate in a circle, performing the body movements and singing the chants to one another, gazing into the eyes of each circle member, we encounter our Selves mirrored in each heart.  As the dance and song continues, each member meeting the next in the circle, our hearts open to one another, to ourselves, to the collective unconscious, to the divine.
Local history of The Dances of Universal Peace, as far as I learned from Carol Dawn, began in 1984 or 1985 when Selene Coen began gatherings where she led and taught the dances.  Her particular emphasis was on goddess-focused songs and dances, as well as Native American and other spiritual traditions.    Selene travelled to various other places to meet with groups, to learn and return with new songs and dances to teach.  Her travels took her to Sufi Camps, Rainbow Gatherings and mystical places in Mexico, among others.     

One of Selene’s most devoted students was Melanie Branch, who learned the songs and dances from the classes, workshops and gatherings taught by Selene.  Melanie’s involvement with The Dances began at the Harmonic Convergence gathering of the Earth Tribe at Big Sur.  After Selene’s untimely death in 1998,
Melanie gathered the songs and dances in the form of a booklet for distribution to other interested participants, and has been active since in her quest to preserve the tradition of The Dances in our community.  Melanie told me that her experience of the dances is that they ground the principles of diversity and universal peace to culminate in peace among us.
A relative newcomer to San Luis Obispo, Yarrow Nelson brings a rich familiarity with The Dances, with his own repertoire of about 70 of The Dances, learned over the past twenty years.  Yarrow and his wife Kara have held regular gatherings at his Morro Bay home for the past several months.  The enthusiastic group has nearly outgrown even his ample living room, and the Dances are now being held at Unity Church (Johnson and Southwood) as well.   

Participation in The Dances of Universal Peace is as simple as it is profound.  No prior knowledge or experience is necessary to fully participate from the beginning.  Each set of movements and accompanying chant or song is taught as part of the circle.  It’s not about performance or skill, but rather about sacred expression of honor and devotion of the divine spirit in each of us – simple, moving meditation.