Dances of Universal Peace
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The Dances of Universal Peace (DUP) are a spiritual practice employing singing and dancing the sacred phrases of the world's religions. Their intention is to raise consciousness and promote peace between diverse religions according to one stated goal. The DUP are of North American Sufic origin. They combine chants from many world faiths with dancing, whirling, and a variety of movement with singing.
Five to 500 dancers stand in a circle often around a leader and musicians, with acoustic instruments, in the center, All dances are participatory and spectatorship is somewhat discouraged because joy is the goal, not technical performance of specified dance steps or forms. Dances are facilitated by a dance leader often playing a drum, guitar, flute or other stringed instrument. For lyrics, dances borrow inspirational poetry, quotes and chants which are sung as the dance is performed. Chants are often sacred phrases put to traditional, contemporary or occasionally improvesed melodies. A wide range of languages are deliberately employed including Arabic, Aramaic, English, Hawaiian, Hebrew, Persian, and Sanskrit. Dance promoters use diverse religious practices, chants and languages to demonstrate how joy lives at the heart of each and all religions. Dance laders tend to believe peace can be promoted through experiencing the same One Joy through diverse dance steps, chants, and languages.
The DUP emphasis is on participation regardless of ability; DUP dances are almost never performed before an audience. Dancers of all levels; including children able to follow along, dance together. Each dance is taught afresh at each gathering. Dances and dancing of this kind is seen as opportunity to develop participants' spiritual awareness, hand-eye-body coordination, and competency in harmonizing with others through dance. Many dances are choreographed with movements, steps, and gestures encouraging dancers to explore the deeper mystical meanings of the dance.
The Dances of Universal Peace were first formulated in the late 1960s by Samuel L. Lewis (Sufi Ahmed Murad Chisti) and were conducted in California. The original dances were strongly influenced by Samuel Lewis' spiritual relationships with Ruth St. Denis, a modern dance pioneer, and Hazrat Inayat Khan, a Sufi master. The influence on the dances of Sufi practices such as Sema and The Whirling Dervishes are apparent, although Samuel Lewis was also a Rinzai Zen master and drew on the teachings of various religious and spiritual traditions.
Dances were originally performed at camps and meetings with a distinctly new age and alternative feel but have increasingly come to be offered in diverse places of worship, schools, colleges, prisons, hospices, residential homes for those with special needs, and holistic health centers. The therapeutic uses of the Dances as well as the walking meditations developed by Samuel Lewis have also been explored in various settings. The Dances have developed into a global movement due to the work of the International Network for the Dances of Universal Peace founded in 1982 by Neil Douglas-Klotz and Tasnim Fernandez, teachers in the Sufi Ruhaniat International and Sufi Order International respectively. Both have continued to be leading exponents of the Dances and Douglas-Klotz's creation of Dances using the Aramaic words of Jesus have entered many alternative and mainstream religious circles. The Network has members in 28 countries.
The Catholic Church has criticized its priests for participating in and promoting the Dances of Universal Peace. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (later: Pope Benedict XVI) dismissed Matthew Fox from the Dominican Order for his activities which included promotion of the Dances of Universal Peace. Since that time Fox went on to become a vocal critic of Ratzinger and his policies.
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- Dances of Universal Peace International
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- Abwoon Network website for Neil Douglas-Klotz's Aramaic and Native Middle Eastern Dances of Universal Peace