Can dancing be a form of meditation? At Temple Micah, the answer is a clear “yes,” with members of the synagogue’s Sacred Circle Dancing group meeting weekly to partake in communal dances from many different cultures.
“We dance in circles, we hold hands,” said Evelyn Beck, a Temple Micah member who founded the group. “It grows out of folk dancing, but it includes many dances that are choreographed using steps from ancient, older dances. And it is meant to bring together mind, body and spirit.”
Beck started the group with the encouragement of Harriett Stonehill, the leader of Temple Micah’s wise aging class. The class was discussing different forms of meditation and Beck offered a dance that she described as “meditative.” The dance proved a hit with the class, and Stonehill “was so enthusiastic, that she said to me, ‘Please create a group [where] we can continue this dancing,’” said Beck.
Ten to 15 attendees typically gather; most are between the ages of 50 and 90. One member is unable to walk and uses a motorized wheelchair, said Beck.
There is also an option to participate in the dances over Zoom, Beck said, with participants joining from as far away as Canada, England and Australia.
The dances use music from across the globe, Beck continued, including Jewish and Israeli music. The core philosophy is that “there are no mistakes, only variations. So although I do teach steps, it is more important that people move to the music and really allow the music, and sometimes the words of the song … to flow through them.”
The group embraces the hora, as well as dances “on which the hora was based,” said Beck, performed to both traditional and modern music, such as the songs of Leonard Cohen.
In some cases, the group creates its own steps, Beck said. They are designed to be simple and repetitive, “so that, after a while, we can stop worrying about our feet and really just give ourselves over to participating in this wonderful experience of moving to music together.”
On the meditative nature of the dances, Beck noted how one dance “moves slowly, the steps are deliberate and we move in a very mindful way. That’s what makes it meditative.”
Beck also observed a certain kind of energy generated by the dancing.
“We really believe that our energy circulates around the circle,” Beck said. “You can send energy around a circle while you’re holding hands. And we also believe we send it out into the world. We do dances for healing, we do dances for the solstice, we do dances for the Jewish holidays … we do dances in celebration and we do dances in mourning.”
Beck added that, by moving together, the members of the group are able to build a strong sense of community. She noted that when her partner, Lee Knefelkamp, died in 2018, the group held a dance to honor Knefelkamp’s passing.
“Dancing, as you may know, is one of the oldest forms of movement that people did, long before there were other ways of communicating,” said Beck. “Long before reading, long before writing. So moving together is an ancient ritual.